Ranking the Top 10 Eastern Conference Point Guards

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIDecember 14, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Eastern Conference Point Guards

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    You might not realize it watching games on a nightly basis, but without Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, the Eastern Conference point guard picture is pretty bleak. There is definitely some talent there, with superstars like Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams as well as a crop of young up-and-comers like Michael Carter-Williams and Kemba Walker, but the star power is simply not what it once was.

    In a way though, that actually makes the rankings even more compelling. Instead of having a clear-cut number one and number two, we have a much more interesting group of lead guards, and one with a few names that may end up surprising you. They certainly surprised me.

    For the purposes of this list, players like Victor Oladipo and Avery Bradley who split time between point guard and 2-guard were omitted. This is a countdown purely of players who log time almost exclusively manning the point, not combo guards who occasionally handle the rock. Apologies, Rodney Stuckey.

    I urge you to read on, but please mentally prepare yourself for a list of top ten point guards that includes Jordan Crawford, because that is simply what life is like at the 1 in the NBA's ugly stepsister conference.

     

    All stats accurate as of before Friday night's games.

No. 10: Tony Wroten

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    That's right, Tony Wroten, the Philadelphia 76ers' backup point guard, cracks this list. I really cannot stress enough how bleak the Eastern Conference's point guard situation is without Rondo and Rose.

    Wroten was a complete afterthought with the Memphis Grizzlies, but the Washington product has carved himself out a niche as an energetic sixth man for Philly and a productive spot starter.

    He's averaging 19 points, five rebounds and 5.3 assists as a starter on 44.2 percent shooting and 13.6 points, 3.6 boards and 3.6 dimes overall in 22 games.

    Wroten, much like the rookie he plays behind, is a non-threat from the perimeter who relies on his explosiveness and athleticism to get to the rim and make plays at the basket.

    He's shooting just 24 percent from three on the season and 29 percent on spot-up jumpers, per Synergy Sports, meaning that he's going to have to develop a consistent jumper if he wants a long-term contract.

    Wroten offsets his lack of shooting with his versatility though—the sophomore already has one triple-double in 2013-14 and is an excellent rebounding guard at 6'6". The tandem of Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams is an absolute nightmare matchup for most opposing backcourts.

    He likely projects as a 2-guard going forward, and his mediocre assist to turnover ratio (1.38) is proof he doesn't read the floor at an exceptionally high level, but he has played almost exclusively point guard this season.

    Still, Wroten has proven himself as a viable NBA player and a strong wing defender who's allowing opponents to shoot just 40.5 percent overall, per Synergy.

    You can bet Memphis wishes they didn't give him up for nothing. 

No. 9: George Hill

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    The least heralded member of the Indiana Pacers starting five, George Hill has not been scoring the ball much, but he's still a more than capable lead guard.

    Lance Stephenson and Paul George have been handling a lot of the playmaking duties, but Hill is capable of playing off the ball and using screens to spring open for outside shots.

    He is averaging 11.4 points, 3.7 boards and four assists on 41 percent shooting overall and 38.5 percent from distance.

    The evolution of George, Stephenson and Roy Hibbert has left Hill as a bit of the odd man out offensively, but he is still a deadly jump shooter, hitting on 42.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes according to Synergy.

    Perhaps most importantly for the Pacers, Hill simply does not make many mistakes. He is averaging just one turnover per game in his last five contests and is usually very careful with the basketball. He does not force the issue offensively either as a passer or a scorer, and while he can be a little too passive at times, that is not always a bad thing.

    Defensively, Hill is capable of covering most point guards and even some smaller shooting guards if needed, and he does a great job of not ceding defensive position by gambling for steals.

    Hill can force turnovers—he averages 1.2 steals per game—but he also does a great job of funneling his man into help defense from Hibbert or David West, leading to a low percentage shot.

    He's not going to have many eye-opening games this season, and at 27 years old he may not have much room for improvement, but Hill has quietly emerged as one of the Eastern Conference's more consistent point guards.

     

     

No. 8: Jordan Crawford

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    Jordan Crawford ended up with the Boston Celtics because he couldn't stop jacking up terrible shots. But with the help of Brad Stevens, he has completely revamped his game as an unselfish point guard who strikes a nice balance between looking for his offense and finding open teammates.

    Forced to be the first or second offensive option with the Washington Wizards, Crawford never had much of an opportunity to show off his passing instincts, but with Avery Bradley floundering at the point, Crawford stepped in and miraculously saved Boston's season.

    He's averaging 14.5 points, 3.4 boards and six assists on 43.4 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent from beyond the arc while earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

    Crawford still looks for his own offense plenty, but he now uses his herky-jerky dribble game to break down defenses and find open shooters.

    He's developed nice chemistry with Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass in the pick-and-pop game and actually has impressive floor vision for someone written off as a gunner early in his career.

    Crawford is also capable of creating his own shots at will. He's shooting 42.9 percent on isolation threes according to Synergy Sports and has the ability to make incredibly tough fadeaways and teardrops in the lane.

    Defensively Crawford still leaves something to be desired, but he's worked harder making decisions on screens and shutting down opposing pick-and-roll ball-handlers as well.

    It'll be fascinating to watch what happens to him once Rondo returns. If he continues to play this well, then there is a nice multi-year contract out there somewhere for Crawford.

No. 7: Kemba Walker

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    Kemba Walker was deemed a breakout player by some following a surprisingly strong sophomore campaign, but the third-year guard has plateaued a little quicker than anticipated.

    Walker's averages of 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists are fine, but not any different than his averages of 17.7 points, 3.5 boards and 5.7 assists as a sophomore.

    His shooting splits are down across the board too, as he's connecting on just 38.4 percent of his overall shots and 30.3 percent of his threes.

    There was hope that Walker and Al Jefferson would form a lethal high-low combination, but the two have not really been on the same page, partially due to Big Al's injuries.

    Still, Walker has had some big games, including a pair of 31-point outings against the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets, and he has as tight of a handle as any point guard in the league.

    His crossover is devilish and he shoots an impressive 45.5 percent on isolation plays, per Synergy Sports.

    If he had more reliable shooting around him in Charlotte, Walker would likely have even more driving lanes, but the Bobcats have been a dreadful team from the perimeter.

    He's still not a threat off the ball, shooting just 25.4 percent on spot-ups according to Synergy. Like so many young guards, that outside jumper will be crucial to his overall development. But Walker is a crafty scorer with a lethal first step.

    Walker needs to improve his playmaking and ability to run the pick-and-roll if he wants to make it as a starting point guard, but there is no denying his scoring ability.

No. 6: Brandon Jennings

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    The Detroit Pistons are an undeniably funky team, but they are also a fascinating one, and Brandon Jennings has been a major reason why.

    The fifth year guard, in his first season in the Motor City, has averaged 17.1 points, 3.4 boards and 7.6 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent from three-point territory.

    He's turning the ball over an unacceptable 3.6 times per game, but Young Money has made a concerted effort to be more of a pass-first guard. That kind of growth is surprising given his track record with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Jennings recognizes the offensive talent around him in Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond and he has done a good job of getting them the ball in spots where they can be effective.

    He has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Drummond and is able to find Monroe in the mid-post where he can be most effective. Jennings himself is shooting a stellar 48.1 percent as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports.

    His overall shot selection still leaves something to be desired, and he does not get to the foul line quite enough for someone with his penetration ability. But after looking stagnant in his last few years as a Buck, it's refreshing to see a different side of Jennings' game.

    Averaging a career-best 1.7 steals per game, Jennings is excellent at reading passing lanes and knocking balls loose to create fast-break opportunities.

    He sets the pace for this Detroit team well. While his flaws are still obvious, Jennings is the perfect guard for these resurgent Pistons.

No. 5: Michael Carter-Williams

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    The 11th overall pick in what appears to be the weakest NBA draft in years, there was no way to predict Michael Carter-Williams would be this good this fast.

    The versatile rookie is averaging 17.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists while shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from deep.

    In the process he has practically ended the Rookie of the Year race already.

    At 6'6", Carter-Williams has unusual size for the point guard position, and his tremendous wingspan makes it a nightmare for opponents to get a clean shot off over him. He also has the quickness to stay with smaller guards, and looks like he could be one of the game's premier perimeter defenders once he has more experience in the league.

    MCW is already holding opponents to just 37.6 percent shooting overall and 31.3 percent on isolations, according to Synergy Sports.

    Offensively Carter-Williams has been nothing short of a revelation. He's fearless pushing the ball in transition and is also a gifted playmaker who is perfectly willing to give the ball up if a teammate has a quality shot.

    Few rookies can switch between scorer mode and passer mode as fluidly as Carter-Williams, and the Syracuse star has also been a better shooter than many expected.

    He's shooting 32.4 percent from three which, while not impressive by itself, is solid enough to make defenses respect him. He's also shooting 42.4 percent on spot-up threes, per Synergy, which means he can do some work off the ball as well.

    Currently out with a knee infection, we should all hope MCW returns sooner rather than later, since the NBA is a more enjoyable place when he's playing.

No. 4: Jeff Teague

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Teague went largely ignored as a restricted free agent, but returned to the Atlanta Hawks with a fire under him. He's averaged 16.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 7.8 assists, albeit on 40.5 percent shooting and 25.9 percent from three.

    The shooting is an aberration and should increase eventually, as Teague is a career 44.6 percent shooter from the field and 33.6 percent from three, but he looks to have taken a leap as a facilitator this year.

    Working more with the ball in his hands than ever before now that Smith is gone, Teague has been able to use the mid-range shooting of Al Horford and Paul Millsap to his advantage, while also finding open shooters in Kyle Korver and Lou Williams consistently, particularly in transition.

    Always a crafty scorer, Teague has been terrific at getting into the lane this season and is averaging a career-best six free throw attempts per game. He is capable of drawing contact with regularity and still getting off a quality look, an impressive skill.

    Teague made his bones initially as a defender, and he is still one of the premier point guard defenders in the league. He's averaging 1.3 steals per game and holding opponents to just 39.3 percent shooting, according to Synergy Sports.

    He can pick up opposing ball-handlers full court and provide some deadly pressure, but is also great at fighting over screens and sticking with his man in the half court as well.

    If Teague's shooting percentages increase and the Hawks can reel off a nice win streak, expect Teague to be a dark horse All-Star candidate.

No. 3: Deron Williams

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    A fully healthy Deron Williams would be no lower than second on this list, but the former All-Star has appeared in just 11 games this season and is still coming off of troublesome ankle issues.

    Williams is averaging just 12.2 points, 2.2 boards and 6.2 assists on 45.3 percent shooting and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, but those numbers are clearly not indicative of his overall play.

    Since returning against Boston, Williams has begun to look like himself, a big, physical guard who can get to any spot on the court off the dribble and find open teammates.

    He has posted 20 assists through his last three games and is still a lethal pick-and-roll player thanks to his ability to finish in the paint or make a perfect pocket pass to a rolling big man.

    Brook Lopez and Williams are as good of a big man-guard tandem as there is in the league and if the two can stay healthy, they are nearly impossible to stop.

    Add to that the shooting of Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and even Kevin Garnett and the Nets should have the kind of floor spacing that Williams needs to be at his best.

    He has also done a nice job coming off of screens this season, shooting 54.5 percent in those situations, per Synergy.

    If Williams can stay healthy—and that's obviously a big if—he has a shot at snatching the Eastern Conference's best point guard crown, because there are not really any options out there who are at his talent level.

    In fact, Williams is really the only proven All-Star on this list.

No. 2: Kyrie Irving

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    Kyrie Irving has been his usual sensational self for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, but with his supporting cast struggling, defenses have been keying in on Irving even more than usual, causing his efficiency to plummet.

    Irving is averaging 21 points, 3.2 boards and six assists per game, but shooting just 41.2 percent overall and 32.4 percent from three-point range.

    Those splits are far cries from his career stats of 45 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from deep.

    He's shooting just 27.9 percent on spot-up shots per Synergy Sports and has not been able to play off the ball with Jarrett Jack, a combination the Golden State Warriors used to perfection by running Stephen Curry around screens while Jack brought the ball up the floor.

    Irving is still a gifted player who can finish at the rim, score off of the pick-and-roll and fill it up from three. The problem is he's doing all of those things less efficiently and consistently than he once was.

    Part of the problem is Mike Brown's humdrum offense that does not give a player of Irving's talent level the freedom he deserves. But another part of it is that Irving has developed some bad habits, including settling for too many off the dribble two-pointers.

    Irving has also had his share of problems defensively. He's holding opponents to a very solid 36.2 percent shooting according to Synergy, but he is also prone to ball-watching and not keeping his man in front of him.

    He's also not forcing turnovers as easily as he used to, averaging just one steal per contest, a career-low.

    Make no mistake, Irving is still a wizard with the basketball who is one of the most thrilling offensive players in the league. But for someone who looked like a franchise player in just his second season, Irving has not developed quite as well as many hoped.

    On the plus side he has stayed healthy, appearing in 21 of Cleveland's first 22 games.

No. 1: John Wall

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    John Wall is not a perfect player by any means, but through the first quarter of the season he has been the best healthy point guard in the Eastern Conference.

    Wall, now with a max contract to his name, is averaging 19.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 9.2 assists to go with 2.2 steals per game. He's shooting just 40.4 percent from the floor but has upped his three-point percentage to a semi-respectable 32.1.

    After showing little growth from his rookie to his sophomore year, Wall has kept up the torrid pace he started when he returned for his third campaign. His jump shot is more consistent and with that the floor has really opened up for Wall, one of the game's premier athletes at the point guard spot.

    He is a one-man wrecking crew in transition, sprinting down the floor and finishing at the rim with a highlight reel play every chance he gets. Wall is shooting 55.4 percent in transition this season, per Synergy Sports.

    His off the ball game has also improved as Wall is shooting 40 percent on spot-up threes per Synergy, proving that it is the more difficult off the dribble attempts that are bringing his percentages down.

    Turnovers are still a problem for Wall given his aggressive style. He's averaging 3.5 a game, but with the addition of a true pick-and-roll center in Marcin Gortat, Wall has looked more comfortable running the NBA's bread-and-butter play.

    Before Bradley Beal's injury, the pair were looking like the best young guard tandem in the league, with both capable of creating offense and scoring in bunches.

    Defensively Wall has taken another step up, as he is using his lightning-quick hands to force turnovers and has done a nice job blowing up pick-and-rolls. Opposing guards are shooting just 33.8 percent on pick-and-rolls against him, according to Synergy.

    If the Wizards survive their rash of injuries and make the playoffs, as they likely will, it will be almost purely because of Wall's brilliance and the growth that he has shown as a 23 year old. 

The Wounded

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    A list of Eastern Conference point guards would not be complete without at least mentioning Rondo and Rose, two of the league's premier lead guards who are both injured and not on the court.

    Rondo has yet to play a single game in 2013-14 and at this point many are speculating if he will ever suit up for Boston again before being dealt. Rose came back and was just beginning to round into shape before a meniscus tear forced Chicago to shelve him for the rest of the season.

    Without the two All-Stars the Eastern Conference point guard picture is undeniably bleak, and while there are a number of intriguing youngsters like Carter-Williams, Wall and Irving, any list like this is simply not the same.