Power Ranking the Top 5 Point Guards in the NBA
Over the course of the last five years or so, the NBA has seen an influx of extraordinary talent at the point guard position. As the position has transitioned from the pass-first generation of the 1980's and into the 1990's, now point guards are increasingly able to not only run an offense, but also get their own shot consistently and be dynamic in a variety of different ways.
Some fans and observers have embraced this change while others have resisted. For the most part, the Magic Johnsons and John Stocktons of the world developed into Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson and Steve Francis in the late 90's and early 2000's. Now, a combination of the two has been born led by double threats Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Tony Parker.
What makes a point guard elite or most effective at their position? Is it the most talented guard that can do everything and just happens to be 6’5" or below with a great handle on the basketball? Is it a player that can run an offense best and get his teammates into the right spots for the offense to run efficiently and the ball find the right spots?
Is it a shorter player under 6’4" or 6’5" that is ultra quick and can break down a defense to create shots for himself or others? Is it a shorter player that can shoot? Someone who makes the best decisions both on the break and in the half court? Or, is it a combination of all of these factors?
There has been a lot of debate as the new age crosses over with the traditional as to what the right answer is to this question. No one gets caught in the crossfire more than Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been highly discussed and criticized because although he has great point guard size at 6’3", extraordinary quickness and athleticism, a great ability to finish at the rim and an adequate jump shot, he struggles with decision making and shot selection which often leads to heavy criticism despite his high productivity on the offensive end.
It’s clear that based on the controversy surrounding his play at the point guard position on a championship caliber team that there still is a lot of debate about how the point guard should be played at a high level.
With that said, who are the best five point guards in the NBA this year? I think that the top five should be fairly stable with few exceptions in terms of who should be put up there, assuming you are not ready to crown young players like Kyrie Irving yet. With that said, the order in which one ranks these five players is very debatable.
Given all the criteria above, I have rated the point guards based on how well they play the position. In other words, this is not a question of who is the best basketball player at the point guard position or who is the most overall skilled, but instead, who plays the point guard position the best.
In my opinion, a good point guard helps facilitate the offense he leads at a high level, makes proper basketball decisions with the ball, is a threat to score both as a slasher and a shooter and can defend his position adequately.
With that said, here are the top five:
5. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Tony Parker slips into the top five mostly based on how well he played this year. It’s debatable on whether or not he’s a better point guard overall than one of the honorable mentions, and I’m pretty sure that person is a better basketball player at his best, but based on how Parker played at an MVP level this season and led the way on arguably the best team in the NBA for most of the season, he earned a spot in the top five.
Parker is not your prototypical point guard in terms of racking up a bunch of assists and making other players better, but since the Spurs run a lot of pick-and-roll, and he is absolutely lethal in the league’s biggest staple, that definitely counts for something.
Thanks to his quickness and ability to penetrate into the defense and finish, combined with his willingness to find the roll man when the defense dictates it or find open players in the corners when the defense rotates, Parker is as dangerous a player in the pick-and-roll as there is.
This season he averaged 18.3 points per game and 7.7 assists per game (which was a career high for him) He has never been a huge scorer, nor has he ever taken a lot of shots, but there is no question that he is a nightmare to guard due to his quickness, ability to play effectively in the pick-and-roll, and balanced scoring.
He finishes as well as anyone in the league below the rim with floaters and at the basket and can consistently hit a jump shot. This typically results in him shooting around 50 percent year in and year out, which is very good for a point guard. Parker is definitely an elite point guard in this league.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
As mentioned before, whenever there are discussions about how the point guard position should or should not be played, that discussion usually will include some analysis about how Russell Westbrook plays it.
There is no denying his talent. He is 6’3" and can get to the rim with ease, and play above the rim when he gets there thanks to his extraordinary quickness and athleticism. He is a nightmare in the open court from basket to basket because of his aggressive, attacking nature, and he can be a willing passer at times given his decent assist numbers (5.5 APG)
The big problem with Westbrook is his decision making and ability to run an offense efficiently. These are key parts of the point guard job description, so it’s often hard for many to accept him as an elite point guard.
He plays with one of the top two or three players in the league in Kevin Durant, and often does not know well enough to get him the ball when he’s hot, which is highly problematic. It does not help that he compliments that with taking bad shots consistently and turning the ball over typically at a high rate.
Despite those questions about him, he still is a nightmare to guard for the opposing team. More in the mold of Iverson, Francis and Marbury, he is going to likely outplay whoever is matched up against him at the point guard position. He is pretty close to unguardable and can, at times, carry a team.
He is very hard to game-plan against because he will collapse your defense and likely get your bigs and whoever is guarding him into foul trouble. Those are key advantages for a team to have, and they cannot be ignored.
This contradicts my definition a bit, but based on how he played this year, he has earned a spot in the elite because he is likely to ensure his team a matchup victory night in and night out and create a lot of baskets for himself and his teammates.
3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul could conceivably go as high as No. 1, and some would say that he does not make this list. However, as Team USA’s co-captain and likely starting point guard, it’s hard to say that anyone definitively plays the position better than Chris Paul.
He is a great decision maker, knows when to get the ball to who and where and almost always dictates the pace of every basketball game he’s in. Additionally, he is very good at creating shots for himself and his teammates on a consistent basis.
When "CP3" is on his game, he will make sure the ball finds the right hands. Due to his underrated ability to shoot and score (19.8 PPG), sometimes he is able to call his own number, and sometimes he can actually create open spot for offensively limited bigs like Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan right at the proper time where they can finish strong at the basket without having to do much for themselves (9.1 APG)
He is great at finding open shooters, he gets the opposing team in foul trouble, he can thread the needle in the open court and he’s as good as anyone at racking up assists in the half court due to his extraordinary vision and understanding of how to manipulate defenses.
Paul’s elite quality is his ability to perform in the clutch. There may not be another player in the league outside of maybe Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant that can be counted on more to hit a game-winning shot. He consistently has shown over the years that he has no fear of the moment and has the ball handling and quickness to get whatever shot he wants and hit it.
This is a great asset to have out of the point guard position down the stretch, especially given the fact that he is also a great passer and can find the open man if the defense dictates it.
He is getting a little bit older and gets banged up at times, but given his success in New Orleans for the majority of his time down there, and especially based on the huge role he played in the rise of the Clippers as a legitimate threat in the West, it is clear that Chris Paul is an elite point guard.
2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Contrary to how he was penalized on the top ten overall list I did last week, he was rewarded for his overall point guard play while healthy this year. There is no questioning Derrick Rose’s talent.
He is one of the best athletes in the league and is possibly the best in the league at finishing acrobatic drives to the basket with or without contact. He is impossible to stay in front of (unless your name is LeBron James), and he is very underrated for his ability to create for others.
Many do not recall that both at Simeon High School and at Memphis, he often preferred to set up his teammates. He is a very effective passer and an unselfish player. This manifested itself even in his first couple years in Chicago when he took a backseat to players like Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich.
Now that he has been asked the last two to three years to take on a heavier scoring load, he is known more for his ability to score. This season he reminded the league that he could rack up his share of assists and run an offense effectively while picking his spots to attack.
In addition to his 21.8 point per game scoring average, he averaged a career high 7.9 assists per game. Especially early in the season last year, he showed a more deliberate approach to setting up his teammates more and shied away from trying to carry the team, which likely sapped him of energy late in the playoffs last season.
Despite his string of injuries culminating in a season-ending ACL injury in the first round of the playoffs, he had generally learned to scale back on the reckless play and preserved his body until his extraordinary efforts were needed down the stretch and in big games. This should benefit him in the long run.
Derrick Rose was MVP last season, so clearly he is an elite player, but he is also a very good point guard in that he can also win his position matchup on a regular basis, put pressure on the defense and create opportunities for his teammates. We’ll see how he bounces back from the injury, and whether or not he can make a return to this list again next year.
1. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo was the best point guard in the league in 2011-12. He may not be the best player of this bunch, but when it comes to a player who can run an offense as well as anyone in the league, thread the needle with beautiful passes to set up a bunch of productive players on his team (that typically could not get points for themselves), and create baskets for himself as a whole, there may be no one better right now.
There is no secret that Rondo is not a very good shooter, yet he still finds ways to live in the lane and always seems to find ways to get his teammates the shots they need where they need it.
How many times did you see Ray Allen get the ball coming off of curls and flare screens right when he needed it in order to get off good shots where he liked it? How often did you see Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass get the ball with room to shoot open jump shots from preferred spots on the floor where they can knock down shots consistently? How often did Avery Bradley get the ball on the break in time to finish at the basket without having to make extra dribbles?
If you watch the Celtics, you know why Rondo is the best point guard in the league at this moment. He, at times, carried the Celtics and was a one-man show scoring or assisting on an overwhelming percentage of Celtics scores. He led the league in assists by a full assist over his closest competitor in terms of pure passing (Steve Nash), with 11.7 assists per game and complimented it by scoring 11.9 points per game.
He amassed six triple-doubles and consistently set the tone in ball games that the Celtics won or were in contention for at the end. He finally took the reigns as the leader of the Celtics, and established himself as the best point guard in the game.
For those that value scoring more, he will drop on the list. But, if you combine the fact that he can score in spurts and consistently get into the teeth of defenses with his consistent ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates, it’s hard to overlook his greatness as a point guard this year.
Deron Williams and Steve Nash
Really, Deron Williams can have a gripe with being left off of this list, but at the end of the day, he gets penalized for playing on such a poor team that was so irrelevant.
It probably is not fair, but based on general opinion out there, the typical NBA fan and analyst response to irrelevancy is in effect and he has dropped off of a short list he likely led just two to three years ago. Expect him to return to this list and possibly contend for the No. 1 spot given Brooklyn’s improvements this off-season.
Steve Nash is still as good as anyone at running an offense and making teammates better, but due to his decline as a full-time player and him being on a lesser team as well, I believe he is just outside of the top five.
He may also make one last push at elite status playing for the Lakers next year. He is still able to get his own shot and create for teammates with ease, and he likely has never played with this type of talent in his career. We’ll see how that pans out for him.