Ranking the Top 10 Point Guards in the NBA After 2013-14 Quarter-Way Mark
Is any position more glamorous than point guard?
Centers historically win championships, but floor generals are the players who win over fans with their dynamic athletic plays, how-did-he-see-that-opening passes and flashy dribbling skills.
They handle the rock more than any other player on the court (usually) and captivate audiences from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
Plus, the NBA is brimming over with quality floor generals.
Honing the list down to the top 10 is nearly impossible. Even after allowing the list to grow from 10 to 11 and including three honorable mentions, there are still players who I feel bad about failing to mention. Guys like Michael Carter-Williams deserve respect, even if they fall just shy of the cut thanks to a lack of track record at the professional level.
These rankings are steeped heavily in performance during the 2013-14 campaign. History does matter, but it's still largely about what these players have done for their teams this season.
Does your favorite team have a representative? Could it—gasp—even have two?
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come courtesy of Basketball-Reference and are current as of Dec. 18.
10B. Goran Dragic
Team: Phoenix Suns
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.5 PER
Goran Dragic has developed into one of the craftiest players in the NBA.
Even when he isn't quick enough to rocket by a defender, he's still going to be able to create space, solely because he has so many shakes, dekes and fakes that he can use to confuse defenders.
Basketball is looking increasingly easy for this creative floor general, especially because he's spent so much time playing next to another guy who draws a lot of defensive attention.
Dragic has been a huge part of the effort to turn the Phoenix Suns from Wiggins contender to playoff contender, and his success doesn't look particularly fluky. As long as he's able to keep up this type of play, it's not at all impossible for the desert dwellers to sneak into the postseason.
But he has to keep it up, and that means shooting nearly 50 percent from the field while averaging 19.1 points per game.
Honorable Mentions: Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Deron Williams
10A. Eric Bledsoe
Team: Phoenix Suns
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 22.2 PER
Eric Bledsoe needed an opportunity. One that involved more than coming off the bench to spell Chris Paul, since Vinny Del Negro clearly had nothing but disdain for sets that involved multiple point guards on the court at one time.
Well, Bledsoe has received an opportunity. And he's made the most of it.
The dynamic point guard has emerged as one of the league's better fourth-quarter players, refusing to let his performance dip during close games. He's displayed a tremendous amount of forgetfulness, which is rather impressive for a 24-year-old starting games for the first time in his professional career.
Wait. How is forgetfulness a positive trait?
It's not like Bledsoe is forgetting which play to run for the Phoenix Suns or failing to remember the basic rules of basketball. Instead, he's displaying an ability to forget the past when his performance is sub-par and remain in the moment.
All that's keeping this member of the upstart Suns from rising even higher is his inability to take care of the ball. Averaging 3.5 turnovers per game is too much, especially when playing alongside the other part of the package-deal backcourt.
9. Ty Lawson
Team: Denver Nuggets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.1 PER
The 2013-14 campaign always figured to be a make-or-break season for Ty Lawson.
Gone were all of the comfort blankets that allowed him to excel last year.
Andre Iguodala had departed for the Golden State Warriors, meaning that all ball-handling responsibilities were suddenly heaped upon the shoulders of the point guard. Brian Shaw replaced George Karl, and the system that Lawson had developed in was gone.
The result could have been a serious step back, but Lawson has instead thrived in his increased role. That, more than anything else, has allowed the Nuggets to remain in playoff contention despite the brutally difficult nature of the Western Conference.
Always one of the speediest players in the NBA, Lawson has developed the ability to change directions when turning on the jets, and that's allowed him to use pick-and-roll/pop sets much more comfortably.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Lawson has scored 0.97 points per possession as a ball-handler in PnR sets, which is the No. 6 mark throughout the NBA. Not too shabby, huh?
8. Tony Parker
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks, 19.9 PER
Tony Parker is still one of the uber-elite point guards on a per-possession basis, but the San Antonio Spurs aren't using him as heavily this year. And in a position this packed with quality players, that's enough for him to experience a rather substantial drop from the No. 2 spot he's held down for a while.
Parker is playing only 30.2 minutes per game, down from the 32.9 he received in 2012-13. On top of that, his usage rate has fallen slightly, dropping to 27.3.
The combination of not handling the ball as often and playing less is a brutal one, even if Parker has been brilliant whenever possible.
After all, the French floor general has shot 51.4 percent from the floor, a career-best 40.7 percent beyond the arc and a lackluster 72 percent at the charity stripe. He's also firing away from downtown with more frequency than he has since the 2004-05 season, so that middle percentage isn't too meaningless.
Parker is not declining. Let's make that perfectly clear.
But he's also not getting better now that he's 31, and the minute-managing employed by Gregg Popovich is knocking him down the rankings. Something tells me that both point guard and coach are OK with that, as it's still keeping the Spurs right near the top of the Western Conference.
7. Mike Conley
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.5 PER
Mike Conley has used the 2013-14 campaign to emerge as a left-handed, two-way wrecking ball at the point guard position.
Not only has he stepped up to the challenge after Marc Gasol went down, taking on more of the ball-handling responsibilities and becoming the clear-cut No. 1 option for the Memphis Grizzlies, but he's also maintained his defensive presence.
Conley's offensive numbers don't seem impressive enough to warrant the No. 7 spot among all point guards, especially since that leaves him just ahead of Tony Parker. But it's not just about offense with this Ohio State product.
His individual numbers may not show it, but Conley is the engine behind the Grizz's defense, at least while Gasol is out of the lineup. He pressures opposing point guards, jumps passing lanes and leads the team on that end of the court.
And then there's the efficiency.
Not only is Conley averaging only 1.9 turnovers per game, but he's also shooting 47.9 percent from the floor. That's one heck of a combination, and it's allowed the lefty to move onto the brink of elitedom.
6. Kyrie Irving
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 18.6 PER
Look out, NBA.
Kyrie Irving is starting to heat up again after a dreadful start to his third professional season.
Over his last five games—ranging from the Cleveland Cavaliers' 88-82 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers to the hard-fought loss against the Portland Trail Blazers—the 21-year-old point guard has exploded for 26.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game.
More impressively and importantly, he's done so while shooting 47.0 percent from the field, 41.9 percent beyond the arc and 92.6 percent at the charity stripe. Efficiency, which has been a negative word for Irving throughout the season, is starting to become a positive.
If he can keep these type of numbers up, Irving has the potential to rise all the way up the rankings. Before the season started, he was a trendy choice to eventually overtake Chris Paul for the No. 1 spot, but he hasn't been able to justify the hype this season.
Fortunately, that's changing. And the direction of the Cavs' season is changing right along with his play.
5. Damian Lillard
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.9 PER
Damian Lillard must have ice water flowing through his veins.
As B/R's Zach Buckley wrote following his outburst and game-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers, "He is the embodiment of a sports cliche, a big-time player making big-time plays."
Lillard truly has been en fuego lately, especially at the end of close games. Even when he can't come out on top—as was the case against the Dallas Mavericks, thanks to Monta Ellis' trumping of Lillard's game-tying, double-clutch three-pointer—he's drilling huge shots for the scorching Portland Trail Blazers.
However, don't let performance in crunch-time overtake the rest of the game. After all, crucial shots aren't necessary if the contest is already out of reach.
Lillard still has a lot of areas in which he could improve, which is by no means problematic for a second-year player fresh out of Weber State. Once his defense gets even better and he starts shooting on the right side of 40 percent, then the sky is truly the limit for Lillard.
For now, though, he's still on the outside of the top four.
4. John Wall
Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 20.0 PER
A 20/10 season is still within reach.
John Wall is averaging 19.5 points and 9.3 assists per game, which puts him within striking distance of the elusive club. And over his past five games, the speedy point guard for the Washington Wizards is posting 21.4 and 9.4, so he's drawing closer still.
Once he develops a working jumper, that's when Wall can truly challenge for the top spot in the rankings. He's already impossible to stop when he puts his head down and seeks out the rim, but he'd be [insert word that is stronger than impossible] to stop if defenders were forced to respect his shooting stroke as well.
Additionally, Wall is one of the best rebounders at his position.
Only Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook are averaging more boards per game than the former Kentucky standout. Because of that, you could say he's just contributing across the board for the Wizards.
I'll see myself out.
3. Russell Westbrook
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 20.3 PER
Russell Westbrook is O-Robbing it up right now.
Over his last five games, the ridiculously athletic point guard is averaging a jaw-dropping 20.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game while steering the Oklahoma City Thunder to a spotless 5-0 record. And that's just par for the course.
Well, the numbers are a little bit extreme. Chances are, Westbrook isn't going to average a triple-double throughout the 2013-14 season, nor is he going to come even remotely close. If LeBron James can't, chances are nobody will in the foreseeable future.
But the Thunder aren't going to lose many games when Westbrook is playing well and joined by this guy named Kevin Durant.
Since the floor general returned from offseason arthroscopic surgery, OKC is a stellar 18-3.
2. Stephen Curry
- Chris Paul, 42.4
- Stephen Curry, 42.3
- LeBron James, 38.3
- Kevin Durant, 38.3
- John Wall, 38.1
- James Harden, 36.3
- Kevin Love, 33.0
- Carmelo Anthony, 31.9
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 24.5 PER
Stephen Curry is pretty good at this whole offense thing.
Not only is he averaging 24.3 points per game, which leaves him trailing only Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Love and James Harden, but he's also putting up 9.0 assists per contest.
The only players topping that mark are Chris Paul and John Wall.
In fact, let's just look at points contributed per game (PPG + APG*2 assuming that all dimes are worth only two points for the sake of simplicity). Here is how the eight aforementioned players stack up:
CP3 and Curry are just that far ahead of the rest of the pack, so you can see why Curry has jumped so close to the top of the point guard rankings. He's posting those numbers quite efficiently, after all.
Not only is the league's premier sharpshooter knocking down 46.5 percent of his shots from the field, but he's drilling 41.7 percent of his three-point attempts and 88.3 percent of the looks at the charity stripe.
Plus, there's the whole ability to close games.
I won't get into the validity of this statement, but Curry did tell the world via ESPN The Magazine's Sam Alipour, "[Michael] Jordan's No. 1, I'm No. 2 ," referring to the all-time rankings of closers.
1. Chris Paul
Team: Chris Paul
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 28.5 PER
If you skipped right to Chris Paul's featured spot in the rankings, go ahead and move back a slide so that you can see just how elite CP3 has been when it comes to creating offense. And, much like Stephen Curry, he's doing so with incredible efficiency.
More efficiency, in fact.
While Paul can't hope to match Curry's contributions beyond the arc, he's still shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 87.6 percent at the charity stripe. Plus, he's turning the ball over 2.6 times per game, far fewer than the 4.2 cough-ups his Golden State counterpart records during the average outing.
So, superior offense? Check.
And how about defense?
Well, CP3 has taken a step backward during the 2013-14 campaign, but he's still one of the elite defenders at point guard. Not only is he one of the league's best thieves, but he cuts off drives to the basket quite well.
He's still the complete package at the position, and while his perch atop the rankings is no longer safe from assault, he's still fending off all advances.