Meet the Next Wave of NBA Star Point Guards
I have a message for the Chris Pauls and Rajon Rondos of the NBA: Make room.
Though we continue to revel at the talents and subsequent performance of the Pauls, Rondos and Russell Westbrooks, among others, we must understand that their reign of supremacy is no longer so secluded.
Other up-and-coming floor generals are poised to take up the mantle they're currently perched on. Some of the Association's younger point men are progressing at such a rapid pace, that they're already on the verge of superstardom.
Which of today's budding point guards will serve as faces of the future? And who among them will cross the superstar-drawn finish line first?
In a league where we often get caught up in the now, not enough is made of an incredibly bright, backcourt-fueled tomorrow.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
7. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Years Pro: One
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 4.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.0 blocks on 34.3 percent shooting
Don't be fooled by Rick Rubio's lackluster performance this season.
Still recovering from a torn ACL and facing an array of back issues, Rubio has still proven to be one of the craftiest playmakers in the game—on both ends of the floor.
Though his five assists and 1.4 steals don't jump out, the 8.2 dimes and 2.3 takeaways he's averaging per 36 minutes are a testament to his true potential.
In just his second season in the league, the Timberwolves' wunderkind still has a long way to go. Not only is his health an issue, but his jump shot finds the bottom of the net about as often as Dwight Howard hits a three-pointer (exaggerating here, obviously).
That said, scoring is not Rubio's forte. Like Rajon Rondo, he can get to the rim, but prefers to distribute, which is both a gift and a curse.
But it's a reality Minnesota is willing to live with, given his potential. Again, think of him like a Rondo, but with a jumper that isn't as broken.
6. Kemba Walker
Years Pro: One
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.4 blocks on 43.2 percent shooting
Kemba Walker has improved by leaps and bounds this season.
Not only is his production up in nearly every statistical category, but he has emerged as a leader who the Charlotte Bobcats can feed with the game on the line. For a team that has lacked a concrete direction and franchise face for so long, that's huge.
Also huge has been Walker's commitment to facilitating. His assists are up, but his ill-advised shots appear to be down, which cannot go unnoticed.
Defense is still a concern for the 6'1'' point man. Most opponents have an instant height advantage over him, and though Walker tries to compensate for his size by going after the ball hard, he takes far too many risks.
It's also worth mentioning that opposing floor generals are posting an average PER of 18.8 per 48 minutes with him on the floor.
And yet, while it's a mark that easily exceeds the NBA's average of 15, Walker is only a sophomore, and his reckless defense can evolve over time, much like his offensive game has.
5. John Wall, Washington Wizards
Years Pro: Two
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 14.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks on 41.0 percent shooting
Anyone who's ever criticized John Wall really doesn't understand his potential.
I get it, his jump shot is ugly—and I'm talking really ugly. But he's athletic enough to generate the necessary lift under him to help fix it. From there, it's just some mechanica tweaking with better arc, rotation and the like.
What really stands out about Wall, aside from his speed, is how great at setting up his teammates he is. Wall has yet to appear in 10 games this season, but he's dishing out a career-best 9.8 assists per-36 minutes. Those 20 points per-36 minutes are a career-high as well.
Simply put, the kid's a difference maker. The Washington Wizards are both scoring more while allowing fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the court, and the impact his penetration has had on his backcourt mates is already evident.
Neglecting to mention his ability to get back on defense in transition would be shortsighted as well. Few commit themselves to the two-way cause like Wall does, especially when it involves running the length of the floor.
4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Years Pro: Rookie
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 18.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.0 steal and 0.3 blocks on 42.3 percent shooting
If it wasn't for Andre Drummond, I'd probably assert that someone should just fetch Damian Lillard the Rookie of the Year Award now. Heck, I'll say it anyway—get this kid the award he rightfully deserves.
Plenty of people had reservations about Lillard as he entered the pros. It was known he could score, but could he play the role of offensive catalyst? Would he be able to create for his teammates? Was this another Russell Westbrook rookie debacle in the making?
First, I'd like to acknowledge I'm a huge Westbrook fan. Second, Lillard has more than proven himself as a leader.
Not only as he emerged as the go-to scorer down the stretch for the Portland Trail Blazers, but he has his team in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
Toss in his suddenly unimpeded court vision, his strong defensive sets and the fact that he leads all rookies in scoring by a considerable margin and you have your Rookie of the Year favorite.
3. Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
Years Pro: Three
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 19 points, 4.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.4 blocks on 45.4 percent shooting
Not much has gone right for the Philadelphia 76ers this season outside of the emergence of Jrue Holiday.
The fourth-year product is averaging a career-high in points, rebounds, assists and field-goal percentage. His nine assists per night also rank third in the entire league.
How's that for a man who was lost in the shadow of Andre Iguodala for the past three years?
Holiday has blossomed into a star right before our eyes. His efficacious offense coupled with his much-improved defense makes a strong case that he's already a superstar. I mean, he's one of only two players in the NBA averaging at least 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game.
The other is Russell Westbrook, which is indicative of the company Holiday is approaching.
2. Kyrie Irving
Years Pro: One
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 23.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.4 blocks on 46.7 percent shooting.
Not enough good things can be said about Kyrie Irving.
Irving has really taken over the Cavaliers this season. His 23.7 points per game rank first among all point guards and sixth in the entire league, and he's now officially his team's primary sales pitch behind convincing LeBron James to return in 2014.
Defensively, I would like Irving to take far fewer risks. He goes for the steal way too often and winds up getting beaten off the dribble, or as the victim of a timely-placed screen. Opposing point guards are also posting a PER of 18.1 per 48 minutes against him as well.
Struggles on that end of the floor aside, Irving has proved he's a lights out shooter (39.9 percent from beyond the arc) and a much better playmaker than we give him credit for.
The more I watch him, the more I see Chris Paul with a heightened sense of self-serving aggression—which is a good thing.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Years Pro: Three
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 20.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.2 blocks on 43.6 percent shooting
Ladies, gentleman and Joe Lacob supporters, Stephen Curry has arrived. And he's brought the Golden State Warriors with him.
Doubt surrounding Curry's ability to perform on what has proven to be a frail ankle spread through the league like wildfire prior to the season. Even after one minor ankle-tweak, such doubt no longer exists.
Curry has emerged as one of the league's top playmakers, as well as the heart, soul and shooting stroke of the Warriors' offense. Not only is Golden State scoring 8.8 points more per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, but Curry himself is second in the league with a 46 percent clip from behind the arc.
Impressed? Well, it gets better.
Only three other players in the NBA are averaging at least 20 points, four rebounds, six assists and one steal per game. The other two, you ask? LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
Curry's defense still needs to improve, but his off-ball defense isn't too shabby. That, paired with his more than dominant offensive play is enough to ordain him a future superstar.
Or perhaps even a superstar of the present, All-Star snub aside.