We are watching a golden age of point guards in the NBA.
The league is awash in talented point guards, but who are the best? This season, many have performed admirably, from perennial All-Stars to young starters and forgotten veterans.
The following list ranks each starter in terms of how he has played so far this season. A few non-starters, namely Jarrett Jack and Kyle Lowry, would make the top 30, but this list looks only at teams' primary starting point guards.
*Stats accurate as of Jan. 21, 2013.
The fact that the Washington Wizards are 4-2 since John Wall returned means that he should probably be No. 1 on this list. Before he returned, they had won five games out of 33.
Seriously, let's give this man the MVP trophy.
Still, six games isn't a fair sample size to grade him in a season-long comparison to point guards throughout the league.
The same can be said for the Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio, who has actually played in 13 games, but several of these appearances included a minutes cap.
A.J. Price and Luke Ridnour, respectively, have filled in to the best of their ability, but in terms of point guard play, the season for both of these teams starts now.
One of the offseason's most ballyhooed acquisitions has been the most disappointing starting point guard in the NBA.
Jeremy Lin's shooting has been woeful throughout much of the year, and he has recorded more than eight assists in a game just once in the past 16 games despite playing in the fastest-paced and second-highest-scoring offense in league, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
He has had his moments, and his knockdown jump-shooting in December made it seem like he was back on track. It wasn't "Linsanity," but he was showing improvement from what looked like an early-season shooting slump.
Then the bottom fell out again.
He made just 28 of his 77 shots during the Houston Rockets' recent seven-game losing streak, and it is starting to look like the team's hopes of making the playoffs may be "Linterrupted" by bad defense and poor shooting.
The Detroit Pistons never know what they're going to get out of Brandon Knight. During his best stretch of the year, he had five straight games scoring at least 20 points, including a career-high 30 points in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then there is the flip side.
In the team's high-profile game in London against the New York Knicks, Knight scored just one point and was benched for his poor play after just 18 minutes of action.
Overall, it has been more downs than ups in the short career of the second-year pro.
The Indiana Pacers chose George Hill over Darren Collison, and it looks like they chose wisely.
It isn't that Collison has played terribly since a trade sent him to the Dallas Mavericks. He actually started off the season very well and has accumulated some fine numbers.
It's just that his performance has underwhelmed in comparison to what many thought would be a breakout campaign. Instead, he once again looks like what most analysts consider him to be: a borderline starting point guard in the NBA.
Still, Dirk Nowitzki recently praised his professionalism, which he was always lauded for in Indiana. Jon Machota of the Dallas News relayed this quote from Nowitzki after Collison sat out during crunch time against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when coach Risk Carlisle went with Mike James:
I’m actually proud of him, how he responds. I think coach has been very hard on him and O.J. (Mayo). But they’ve both improved tremendously on both ends of the floor, picking up a new system, new players. It’s hard. It’s hard on guys, especially a young guy who doesn’t have a lot of experience.
There have been numerous film sessions where (Carlisle) went after them pretty good, both of them. And they stuck with it. They kept working.
With his fine on-court numbers and a good attitude, there are worse problems a coach could have than Collison not living up to overly ambitious expectations.
Sometimes life takes you to strange places. Last year around this time, the Sacramento Kings' diminutive point guard was just getting his feet wet in the NBA.
As the last player selected in the 2011 NBA draft, Isaiah Thomas should have been happy just to have a contract.
Instead, he played much better than his draft stock would have you expect to become one of the league's best stories.
This year, his play has been similarly superb at times (especially during his 23-point fourth quarter), but it has been mired by the cloud surrounding everything related to the Sacramento Kings.
Between the Maloofs, the move and DeMarcus Cousins, it seems like even the most heartwarming stories in Sacramento struggle to find the light of day.
Mario Chalmers is the player everyone else on the Miami Heat yells at. He is like the kid brother who is always in the way.
But he is also a vital member of the team's supporting cast, and every once in a while, we see that he can bring something extra to the table.
Take his 34-point, 10-three-pointer game against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 12. It was a night for the record books, as Chalmers tied Brian Shaw for the best single-game three-point night in Heat history.
On a team that employs LeBron James, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller, James Jones and Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers now has a shooting record.
That is pretty much the most Mario Chalmers thing ever.
It is troubling how little the Utah Jazz have missed Mo Williams. Since he was sidelined with a broken thumb on Dec. 22, the team has looked better.
They lost four of the final five games he played in, for example, and have now won seven of their last nine. Some of that may be the schedule, but it's never good when a player goes down to injury and the team gets better.
Then again, with Jamaal Tinsley and Randy Foye out there, not to mention Earl Watson adding some veteran savvy to the mix, it isn't exactly like the Jazz lack ball-handlers.
What's old is new again in Chicago, as Kirk Hinrich is once again leading the team. Hinrich played for the Chicago Bulls for the first seven years of his career, but he became expendable the day Derrick Rose came to town.
But now, with Rose yet to play a game this season, the team has needed Hinrich to run the show again.
He has delivered, playing the type of defense he is known for and that head coach Tom Thibodeau demands. That, and winning, is all he is usually asked to do for the 24-16 Bulls.
But on occasion, he even brings something else.
The Los Angeles Lakers saw that firsthand on Monday night, as Kirk dropped a season-high 22 points while taking just 11 shots. Throw in the eight rebounds and seven assists he totaled, and this comically bad season for the Lakers nearly had a Kirk Hinrich triple-double to add to its list of embarrassments.
Ty Lawson has put up dreadful numbers this season, and it is mostly due to the fact that he forgot how to shoot.
His jumper has returned somewhat over his last 10 games, but this doesn't make up for the piles and piles of bricks he left on the court during the first two months of the season.
If he can continue to put together 20-point nights, something he has done four times in his past eight games, some of the early-season struggles can be set aside. The Denver Nuggets' success in the new year has also done wonders to clean some of the stink off.
However, he still has to show sustained improvement before all can be forgiven.
Goran Dragic plays for the least watchable team in the NBA and one that just fired its coach. Amid this, we should all be impressed that he is averaging career highs in points (14.0), assists (6.1) and rebounds (2.8) per game.
Of course, in his starting role for the Phoenix Suns, he is also averaging more minutes per game than ever, but his numbers are even near his best totals per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
I doubt that is going to make him feel any better about leading a team that has lost 13 of its last 15 games, though.
Jameer Nelson is finally healthy, and it shows. He has scored at least 19 points in eight of his last 11 games. The key has been his three-point shooting, which he has been doing a ton of.
In those last 11 games, he has shot 39-of-88 from three-point range, good for an impressive 44.3 percent success rate. It is the number of attempts that should raise the most eyebrows, however.
He is making them, so there is no harm, but this stretch has included eight attempts per game from a player who has never averaged more than 4.3 three-point attempts per game in his career.
The Atlanta Hawks are in a bit of a tailspin, coughing up eight of their last 11 games. The team seemed to be playing over its head early in the year, and reality may have caught up with it.
It is no coincidence that this has coincided with a rough stretch of play by Jeff Teague.
He has failed to reach 10 points six times in 12 of Atlanta's games in 2013. That only happened six times in his first 29 games of the season.
Don't expect the Hawks to start playing good basketball again until Teague does.
How much of the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles can we blame on Steve Nash? Some. But he needs to get in line behind Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, the bench, the defense, the coaches and the front office.
He has shown the age expected of an injured, soon-to-be 39-year-old who has always relied on quickness to be effective. But it is the quickness of his mind and his decision-making that have always allowed him to thrive.
Add in his excellent shooting and the team's more-than-adequate scoring ability, and the Lakers have to look elsewhere—namely to the defensive end—to fix this train wreck of a season.
Kemba Walker put on a show for MLK Day with a career-high 35 points while making six of his seven three-point attempts.
He made two huge triples late in the third to put the Charlotte Bobcats up by seven heading into the fourth quarter. It seemed as though the Bobcats would finally get a win at home.
But these are the Bobcats.
They scored just 13 points in the final quarter (on 4-of-19 shooting) and ended up losing by six to the Houston Rockets. Walker expressed his frustrations after the game, according to Steve Reed of the Associated Press:
It's tough. We're trying our hardest to win these games, but it's just not working out right now. Hopefully, things will work out for us. It gets tough in the fourth quarter. Teams adjust to what we've been doing. You have to execute. I thought we got some pretty good shots and just missed them.
All this was a microcosm of Charlotte's season: Kemba plays great, the team does not.
There is only so much one player can do.
Jose Calderon is never going to wow anyone. He may throw a flashy pass now and again, but he is more of a pickup truck than a sports car.
But there is a reason he has won back the starting point guard job in Toronto, and the team has been much improved since he took the reins from Kyle Lowry.
The team went 8-2 in his first 10 games back in charge. A recent four-game losing streak knocked a little shine off the return, but Calderon has been shooting out of his mind (54.5 percent in January), so we are probably just seeing a regression to the mean for a Raptors team that will always struggle to beat squads with more talent.
Tony Allen and Marc Gasol get most of the credit for the Memphis Grizzlies' staunch defense.
However, the ball-hawking pressure that Mike Conley displays night in and night out is also an indispensable part of the team's D, which is currently second-best in the NBA in terms of points per possession allowed, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Unlike Allen, Conley isn't a one-trick pony.
His shooting has cooled off since a hot start early, but he is still managing to put up 13.1 PPG while dishing out 5.9 APG. Sure, the Memphis Grizzlies don't have the most potent offense in the NBA, but just imagine where they would be without the little lefty running the point.
George Hill's numbers don't fly off the page.
Though career highs across the board, his 14.6 PPG, 4.8 APG and 4.4 RPG look pedestrian.
However, time and time again this season Hill has come up with big buckets when his team needs them most. His timely forays to the rim and corner three-pointers always seem to come at the most critical times.
When the Indiana Pacers need a bucket, they usually turn to David West. But the set is almost always initiated by Hill, who often takes it upon himself to ensure his team can continue its winning ways even without a consistent, game-long offensive attack.
It isn't just the shaggy beard that has Greivis Vasquez looking like a different player this season—it's his play. The Venezuelan-born point guard is scoring, setting up his teammates and racking up double-doubles.
In all likelihood, the NBA's Most Improved Player Award will go to a higher-profile player, like Paul George or O.J. Mayo. That said, I'm not sure there is anyone in the league who has shown as much season-to-season growth as Vasquez has.
The New York Knicks are just 5-6 since Raymond Felton broke his finger. There is no other stat that shows how valuable he has been to his team.
When Felton and Jason Kidd were the starting backcourt, the ball movement was sublime.
Nobody took bad shots, and there was always one extra pass to the a slightly-more-open player. Everyone on the roster seemed to be shooting a career-high percentage from three-point range, and the offense could not be stopped.
Now the Knicks just look like a decent team.
Hurry back, Ray.
Brandon Jennings has the Milwaukee Bucks playing their best basketball since the "Fear the Deer" playoff excitement of 2010. Along with his backcourt mate, Monta Ellis, it is Jennings' ability to score that often makes the Bucks so tough to beat.
He has five games with 30 or more points this season, including three in the calendar year of 2013. His 34-point outburst against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 18 may have been the most impressive of all.
Milwaukee controlled the game throughout, as Jennings made his signature acrobatic buckets and helped run an offense that carved up the league's best defense.
Anthony Davis might have something to say about it, but the Rookie of the Year Award is still Damian Lillard's to lose. Right now, that is not Lillard's biggest priority, however.
While trophies are nice and all, they do give this one out every season.
Instead, Lillard's real goal is something rarer: He is hoping to become the first rookie guard since Michael Jordan to make the All-Star team.
Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports put the goal in perspective:
No guard, in fact, has been selected to play in the annual All-Star Game since Michael Jordan 28 years ago.
Since Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Tony Parker all look like shoo-ins, Lillard may come up short. But for a rookie to even be making a run at the All-Star Game shows just how well he has played so far this year.
After the Brooklyn Nets beat the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Monday, Paul Flannery of SB Nation made a good point.
At some point, we should acknowledge that Deron Williams was right.— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) January 21, 2013
He was referring to the fact that Williams publicly criticized Avery Johnson's offense before the former Nets coach was canned. Since then, Brooklyn has won 11 of its 13 games, losing only road games in Atlanta and San Antonio.
Not so coincidentally, Williams has completely turned his season around after an ugly start. In January, he has averaged 18.8 PPG and 8.5 APG while shooting 39.3 percent from three-point land.
The inaugural season in Brooklyn wasn't supposed to go this way, but with the coaching change and Deron once again being Deron, it looks like everything is now headed in the right direction.
Jrue Holiday did his All-Star campaign no favors during a high-profile loss to the San Antonio Spurs on MLK Day. He missed 13 of his 20 shots and had trouble running the offense down the stretch.
This, however, was an outlier in a season that has otherwise been terrific for the point guard out of UCLA.
There were some who questioned whether the team should have staked its future to Holiday. When Lou Williams left, it seemed like the dynamic backcourt had been lost.
But despite the team's struggles without Andrew Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers have something to smile about this season: They have found their point guard of the future.
Simply put, Holiday is one of the NBA's most gifted floor generals, and he should get the chance to redeem himself on national television soon during the 2013 NBA All-Star Game.
The only things holding back Kyrie Irving are injury and the terrible team he plays for.
With the news that Anderson Varejao will miss the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his lung (via the Associated Press), this season will only get worse for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But don't fret, Cavs fans.
You still have spin moves, more spin moves and even more spin moves—plus old-man commercials. That, along with the knowledge that Kyrie will likely be around for another half-decade, should at least help the Cleveland faithful make it through what will be—figuratively and literally—a cold winter.
The Golden State Warriors are the most entertaining team in the Association to watch, and Stephen Curry is the biggest reason.
His shooting ability is unparalleled at his position—and maybe even in the sport—and when the Warriors start hitting three-pointers in bunches, it is usually lights out for the competition.
Steve Kerr is currently the only player ahead of him in all-time three-point accuracy, and Curry is shooting a career-best 46.4 percent from behind the arc this season.
Yes, it's possible that the now-healthy 24-year-old, who is becoming a better point guard by the day, is also becoming a better shooter.
The rest of the NBA should be afraid. So very afraid.
When analysts on television talk about the NBA's best point guards, Tony Parker usually gets a token mention late in the discussion. Everyone knows how great he is, but his game is so simple and reliable that it becomes dull to sing his praises.
The few point guards better than him are more exciting. Most are younger, flashier and do more on the court.
Parker, instead, gets to the rim at will and makes countless mid-range jumpers. That's about it. But the manner in which he scores so easily, year in and year out, with super-efficiency is remarkable.
This season, he is even making his threes, hitting a career-high 40.0 percent, while running a top-five NBA offense in terms of points per possession, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The awful play of the Los Angeles Lakers is the only reason the Boston Celtics' struggles fly under the radar.
But with the defeats piling up, the team's normally mild-mannered coach, Doc Rivers, has said that if the team can't improve, it is time for some of the players to be traded, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston.
"I've got to either find the right combination, the right guys, or we’re going to get some guys out of here," Rivers said. "It’s the bottom line."
It is hard to place too much of the blame on Rajon Rondo, however.
His lack of scoring hurts the team, and even he admits he needs to "do a better job of being a leader" for a team whose "record is embarrassing," according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.
However, Rondo remains the most dynamic player on a team that increasingly looks old, slow and just plain bad.
Only nine players in the league average 20 or more points per game. Just two of them are full-time* point guards.
One is Kyrie Irving; the other is Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is the league's best rebounding point guard to boot. He also may be the game's most explosive player, period, and this total package is a primary reason that the Oklahoma City Thunder look to be on their way back to the NBA Finals this season.
You can question the shot selection all you want, but you can't question whether he is one of the league's 10 best players.
*Steph Curry also is over 20 PPG, but Jarrett Jack comes in to run the offense much of the time in the fourth quarter.
Chris Paul has been the NBA's best point guard almost since the day he was drafted. The only thing that has changed since then is his jersey.
Now in the City of Angels, he is taking his game to new heights, which is the primary reason the Los Angeles Clippers are, for the first time in franchise history, a front-runner to win the title.
With all the contenders out west, it'll be a hard road for the Clippers to make the NBA Finals.
But they have something nobody else does: the best point guard in the world.