NBA Power Rankings: LeBron James and Each Team's Smartest Playmaker
The role of facilitator in the game of basketball historically has been filled by outstanding point guards like Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas. As players have evolved individually along with the game itself over the last few decades, the role of playmaker has been extended to guards and forwards alike.
In the late 80's came the advent of the "point-forward", essentially a small forward who handles the ball predominantly and is asked to serve as the chief ball handler. Paul Pressley, Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen, Andre Iguodala and LeBron James are all forwards who possess the necessary skill set to play the role of playmaker in addition to scoring themselves
This list gives clarity to which team has the smartest playmaker, ranked in order from 30 to 1.
30. Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons
There was a time when Rodney Stuckey was considered a bona fide steal of a draft choice. Joe Dumars was ecstatic to swipe Stuckey with the 15th pick in the 2007 Draft, and the Eastern Washington standout enjoyed an impressive first season with the club.
A few weeks into his sophomore year, the Pistons dealt away Chauncey Billups effectively giving the unproven guard the keys to a franchise that had been to seven consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. Since his introduction to the starting lineup, Detroit has seen a steep fall in the standings.
Stuckey plays alongside a number of legitimate scoring options, yet has never averaged as much as five assists a game. Perhaps that low assist total could be overlooked if he was a dynamic scorer, but he's not particularly adept at that either.
29. Luke Ridnour, Minnesota Timberwolves
Luke Ridnour is a decent player, but if he is your starting point guard and he's logging major minutes, you're not going to win a lot of basketball games.
Ridnour came to the Timberwolves as a free agent this past summer, and due to Ricky Rubio's extended stay in Europe and an early season hip ailment to Jonny Flynn, he earned the role of starting point guard.
Ridnour does play in Kurt Rambis' edition of the triangle offense, therefore his stats and in particular his assist totals have been limited somewhat. But by the same token, it's fair to say that other teams don't prepare for the T'Wolves and wonder how they're going to limit Luke Ridnour.
Additionally, the former Oregon Duck couldn't adequately defend a chair.
28. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
Fans across the country hear the name "Tyreke Evans" and probably think that he's one of the up and coming stars in the league, based on his Rookie of the Year performance a season ago. Well not in the eyes of this guy.
How much he's been slowed by plantar fasciitis this year is anyone's guess, but Evans has revealed himself to be relatively clueless in terms of how to make teammates better or making plays for others.
This is not to say Evans is a bad player, far from it. He has impressive ball handling for someone his size (6'6"), but Tyreke struggles with even the most basic passes in the half court. Whether it be feeding his big men on a pick and roll, throwing a lob on a backdoor cut or having the court vision to fire a catchable ball, Evans is uncomfortable doing it.
27. Baron Davis, Cleveland Cavaliers
What do each of the team's listed thus far have in common? Each is suffering through another miserable, losing season.
It's no coincidence that many of the abysmal teams in the NBA also have the league's worst in terms of making plays for their team.
Who would've ever guessed the former No. 3 overall draft choice would be competing with Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson for minutes on the NBA's worst team? Let's put it this way.. the best pass Baron Davis has thrown the past three seasons was from out of a car.
It says quite a bit about him that the Clippers were willing to gift wrap their lottery pick in the coming draft to the Cavs just to simply rid themselves of Baron Davis. The only thing consistent about Baron Davis is his steady descent as an NBA player.
26. Devin Harris, Utah Jazz
Coming into the 2004 Draft, Devin Harris was a highly touted point guard prodigy with extraordinary size, speed and talents.
Fast forward to today and Harris is on his third team in just seven years as a professional.
Harris has established himself as a decent scorer, including a banner 2008-09 campaign, but has often times looked like a guy who only plays point guard because of his relatively short stature. He is routinely one of the league leaders in turnovers as well.
25. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Like Tyreke Evans, Jennings is a young man whose name warrants more attention than is deserved. Last November, in just his tenth game as a pro, Jennings exploded for 55 points and that singular evening has thrust him into high regard around NBA circles.
A closer look at his effectiveness after basically two seasons as the Bucks' starting point guard reveals that Jennings is a horrendously inefficient basketball player.
His assist totals are run of the mill for his career, his field goal percentages are disturbingly low, and his nearly three turnovers per contest have Brandon Jennings near the bottom of this list.
24. Mo Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Since coming to the Clippers in February, Mo Williams has performed admirably, but will never be the feared dual threat playmaker that opposing teams are concerned with.
Williams has established himself as a one trick pony, with that trick being a gorgeous jumpshot. Williams is a point guard who can't defend particularly well, isn't great in the half court and has poor vision to set up others.
His game hasn't evolved since leaving Milwaukee years ago, rather his exposure has since playing alongside LeBron James and Blake Griffin.
23. Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors
Playing in Canada has done little for Calderon’s national exposure, but the Spanish point guard remains a dynamic set up man for the Toronto Raptors.
Despite only starting for a portion of this season, Jose Calderon is averaging 8.9 assists which is all the more impressive when you evaluate his limited teammates. Calderon has never been much of a scoring threat however, averaging just 9.8 PPG over the course of his six-year career.
22. Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers
I give Darren Collison all the credit in the world for hitting the ground running as a rookie fill in for Chris Paul and for performing admirably with his new club, the Indiana Pacers, this year.
But Collison's placement as the 23rd best playmaker in the league goes to show how competitive this field is.
Collison is a solid player for the Pacers, but a difference maker he is not. For a young man who has the ball in his hands as often as he does, his five assists per game is a fairly low total. I may sound like a broken record, but turnovers are a concern for him as well, averaging nearly three every night.
21. Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Conley is paid like one of the top point guards in the league, but does not perform like one.
The Memphis Grizzlies have had a renaissance of sorts in 2010-11, as in all likelihood they will be returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 despite the absence of Rudy Gay to injury for a lengthy period.
Conley is having by far the best season of his young career, but he is still nowhere near the level of many of his point guard counterparts. Despite playing alongside a cavalcade of viable scorers, the former Buckeye is registering 6.6 assists per game.
20. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers
NBA fans who don't get the opportunity to watch the 76ers, and let's face it that is most of the country, likely don't realize that Andre Iguodala does for Philadelphia what LeBron James did for Cleveland.
He is a small forward with a steady enough handle and passing skills to be able to run the show for his franchise. Iguodala's scoring and field goal attempts are down quite a bit this year, as Doug Collins has opted to put the ball in his hands.
For Iguodala to do what he does despite his size and natural position is quite impressive, but still ranks him relatively low simply because he is quite limited as a playmaker. Most everything Philadelphia runs for him is simply an isolation at the top of the key.
19. Kyle Lowry, Houston Rockets
Houston traded away a young man who was deemed their point guard of the future in Aaron Brooks simply to clear the runway for Mr. Kyle Lowry.
Lowry has responded with a terrific 2010-11 year. Lowry is averaging 13.5 PPG and 6.6 APG, while improving his percentages across the board from a season ago. Aided in part by Lowry's development, the Rockets have quickly changed their misfortunes from early in the year and are now well above .500 and are competing for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Lowry still has room to develop as a playmaker for the Rockets, but his career arc indicates he will continue to do so.
18. Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Bobcats
Due mostly to his playing in small markets like Indiana, Golden State and Charlotte, Stephen Jackson doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
Jackson is a multi-tooled swingman with the talents to score himself or get others involved, however seldom have his teams ever ran the offense through him for extended timeframes.
Captain Jack's assist production is limited by D.J. Augustin, but his ability as a playmaker was made evident in 2008-09 when he averaged nearly seven helpers a game for the Golden State Warriors.
17. Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando Magic
On the strength of Hedo Turkoglu’s impressive playmaking skills, the Orlando Magic made an incredible and surprising run to the NBA Finals two years ago.
Turkoglu’s well rounded skill set often times relegates Jameer Nelson to spot shooter. He made brief pit stops in Toronto and Phoenix, but earlier this season the Magic re-acquired the Turkish forward to aid in running their patented high screen offense with Dwight Howard.
16. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks, a franchise which had hovered around the bottom of the standings for nearly a full decade, just secured their fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
They have their All-Star swingman Joe Johnson to thank. Johnson has a dazzling jump shot to couple with his impressive basketball IQ and ability to make others better. Add in the fact that he is a very unselfish player, and you have the recipe for an exquisite playmaker.
15. Andre Miller, Portland Trail Blazers
Miller’s name was never brought up among the best point guards in the league at any time during his rock steady NBA career.
But the truth is, it should have been. Miller’s boring, but consistent style has provided a number of different franchises a trustworthy playmaker. Currently he has his Portland Trail Blazers headed to the playoffs again with his solid averages of 13 PPG and 7 APG.
14. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets
When the Knicks finally acquired Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups was regarded as a throw in.
Despite his age, Billups’ unlimited three-point range and veteran leadership will prove very valuable to this young New York club. Billups has been slowed by a nagging injury in his short time with the club, but Chauncey remains one of the most well-rounded point guards in the league today.
13. John Wall, Washington Wizards
Blake Griffin has stolen every headline and been a part of every highlight reel, leaving relatively zero fanfare for last year’s No. 1overall pick John Wall.
But Wall hasn’t disappointed. Wall has done a commendable job feeding many selfish players in Washington, all the while scoring better than sixteen points a night himself. The Wizards are a very young club, but with a dynamic playmaker like John Wall, this club’s future looks bright.
12. Raymond Felton, Denver Nuggets
The often overlooked Raymond Felton is better than people realize. Felton is a part of the same draft class as Deron Williams and Chris Paul, so naturally his name is often overlooked. Now he is even overlooked on his own team to some degree, as Ty Lawson remains the starter in Denver.
Felton’s game has continued to grow, particularly the past two seasons. A year ago he led the Charlotte Bobcats to their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history. Earlier this season, he helped transform the Knicks from after thought to playoff team. Felton now brings his playmaking skills to the Mile High City.
11. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
If you think Jason Kidd is the chief facilitator for the Dallas Mavericks, you don’t watch the team enough.
The Mavericks have relied on Nowitzki and his incredible gifts for more than a decade. Dirk gets isolated at the top of the key, has three shooters to spread the floor, and runs pick and roll with a point guard looking for mismatches. Dallas knows this, their opponents know this, but nobody has found an anecdote to stop it.
Reason being? Dirk Nowitzki is a very talented playmaker.
10. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Let me explain, Laker Nation.
In Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, nobody is expected to carry the load by themselves. Therefore a traditional point guard doesn’t have the same duties as they would on another team. However with that said, Kobe has the ball most often and is easily the Lakers best playmaker.
More often than not he is looking to score himself, but the Black Mamba is fully capable of setting up others as well if he faces double teams.
9. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Parker is anything but your traditional point guard by any means, but he is the fuel that drives the Spurs fifth rated offense.
He and Tim Duncan have ran the high screen pick and roll to perfection for 10 seasons, and of course Parker is able to make plays for himself with his penetration and ability to finish in traffic.
8. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
There was a time when people questioned whether Westbrook could play point guard at the NBA level, mainly because at UCLA he played almost exclusively off the ball.
But Westbrook has quickly developed into one of the league’s top point guards. He can take over games with his explosive ability to get to the basket, setting up opportunities for his teammates as well as himself.
7. LeBron James, Miami Heat
LeBron James is quite possibly the only player in the league who is realistically capable of being an All-Star caliber player at four different positions.
One of those would be point guard, and it’s due to his innate ability to set up and make teammates better. James’ career average of seven assists per night is such a remarkable total for a player of his height and weight.
6. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Boston Celtics outfit in 2007, Rajon Rondo quickly made the adjustment from scoring threat to facilitator.
Smart decision. Rondo embraced the role of playmaker for the Celtics and they have reached their current status as contender largely because of it. Few point guards in the game today set up their teammates as well as Rajon Rondo.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Pundits from coast to coast have questioned whether Stephen Curry could make it as an NBA player. As he puts the finishing touches on his second season, Curry has answered the bell and then some.
Curry has the versatility and lethal offensive prowess to play as either a lead guard or off guard, but due to the incredible talents of Monta Ellis, Curry gladly has accepted the role of starting point guard and has flourished in that role.
4. Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets
If you want to know how sorely Deron’s playmaking is missed in Salt Lake, watch the free fall the Utah Jazz are currently on since his departure.
Deron Williams does it all. He’s an incredible scorer who can do so in a variety of ways, and has the know-how and the desire to get his teammates involved as well, as evidenced by his twelve assists per game average since joining the Nets about six weeks ago.
3. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
There is one reason why the Hornets went from the draft lottery to the playoffs, and his name is Chris Paul. Last year CP3 missed significant action and the Hornets struggled on the court without him.
Paul means everything to the Hornets, as David West can personally attest. Without Paul, West would be an ordinary NBA player. With him, he has twice made the All-Star team. His playmaking skills are on par with the two stars listed above him.
2. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
From 1999 to 2009, Steve Nash was the point guard for the No. 1 offense in the league. Nash is blessed with one of the highest basketball IQ’s, best ball control, one of the sweetest jump shots and brilliant passing skills as well.
Despite his age of 37 and playing without his former All-Star teammate Amare Stoudamire, Steve Nash continues to dazzle and shows no signs of slowing down. Nash will go down as one of the best playmakers in the history of the league.
1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Remember the debate of "Who’s better, Chris Paul or Deron Williams?"
Neither do I.
Derrick Rose shattered that argument like an overhand right from Brock Lesnar. In just his third season, Rose essentially has the 2010-11 MVP on lock, scores better than 25 a night and dishes out nearly eight assists. The Bulls have suffered a great deal of injuries, but have hardly missed a step because of Derrick Rose’s outstanding playmaking.