Great point guard play is at a premium in today's NBA. This sounds questionable due to the Association's tremendous depth at point guard, but that wealth of floor generals is exactly why it is true.
Jeff Teague, Michael Carter-Williams and Jrue Holiday are all considered very good NBA players. Yet they are inferior to roughly half of the players they go up against. At the same time, superior point guards like Kyrie Irving and Ty Lawson struggle to dominate the middle guys because those middle guys are so good.
In a league with this sort of landscape, it is extremely difficult to get any kind of real advantage at point guard. The Golden State Warriors are not only one of the few teams (maybe eight) with an edge, but they have one over the entire NBA.
It starts with Stephen Curry, who is one of the top three point guards in the league. Chris Paul still holds the top spot, and nothing short of Derrick Rose returning and being considerably better than he was pre-injury will change that. Paul is too well-rounded, as he can run an offense and set up teammates, knock down shots and take over as a scorer, lock down opposing point guards and force turnovers. He impacts the game more than any NBA player besides LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
After Paul, though, it's Curry or Russell Westbrook. Tony Parker is either declining in ability or in importance to the San Antonio Spurs. Damian Lillard is developing as a playmaker, but he isn't there yet and his defense is atrocious.
John Wall, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic have all had one fantastic NBA season, and all have to follow up with even better 2014-15 campaigns to challenge the top three. Rose is an unknown after a two-year absence.
Curry is a superstar, a truly great point guard in a league full of very, very good ones. He put together a ridiculous season last year that included averages of 24.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, a 47.1 field-goal percentage, 42.4 three-point percentage and 88.5 free-throw percentage.
No player has ever combined high-volume scoring, deadly shooting and precise passing like Curry does.
That's a little unfair since no player has ever shot quite like Curry. But the fact that he is the greatest shooter of all time (a well-documented point) while also being one of the top-seven scorers and assisters in the NBA last season makes him a uniquely versatile offensive player.
He's not a strong defender, but he is an adequate one. He fights through screens better than most, plays passing lanes well, provides disruptive help defense and does a fantastic job clearing the defensive glass.
That doesn't completely cancel out his struggles when tasked with guarding high-level point guards one-on-one, but it places him a tier above other poor defensive point guards who don't find alternative ways to contribute on that end (Lillard, Irving, Lawson, etc).
The battle between Curry and Westbrook for the No. 2 spot is up to personal choice. Curry is a more dominant offensive player and has a higher basketball IQ, while Westbrook is a far superior defensive player and tougher to match up against physically and athletically.
In 2012-13, the Warriors got arguably the best point guard play in the NBA from Curry and Jarrett Jack. Two years later, Curry is a significantly better player than he was then, while Jack has been replaced with a potential upgrade in Shaun Livingston.
Lat season, the Warriors struggled to find even an average point guard to put on the floor when Curry rested or moved off the ball. Toney Douglas failed, Jordan Crawford failed, Steve Blake failed.
Those three are all solid players. The problem was fit as much as anything. Douglas is a defensive specialist with a limited offensive game. Crawford is a shooting guard. Blake is a smart passer and shooter but cannot create with his dribble or make plays for teammates.
The Warriors do not have a ball-dominant sixth man, so they need a backup point guard who can make things easy for their bench unit while also seamlessly slotting into the starting lineup. Jack did these things, and Livingston should do them even better.
Livingston is an excellent ball-handler and fantastic creator. He has the ability to get to his spot on the floor, read the defense and find teammates with dazzling passes. He's far more advanced than Jack as a playmaker.
At 6'7", he's a phenomenal defender as well. He can shut down opposing point guards and shooting guards, which will allow him to thrive alongside Curry. In the past, sliding Curry to the 2 created defensive issues for Golden State; Livingston's Thompson-esque defense will change this.
The thought of the Warriors being able to play Curry off the ball without losing anything defensively is tantalizing. The only issue is that Livingston is a terrible shooter.
This really matters. It's the reason that he signed as a backup, as high-end of one as he may be. Add an outside shot to Livingston's game, and he's every bit as good as Mike Conley.
Livingston does not shoot threes. He's made 10 in nine NBA seasons. He doesn't even shoot long twos; his range is limited to roughly 15 feet.
He's one of the best post-up guards in the league, and that combined with his basketball IQ allows him to simply avoid shooting jumpers. Ricky Rubio, who is a similarly incompetent shooter, cannot score like Livingston, so he just continues to hoist. Point being, there are worse-looking shot charts.
Jack was a three-point marksman, and his ability to stretch the floor made Golden State's offense insanely potent when he played alongside Curry. Still, Livingston's playmaking and defense make him an all-around better player and better fit.
Aaron Craft and Nemanja Nedovic
The Warriors are likely to carry a third point guard into the 2014-15 season, and it will either be Aaron Craft or Nemanja Nedovic.
Craft, the former Ohio State star and Warriors Las Vegas Summer League standout, seems to have a leg up. He's a feisty on-ball defender, a solid passer and a high-energy guy.
That last part may actually be the most important of the three. Nedovic may have a better NBA build, more athleticism and more professional experience, but Craft has an infectious personality. With Curry and Livingston playing 99 percent of the meaningful minutes, these two are competing to be the next Kent Bazemore more than anything else.
That's a battle Craft should easily win. He also makes slightly more sense as a player, as he has a superior basketball IQ to Nedovic. He's less turnover-prone and won't get beaten on defense, which makes him a safer security option.
No. 1 at the 1
With one of the top three starting point guards and one of the top three backup point guards in the NBA, Golden State will be able to control the game from the floor general position.
This means that teams will have to beat the Warriors elsewhere. With Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut rounding out the starting lineup, it will be incredibly difficult for opponents to counter the Warriors' edge at point guard. There are better players at all of those positions, but there are few that can dominate Golden State to the extent that the Warriors can dominate at point guard.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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