A Lockout Induced Review: Top 10 Point Guards in the NBA
Every off-season, fans want to project and predict what will happen in the draft, in free-agency, and maybe even in training camp. The fans of the mediocre teams like Charlotte and Minnesota use the offseason as their own basketball rehab during which they can reinvigorate their passion and hope for their respective teams. The fans in Oklahoma City and Chicago try to visualize what their teams will be like if their young stars improve their skills in the off-season a la Derrick Rose last summer
During the summer when we are forced to watch three and a half hour baseball games, that ultimately serve as the bridge between draft and free agency news, we get bored and then use our anxiousness for the NBA season to fill the void.
Will the Heat win the championship next year if Lebron gets a shrink? Will Russell Westbrook become the best point-guard in the NBA next year? Will Blake Griffin lead the Clippers to the playoffs? These are the questions that we as passionate basketball fans try to answer, with our sometimes ridiculous answers ultimately leading to what we think will lead to a most entertaining NBA season.
However, thanks to the stubbornness of the owners and the players, the NBA is in a lockout and there has been no reason to think that the 2011-2012 season will go as planned.
Many would say that last season was the most entertaining of the last ten to fifteen years. The NBA is ripe with stars and drama and it is very important that both sides (owners and players) realize that there is a lot to fight for during their collective bargaining negotiations.
With all of the uncertainty that the lockout presents, the talent of the current NBA players will still remain (at least through this off-season) and I think it is important to understand what the league already has at each position.
The point-guard position is the deepest and most star-studded group in the NBA. The top-6 point guards in the league will find that their places in the positional hierarchy are very secure (for now). However, one could argue that there are ten point-guards fighting for the bottom four spots in the top-10 class of the NBA point guards. Anyway, here’s my top-10, as well as who I think will crack the list sooner rather than later.
On the Rise
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- John Wall
When scouts try to determine if a player will project to be a star coming out of the draft, they look for that rare physical attribute that will augment that players rise to stardom. Derrick Rose had is tremendous quickness and leaping ability. Tyreke Evans has unreal strength and size. John Wall came into the league last year as arguably the greatest baseline-to-baseline speed in the NBA. Wall has become a very good slasher to the basket because of this; however, he was somewhat passive in his rookie year, leading to an inflated assist rate and a points per game average that is not truly indicative of his scoring potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is regarded as a top-8 point guard by the end of the next season (whenever that may be). I think he is going to put his skills as a floor general together with his inherent ability to score to elevate his game to another level.
- Stephen Curry
Curry can score with the best of them at the point-guard position; the concern with Curry comes with his ability to manage the game. He came into the league with a score-first reputation similar to that of Jimmer Fredette, and he still hasn’t shown that he is able to cut down on his turnovers as his turnover rate has remained above three per game. It goes without saying that his youth and uncanny ability to score does make him a worthy candidate to become a top-10 point-guard in the near future.
- Ty Lawson
If Lawson can proceed to consistently bring his tremendous energy on offense, he will earn the starting spot and will get the attention he deserves.
- Jrue Holiday
Holiday is one of the biggest point guards in the league at 6’4 and 180 pounds. He just turned 21 on the June 12 and showed during the playoff series with the Heat, that he can be a force on offense while being a versatile defender on the other end.
- Darren Collison
Collison is a game-changer in transition as his quickness rivals that of any other player in the NBA. He’s a very good passer, but his passiveness has become a detriment at times as his turnover rate is amongst the highest in the league. Collison is a player on the rise and is as responsible as any for the recent improvement of the Indiana Pacers.
10. Raymond Felton, Portland Trailblazers
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This is a guy that improved his stock as a point guard greatly last year during his short tenure with the New York Knicks. He was arguably the second option on the pre-Carmelo Knicks squad and his effectiveness on the offensive-end shined through in the form of 17.1 ppg and 9.0 assists per game.
Granted he was in Mike D’Antoni’s wide-open offense, Felton’s numbers were somewhat amplified. However, Felton did maintain similar per-minute averages when he was playing for the Nuggets.
His role on the Nuggets was in many ways, unconventional, but his skills in transition and on defense were evident despite playing with another small point-guard in Ty Lawson most of the time.
Felton has always been a solid court-manager and defender at his position, but he clearly showed this year that he is capable of contributing more on offense. He will fit right in to the defense-first team in Portland where he will be asked to push the ball on an otherwise slow team in the Trailblazers. He will also be depended on to take mid-to-long range jumpers when needed, to take pressure off of the more interior oriented players in Lamarcus Aldridge, and Gerald Wallace. Felton is just the kind of point guard that the T-Blazers need at this stage and I think his stock will improve even more because of this situation he was traded into.
9. Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks
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Anyone who watched the 2011 NBA Finals knows why Jason Kidd is still in the top-10 of NBA point-guards. The guy is 38 and he can still guard Wade and Lebron better than all, but maybe ten players in the whole league.
Kidd is just so smart on the defensive-end; he knows how and when to swipe at the ball without fouling, and he can defend wings in the post better than most guys that are ten years younger than him. Yes his defense in the post has a lot to do with his girth as a guard. And yes that girth is probably made up of mostly old-man blubber, but who cares, it gets the job done.
The fact that he is still so efficient on offense is what amazes me the most as he has mastered the art of spacing and he knows exactly when and where he needs to get his teammates the ball. Oh, and he also shot 37% from three in the playoffs.
Perhaps Kidd’s stock as a point-guard is boosted by the plethora of deadeye shooters on the Dallas Mavericks, which lessens the scoring expectations of him, but his basketball IQ and skill on the defensive end is what has kept him among the elite over that past few years.
Don’t underestimate the effect he had on last year’s Finals as he may just help lead the Mavericks to another Finals appearance next year.
8. Chauncey Billups, New York Knicks
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Mr. Big Shot is another aging point guard, like Jason Kidd, who has maintained his effectiveness on the floor despite his fleeting athletic ability. Chauncey is a score-first point guard who has an excellent shooting touch from all over the floor, but especially from behind the arc where he shot 40% last year. He is also one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA as he shot over 90% from the line, which is right on par with his career average of 89.4%.
The weakest part of Chauncey’s game over the past couple of years has been his ability to drive to the basket, but that is to be expected from an aging point guard. Like Jason Kidd, Chauncey is dependable with the ball in his hand because of his high basketball IQ. Billups has always kept turnovers to a minimum throughout his career; that skill will be important for the Knicks as they will want to limit the amount of defense effort they might need to exert during games.
Chauncey doesn’t bring much on defense as he is not the most agile of point-guards. However, he can stay with slower two guards and also defend his position in the post.
Currently, Chauncey is still a very valuable point-guard, but I would not be surprised if he slowly falls from grace this season, opening up a top-10 spot for one of the rising young stars.
7. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
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To put Parker this high in my top-10 is hard for me because I still don’t see him as a true point-guard. A lot of times, I will see Manu Ginobli, or George Hill bring the ball up the floor as they both are better passers than the score-first Parker.
Despite a tough defeat in the first round of the playoffs by a relatively unknown team in the Grizzlies, the Spurs were still the number-one seed in the Western Conference, which makes last season somewhat of a success. Right? The playoffs revealed how deep the Western Conference was last year, so to dominate over an 82-game season does deserve applause. Parker deserves as much applause as any player on the last year’s Spurs squad.
Parker was born to run the up-tempo offensive system that Coach Greg Popovich installed last year as he is an excellent scoring guard that thrives in transition and in the paint where he can finish as well as any guard in the league. Parker isn’t a great distributor, or floor leader, but he does protect the ball well as he does not turnover the ball very much.
Parker is not flashy and he doesn’t put up huge numbers like his younger, more athletic counterparts, but he has consistently performed at an all-star caliber level for a team that has been elite over the last decade.
6. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
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Is there anyone that doesn’t like Steve Nash’s game? The guy has the ball in his hands for what seems to be the whole game, but it always looks like he knows exactly what he is doing. He is always looking to pass and give his team the best possible chance at scoring the basketball. Nash has averaged 10.97 assists per game over the last seven years; those are hall-of-fame numbers if you ask me.
But just because a team has a great passing point-guard doesn’t necessarily mean that the offense as whole will be that great. However, the Suns are notorious for their high-scoring offenses, and Nash’s other-worldly shooting-percentages have much to do with the team’s success. Nash is a career 43% three-point shooter who has also averaged 90% from behind the free-throw line.
Steve Nash is the epitome of consistency and I could definitely see him maintaining his averages if he is motivated. How he will stay motivated on a team that needs to be blown up immediately, is a question that I can’t even begin to answer.
5. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
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Rondo’s game has led to many contentious discussions between me and my fellow NBA fanatics. Rondo has all the tools to be great and become a superstar for a fading Celtics team. It appears that Rondo does not believe in his potential as he has failed to improve his jump-shot and free-throw shooting.
There were many times in the Heat-Celtics series where it was basically 4-on-5 on offense as Mike Bibby, or Mario Chalmers were being used to double one of the other players because of the mediocrity of Rondo from ten feet and out.
Then there are the valuable parts of Rondo’s game that have caused “The Big Three” to declare on many occasions that Rondo is the key to success in Boston. He was second in the league in assists and steals per game last year with 11.2 and 2.25 respectively.
Rondo is obviously a great floor leader and defender, but his relatively limited offensive game has restricted his development and caused many to question how good he really is.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
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You thought Rondo was an enigma; Russell Westbrook is the most puzzling point-guard of all as he proceeded to lose the Western Conference Finals for his team, despite being a second-team all-NBA player after the regular season.
A lot of people say, “He’s still young, give him time,” but I am one that believes his development will stagnate unless he is traded to another team where he is the first-option on offense.
There was this feeling that I got whenever he turned the ball over, or missed a jump-shot that made me think that the Thunder could not and will not get over the hump with him next to Kevin Durant. Westbrook is so locked in and confident in his ability to score that it doesn’t make sense to have him as the guy who plays second fiddle to arguably the best offensive player in the NBA.
Westbrook has shown signs of brilliance with an offensive game similar to Dwyane Wade and the potential to become a defensive player reminiscent of a young Jason Kidd. I also can’t forget that he was an all-star in only his third year. With all that said, I don’t think he will reach his potential as a top-5 NBA player as long as he is playing next to Durant.
3. Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets
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Deron is the most complete NBA point-guard, but his inability to consistently lead what was a pretty good Utah Jazz team to the Western Conference Finals, or even the Finals is a detractor.
Deron can do everything from shoot the three to post-up other guards to out-muscle his man on defense. He’s a great leader with a sixth sense for getting the ball to his teammates in the spots that they are most effective (just look at Brook Lopez after the Nets acquired Deron).
Prior to the recent explosion in talent at the point-guard position, the argument over who was the best point-guard was always between Chris Paul and Deron. With the arrival of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, Deron has been lost in the fray because of his situation in New Jersey. People fail to notice that he was basically playing by himself on the Nets and he still put up a line of 15 ppg, 12.8 apg, and 4.6 rpg.
The absence of Deron in the playoffs has led many to believe that Rose and Westbrook have leap-frogged him in the top-10 of NBA point-guards. Contrary to popular belief, I still believe in him, and with the addition of a player like Nene, or Dwight Howard at the deadline, Deron will reenter the discussion concerning the best point-guard in the league.
2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
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The future face of the NBA made a huge leap in popularity last season both for his spectacular play and his infectious personality. He became the youngest MVP in NBA history and he also lead his team, that everyone said would falter early as result of their inexperience, to the Eastern Conference Finals.
With an inconsistent Carlos Boozer and an offensively challenged group of wing players, the Bulls relied on Rose for most of their offensive production. For most of the season he was able to carry the load by himself with his uncanny ability to finish at the basket. His improved jump-shot also helped to open up his game and the rest of the offense.
The best part about Rose is his personality and leadership ability. He just seems like a throw-back player; all he cares about is winning, and anything short of a championship is a failure.
It’s ironic that he plays for the Bulls because he reminds me a lot of Michael Jordan with his personality and clutch-gene. Derrick Rose will have a Jordan-esque effect on the league if he continues to improve his jump shot and his team’s chances at a championship. If the Bulls get a reliable second option at shooting-guard, or small-forward, I think we will see Derrick Rose and his team reach a whole different level of success.
1. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
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Surprised? It seemed over the past two seasons Chris Paul was slowly fading and becoming the point guard version of the knee-less Brandon Roy. However, Paul served up a pretty solid season when compared to his career averages with 15.9 ppg and 9.8 assists per game. He also led the league in steals with 2.4 per game. His points per game average was down in comparison to his past few seasons when he averaged over 20 points per game, but his game is highlighted by his passing skills.
A small decrease in scoring is not horrible as Paul is arguably more effective when he is looking to pass first. Other than the consistently jam-packed box score that Paul creates night-to-night, the thing that I love most about Paul is his ability to make his teammates better (see Aaron Gray).
He carried the Hornets in a very competitive series against a stacked Lakers team in the first round of the playoffs. The Hornets were missing their second banana in David West and the only other viable offensive options were Carl Landry and perhaps Trevor Ariza. Actually, Carl Landry was the only other offensive option.
Despite a mediocre group of talent that he was surrounded with, Paul never ceased to amaze me in the Laker series when he would consistently break down the defense and then proceed to pass the ball inside for an easy dunk or outside for a wide open three-point shot.
He is the best pure point guard since Magic Johnson and I don’t think there is anyone even close. If Chris Paul was put on a team like the Thunder or the Knicks, I think you can pretty much call the season off.