NBA Player Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Point Guards at the Halfway Point
The point guards of today's NBA are no longer tasked solely with making teammates' lives easier.
Those "pure" floor generals still exist, but the league's best at the position also do everything else. They're capable of driving to the hoop and finishing plays through traffic, connecting on long-range attempts off the dribble, rebounding to start transition opportunities without an outlet pass and attempting to slow down their counterparts.
The ones who can do almost everything? They're the players who rise to the forefront of the MVP conversation. Stephen Curry is your two-time reigning MVP, while James Harden and Russell Westbrook are trading blows in the race for this year's premier individual award.
But this position isn't just top-heavy. It's also deep.
By analyzing the work these players have already done in 2016-17, as well as their reputations from previous seasons and the expectations going forward, we're here to put the top 30 point guards in order. The goal is to identify the players we'd most want to build around for the remainder of the current campaign, so long-term upside and prowess in the distant past are irrelevant.
30. Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 8.8 PER, Minus-29.44 TPA, Minus-2.37 RPM
The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't handed Kris Dunn the keys during his rookie season, and they won't so long as Ricky Rubio is on the roster. Dunn's poor shooting from the perimeter doesn't aid his case since he's made just 30.3 percent of his three-point attempts and 38.1 percent of his field-goal tries.
But the Providence product has already emerged as a strong defender, and that's what gives him the boost over some of his veteran counterparts.
His solid frame allows him to fight through screens in a way many 1-guards can't, and his lateral quickness helps him stay in front of most foes. While discipline can occasionally be an issue, the raw tools are already coming together for Dunn, even if his playing time might indicate otherwise.
Honorable Mentions: Jerryd Bayless, Michael Carter-Williams, Raymond Felton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Raul Neto
29. Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 12.6 PER, Minus-34.69 TPA, Minus-1.5 RPM
Ish Smith's lack of shooting chops will always hold him back in the modern NBA, but he's maximized his value to the Detroit Pistons by focusing on his strengths.
Not blessed with size (6'0"), Smith devotes himself to high-energy defense away from the primary action. He might not rack up many steals, but he shuts down passing lanes, forces his man into disadvantageous situations and understands the systems run by his squad. According to ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus, he trails only eight point guards even while struggling in pick-and-roll coverage.
But Smith's true strength comes in the drive-and-kick game, helping maximize the production of Detroit's shooters with his on-target feeds. Twenty-seven different players embark on more drives per game, but only five record more assists on those plays.
28. Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 4.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 10.1 PER, Minus-28.03 TPA, Minus-2.49 RPM
If you're defending Shaun Livingston, you have to be aware he's going to pull up for a mid-range jumper.
His height allows him to play solid defense and rebound the ball when he's around the paint, but that jumper remains his calling card. Few players are able to slow him down without fouling, since his 6'7" frame and high release allow him to shoot over the top with ease.
He's connecting at a 46.3 percent clip from between 10 and 16 feet; The threat of those jumpers (and the spacing around him) has made it even easier for him to thrive on the interior. Livingston is knocking down 73.7 percent of his looks from between three and 10 feet, and he's hitting 80 percent of his attempts from within three feet.
Both those latter numbers would be career highs with room to spare.
27. Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 14.0 PER, 1.64 TPA, Minus-0.36 RPM
Seth Curry may not be Steph Curry, but he can shoot the basketball.
"Seth is just as talented as his brother," Muggsy Bogues, who watched the Curry brothers grow up while playing on the Charlotte Hornets with their father, Dell Curry, told SlamOnline.com's Max Resetar.
"He's getting the opportunity now to showcase it in Dallas. I'm happy and excited and proud like a big uncle, sitting back watching."
Though the diminutive retired point guard may be exaggerating, this Curry has indeed acquitted himself nicely since signing a two-year, $6 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. He's knocked down 44.6 percent of his field-goal attempts and 39.1 percent of his triples.
While he may not be able to score in volume like his older brother, he's similarly adept at creating looks off the dribble—only 76.9 percent of his treys have come off an assist.
26. Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 15.7 PER, Minus-55.55 TPA, Minus-2.21 RPM
Even though Derrick Rose is capable of putting together sterling offensive showings and throwing down massive slams, he hasn't come close to achieving consistency with the New York Knicks.
His impressive outings, which remind viewers of his pre-injury achievements, and his putrid games cancel each other out, leaving Rose as an average offensive player who admittedly carries upside. He'll only regain stardom—in terms of on-court ability, not off-court hype—if he can start knocking down threes at better than a 24.5 percent clip.
Of course, Rose could also help his case on defense.
His production will continue to lag well behind his reputation so long as he remains one of the league's worst stoppers. NBA Math's defensive points saved has him as one of the NBA's bottom 30 defenders, and ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus places him at No. 69 among 84 point guards.
25. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.4 steals
Advanced Metrics: 14.5 PER, Minus-34.88 TPA, Minus-1.83 RPM
Age isn't usually kind to point guards, and Tony Parker hasn't been an exception.
Parker has lost a step, which prevents him from earning the mid-range opportunities he feasted upon during his prime, and that necessitates adjustment. The San Antonio Spurs have begun the process of phasing him out of their schemes, relying more on Kawhi Leonard's shot-creating abilities and LaMarcus Aldridge's knack for operating out of the post.
But the 34-year-old can still provide vintage efforts once in a while. During a five-game stretch surrounding New Year's Day, he averaged 19.2 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 62.3 percent from the field.
Is that a small-sample-size fluke? Probably. But the fact Parker is willing to accept his diminished role when he's not catching fire is valuable in and of itself.
24. Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 20.0 PER, 6.37 TPA, Minus-0.34 RPM
Jeremy Lin has quietly established himself as a legitimate starting point guard with the Brooklyn Nets, when he's actually healthy.
He was solid in his role off the Charlotte Hornets bench in 2015-16, but he's been even better (when healthy) after the Nets allowed him to take over as a pick-and-roll maestro. NBA.com's SportVU data shows that Lin's scoring 0.99 points per possession as a ball-handler in that situation, which leaves him in the 86.4 percentile.
Unfortunately for the Nets, more responsibility as an offensive initiator has also led to Lin's regression in a few areas that proved problematic in previous campaigns. He's turning the ball over 3.8 times per 36 minutes (the most since his Linsanity season with the New York Knicks), and he's played spottier defense than he did in limited run with Charlotte.
23. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 13.5 PER, 5.94 TPA, 1.02 RPM
Ricky Rubio remains a tremendous passer who can't shoot, a strong rebounding point guard and a threatening off-ball defender who can change a game with his steals and subsequent transition feeds. But his talents aren't helping the Minnesota Timberwolves win, and that kills his stock in these rankings—which, again, are for 2016-17 alone.
If Rubio were playing in a different system, he'd be much more valuable. Seerat Sohi explains for BBallBreakdown.com:
A non-threat offensively, his attempts to suck in defenders and create for others is often just an overproduced dribbling show. A pick-and-pop with [Karl-Anthony] Towns often leaves the big man with the ball at the top of the arc, with as much resistance defensively as he would have dealt with at the beginning of the shot clock. There are backbreakers, too, like brash transition passes that get picked off, immediately negating a defensive stop and deflating morale.
Defensively, Rubio is one of the league's most infamous cheaters, and in [Tom] Thibodeau's system that prefers containing the point guard systematically, with a big man helping force the ball-handler to the corner, his excellent one-on-one chops are downplayed.
22. Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 15.8 PER, 30.88 TPA, 0.73 RPM
Joining James Johnson as one of two Miami Heat players with positive scores in both offensive and defensive box plus/minus, Tyler Johnson doesn't have a lengthy history of success.
Undrafted out of Fresno State in 2014, he's grown ever since. Last year, he proved himself a valuable piece off the Miami bench, and he's now eliminating doubts of flukiness by emerging as a Sixth Man of the Year contender.
Johnson has fared well in transition and as a cutter since he gets to showcase his impressive athleticism. But he can also space the court for the Heat, shooting 38.1 percent from beyond the arc while taking 3.5 attempts per game.
It's that inside-outside combination that has allowed Johnson to thrive, regardless of whether he lines up as a point guard (56 percent of his minutes) or shooting guard (44 percent).
21. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals
Advanced Metrics: 17.4 PER, 40.2 TPA, 2.59 RPM
The San Antonio Spurs run a system that typically belies on/off ratings. Head coach Gregg Popovich is so good at milking each ounce of talent from his troops that every lineup manages to work, and massive splits are unusual.
Yet the offense still improves by leaps and bounds whenever Patty Mills plays.
Without him, the Spurs score "just" 107.8 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the floor, that offensive rating skyrockets to 113.9. The increase of 6.1 is the second-highest on the roster, trailing only Kawhi Leonard (8.2).
Mills may only be averaging 10.4 points and 3.5 assists, but he's doing so while shooting 47.3 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from downtown and 93.2 percent at the free-throw line.
20. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 16.0 PER, 6.62 TPA, Minus-0.56 RPM
Elfrid Payton isn't the same point guard he's been in previous seasons.
Though the 22-year-old still can't shoot from the perimeter, he's improved substantially in a number of key areas:
|Season||FG% On 2s||FG% From 0-3 Feet||TOV%||DBPM||TS%|
All of a sudden, Payton is a two-way player. A limited two-way player, but a two-way player nonetheless.
19. D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 16.9 PER, 10.95 TPA, Minus-0.28 RPM
Everything is starting to come together for D'Angelo Russell, even if he can sometimes leave shots short in big moments and get a bit careless as he takes on narrow passing lanes.
During the five games since the start of 2017, the sophomore point guard has averaged 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.4 turnovers while shooting 46.7 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from three-point land and 76.0 percent at the stripe.
He's blossoming under the trust head coach Luke Walton has shown, which stands in stark contrast to the troubling relationship with former Los Angeles Laker signal-caller Byron Scott. Russell isn't a "traditional" point guard—not that anyone needs to be in the modern NBA. He's also just 20 years old.
The lofty ceiling remains, and Russell is getting closer to proving his floor is rather high as well.
18. Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 22.5 PER, 26.59 TPA, 2.1 RPM
How good has Lou Williams been in his role off the Los Angeles Lakers bench? According to ESPN.com's real plus/minus, he checks in at No. 43 among all players.
Only eight listed point guards are ranked ahead of him.
Williams has been phenomenal on offense all year, emerging as the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year while averaging more points than anyone else on the Purple and Gold. Better still, he's shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from downtown—numbers that both seem to sell short his production down the stretch of tight games.
The 30-year-old has been one of the NBA's worst defenders and wouldn't remain so efficient if he occupied a bigger role, but he deserves plenty of credit for the incredible work he's done filling an important niche for the Lakers.
17. Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 17.1 PER, Minus-11.66 TPA, Minus-2.47 RPM
Some of Dennis Schroder's advanced metrics look shaky, but that's largely due to his early-season inconsistency. The speedy point guard had trouble adjusting to his first experience as a lead guard, and he routinely followed up standout showings with poor shooting performances and turnover-plagued affairs.
But Schroder looks more comfortable than ever lately: Dating back to his last two games in November, the first-year starter is averaging 20.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists while shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range.
Is a 20-game stretch enough to erase the early concerns? The Atlanta Hawks have to hope so, seeing as they inextricably tethered the fate of the franchise to his growth by trading away Jeff Teague in the offseason and handing Schroder the reins.
16. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 17.5 PER, 4.11 TPA, Minus-2.5 RPM
Adjusting can be hard.
The Detroit Pistons haven't been nearly as successful since Reggie Jackson returned from the knee problems that has shortened his 2016-17 season. Their net rating actually dips by 6.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
But that's not about Jackson's talent so much as his working off the rust and forcing the lineup to adapt to his presence. He's a far different player than Ish Smith, preferring to handle the ball more frequently and score rather than pass on his constant drives to the bucket.
The Pistons will turn things around with Jackson at the helm. He's still just 26 years old and coming off a season that merited legitimate All-Star consideration—hence the aggressive placement that flies in the face of the downer numbers he's produced this year.
15. Jeff Teague, Indiana Pacers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 20.0 PER, 64.4 TPA, 1.79 RPM
"When you play that type of basketball, I think it's contagious and I think it starts with your point guard," Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillan recently said about Jeff Teague's unselfishness, per Nat Newell and Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star.
"Jeff has been that guy. He is really doing a good job of establishing that ball movement when he's in the paint."
Teague didn't look comfortable at the start of his tenure in Indianapolis. Working next to Monta Ellis forced him to cede touches, and he couldn't get into a rhythm as a scorer.
He's now performing like an entirely different player and reminding the world why he was once an All-Star with the Atlanta Hawks. His distributing opens up new offensive schemes for the Indiana Pacers and eases the burden Paul George must assume, while his quickness and touch around the basket allow him to simultaneously create his own offense.
14. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 17.7 PER, 18.78 TPA, Minus-1.32 RPM
Good luck stopping Goran Dragic around the basket.
The 30-year-old floor general is hitting 59.6 percent of his shots from within three feet. While that's the worst mark he's produced since his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns, it's still a huge positive for anyone standing just 6'3". Plus, Dragic makes up for the decline by hitting 40.5 percent of his looks between three and 10 feet, showing off an improved floater and touch on shorter jumpers.
When Dragic is dangerous as a scorer, it opens up the rest of his game: Defenses are forced to send extra help around the rim, and he has the vision necessary to hit the open man on the perimeter.
If the Miami Heat were more capable of connecting on the ensuing jumpers, he'd have more than 6.6 assists per game.
13. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 20.7 PER, 92.91 TPA, 1.25 RPM
The Phoenix Suns don't win many games, but they do find themselves in many clutch situations—defined by NBA.com as the last five minutes of games separated by no more than five points. Only the Washington Wizards have produced more.
Eric Bledsoe has been the primary beneficiary: Only Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas and C.J. McCollum have scored more total points in clutch situations. Among the 92 players who have logged at least 50 clutch minutes, just eight have averaged more points per 36 minutes than Bledsoe's 33.7.
Bledsoe is allowed to use his athleticism and skill to wreak havoc, but he takes over down the stretch and the results have largely been positive—even if his limited supporting cast hasn't helped him earn too many victories.
12. George Hill, Utah Jazz
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 24.8 PER, 56.81 TPA, 3.58 RPM
The only notable flaw in George Hill's game has been his inability to stay healthy. He's already dealt with a sprained right thumb, a sprained left big toe and a concussion.
But Hill has been fantastic ever since an offseason deal pushed him from the Indiana Pacers to the Utah Jazz. He's playing with the confidence that can come from assuming a bigger role, and his hot shooting and knack for doing the little things have pushed the Jazz to new levels.
Just take a gander at how the team has played with and without him:
|Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
Hill can't quite take over a game as consistently as the 11 floor generals ranked ahead of him, but he's a steady force in so many areas.
11. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 28.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 26.8 PER, 106.64 TPA, 1.54 RPM
It almost feels blasphemous to leave Isaiah Thomas out of the top 10 at his position, but the NBA's point guard landscape is loaded with talent.
Plus, basketball is a two-way sport.
Plenty of point guards struggle on the preventing end, but Thomas' 5'9" frame makes even passable defense a monumental endeavor. NBA Math's defensive points saved ranks him as the least valuable defender in the Association (with room to spare), and ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus concurs.
Thomas is an offensive genius; Few players have ever been capable of scoring at least 50 points one night and then following that up with a 15-assist performance. If you need a bucket with the game on the line, you can feel comfortable turning to the diminutive 1-guard. If you need offensive production for an entire game, he's a similarly strong choice.
But his defense—or lack thereof—has to matter.
10. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 22.0 PER, 86.13 TPA, 1.67 RPM
When you sign the largest contract in NBA history—as Mike Conley did when he inked a five-year, $153 extension with the Memphis Grizzlies last summer—you can either start taking it easy or you can try to prove your worth.
Conley, when healthy, has chosen the latter.
The 29-year-old is still playing high-caliber defense and distributing the rock with aplomb, but his shooting improvements have allowed his contract to avoid becoming an albatross.
Never before had he taken more than four triples per game. This year, he's attempting 5.5 per contest and hitting them at a career-high 41.2 percent clip. Additionally, he's taking more free throws per 36 minutes than ever and connecting at 85.7 percent.
9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 26.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 23.9 PER, 86.93 TPA, 1.69 RPM
Defense remains an issue for Damian Lillard.
He still treats screens like they're brick walls and sits in the 21.8 percentile while defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers. He's also in the 41.3 percentile as an isolation defender and the 23.2 percentile against spot-up shooters.
But some players are so gifted offensively, they could keep their jobs if they literally sat down on the less glamorous end. Lillard qualifies as such.
Few are better at knocking down jumpers off the bounce, and Lillard doesn't solely rely on his perimeter prowess either. He's also dominant attacking the basket and keeps his eyes open at all times so he can search for his teammates. Maintaining his offensive responsibilities without turning the ball over more than 2.8 times per contest is nothing short of terrific.
8. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 24.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 23.0 PER, 74.03 TPA, 1.66 RPM
Does the NBA boast a more dominant ball-handler than Kyrie Irving?
The Cleveland Cavaliers floor general certainly has his warts. He's a mediocre defender who strings together uninspired performances against the league's other elite scorers, and he can sometimes forget to serve as a facilitator when his shot starts falling.
But the Cavs are more than willing to live with the negatives. After all, they've built a team around his positives, pairing him with LeBron James and a cadre of shooters, which allows him to thrive as a score-first guard.
And score he does. Irving is emerging as a premier threat in crunch-time situations and can break down virtually any defender with his yo-yo handles.
Good luck stopping him as he continues to build confidence.
7. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 23.0 PER, 129.66 TPA, 2.93 RPM
Last year was Kemba Walker's breakout. With an improved three-point stroke and an incredible ability to finish around the basket, he turned into a dominant offensive player capable of leading a team into the playoffs.
Now, he's breaking out further. Instead of just proving his 2015-16 campaign wasn't a fluke, he's getting even better thanks to those same areas:
|3PA per Game||3P%||% of FGs from 0-3 Feet||FG% from 0-3 Feet|
|Pre-2015 Career Average||4.1||31.8||25.3||51.9|
That, in a nutshell, is how you become a premier offensive threat.
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 10.1 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.5 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 23.6 PER, 114.91 TPA, 3.65 RPM
John Wall is finally on track to earn the elusive season in which he averages at least 20 points and 10 assists, and he's become more important than ever to the Washington Wizards. His knack for finding shooters in the corners hasn't gone away, even when he's dashing to the basket at full speed. Nor has his finishing ability around the rim.
"Too easy. All you've got to do is run the floor and you're going to get open shots. Cut hard, run your plays hard and he'll find you," Bradley Beal recently said about his point guard's ability to run the show, per CSN Mid-Atlantic's J. Michael.
"It's just a matter of playing hard and playing with energy and the rest will take care of itself. We can get what we want on offense."
Without Wall, the Wizards score a mere 99.6 points per 100 possessions, which would leave them ranked No. 29 in the season-long standings—better than only the Philadelphia 76ers. But when he plays, the offensive rating soars to 108.1, which would trail only the league's seven best offenses.
Unlike the three offensive studs ranked directly behind him, Wall's athleticism and off-ball habits allow him to become more than just a liability or mediocre defensive presence.
5. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 23.8 PER, 194.68 TPA, 7.09 RPM
Kyle Lowry means everything to the Toronto Raptors, whether he's inspiring them with his hard-nosed defensive play and willingness to take charges or sparking the offense with his combination of scoring prowess and distributing ability.
The 30-year-old spent 2015-16 proving he could perform like a top-10 player, even when he wasn't in a contract year. But he's been even better during the follow-up campaign—primarily because of his improvements as a three-point marksman.
Even though he's creating an additional 12.2 percent of his three-pointers without relying on a teammate's feed, he's shooting better than ever. While taking 0.4 more triples per game than he has in any other season, he's also hitting a career-high 43.7 percent of those long-range tries.
Most impressively, he's done this without sacrificing the other elements of his game.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 24.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 23.6 PER, 157.97 TPA, 5.89 RPM
The way Stephen Curry plays the game has changed, and not just because he's had more trouble on the preventing end than last year.
Curry can no longer control the ball so frequently with Kevin Durant now a member of the Golden State Warriors. The off-the-dribble threes from 30 feet that defined his 2015-16 campaign are few and far between as he plays with more discipline and fewer responsibilities.
But he's still been incredible on offense.
While racking up assists without turning the ball over as frequently, he's hit free throws more efficiently than anyone else and still has time to drain three after three. Curry is shooting the worst percentage of his career, and he's making 40.1 percent of his treys while taking an astronomical 9.4 per game.
He hasn't received as much attention this season, but he's still on pace to hit more triples than anyone else ever has.
3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 27.6 PER, 215.73 TPA, 9.09 RPM
Good luck getting Chris Paul to do anything but flourish as a distributor.
While recording nearly 10 assists per game, he's turning the ball over just 2.2 times per contest. That leaves him as one of only seven players in NBA history to record at least 9.5 dimes and no more than 2.5 cough-ups during an average outing. Again.
Here's the full list:
- Mookie Blaylock
- Muggsy Bogues (twice)
- Avery Johnson
- Ty Lawson
- John Lucas
- Johnny Moore (twice)
- Chris Paul (six times)
Point guards are typically supposed to begin declining after they move further away from their 30th birthday. But Paul just keeps learning new tricks and overcoming any declines in athletic ability with near-flawless understanding of the game.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 27.8 PER, 295.26 TPA, 6.15 RPM
Yes, James Harden qualifies as a point guard by virtue of spending 99 percent of his minutes at the 1. He's done it ridiculously well—not just because he's leading the league in assists per game.
At this point, you surely know about Harden's triple-doubles and statistical lines—for example, closing out 2016 with 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists. So let's briefly focus on the two biggest perceived flaws: defense and turnovers.
Harden will never be a lockdown defender, but he isn't the matador he was prior to 2015-16. He might get lost in many off-ball situations, but he can buckle up and at least provide some resistance. Plus, his defensive rebounding has to count for something.
As for the cough-ups, Harden's per-game number (5.8) looks terrible, but that's largely because he uses so many possessions. Though his turnover percentage (20.0) remains unfortunate, it's significantly better than the league's worst marks.
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 31.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks
Advanced Metrics: 30.4 PER, 388.3 TPA, 6.18 RPM
Russell Westbrook is on pace to join Oscar Robertson as one of only two men to average a triple-double for an entire season. But even that factoid seems to sell his greatness short.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard isn't just averaging 31.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.3 assists. He's doing so in efficient fashion by improving as a three-point marksman and trotting to the charity stripe more than 10 times per game, where he makes his freebies at an 82.1 percent clip.
Throw in his (admittedly inconsistent) work on defense, and he's having one of the best seasons in NBA history. In fact, he's on pace to have the highest score since 1974 in NBA Math's database for total points added, narrowly edging out 1988-89 Michael Jordan for top billing.
Westbrook may only line up at the point, but he means everything to the Thunder. Without him, the team's net rating plummets from 6.4 (No. 5 in the season-long standings) to minus-13.0 (almost twice as bad as any squad's full-season mark).
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com, ESPN.com or NBA Math and accurate heading into games Jan. 9. Positional designations determined by Basketball-Reference.com's minute splits.
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