This is the age of the NBA point guard. Two of the greatest to ever play the position, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd are watching their careers come to an end. Replacing them are five potential Hall of Fame careers in Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.
Each of the five has their own style of play and are fitted to their own teams. People shouldn't confuse best "style" of play with best point guard. Each player has their own strengths, weaknesses, systems and coaches. Every one of them plays the way their coach asks them to, so that's not really a point of conversation.
I did think it would be interesting to take a look at them and see how they did playing against each other though. I went through the game logs in games only involving head-to-head matchups and tracked several things, field goals, field goal attempts, field goal percentage, scoring efficiency, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, turnovers and game score.
I also tracked what their opponent did in the same game and then looked at the net results.
Game Score is tracked by basketball-reference.com. This is what their glossary says about it.
Game Score: PTS + 0.4 * FG - 0.7 * FGA - 0.4*(FTA - FT) + 0.7 * ORB + 0.3 * DRB + STL + 0.7 * AST + 0.7 * BLK - 0.4 * PF - TOV. Game Score was created by John Hollinger to give a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game. The scale is similar to that of points scored, i.e., 40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, et
I ranked the players by average net game score. If you want to argue the validity of Game Score, feel free to do so. The formula is not mine, and it's above. I would suggest trying to apply a little more intelligent argument than "it's stupid" though.
However, I want to reiterate I ranked the players by average net game score. Therefore, there's zero opinion involved. Questioning "how can you put _______ before _________" is ignoring the obvious. I put that player ahead of the player you wanted ahead of him because he actually had a higher net game score. If you have a problem with game score, see the paragraph above.
Game Score doesn't mean everything, but it makes for an interesting starting point, and honestly, it should be the case where when we see reality is actually different from our perception of it, we reconsider our position.
I assure you, there are some surprises here, which is why I have the protracted apology to start. Here are the rankings based on average game score in games between the top five players.
Net FG Percentage: -2.39
Net Scoring Efficiency: -0.1
Net Points: -1.9
Net Assists: 1.7
Net Rebounds: 0.4
Net Steals: -0.8
Net Blocks: 0.4
Net Game Score : -3.42
Right away, I'm sure you see the need for my protracted apology. Surprisingly, Williams has been pretty much dominated by the other four point guards.
He was the best facilitator in those games though, averaging 10.2 assists per game against the other four players. The problem was that he yielded the highest average game score of any of the five players, giving up a game score of 16.82 per game.
If you want some cause for skepticism though, there's this, if you throw out his worst two games he is above average. Those two games were in a four-game period against Westbrook and Rose while he was playing with a sprained wrist.
Even if you discount those two games though, he's still only fourth best.
Net FG Percentage: 3.92
Net Scoring Efficiency: -0.4
Net Points: -10.65
Net Assists: 1.56
Net Rebounds: -0.44
Net Steals: 1.11
Net Blocks: -0.11
Net Game Score : -3.34
Is there an "Obama effect" visible here? Before the alleged slight, he was a plus-1.13. Afterwards, he was -12.30. Ouch. It's not official; everything is Obama's fault (note sarcasm).
There are some intriguing things to note about Rondo. One is that while his overall field goal percentage was second best, his scoring efficiency was by far the worst.
Efficiency, points per field goal attempt, can often be a better measure because it also reflects a player's ability to get to the line and score from there. A player, even if he has a reasonable field goal percentage, can be an inefficient scorer, and that's the case with Rondo.
Of course, there will be those who are going to point out that, as a point guard, scoring isn't "their job." To this I remind them of the earlier point, each player plays the way they are supposed to play.
I'm not arguing that Rondo doesn't score enough, I'm pointing out he doesn't score efficiently and that's why he is getting drubbed in net game score.
Of course when you are at a near 11-point disadvantage at any position that's something the rest of the team needs to compensate for. It's not merely the points that Rondo didn't score, but he was scored on not only frequently, but efficiently.
He gave up 19.56 points per game on just 14.67 attempts.
Net FG Percentage: 2.33
Net Scoring Efficiency: .22
Net Points: 2.89
Net Assists: -1.11
Net Rebounds: 0
Net Steals: .11
Net Blocks: .22
Net Game Score : 1.54
Westbrook was both arguably the best offensive player in the head-to-head matchups. He was also arguably the worst defensive player. He easily had the highest field goal percentage (50.78), and he also surrendered the highest field goal percentage (48.46).
He also turned the ball over more than any of the other players and gave up the second-highest game score.
Westbrook is a brilliant offensive player who needs to bring the same effort to the other end of the court.
Net FG Percentage: -1.88
Net Scoring Efficiency: 0.08
Net Points: -3.63
Net Assists: 1.13
Net Rebounds: .13
Net Steals: 1.25
Net Blocks: 0
Net Game Score : 1.71
What surprised me with Paul is that his defensive numbers weren't what I was expecting them to be. He gave up the second-highest field goal percentage (47.27) and the highest opponent efficiency. He also gave up the second-most point per game.
His field goal percentage (44.05) was also a bit low for Paul.
On the positive side, he had the second-best game score of the five in head-to-head matches, with an average game score 16.61, trailing only Westbrook. While he didn't do as well as I expected defensively, he was third best there, and significantly better that the Oklahoma City star.
On the just plain interesting side is this. In all of his head-to-head matchups, Paul did not get a single block, nor did he get blocked a single time.
Net FG Percentage: 2.96
Net Scoring Efficiency: .18
Net Points: 11.11
Net Assists: -3.22
Net Rebounds: -0.11
Net Steals: -1.56
Net Blocks: 0.33
Net Game Score: 3.3
There's a simple reason reason why Derrick Rose finished on top, and it's not, believe it or not, because he was the highest scoring among them. In fact, as some are going to want to jump on, he only shot 41.9 percent from the field in games against the other four.
The reason he ended up averaging the highest net game score is he was on an entirely different level than the other four defensively. He surrendered nearly five points fewer than any of the others. He gave up a downright stingy field goal percentage of 38.9. Furthermore, his opponents by far were the most inefficient scorers, averaging only 1.03 points per attempt—a full quarter of a point better than next best.
What makes this even more impressive is that Rose started the season losing his first four head-to-head matchups—twice to Rondo and twice to Westbrook.
However, all of those games were in the first few weeks of the season. After that, as Rose learned the defense and improved dramatically under the tutelage of defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, he dominated the last five matchups.
After December 6th, he utterly dominated every matchup averaging 27.8 points, shooting nearly 46 percent and averaging 1.4 points per field goal attempt. In the same games, he surrendered only 10.6 points, a 30.51 field goal percentage and a brutal 0.86 efficiency.
His game score over those five games more than doubled that of his opponents.
The end result was that he went from being last among the five to first among the five in head-to-head competitions.