B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Top Combo Guards of 2013-14 Season
Some guards don't fit into the traditional point guard or shooting guard molds, instead suiting up at both spots in the lineup for significant periods of time. Goran Dragic and Damian Lillard are the most notable examples, but there are plenty of other excellent combo guards out there.
Which of those studs will finish at the top of the rankings? Will a more unheralded challenger rise to the throne, or at least come close to doing so?
The NBA 200 metric identifies the players who performed best during the 2013-14 season. Potential doesn't matter, and neither does reputation. It's all about what happened this season, and this season only. All positions are graded using the same criteria (though rim protection was added into the equation for bigger positions), but the categories are weighted differently to reflect changing roles, with max scores in parentheses:
- Scoring (23)
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating (15) and Off-Ball Offense (7)
- Defense: On-Ball (20) and Off-Ball (20)
- Rebounding (5)
- Intangibles: Conduct (5) and Durability (5)
For a full explanation of how these scores were determined, go here. And do note these aren't your father's classification schemes for each position. Players' spots were determined not by playing style, but by how much time they spent at each position throughout the season, largely based on data from 82games.com, and we're expanding the traditional five to include four combo positions.
In the case of ties, the order is determined in subjective fashion by ranking the more coveted player in the higher spot. That was done by a voting committee comprised of myself, NBA Lead Writer D.J. Foster, National NBA Featured Columnist Grant Hughes, NBA Lead Writer Josh Martin and Associate NBA Editor Ethan Norof.
Below, you can find the publication schedule for the rest of the NBA 200 series. Remember that we're not using traditional positions, but rather subdividing those to account for the positionless schemes used by many NBA teams.
- Shooting guards: Monday, April 28
- Swingmen: Wednesday, April 30
- Small forwards: Monday, May 5
- Power forwards: Wednesday, May 7
- Combo bigs: Monday, May 12
- Centers: Wednesday, May 14
- Combo forwards: Friday, May 16
- Top 200 Players: Monday, May 19
Don't forget to check back, but in the meantime, feel free to discuss any or all of these rankings with me on Twitter.
20. Andre Miller, Washington Wizards
Andre Miller is a savvy veteran who picks his spots as well as anyone. Though he's far from a volume scorer and utterly incapable of putting up anything close to a 50-point game, he only takes intelligent shots and is still one of the more masterful guards when his back is to the basket.
The 38-year-old isn't an off-ball threat, but he's always been able to rely on his excellent passing to remain a valuable offensive player. This year, though, he's had a tougher time racking up assists, largely because he was so uncomfortable working in Brian Shaw's offensive system before the Denver Nuggets traded him to the Washington Wizards.
Miller's defensive numbers actually aren't all that bad, but he doesn't get particularly involved in the proceedings. Instead, schemes are usually built to hide him for the bulk of his time on the court because he's such a slow-footed, methodical player that despite his veteran savvy, his shortcomings can easily be exploited by even moderately quick players.
If you're looking for a backcourt player who knows how to use his derriere, Miller is your man. He's one of the best at establishing position and maintaining it when the ball is in the air, although he doesn't spend enough time in that area to make an impact deserving of a perfect rebounding score.
You might not expect it from such a veteran baller, but Miller clashed with Shaw to the point that he was benched and put on the trading block, from which point the Nuggets eventually shipped him off to the nation's capital for virtually nothing. That's when you know there's a problem.
The 2013-14 campaign was a disaster for Miller. He had trouble getting along with a first-year head coach who was only a decade older than him, his playing time suffered, and his performance followed suit before he joined the Wizards.
19. Tony Wroten, Philadelphia 76ers
Tony Wroten's jumper is still completely and utterly broken, but he's been able to use his athleticism and rim-seeking skills enough to emerge as a decent scorer for the Philadelphia 76ers. He creates plenty of looks for himself, and his shot chart is a thing of beauty, with attempts only coming beyond the arc and within the paint. There's just a little too much red scattered throughout it, though.
Defenses have to respect Wroten's ability as an athletic slasher, but they can basically forget about him as soon as he spots up on the perimeter. Additionally, he doesn't have the handles or passing skills necessary to function as a true distributor.
The Sixers had one of the worst defenses in the league during the 2013-14 campaign, and they were still significantly less capable of preventing points when Wroten was on the court. Even though he has the physical tools to make an impact, he lacked the discipline, desire and smarts necessary to remain decent as either an on- or off-ball defender.
Not only did Wroten thrive as a per-minute rebounder, but he also did a remarkable job fighting with bigger players on the glass. The 6'5" Washington product was willing to body up on the defensive glass and work around contact on the other end, allowing him to become one of the more potent offensive rebounders that NBA backcourts had to offer in 2013-14.
Only injury comes into play here. Wroten has always had a difficult time staying healthy, and while this year saw the injury imp treat him more kindly, a bad ankle twist knocked him out of action just long enough to be docked a point.
Wroten received far more opportunities to put up numbers during his sophomore season in the City of Brotherly Love than he did during his rookie go-round with the Memphis Grizzlies, and he looked like a promising player at times. Though he wasn't able to maintain his success for long stretches of the season, there were more than a few games in which he absolutely exploded and put all his potential on display.
18. Lou Williams, Atlanta Hawks
Lou Williams would normally fare better in this category, just not when he's coming off an ACL tear and struggling with his shooting stroke. Nonetheless, he remains a potent player off the bounce who can consistently create shots for himself in isolation.
Few players are better at maintaining possession for long stretches and minimizing turnovers. Though Williams isn't quite as incredible at avoiding the cough-ups as he was during his final season with the Philadelphia 76ers, it's still pretty amazing how well he prevents the opposition from taking away the rock.
Unless a bigger guard manages to turn his back to the basket and go to work from the blocks, Williams thrives as an on-ball defender. Consistently showing good instincts, the 27-year-old is quick to anticipate movement, though that doesn't translate to his off-ball work. Asking him to guard spot-up shooters is an exercise in futility.
It's not that the ACL hindered his performance on the boards; Williams has just never been a good rebounder, and the 2013-14 season was no exception. Too much time is spent on the perimeter for him to grab many shots off the glass.
This is where the ACL tear hurts Williams, as he missed a small portion of the season before making a surprise return to the lineup in a Nov. 15 contest against the Sixers. The delayed start and maintenance days kept the combo guard from being on the court as often as he needed to be.
The 2013-14 season has been a rough one for Williams, who suffered through injury recoveries, bouts of ineffectiveness and subsequent benchings before regaining his form. But the future is brighter for the 27-year-old combo guard, as he's continued to display the same skills that made him a special offensive player, just not quite as often as usual.
17. Mo Williams, Portland Trail Blazers
Though Mo Williams has lost any sort of edge he once possessed in transition, he's a decent scorer when he has the ball in his hands. Pick-and-roll sets are sometimes problematic for the Portland Trail Blazers' sixth man, but he excels when his teammates clear out space for him and allow him to go to work in isolation.
Even though playing alongside Damian Lillard has forced him to spend a significant amount of time at shooting guard, Williams has retained the majority of his passing chops. The assists don't come quite as frequently as they have in the past, but that's not for lack of vision.
Williams does record the occasional steal, but he's not much of a defensive presence. Finding any one area on the less-glamorous end in which he excels is a difficult task, and he's especially prone to being broken down in isolation. Hiding Williams is almost a necessity.
About as average a rebounder as you'll find at the combo guard position, Williams avoids contact when crashing the boards but does make an effort to go for plenty of caroms when they're well below the height of the rim. There's not much upside, nor is there any downside.
Williams hasn't clashed with Terry Stotts or any of the other members of Rip City, and he's stayed healthy throughout his first season with the team. No complaints are necessary in this section.
Arguably the league's best passer off the bench, Williams has struggled to adapt to the inefficient shots that the Blazers often grant him. His scoring just isn't particularly valuable at this stage of his career, which forces his overall value to decline as well.
16. Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks
Devin Harris might not score a lot of points—and he misses far more shots than he makes—but it's the manner in which he goes about his business that earns him a decent score. The combo guard excels working by himself, using his dribbling skills and quickness to his advantage. Very few players require assists on a lower percentage of their buckets.
One of the side effects of creating almost all offense for yourself is not being much of an off-ball threat—and therefore not drawing much attention from defenses when the rock isn't in your hands. Such is the case for Harris, who's also a solid—but not quite elite—distributor at his position.
Defense is the exact opposite of offense for Harris. Not just because it's the other side of the court, but because he's worse on the ball than he is off it. Though the 31-year-old isn't much of a stopper, he understands the importance of covering for the other liabilities on the Dallas Mavericks and tries to insert himself in the proceedings as often as possible.
Not only has Harris established himself as a solid per-minute rebounder, but he grabs a remarkable percentage of the boards that are in his general vicinity. It's all about smarts for Harris, who knows that he has to overcome his physical deficits in order to make an impact.
Health has been hard to come by for Harris during the 2013-14 season. Knee woes, a toe injury that required surgery and those typical nagging aches and pains have all kept the combo guard out for lengthy stretches of the 2013-14 campaign.
Had Harris been healthier, he likely would have been more effective during his return to the Mavs, the team with which he began his career back in the mid-2000s. Fortunately for Dallas, he's still more than capable of breaking down lesser defenders off the dribble and is willing to exert plenty of energy on both ends of the court.
15. Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
It took a while for Nate Wolters to rediscover his shooting stroke after making the transition from the South Dakota State Jackrabbits to the Milwaukee Bucks, but he did after the All-Star break. Once the league's best players returned to their normal teams, the versatile combo guard shot 50 percent from the field and 45.8 percent beyond the three-point arc.
Even though he's an intelligent cutter and competent shooter, Wolters isn't much of an off-ball threat. He earns points in this section largely because he's a turnover-averse guard who can pass out of double-teams well and hit the open man.
It was fairly easy to beat the rookie with dribbling skills, but Wolters was generally able to make an impact off the ball during his first season in Milwaukee. His frame and athleticism allowed him to do a remarkable job closing out on spot-up shooters and keeping a short distance between himself and his man while trailing them around the court.
Wolters averaged 5.8 rebounds or more during each of his final three collegiate seasons, and those skills translated quite well to the professional level. He's decent at fighting for rebounds in traffic, but his vision and mental acuity allow him to beat many players to the right spots.
He stayed fairly healthy throughout the majority of his rookie season, but a broken left hand in late March ended his year prematurely. This was an unlucky injury, sure, though it's still tough to transition into the long, grinding NBA season.
An unheralded second-round draft pick, Wolters got an early opportunity when it seemed like everyone in Milwaukee was injured, and he capitalized on it. There weren't many flashes of future stardom, but he was a steady, intelligent and athletic presence in the backcourt who should have a lengthy career as an upper-tier role player or low-level starter.
14. Nate Robinson, Denver Nuggets
This is typically Nate Robinson's biggest strength, but he never got into a rhythm during his first season with the Denver Nuggets, topping out with a pair of 24-point outings spaced out by over two months. Without as much ball control as he typically enjoys, Nate just never looked truly comfortable, though the early-season complications of Brian Shaw's offense didn't help.
While Robinson is athletic enough to pose a significant scoring threat when he cuts, he doesn't bring that much to the table as a distributor, which is a drastic change from the previous two seasons. And as you've surely realized by now, that's a big part of the equation for players who line up at both point guard and shooting guard.
Solid as an isolation defender and surprisingly effective in post-up situations despite his vertical challenges, Robinson still isn't much of a stopper. He struggles in pick-and-roll settings, which often comprise a large portion of NBA offenses, and his off-ball work isn't much better.
Rebounding is only a bit of a Krypto-Nate for Robinson. Though he stands just 5'9", he still managed to pull down a respectable 3.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Who says size is an excuse?
Unfortunately for a shallow Denver backcourt, Robinson tore his ACL during a Jan. 29 outing against the Charlotte Bobcats. That allowed him to play only 44 games during his first go-round in the Mile High City, and his durability score has been adjusted accordingly.
Robinson, still only 29 years old, should bounce back when he's fully recovered from the ACL tear, but it's not like he was playing at a particularly high level. Even if he'd stayed fully healthy and maintained his numbers and style of play for the entire 2013-14 campaign, he'd trail 10 combo guards in these rankings.
13. Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jarrett Jack's shot abandoned him for lengthy stretches in 2013-14, as he was unable to finish plays around the basket or knock down open looks from the outside. He kept grinding, eager to prove this was an aberration rather than a trend, but the Cleveland Cavaliers weren't as good to him as the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets were.
The 30-year-old guard hasn't enjoyed as much control of the ball as he's used to, and it's been a struggle to adapt as an off-ball scoring threat. However, he's made the most of his opportunities by virtue of solid court vision and distribution skills. Additionally, Jack has continued to spit on the concept of turning the ball over.
Look past Jack's declining defensive rating, which is largely a product of playing for a team that struggles as a whole to prevent points. The veteran has remained a solid on-ball defender, one who's capable of making an opponent struggle in isolation or when running pick-and-roll sets.
If you see Jack grab a rebound with someone else within an arm's length, look outside your window and check for flying pigs. No one in the NBA averaging more than two boards per game has a lower percentage come from the uncontested variety, though it's still impressive that the combo guard manages to find himself free from everyone else with such frequency.
Jack hasn't suffered any major injuries since he was playing for the Hornets, though he did spend the 2013-14 season playing with a sore left knee that occasionally hindered his on-court exploits. He's a durable veteran leader.
Giving Jack a four-year deal for $25 million, as the Cavs did this past offseason, was a mistake. But don't let an egregious salary detract from your evaluation of a valuable veteran guard who can provide a scoring boost off the bench.
12. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Avery Bradley showed vast improvements as a scorer throughout the 2013-14 season. He still needs to do a better job working through traffic and drawing contact, but the strides made beyond the arc and from many mid-range zones allowed him to increase both his volume scoring and the efficiency with which he puts up points.
He might be asked to suit up at point guard for the Boston Celtics on some occasions, but Bradley flat-out can't pass the ball. Technically, he's able to let the orange sphere depart from his hands by giving it momentum in a direction pointing toward a teammate, but he's scarily unable to generate assists. Having more turnovers than assists is not exactly a positive for a combo guard.
Defense remains Bradley's forte, as he consistently displays an old-school mentality that relies on full-court pressure. No ball-handler is safe when he's on the court, as he'll spend the entirety of a possession up in their grill, just hoping for even one momentary slip-up to capitalize upon.
As you might expect from such a physical and tenacious player, Bradley thrives on the glass. He doesn't pull down as many boards as some other players at his position, but he's not afraid of contact and contests from other players when he elevates to gain possession after a missed shot.
Multiple ankle injuries and problems with his Achilles tendon plagued Bradley during what could have become even more of a breakout season. He was held out of too many games, and his performance was sometimes limited even when he could wear a jersey instead of a suit.
For the first time in his career, Bradley wasn't an offensive liability for Boston. He didn't exactly thrive as a scorer, much less as a distributor, but his shot improved to the point that he could be relied on for the occasional high-scoring exploits.
11. Shaun Livingston, Brooklyn Nets
Though Shaun Livingston can't shoot from the outside to save his life, he's a big, skilled athlete who makes up for the shooting deficit by thriving inside the arc. He won't be counted on for volume scoring unless everyone else on the Brooklyn Nets is injured, but at least Livingston manages to avoid mid-range looks and work his way into the paint surprisingly often.
While defenses don't need to worry about closing out on Livingston if he spots up, they do have to pay attention to cuts. Given his frame (6'7", 182 pounds) and long arms, the combo guard is an easy target for other guards when he bursts toward the rim with the intent of finishing the play right at the basket.
Size helps here as well, as Livingston can easily recover if he's beaten into the lane by a quicker player. He's also a quality pick-and-roll defender; his veteran savvy allows him to make quick decisions, either falling back under a screen and still contesting a shot with his lankiness or going over the pick because there's no serious driving threat.
Livingston does a great job pulling down contested boards, as he's one of a very select group of combo guards who manages to have around a 3-to-1 uncontested-to-contested ratio on the glass. It's that size at play once more, though a little bit more dedication on the glass would be advantageous.
If there's anyone who's just happy to play basketball, it's this guy. For reasons that still make many shudder to think about, Livingston is lucky to be in the NBA, much less contributing at a high level for a competitive team. He knows that as well as anyone.
That brutal knee injury Livingston suffered while playing for the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2007 is now but a distant memory. The massive combo guard no longer possesses an inordinate amount of upside, but he's carved out a nice niche for himself with the Nets while establishing himself as a player for whom fans almost universally root.
10. Jordan Crawford, Golden State Warriors
Jordan Crawford has always been filled with confidence, and 2013-14 was no exception. Though he attacked the basket far more frequently with the Boston Celtics than with the Golden State Warriors, he remained a potent isolation threat who could heat up at any time. Unfortunately, his teams just had to live with the dry spells in between the microwave sessions.
Under the tutelage and encouragement of Brad Stevens, Crawford finally had everything click as a passer. His assist rate rose while his turnover rate declined, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy being able to help his teammates find easier scoring opportunities.
The C's were worse defensively when Crawford played, but only marginally. The last clause doesn't apply to his time with the Dubs, though. Despite some solid on-ball skills—particularly when he's asked to guard isolation sets—he's been too uncomfortable in his new digs to make any sort of positive impact.
Crawford is one of those little guys who makes the most of his time on the court by getting back in transition frequently and only attacking the glass when he knows he can beat everyone to a below-the-rim rebound. His numbers aren't great for a 6'4" guard.
No major injuries kept him out of the lineup for lengthy portions of the 2013-14 season, and attitude issues never flared up either. In fact, his time in Boston was notable for his complete acceptance of Stevens' wisdom and experience, even if that experience came in the collegiate ranks.
While it's a shame that Crawford was traded away from Beantown just as he was growing comfortable in a distributing role, he's shown that he has the tools necessary to be a crucial backcourt cog down the road. The scoring confidence will always be there, and now the passing chops are, too.
9. Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks got the raw end of a midseason deal with the Charlotte Bobcats (remember the whole tanking narrative), as Ramon Sessions came back to the team with which he started his career and promptly remembered how to shoot. That wasn't exactly a good thing for the Bucks' lottery-ball efforts, even if Sessions reminded us all of how effective he could be when his long-range attempts were falling.
Defenses can't just forget about Sessions when he isn't handling the rock. Not only is the veteran guard a solid shooter from the perimeter—though his spot-up numbers weren't particularly impressive this year—but he's also continuously proved to be an intelligent cutter who makes opponents pay for brief attention lapses.
Nothing about Sessions is quick. His hands are too slow to gift his team many steals, his feet don't allow him to keep up with speedy guards, and his instincts lag enough that he can struggle in any situation that requires a split-second decision.
Sessions doesn't seem to care for contact after a missed shot, but he does track the ball well, allowing him to pick up easy rebounds with nice frequency. Still, it's not like he stands out in this facet among the backdrop of backcourt players.
Free from negative press and injuries, Sessions has given no reason to be docked points in either of the two categories that comprise the overall score in this section.
Yes, Sessions is a backup. But he's an elite player off the bench when filled with confidence, as he can light up the scoreboard in short bursts with his outside shooting, all the while remaining a solid distributor. Even though he's just 28 years old, Sessions is a known commodity and should continue to function as such for years.
8. Greivis Vasquez, Toronto Raptors
Once he was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the Toronto Raptors, Greivis Vasquez just didn't look very comfortable as a scorer. His percentages universally declined—most notably his free-throw percentage—and he was hesitant to take looks that weren't three-point attempts with plenty of open space surrounding him.
Vasquez is a threatening presence beyond the arc, even if he failed to connect on many spot-up jumpers while staunchly refusing to cut toward the hoop. But it's his passing that stands out here. Vasquez isn't going to average nine assists per game again, as he did during his final season with the New Orleans Hornets, but he still tends to display great court vision whenever he finds himself in a rhythm.
While the 6'6" combo guard doesn't have many athletic tools that enable him to keep up with quicker guards, he does have one advantage: size. That, combined with the occasional display of veteran savvy, allows him to remain a competent defender for long stretches of the time he spends on the floor.
The size isn't quite as advantageous here. Vasquez posts rather pedestrian rebounding numbers, and he doesn't help his case with a decided lack of desire to venture into the paint during many possessions.
No complaints here, as Vasquez has been able to stay healthy and happy throughout his time with both the Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors. Even during a season filled with transition—both from one team to another and one role to another—the 27-year-old has avoided becoming a distraction.
It's amazing how far removed we already are from Vasquez's standout 2012-13 season. He's since been shipped off to the Kings, then the Raptors, and he's been unable to retain a starting gig in the latter destination. A valuable guard nonetheless, Vasquez continues to shine in his areas of strength.
7. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets
Whether he's coming off the bench as an ace sixth man or suiting up in the starting lineup, Jeremy Lin has been able to put numbers on the board. His three-point shot keeps getting better and better—just as it has throughout his career—and he's retained the intelligence and craftiness that has always allowed him to experience success while driving into the teeth of the defense.
Remember when turnover issues put a slight damper on the whole Linsanity craze? Well, that's no longer the case, as Lin has become a more cautious and calculating player, though not at the expense of his aggressive drive-and-kick style of facilitation.
The Houston Rockets guard is a mixed bag on defense. He could be a fairly effective off-ball player but doesn't seem to enjoy exerting effort when his man is devoid of possession, and he struggles immensely when that man does have the rock.
It's all about effort for Lin. He's not a particularly talented rebounder, but he always tries for them when the opportunity presents itself. Few guards put themselves in position for boards more often than Lin does, even if he doesn't always corral them.
Health is the only gripe here. Back spasms attacked in December, and related issues flared up again after the All-Star break, limiting both his playing time and effectiveness.
While the Jeremy Lin who excelled with the New York Knicks is now a distant memory, it's become abundantly clear that the Harvard product has a long future in the NBA. He's already a great role-playing offensive producer, and there's still plenty of time left before he hits his true athletic prime.
6. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Victor Oladipo's jumper was broken throughout his rookie season with the Orlando Magic, but he still made a positive scoring impact with his aggressive rim-seeking tendencies. Showcasing some ball-handling skills that made his collegiate work pale in comparison, 'Dipo often functioned as a homing missile with its sights set on the basket.
Unless Oladipo was cutting, he wasn't much of an off-ball threat during his rookie season; there was no reason for defenses to respect his jump-shooting ability. That didn't improve, but his passing certainly did. While he was with the Hoosiers, 'Dipo didn't do much distributing, but he looked like a natural passer in Orlando.
Oladipo wasn't given a defensive reputation for no reason. The youthful backcourt member thrives when he's stopping opponents, and he seems to love nothing more than settling down into his defensive stance and making life miserable for the other team. That's true regardless of whether he's playing on- or off-ball defense, and NBA experience will only help in the future.
Oladipo is a fantastic rebounder for a guard, and it's primarily because he seems to have a sixth sense, anticipating the bounces as soon as the ball leaves a shooter's hand. He's often the first player to the spot where the rock will end up, which allows him to grab an inordinate amount of uncontested rebounds.
Youthful exuberance defines Oladipo's game, though it doesn't come at the expense of maturity. He's always a positive presence in the Magic lineup, and he's stayed quite healthy throughout his rookie go-round.
Just imagine how dangerous Oladipo is going to be when he develops a jumper. And given his work ethic, it does seem like more of a "when" than an "if." The defensive tools and athleticism are already there in spades.
5. Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
Kirk Hinrich is no longer the sniper who became the Chicago Bulls' franchise leader in three-pointers made. He's still No. 1 on the leaderboard, but his efficiency is slipping away as the savage grips of Father Time sap strength from his legs. Unfortunately, the three-ball remains Hinrich's primary method of producing points, which is rather problematic for his overall scoring ability.
If you're an opposing guard, you don't want to leave Hinrich alone beyond the arc. He can't create those looks for himself as easily, but he's still a deadly catch-and-shoot presence. As for his passing, Hinrich doesn't make many flashy plays, though his turnover-averse nature makes him a valuable ball-handler.
This is still Hinrich's calling card. He's a tough, gritty defender who shows no fear in the face of a tough assignment, whether it's coming against an opposing point guard or shooting guard. The veteran is a heady off-ball defender, but he's at his best when he's allowed to get down in a defensive stance and cover the man with the ball.
"Captain Kirk" will never make you sit back and think, "Wow, that's a great rebounding guard." He just doesn't stand out on the boards, even if he's a safe bet to grab two or three rebounds most times he suits up.
Hinrich has always been a fragile player, and the 2013-14 season didn't prove to be any sort of exception. Hamstring injuries flared up at various points throughout the season, and it was tough for the combo guard to completely shake those ill effects.
It's hard to fault Hinrich for knowing exactly who he is and acting accordingly. The veteran is a perimeter marksman who handles the ball well and can make a significant defensive impact for the Bulls night in and night out. Nothing more, and nothing less.
4. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Reggie Jackson did an admirable job making up for the scoring lost when Russell Westbrook was out of the lineup, but he truly thrived as the scoring stud of the Oklahoma City Thunder's second unit. Able to get into a rhythm when coming off the pine, he showcased a vastly improved stroke from the outside, one that allows him to maintain efficiency while producing an uptick in per-minute output.
He's nothing special as a distributor, but Jackson is able to find the open man and get him the ball a respectable amount of the time. And given the scoring options he tends to play alongside, that lets him generate quite a few assists. Without the ball in his hands, Jackson is an intelligent cutter, but he still needs to hone that outside shot and force defenses to respect it.
While Jackson doesn't excel in any one area of off-ball defense, he's always involved in the proceedings. Instead of shrinking away from assignments and being hidden by Scott Brooks' schemes, Jackson actively inserts himself in most plays, whether by aggressively jumping lanes or being willing to switch. If only he were better at keeping his man in front of him...
Not only does Jackson pull down plenty of missed shots, but he's also not afraid to go after the contested rebounds. Elite in neither category, the third-year pro is solid enough in both of those areas to earn that coveted perfect score.
You'll never see Jackson distracting OKC from success, whether he's on or off the court. And when the Thunder are ready to play, so too is this combo guard, who has stayed quite healthy both throughout his career and during the 2013-14 campaign.
Jackson has blossomed into an offensive threat who can function as a sixth man or a spot starter at either guard position. He's a valuable piece in the Thunder's championship-contending roster, and they're lucky to have him on such a cheap deal until the close of next season. Then he's invariably going to get paid some big bucks, assuming he continues his positive developmental trends on both ends.
3. Darren Collison, Los Angeles Clippers
It's hard to score more efficiently as a backup guard than Darren Collison has, although he's missing the elite volume produced by a couple of players at his position. Throughout the 2013-14 season, he's connected from downtown, inside the arc and at the charity stripe with alarming frequency. But in this case, the alarm has been one you want to hear.
Defenses can't leave Collison alone on the perimeter, and they certainly have to worry about his distributing skills when he's running the show. Though it helps that the Los Angeles Clippers surround him with so many offensive options, the 26-year-old guard does manage to rack up plenty of assists without turning the ball over much at all.
Collison has improved as a defender, but it's still clearly a weak spot. L.A. is marginally worse with him on the court. That is largely because he struggles as an off-ball defender, finding himself out of position and chasing down his man in out-of-control fashion.
An adequate rebounder, Collison won't do anything you don't expect on the boards. He's a minor contributor, and it's rare that he becomes anything more than that, partially because of his 6'0" frame.
Playing for the Clippers has suited this UCLA product quite well. He may not have been able to start as many games as he did in the past, but he's remained happy and effective in his role while staying almost completely healthy.
The Clippers could've declined rather significantly while Chris Paul was injured, but Collison made sure that wouldn't happen. Whether he's been in the starting five or coming off the bench to replace either a point guard or shooting guard, he's served as exactly the type of offensive spark plug that this elite Western Conference team needed.
2. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard can light up the scoreboard in a bunch of ways for the Portland Trail Blazers, but his pull-up jumpers are just on another level. Few players in the NBA are as proficient at going from dribble to shot to swish, and that helps make up for Lillard's struggles finishing around the basket. That's the best way for him to improve going forward, but he's already one of the premier scoring threats in the Association.
Lillard's three-point stroke improved rather dramatically during his sophomore season, and the impetus was increased confidence as a spot-up shooter. Defenses noticed, and they were forced to act accordingly. Additionally, the Weber State product has become much more careful with the ball—both when dribbling and passing—which has only helped him get better as a facilitator.
Defense is still an adventure for the guard. Though he's quick enough to play effectively off the ball, he often acts in a manner that should go hand in hand with a look of bewilderment when he's guarding a man with possession. Screens just throw a major wrench in any defensive plans he had in mind going into the half-court set.
It's a mixed bag for Lillard, who tends to go after more rebounds than most combo guards but doesn't come away with a high percentage of them. Still, you have to love the aggressiveness shown by this 6'3" guard, who seems to forget that he isn't as tall as many rebounders who are significantly more proficient on the glass.
Not only is Lillard one of the true iron men of the sport, but he always plays with passion and enthusiasm. Utilizing the entirety of his college eligibility helped him develop leadership skills that have clearly translated to the professional level.
Lillard broke onto the scene as a point guard for Rip City during his Rookie of the Year campaign, and spending more time at the 2 in 2013-14 hasn't detracted from his ability to improve. He thrives in one- and two-guard sets, but only on the offensive end of the court. The addition of defensive chops would allow him to become a true superstar.
1. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
Whether you need a man to slither through the defense and find his way to the rim or pull up and hit a jumper from either the perimeter or a mid-range zone, Goran Dragic is that guy. He's shouldered an inordinate portion of the scoring burden for the Phoenix Suns and is still shooting well over 50 percent from the field.
The uptick in scoring has caused Dragic to spend less time focusing on the involvement of his teammates, but he's still managed to dish out assists frequently while avoiding those dreaded turnovers. Given the speed with which he plays, it's shocking how much care for the ball he's able to show.
Dragic might be quite the offensive spark plug, but he doesn't often carry himself like a confident defender. When he's able to settle down and focus on an individual assignment, there aren't too many problems. But forcing him to chase players is a recipe for disaster.
"Slithery" might describe Dragic with the ball in his hands, but not when he's trying to gain position on the boards. He's not afraid to chase after rebounds that are being fought for by bigger players, but it doesn't turn out well on a regular basis.
A feisty competitor who refuses to let insignificant maladies bother him, Dragic is everything you could ask a leader to be. His teammates in the desert know that he's giving 100 percent each and every night, even if he's feeling like he's not at full strength.
"The Dragon" was one of the Association's biggest breakout stars in 2013-14, and it's an absolute travesty that he wasn't able to make the All-Star team in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, he established himself as an offensive phenom and one of the most entertaining players to watch in all of basketball.