8 Point Guards Who Could Lead Their Teams' on Deep Playoff Runs.
The NBA is in the golden age of point guards. More than half the playoff teams poised for a deep run are led or co-led by elite-caliber quarterbacks who can both score and pass.
Of course, not all teams are. The Miami Heat are led by LeBron James, a small forward, and Dwyane Wade, a shooting guard. The Indiana Pacers are led by Paul George and David West, both forwards. Such teams aren’t included in these rankings.
The players are not ranked according to their skill, because being the best player doesn't equate with having the best chance at a deep playoff run.
Rather, they are listed in order of their teams' chances of getting to the finals, based on John Hollinger’s playoff odds.
Honorable Mention: The Bottom Seeds
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
Teague has emerged as a quality point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 assists. Realistically, the Hawks aren’t going anywhere. Being the last seed in the weaker Eastern Conference just means winning the right to not have any lottery balls and get pummeled in the first round.
The only reason the Hawks are in the postseason is because they were slightly less bad than the other teams that didn't make it in the East. They have a snowball's chance in a Georgian July of beating the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in a seven-game series.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Mike Conley is notching 17.2 points and 6.0 assists, which he couples with superb defense.
The Grizzlies have played well down the stretch, but they are going to face the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant, who does not look like he's planning on a first-round exit.
Neither of these players makes the list because their teams have little chance of a deep run. They do make honorable mention, though, because they are worthy point guards.
Honorable Mention: D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls, 14.2 Percent
No one is going to confuse D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls with being elite point guards. Hinrich is well past his prime, and Augustin was left for dead on the waiver wire, the proverbial trash heap of the NBA, when the Bulls resuscitated him last December.
Yet somehow that tandem has been a pivotal part of the Bulls' resurgence from the adversity of losing their superstar point guard, Derrick Rose, and having All-Star forward Luol Deng shipped off for cap space and picks.
According to HoopsStats.com, the Bulls have the sixth-best net efficiency from the point guard position since the All-Star Game.
Between Augustin’s shot creating and scoring and Hinrich’s improved shooting and defense, the Bulls are playing the point guard position as well as most, but doing so by committee rather than getting it from one player. It’s enough to earn them an honorable mention on this list.
8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, 2.9 Percent
Basketball-Reference's Play Index reveals that Damian Lillard has an NBA-record 403 three-pointers in his first two seasons. The next-best in history is Klay Thompson with 322. That means Lillard is on pace to open his career with 25 percent more threes than anyone ever has.
That’s putting the Trail Blazer in Portland.
This year he’s averaging 20.7 points and 5.6 assists with an effective field-goal percentage of .506.
He’s leading a team that has already improved by 20 wins over last year’s total. Lillard explained his team’s turnaround to Randy Hollis of Salt Lake City's Deseret News:
You've just got to keep believing. Last year, we had a lot of new players on the team. We were a really young team, and we were trying to put it together. We won 33 games, but it takes time. Even the best teams, they had their time when they struggled.
The Trail Blazers look like they’re headed for a first-round tilt with the Houston Rockets, who are tied for fourth-fewest points surrendered to point guards, so Lillard will have a tough job ahead of him in his first postseason run. Patrick Beverley, the Rockets' starter, is a defensive stalwart.
On the other hand, Houston gives up 8.1 treys per contest, 10th most in the NBA. That bodes well for Lillard’s sharpshooting ways. If his jumper is wet, the Rockets may have trouble igniting at launch and prove to be a dud.
7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 4.2 Percent
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors may establish himself as the greatest shooter ever before he retires. While he’s at a very early stage in his career, what he’s done so far is mind-blowing. In just five seasons, he’s already nailed 905 three-point shots.
That’s good enough to place him 96th all-time, just ahead of Kevin Durant. Furthermore, no player in history with at least 2,000 three-point attempts has a better three-point percentage than Curry’s .440.
He did it again on May 6, when he went off for 44 points and 11 assists in Game 1 of the Warriors' second-round series with the San Antonio Spurs.
When Curry’s shot is going, he’s an absolute beast. But he’s far from a one-trick pony. He is also an elite passer, averaging 8.5 dimes a contest. This season he has 1,873 points and 666 assists.
Since the merger, only Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway, Magic Johnson and LeBron James have matched those numbers. And depending on how Curry closes out the season, James and Hardaway could fall off that list.
Curry’s dead-eye shooting and precision passing make him a threat to carry the Warriors to a deep postseason run.
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards, 4.9 Percent
John Wall of the Washington Wizards was taken No. 1 overall out of Kentucky in 2010. For a while, it looked like he might be a bit of a disappointment as a top overall pick. Those doubts are being brushed aside this season, though.
This year, Wall averaged career highs in points (19.3), assists (8.8), steals (1.8) and effective field-goal percentage (.473). That means he’s scoring more, doing it more efficiently and doing a better job of involving his teammates—all while being more aggressive on defense.
Wall’s play will be instrumental if the Wizards are going to have playoff success. Washington is 38-19 when Wall posts a higher efficiency than his counterpart. It is 5-14 when he’s outplayed.
The Wizards will be facing off against the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and that's going to be a stiff challenge as the Bulls have the second most efficient defense in the NBA.
The Wizards’ hopes of a deep playoff run rest squarely on the maturing shoulders of Wall.
5. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets, 5.2 Percent
Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets has not justified the heavy cost—both in traded players and assets and a max contract—the Nets have paid for him. Now, he has a chance to prove he’s worth all of it.
In his years with the Utah Jazz, 98 of his 489 games (20 percent) were good for 20 points and 10 assists. In his time with the Nets, he has hit those benchmarks just 20 times in 208 games, less than 10 percent, less than half the frequency.
He shot .466 from the field in Utah. He’s shooting .427 for the Nets.
There have been excuses, even valid reasons, for Williams’ struggles. He’s had injuries affect him. He’s had his teammates in flux. He’s had different coaches. All of that influences continuity, which can be critical with a point guard trying to direct an offense.
But now, in these playoffs, he’ll have no excuses. He has presumed future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on his team. The Nets are playing well heading into the postseason, boasting the second-best record in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1.
His coach, Jason Kidd, has two Coach of the Month awards this season.
He has the help now, but the Nets will only go as far as he carries them. If he steps up and proves himself to be that 20-10 guy again, they’ll have a bona fide shot at the finals. If not, they’ll be looking at an early exit.
4. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors, 18.1 Percent
Kyle Lowry is one of the most underrated players in the league. His passing and scoring are great—he averages 7.4 assists and 17.9 points—but his rebounding adds another dimension to his game, especially when you factor in that he’s only 6’0”.
It is apt that he plays for a team whose moniker comes from the Velociraptor, the smaller but scarier of the prehistoric villains from Jurassic Park. Short but lethal is a good way to describe Lowry.
He and backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan are pivotal for the Raptors' success. Based on net efficiency, they have the third-best backcourt in the NBA. They are 43-6 when they win that positional battle and 4-27 when they lose it.
Driving point guards are the rage in the league these days, and in terms of efficiency, Lowry is the most efficient there is this year. Per the SportsVU tracking data provided by NBA.com, Lowry drives the ball 6.2 times per game, and his team gets 7.9 points on those drives, either by shots from Lowry or kicks to open teammates, such as DeRozan.
That’s an average of 1.27 points when Lowry drives. No point guard does better. Overall, only three players with at least 5.0 drives a game are more efficient: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden.
The Raptors are pretty much ignored by most as a potential contender. In part that’s because they’re off in Canada, and out of sight means out of mind. But it’s also because they are new to the postseason scene, and it takes a playoff run to learn how win once you get there.
On that front, the same can be said for their potential first-round opponent, the Washington Wizards. If that happens, the Raptors should be favorites to get to the second round, but it’s hard to see them clawing past the Heat.
3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, 18.1 Percent
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook might be the most explosive point guard in NBA history. No stats are needed to prove that. All you have to do is watch him at his finest. His speed, burst and leaping ability are breathtaking.
When he’s healthy, he’s almost unstoppable. But that’s the big caveat here, “when he’s healthy.”
Westbrook has been in and out this season because of injuries.
As a result, the argument can be made, that the Thunder have been a better team with backup, Reggie Jackson, starting in his stead.
When backup Reggie Jackson is with the starters, the Thunder have a net rating of plus-6.3. When Russell Westbrook is with the starters, they’re a minus-4.6. That’s a dramatic swing.
As a result, the argument can be made that the Thunder have been a better team with Jackson starting in his stead.
But Westbrook’s been more or less stable in the lineup since the All-Star break, and his game is coming around. Prior to the break, he was averaging 21.3 points and shooting .424 from the field.
Since the break, he’s averaging 22.3 points on .455 shooting.
He’s actually getting 1.2 more points on 1.5 fewer attempts per game, so there’s no level on which that doesn’t sound good if you’re a Thunder fan.
If Westbrook can play at an elite caliber without hindering potential MVP Kevin Durant in the process, look for the Thunder to possibly win their first ring in their new digs this season.
2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers, 18.1 Percent
This is the ninth season for Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s no longer an up-and-coming player who just needs a little time and the right situation to prove himself.
In fact, it’s hard to think of another player who was considered elite but who has had less postseason success without much criticism.
In his entire career, Paul has only won two playoff series and never made it past the second round.
That’s partly because there have always been reasons to account for Paul’s lack of postseason success. His proponents argue that he hasn’t had the help from his teammates or coaches needed to win a title.
Perhaps that’s fair, but that same line of reasoning has been applicable to everyone from Carmelo Anthony while with both the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks to LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was true with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls until they finally won. It was even the case with Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals 60 years ago.
The point is, other elite players have had more success with little accompanying talent or coaching help, yet received more criticism for it, too.
This is easily the best group that Paul has ever worked with. He has a proven coach in Doc Rivers. Blake Griffin has blossomed into a true superstar. Some, such as NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, even argue that Griffin is the Most Valuable Clipper now.
Paul is having another prodigious regular season, averaging 19.1 points and 10.7 assists per game. Yet if he doesn’t do something in the playoffs this year, he’s going to start getting the Peyton Manning treatment, and he might be soon dubbed as one of the best "regular-season" point guards ever.
Paul needs to at least get to the conference finals to avoid that. If he doesn’t, things could get ugly fast.
1. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, 46.3 Percent
I’ve heard people argue that an elite point guard hasn’t won the NBA title since Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas were roaming the court.
Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs disagrees, and he has a Finals MVP from the 2006-07 postseason and three rings to prove it.
That makes him one of only three point guards to have multiple titles and a Finals MVP, the other two being Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson.
The only two point guards who have more career postseason points and assists than Parker are Johnson and Jerry West. If he duplicates last postseason’s Finals run, Parker is poised to move past West in the assists column this year and Johnson in the scoring column.
If you expand the list beyond point guards, you only add five names: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, LeBron James, Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant. That’s some very elite company.
Based on the numbers, Parker can be considered one of the five greatest postseason point guards of all time. Add Bob Cousy to the list of point guards already mentioned, and who else is even close? That’s your top five to arrange however you want.
And the most interesting thing about that argument is that almost no one would ever make it—or even be aware it could be made.
Three NBA championships, one Finals MVP and one of the most productive postseason careers in history give such an argument credibility, though.
If Parker can lead his Spurs to the Finals and win a second MVP award there, he’d be only the second point guard to own more than one Bill Russell trophy.
His teammate, Tim Duncan, has often been considered (accurately) under-appreciated because of the limited limelight shed on the Spurs. However, what little there’s been has gone mostly to Duncan.
Parker could make history this year, and if he does, maybe the nation will finally notice one of the greatest postseason point guards in history is in our midst.