B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Top Guards Heading into 2016-17
What does Stephen Curry have in store for 2016-17 as he attempts the encore to his sterling 2015-16 NBA campaign? Is it regression after reaching previously untouched three-point heights, providing an endless supply of records and eventually winning MVP honors unanimously for the first time in league history? Or, can he reach a heretofore unimaginable next level?
Of course, there are no guarantees he even remains atop the heap of elite guards. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Damian Lillard and others are all primed to mount impressive challenges to Curry's apparent throne. And that's saying nothing of the other young backcourt talents just waiting to break out.
We aren't projecting how well everyone will perform during the upcoming season, but where they are as 2016-17 gets underway. Thus, we use the end of last season as our starting point. Not every player starts out on level footing, either; the NBA 200 metric identifies those who performed best during the 2015-16 regular campaign*. Potential doesn't matter, and neither does reputation or playoff performance (too variable)—it's all about what happened this past regular season only.
In this edition, we're looking at point guards (PG), combo guards (CG) and shooting guards (SG). All positions are graded using the same criteria (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 (20 for point guards, 23 for combo guards and 25 for shooting guards)
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating (20 for point guards, 15 for combo guards and 10 for shooting guards) and Off-Ball Offense (5 for point guards, 7 for combo guards and 10 for shooting guards)
- Defense: On-Ball (20) and Off-Ball (20)
- Rebounding (5)
- Durability (10)
For a full explanation of how these scores were determined, go here. And do note these aren't your father's classifications: Players' spots were determined by how much time they spent at each position throughout the season, largely based on data from Basketball-Reference.com, and we're expanding the traditional five to include four combo positions.
In the case of ties, the order is subjectively determined by ranking the more coveted player in the higher spot. That was done by a voting committee comprised of myself, three B/R National NBA Featured Columnists (Grant Hughes, Zach Buckley and Dan Favale) and B/R Associate NBA Editor (Joel Cordes).
There are 71 guards considered, so you can click "Next" to start the whole list or skip ahead to Guards 50-41 if you want.
Note: All statistics come from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise indicated. Injury information comes from Pro Sports Transactions. In order to qualify for the rankings, players must have suited up in at least 30 games and logged no fewer than 500 minutes. This intro was adapted from last year's edition.
A few players you might expect to see in this installment will be showing up elsewhere. They include Kobe Bryant (small forward), DeMar DeRozan (swingman), Evan Fournier (swingman), Klay Thompson (swingman) and others.
*Thus, a "retired-in-the-offseason" player like Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant will still show up here as well. Even though they're (sadly) not playing again, they're a valuable placeholder that helps show where 2016-17's bunch stacks up in comparison at the start of the season.
71. Patty Mills, PG, San Antonio Spurs
Though less involved than he's been throughout his NBA career, Patty Mills still managed to produce solid per-minute point totals by virtue of his outside shooting. The San Antonio Spurs didn't often depend on his contributions, but he made the most of sparse looks by knocking down 38.4 percent of his long-range shots.
No one dares leave Mills open on the perimeter, but they have fewer reasons to worry when the ball is in his hands, since he hasn't served as the most prolific passer. Even in the ball-sharing San Antonio system, he didn't rack up many assists or secondary dimes, instead stopping the rock when it hit his hands and often looking for his own shot.
Especially when covering pick-and-roll ball-handlers, Mills showed impressive cerebral ability by jumping over the right screens at the right times. But if he was attacked in isolation, disaster ensued. Allowing 1.07 points per possession, he finished in the 11.1 percentile.
His 6'0" frame prevents him from making much of an impact on the glass, but Mills managed to get a few fast breaks started by drifting toward longer rebounds and grabbing those uncontested opportunities. Just don't expect to see him skying over larger players.
Mills played in 81 of the Spurs' 82 regular-season contests, and the only one he missed came when he was granted a day off by head coach Gregg Popovich. But the limited physicality of his role and his lessened playing time (20.5 minutes per game) still prevent him from earning a perfect score.
Mills spent his 2015-16 campaign hovering between a sniping role and a more well-rounded one. He handled himself nicely in plenty of defensive situations and consistently did what was asked of him by the San Antonio coaching staff. But more than half of his field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc, and that's the most telling number of all.
70. Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Denver Nuggets
Only volume saves Emmanuel Mudiay, because he was historically bad at maintaining respectable percentages. By hitting just 36.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 31.9 percent of his three-point tries, he often left the Denver Nuggets in a lurch when they foolishly relied upon his scoring contributions. This was an expected weakness for the rookie as he jumped from the Chinese Basketball Association to the NBA.
Mudiay was an atrocious spot-up threat during his first Mile High City season, but he could occasionally get the better of a defender with a well-timed cut. Still, he looked best as a facilitator, joining Stephon Marbury and LeBron James as one of only three qualified teenagers to average at least five assists.
It was far too easy to abuse Mudiay during his rookie campaign. Attacking him in isolation, posting him up, letting him wander away to provide help defense before torturing him with a spot-up jumper...all strategies had the same result: lots of points.
As Mudiay learns how to leverage his 6'5" frame, he should become a true asset on the glass. You could see flashes of that potential, but he didn't turn enough of the chances into actual rebounds.
A sprained right ankle held Mudiay to just 68 appearances, but his workload was large enough that we aren't docking him any points. It's tough enough for any first-year player to handle the grind of the NBA calendar; Mudiay did so while playing 30.4 minutes per game and exhibiting constant movement on both ends.
Mudiay's rookie season was always going to be a learning experience. It was far too easy to (rightly) predict the 19-year-old point guard would struggle with his shot, find himself overwhelmed on defense and turn the ball over too often. But the weaknesses didn't prevent this Nugget from showing his lofty upside on a regular basis.
69. Shelvin Mack, PG, Utah Jazz
Shelvin Mack wasn't all that efficient in 2015-16, nor did he score points in bunches. But he did consistently showcase an ability to create his own looks. During his time with the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz, he required assists on just 66.7 percent of his triples and 29.4 percent of his makes within the arc.
Mack generated 6.9 potential assists per game and recorded 3.6 actual dimes during his average contest, meaning his teammates shot 52.2 percent off his feeds. All season long, he made quality passes that set running mates up nicely, helping make up for his lack of floor-spacing ability.
Mack was fantastic when teams attacked him in one-on-one situations and excelled when thrust into pick-and-roll scenarios. But if a wing or big man held the ball, he drifted over in their direction far too often and afforded his actual assignments too many wide-open opportunities.
Some players have a nose for rebounds. Some, like Mack, do not.
It wasn't an injury that held Mack out of the lineup before he was traded to the Jazz. Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer didn't have enough minutes for him with Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague ahead in the rotation, and that kept him on the bench for the majority of his tenure.
Mack was a nondescript third-string point guard in search of a bigger opportunity than the Hawks could provide. But as soon as he was traded to Salt Lake City, he broke out in a larger role as a feasible starter who could legitimately hold his own on both ends. No one would mistake Mack for a star, but he would have ranked far better had we only included his time with the Jazz.
68. Jose Calderon, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Even though Jose Calderon remains an efficient marksmen (41.4 percent from downtown in 2015-16), scoring is a double-edged sword for him. He didn't have a large role in the New York Knicks' offense last season, which depressed the number of opportunities to show off his touch, forcing him to an off-ball role that made nearly all his buckets the product of assists.
Averaging 4.2 assists and only 1.2 turnovers is no easy task, especially since Calderon was often asked to serve as nothing more than a secondary distributor. His passing was phenomenal in that limited role, and it's not like defenders were able to leave him wide open on the perimeter.
Calderon handled himself nicely in on-ball situations. He was just about average when asked to guard pick-and-roll ball-handlers, and teams failed to attack him in isolation with too much frequency. It was his off-ball work that held him back, as he often failed to stick with spot-up shooters and hemorrhaged points when cheating off his man.
Calderon set new career highs in both rebounds per game (3.2) and rebounds per 36 minutes (4.1) for the Knicks. The problem was that his previous marks weren't even remotely impressive, and he relied heavily on long caroms to grab a board without fighting off another player.
Calderon suited up in 72 games for New York, missing 10 throughout the year: A sore groin kept him out in late January and early February, and a bruised right quad ended his season prematurely. He was on the cusp of losing a point for durability, but his activity level was high enough to grant him the perfect score.
We've known who Calderon is for years, and that perception didn't change in 2015-16. Now in a backup role with the Los Angeles Lakers, he's a deadly off-ball shooter and deft distributor who operates in limited capacity, and those skills have value so long as his squad isn't relying on his defensive chops—or lack thereof.
67. Jerryd Bayless, CG, Philadelphia 76ers
Jerryd Bayless played significant minutes for the Milwaukee Bucks, but he devolved into a sharpshooting specialist who took over half his field-goal attempts from beyond the arc. Though he was quite effective (43.7 percent), he relied on assists to generate his opportunities and only connected on 40.8 percent of his minimal attempts from two-point territory, something that should change in his new role as a likely starter for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Based on gravity and his effectiveness as a spot-up shooter, Bayless was one of the NBA's premier off-ball threats. He also served as a decent secondary distributor, rarely making mistakes when he chose to share the rock and recording 3.9 assists per 36 minutes.
The Bucks often had to adjust so that Bayless was somehow only guarding ball-handlers in pick-and-roll sets or other backcourt members who inexplicably decided to post him up. Every other situation was a disaster for this combo guard—none worse than isolation, where he finished in the 24.1 percentile.
Bayless often struggled on the glass, but he converted the few opportunities he received quite nicely. Even when other players were within a wingspan of the rebounding chance, he showed nice body positioning and quick hands while tracking down the ball.
Plagued by sprained ankles and hyperextensions in both knees, Bayless only suited up 52 games for the Bucks. When healthy, he did maintain a high physical intensity, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights, but he simply didn't play enough minutes.
Bayless sunk to a new low on the defensive end, but his offense was valuable when used properly. Milwaukee benefited from his presence as a perimeter sniper, and he could help with the ball-handling responsibilities when Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks' true point guards needed breathers. Glamorous production wasn't there, but at least he filled his offensive niche well.
66. D'Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Shooting difficulties plague many first-year guards, and D'Angelo Russell was no exception. His inconsistency was exacerbated by the Los Angeles Lakers' lack of offensive talent, since he was so often asked to take over the scoring load. Fortunately, he still managed to display a knack for getting buckets all over the court, particularly as he settled in during the stretch run.
As Russell gains experience, his passing should catch up to his scoring. He displayed impressive vision during his brief career at Ohio State, often seeing plays unfold well before players worked into proper position. But that didn't translate as a rookie, and he had trouble balancing his natural aggression with timely feeds.
Russell wasn't truly terrible in any one defensive situation, but it was easy to attack him in just about all of them. He was thoroughly mediocre across the board, and it didn't help that his Lakers, one of the more porous teams in NBA history, left him on an island far too often.
He was never afraid to create rebounding chances in traffic, and he did a nice job bodying up against bigger players when the ball was in his immediate vicinity. It was turning those chances into actual rebounds that proved problematic, though his mentality offers hope that he could one day become one of the NBA's better glass-crashing floor generals.
Russell missed only two games during his rookie season—one due to illness and another as the result of a sprained ankle—but head coach Byron Scott kept him on the bench too often to earn a perfect durability score.
It's not difficult to see Russell brimming over with immense upside, but it was often held in check during his inaugural campaign. Part of the problem was the Lakers coaching staff's inability to give him consistent minutes or put him in situations that lead to success, but the raw nature of Russell's game proved detrimental as well.
65. Norman Powell, SG, Toronto Raptors
It wasn't until later in the year that Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey used Norman Powell as anything more than a defensive specialist, but he could always knock down triples (40.4 percent). Powell's 13.6 points per 36 minutes are far more indicative of his talent than his per-game average of 5.6.
Powell exhibited an impressive amount of gravitational pull—no doubt stemming from his marksmanship in spot-up situations. His passing was far more lackluster, preventing him from remaining too heavily involved even when Toronto could have used an extra ball-handler.
The UCLA product made his mark as a defensive ace during his first professional go-round, often challenging the other team's most dangerous wing. Experience will allow him to make smarter off-ball decisions, but his ability to navigate a pick-and-roll or body up against a bigger player already leaves him in positive territory.
Powell shows the tools to be a fantastic rebounding guard. As a rookie, he converted an astounding 60.5 percent of his opportunities, and a respectable number came with another player in close proximity. But this 2-guard didn't spend enough time on the court to prove he could maintain these numbers while filling a larger role.
Though Powell's movement was astronomical whenever he was on the floor—the product of running through screens on offense and playing tough, physical defense—he spent too much time on the bench to prove his durability. Despite suffering a grand total of zero notable injuries throughout the year, he played just 725 minutes for Toronto, and we don't get to count his time with the D-League's Raptors 905.
Few young players possess this type of two-way upside—the 23-year-old has established himself as a quality perimeter defender who can knock down shots from beyond the arc. Had Powell maintained his quality of play but logged enough minutes to better showcase his durability and rebounding, he'd have challenged for a spot just outside the overall top 100.
64. Raymond Felton, CG, Los Angeles Clippers
Raymond Felton hasn't been a shooter for a while now, and he sunk below even adequate levels during 2015-16. However, he finished his shots from within three feet at a 63.5 percent clip, primarily because he proved quite adept at driving into the teeth of a defense. He scored 3.9 points per game on drives while shooting 50.2 percent and often working his way to the line.
Though Felton's shooting woes prevented him from serving as more than an off-ball, back-door cutter, he was a solid distributor for the Dallas Mavericks. Rarely turning the ball over, he recorded fewer assists per 36 minutes than ever but unselfishly shared the rock and helped the team shoot slightly better when he was on the floor.
Whether working on or off the ball, Felton was an atrocious defender in 2015-16. Consistently subpar in every single area (but not egregious in any), and without a distinct calling card, it was impossible for the Mavs to hide his porosity.
Despite playing in his age-31 season, the 6'1" guard averaged more rebounds per 36 minutes than ever before. He turned 55.2 percent of his chances into actual boards, and a significant number came in contested fashion.
Felton played 80 games for Dallas, missing a contest apiece for a left eye injury and a strained right groin. Given the grueling nature of the NBA calendar, that's hardly much to complain about.
After previously drawing fanbase ire for his uninspired play and fitness at various NBA stops, Felton revitalized his career with the Mavericks. At his best handling the ball and either working in pick-and-roll sets or driving to the hoop, he shouldn't be a starter for a competitive team. But Felton's newfound ability to also play the 2 has made him an intriguing choice to lead any second unit, as he'll now do for the Los Angeles Clippers.
63. Marcus Smart, CG, Boston Celtics
Unless he's playing against the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, Marcus Smart can't shoot. He hit only 34.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and 25.3 percent of his triples during the regular season, and he didn't frequent the free-throw line enough to make up for it. Until he improves, Smart would be more valuable to the Boston Celtics if he never shot.
Smart is easy to leave alone on the perimeter, though defenders have to watch him in the periphery and make sure he isn't trying to make a quick cut to the basket. He is big and athletic enough to finish alley-oops, and he's dunked at least five times in both of his professional seasons. But it's still his passing that earns a decent score here, since Smart rarely turns the ball over.
Tenacious and physical, Smart possesses all the athletic tools you could require from a backcourt defender. He's effective on the ball, rarely challenged in one-on-one situations and he consistently inserts himself in the proceedings when working away from the action. But as is the case for many young guards, he can lose focus and start watching the ball, which leads to trouble for the C's.
Averaging more than four rebounds as a guard is difficult, yet Smart posted 4.2 per game as a sophomore despite being handed fewer than 28 minutes during an average outing.
A sprained left toe kept Smart out at the beginning of the year, but a deep bruise on his left knee was the more significant injury. Together, they prevented him from showcasing his high-energy work for 21 games.
Until Smart develops a reliable jumper—just something that can keep defenders honest—he won't live up to his lofty potential. It's blindingly obvious he has star potential, given his rebounding chops, distributing skills and impressive perimeter defense. But surviving the modern NBA is difficult when you're a detrimental floor-spacing presence, especially in the backcourt.
62. Devin Harris, SG, Dallas Mavericks
Everything about Devin Harris' scoring game was rather nondescript last season. He didn't put up points in volume for the Dallas Mavericks and relied on his teammates to create looks more than he had in previous seasons. He failed to assert himself as a reliable perimeter threat, too, but was efficient around the basket and fared well from mid-range zones.
Harris didn't scare defenders as a spot-up threat, but his knack for reading a defense and cutting into space still forced them to pay him mind. His lackluster assist numbers provided no indication he used to primarily be a point guard, but teammates shot well off his feeds, and he often swung the ball around to earn a secondary dime.
Harris has been a defensive liability for the vast majority of his lengthy NBA career, but he turned back the clocks with his first positive defensive box plus/minus since 2006-07. Whether working against isolation plays (95.2 percentile) or guarding a pick-and-roll ball-handler (92.6 percentile), he thrived in off-ball situations. And though he gave up plenty of points when beginning away from the primary action, he at least managed to remain involved.
Even though Harris produced more rebounds per 36 minutes (3.9) than ever before, he eschewed contact and seemed to luck into more boards than actively pursuing them.
Harris played just 64 games for the Mavericks, and the reasons for his absences were rather diverse: rest, sore ribs, a strained right hamstring, back spasms that led to a strained back, a sprained left big toe (the same one that ended his 2014-15 campaign), the birth of his child and a sprained left thumb that knocked him out for the rest of the year.
Calling Harris a shooting guard is accurate but also a bit misleading. He spent a significant amount of time lining up at both point guard and small forward, and that versatility may have been his most valuable aspect, since he failed to stand out positively or negatively in any singular category.
61. J.J. Barea, PG, Dallas Mavericks
J.J. Barea didn't receive an exorbitant number of touches for the Dallas Mavericks, but he made them count by scoring efficiently and displaying a masterful ability to create his own looks. Of his two-point makes, only 18.9 percent required an assist—a number that jumped to just 57.0 percent on triples.
Only 21 players finished with a higher total than Barea in our combined score for gravity and effective field-goal percentage in spot-up situations—11 of whom were point guards. Facilitating drops this guard's score, since he can get a bit careless with the ball when attempting to lead the second unit.
Is it just his size working against him? Barea had trouble leveraging his 6'0" frame against screens, leading to his opponents scoring an astounding 1.46 points per possession in those situations. That left him in just the 2.4 percentile and killed any chance of receiving a respectable off-ball—or overall—score.
Size once again works against Barea, as he doesn't have the requisite height to serve as an effective rebounder. He did well turning the few chances he received into actual rebounds, but those were few and far between, and they rarely came with opponents in his vicinity.
Barea played in 74 games—only missing time due to a sprained right ankle and a strained right groin—but he wasn't an integral part of the rotation and only logged 22.5 minutes per contest. He didn't endure nearly the same physical load taken up by many of the league's elite point guards.
Given Barea's knack for creating his own shot, it shouldn't be surprising that the Mavericks scored an additional 2.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. But given his diminutive frame and undisciplined defense, it also shouldn't be surprising that they gave up 4.7 more points per 100 possessions at the same time.
60. Courtney Lee, SG, New York Knicks
Courtney Lee is a capable scorer from every area on the floor, whether he's hitting his shots at the rim at a 60.7 percent clip, knocking down 45.8 percent of his twos from beyond 16 feet or hitting 37.8 percent of his treys. Conversely, neither the Charlotte Hornets nor Memphis Grizzlies relied on him as a go-to scorer, and the vast majority of his opportunities were the result of assists.
Lee didn't log a single minute at point guard for the first time in his professional career, but he remained a capable passer who could draw a defender in with his spot-up ability and then find a cutting teammate. He didn't put up glamorous numbers in any non-scoring category; he just remained above-average in each.
Stop attacking Lee if a pick-and-roll ball-handler. In that situation, he held his assignments to 0.69 points per possession, and it accounted for a massive 36.8 percent of his defensive play. He was far more porous everywhere else, but that overwhelming strength still made him an asset.
Lee was more aggressive on the glass once traded to the Hornets, but he wasn't too much more effective. He prefers to sit back and let his bigger teammates do the heavy lifting while flitting around and grabbing the occasional long carom.
Playing a combined 79 games for his two different squads, Lee only missed time with a bruised left hip. He also played hefty minutes in both locations and finished the season at 29.5 per game. It's only his relative lack of activity that holds him back here.
Lee was a Grizzlies sharpshooting specialist who often conserved his energy on the offensive end. Once traded to Charlotte, he began asserting himself more on defense and became a bit more involved on the glass, but his shooting numbers declined ever so slightly. Either way, he was a solid rotational guard without much glamor to his game, and that shouldn't change in his new job as the potential starting 2 for the New York Knicks.
59. Dion Waiters, SG, Miami Heat
Dion Waiters can often fall into the unfortunate habit of calling his own number at the expense of making the proper play. Those tendencies grant him the reputation of a more talented scorer, but his 39.9 field-goal percentage and 35.8 three-point percentage should make it clear he's far from the realm of elites.
Though Waiters was a better shooter in off-ball situations, he's still not dangerous enough to pull defenders away from superior teammates. It's as a playmaker that he does the lion's share of the work in this category. Nonetheless, he's not a productive enough dime-dropper to stand out.
Waiters was more engaged on defense than in prior campaigns, but his lack of vision and anticipation still betray far too often. The shooting guard is a capable stopper if he's left in a simple isolation set or asked to navigate a standard pick-and-roll, but he frequently gets caught behind screens or moving in the wrong direction as he chases a shooter.
Another guard who'd prefer not to bang bodies with bigger players on the boards, Waiters likes to settle around the three-point arc when a shot goes up. He'll either break away in transition or dart in for a quick, uncontested rebound, but he knows his bread and butter is in other areas.
Only a death in the family kept Waiters out of the lineup in 2015-16, and we're not going to hold that against him here. Now with the Miami Heat, he'll have a chance to play in at least 70 games for the fourth consecutive season.
Waiters started playing the right way during the playoffs. He began deferring to his superstar teammates rather than hogging the ball, grew as a facilitator and used his energy reserves to play high-quality defense. But for these rankings, it was too little, too late. During the regular season, Waiters kept cementing his reputation as a shoot-first player who missed far too often for a volume-shooting role.
58. Matthew Dellavedova, CG, Milwaukee Bucks
Scoring isn't a primary role for Matthew Dellavedova, who was often treated as little more than a floor-spacer on a Cleveland Cavaliers roster dominated by stars. This likely won't change with the Milwaukee Bucks, even if he's the starter. He was efficient when granted opportunities (unless he was trying to finish around the basket), but those came so infrequently and were often the result of a well-timed pass.
According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, Dellavedova's improved shooting stroke helped him knock down 75 of his 160 spot-up threes (46.9 percent) and 11 of his 19 spot-up twos (57.9 percent). Even when alongside Kyrie Irving or LeBron James, defenses couldn't leave Delly alone on the perimeter. His passing also improved, as he did far more than throw lobs to Tristan Thompson. It's always positive when your assists and turnovers trend up and down, respectively.
Dellavedova developed a well-deserved reputation as a pest during the 2014-15 campaign. He's a tenacious ball hawk in the half-court set who isn't afraid to play bigger than his 6'4" frame should allow. Only overaggressiveness and a lack of off-ball discipline prevent him from emerging as one of the league's best defensive guards.
The scrappiness doesn't carry over to rebounding. Dellavedova tends to avoid chasing down long caroms and instead waits for outlet passes or jets to the other end of the court in transition. He creates few opportunities, though he deserves some credit for holding his own when going for a board with another player in the vicinity.
Left calf tightness and a strained left hamstring limited Dellavedova to 76 appearances, but it was a relative lack of movement that kept him from earning a perfect score for durability. He was a physical defender, but his proclivity for standing on the perimeter and watching the stars work on offense limited his workload.
Dellavedova blossomed into a legitimate rotation member during his third NBA season. His perimeter shooting, defensive awareness and vision were significantly better, to the point he was one of the Cavaliers' most reliable snipers, stoppers and distributors. He's by no means a star, but any team could use him, regardless of how much his role shrunk during the 2016 NBA Finals.
57. Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Carter-Williams' shot is starting to come along, but it's still too limited. Though it's great that he's knocking down 37.6 percent of his two-point attempts from beyond 16 feet, he'll never be tasked with more responsibility until he can shoot better than 27.3 percent from beyond the arc.
According to ICE data provided by B/R insights, Carter-Williams hit his spot-up shots with an effective field-goal percentage of just 37.9. That's not going to get the job done in this category, even if he continues to display impressive passing skills as a transition playmaker.
Milwaukee head coach Jason Kidd has figured out how to maximize the impact of Carter-Williams' lanky limbs, turning him into a nightmare when guarding isolation players or slowing down a pick-and-roll. However, the third-year point guard still has too many lapses of concentration, and opponents quickly figured out how to exploit his off-ball work.
Standing 6'6" helps, but Carter-Williams also continues to prove he has a tremendous nose for rebounding. He recorded 5.1 boards per game in 2015-16—actually the worst mark of his professional career. He joined James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook as one of five guards to play at least 40 games and generate no fewer than 10 rebounding chances per outing.
Carter-Williams works hard when on the floor and plays hefty minutes when healthy, but he suffered too many injuries during 2015-16. Suiting up just 54 games, he succumbed to a strained left ankle, patella tendinitis in his left knee and a torn labrum in his left hip that eventually necessitated surgery.
It's clear Carter-Williams' selection as the 2014 Rookie of the Year was more due to opportunity and a weak class of first-year players. He has value as an on-ball defender, tremendous rebounder and ball-handling threat, but his limited shooting and mental struggles on defense have prevented him from turning into even a mid-level starter.
56. Lou Williams, CG, Los Angeles Lakers
Lou Williams has always thrived creating his own shots. His percentages didn't stand out for the 2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers, but the fact he created 70.5 percent of his twos and 34.5 percent of his threes does. If he had more help around him, it's possible he could have fared even better as a scoring threat.
One of the few Lakers with a consistent jumper, Williams exerted a substantial gravitational pull with his spot-up abilities. But his passing wasn't up to the same standard—probably because he usually calls his own number and can get a little sloppy when working outside his comfort zone.
Williams was surprisingly effective against spot-up shooters, but he was still uninvolved in off-ball situations. And...that's the only relative positive we can find.
Though Williams had one of his best rebounding seasons since early in his professional career, it still wasn't enough to stand out. He rarely went out of his way to seek opportunities on the glass, and he often went multiple games before generating a single contested board.
Thanks to personal reasons, illness and a strained hamstring, Williams missed 15 games during the 2015-16 season. That, coupled with his inactivity on the defensive end, prevented him from earning the full 10 points for durability.
If you're looking for a one-way player, Williams would certainly qualify. He's a deft scorer who doesn't hesitate to create his own looks off the bounce, but that's all he brings. He often leaves his team playing four-on-five defense, which negates a significant amount of overall value.
55. Tyler Johnson, CG, Miami Heat
Tyler Johnson figured out how to finish around the hoop, and that helped him make the most of his athletic gifts. He constantly crashed the rim with both drives and off-ball cuts, and his finishing ability gave the Miami Heat a new offensive element. That, coupled with his 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc, made him a valuable scorer, albeit in limited doses.
Johnson's off-ball work was impressive, but his passing left much to be desired. It's not ideal when someone who plays 52 percent of his minutes at the 1 records 2.2 assists and 1.3 turnovers per game.
Though he struggled when thrust into on-ball situations (he only guarded 10 isolation possessions, but those left him in the 1.8 percentile), Johnson was both active and effective working away from the rock. He navigated screens and ran through traffic like a five-year veteran, though some mental lapses still occurred when he tried to provide on-time help.
A 6'4" guard, Johnson shouldn't be recording nearly five rebounds per 36 minutes, but that's exactly what he's done during each of his first two NBA seasons. Most of his glass-eating comes in uncontested fashion, but he always tries to remain helpful when a shot goes up and rarely takes the easy route by leaking out.
Johnson's left shoulder plagued him throughout his sophomore campaign, limiting him to just 36 appearances before he was shut down for the year. Fortunately, his activity level was quite high for a guard and helped minimize the damage.
Could Johnson have reached an even higher level if his balky left shoulder hadn't required surgery? His outside-inside scoring game offers hope that he could someday become a leading scorer on a competitive team, and he shows the right mentality on the point-preventing side. The 24-year-old guard is still a work in progress, but he's already shown distinct improvement since his rookie season.
54. Mario Chalmers, PG, Free Agent
Remember the shot Mario Chalmers hit to send his Kansas Jayhawks to overtime in the 2008 NCAA Championship? If he'd taken it in 2015-16 with the Miami Heat, he definitely would've missed it. If he let it fly once traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, he only probably would've drawn iron.
When opponents know you're struggling with the mechanics and timing of your jumper, they're not going to shift over. That said, Chalmers' score isn't terrible because he proved himself a careful distributor who could make the Memphis offense function even when key pieces were missing.
Chalmers displayed his quick hands on a regular basis, often swiping the ball away from the opposition and jump-starting a fast-break opportunity. But he bought into his own success a bit too much and was prone to ill-advised gambles that left his squad in a four-on-five situation.
Though he did a solid job turning his rebounding chances into successful boards and wasn't deterred by the presences of bigger players, Chalmers wasn't nearly aggressive enough on the glass. Then again, would you really expect a 6'2" point guard to venture into the paint?
Until March 9, Chalmers was the picture of health as an oft-used backup. But he ruptured his right Achilles tendon against the Boston Celtics, and that was the end of his campaign.
Chalmers improved immensely once playing home games on Beale Street, becoming a quality offensive presence and an adequate defender when Mike Conley wasn't on the floor. But that improvement came largely because he started at such a low point. If we only looked at his limited work in Miami, he might not have made a hypothetical NBA 300.
53. Danny Green, SG, San Antonio Spurs
During all but one season of Danny Green's NBA career (2011-12), over half his field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. This past season was no different—except he couldn't connect. When you're a sharpshooting specialist who averages 7.2 points, knocking down your triples at a 33.2 percent clip isn't going to earn an impressive score.
Green was slightly better when allowed to spot up on the perimeter, and the San Antonio Spurs often got him easy opportunities. Defenses were still forced to respect his history, even as shot after shot clanged off the rim. And while he doesn't stand out as a distributor, he also rarely makes mistakes and always operates within the flow of head coach Gregg Popovich's schemes.
Fortunately for the Spurs, Green's defense allows him to remain valuable even if he struggles on offense. He makes a positive impact across the board, possessing the athleticism to hang with smaller, quicker players and the size (6'6" with a 6'10" wingspan, per DraftExpress) to slide up in the lineup.
Green's size and tenacity has always made him a rebounding asset. He's never afraid to bang around with bigger players in the paint, and that mentality helped him become one of the few true guards to pull down at least a contested rebound per game.
Given his remarkable workload (largely stemming from his defensive physicality) and the fact he missed only three games for team-mandated rest, Green's durability is above reproach.
Last season was a forgettable one for Green, but only because the three-point stroke that made him one of the league's most dangerous three-and-D contributors all but disappeared. Though the inability to produce momentum-swinging treys hindered his ability to stand out, his overall efforts ensured his value.
52. Shaun Livingston, CG, Golden State Warriors
Don't expect Shaun Livingston to drop many treys through the nylon. Instead, he'll make the most of sparse opportunities and impressive length by torturing defenses with an endless barrage of mid-range jumpers and turnarounds out of the post.
Livingston's presence on the perimeter shouldn't scare opponents, but his ball-handling acumen certainly will. When this guard is running the show or playing alongside a true 1-guard, he's comfortable showing off his vision by slipping the ball into tight spaces and generating easy looks for his teammates. Again, a lack of opportunity is holding him back here.
Skilled ball-handlers can put Livingston in a bind by running him through plentiful pick-and-roll sets, but the oversized guard knows how to use his 6'7" frame advantageously. Though he's not the quickest player, his length and intelligence allow him to provide strong contests in multiple situations, and the Warriors have become quite adept at hiding his weaknesses with proper help.
Given his size, Livingston should be a tremendous rebounding guard, but he's not, settling for just four boards per 36 minutes and rarely seeking out opportunities after a shot goes up. When he grabs a rebound, it's more sheer happenstance than anything else.
Only a hip injury and team-mandated rest could keep Livingston out of the lineup during a go-round that saw him make 78 appearances. However, this member of the Dubs played just less than 20 minutes per game, failing to log enough to justify a perfect durability score.
It's tough to survive in the modern NBA with a shaky perimeter jumper, and Livingston made just two of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc in 2015-16. But this lanky guard knows how to make up for his weakness by exerting effort on defense and getting to his spots in the half-court set, from which he can knock down any mid-range jumper or post up.
51. Josh Richardson, SG, Miami Heat
Though Josh Richardson averaged just 6.6 points during his rookie season, his assaults on the rim and sniping ability (46.1 percent from downtown) allowed him to fill plenty of roles for Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. The rookie displayed a knack for creating his own shots while finishing 61.3 percent of his looks from within three feet.
It didn't take long for Richardson to establish himself as a premier spot-up threat. The combination of his spot-up shooting and gravitational pull, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights, left him with the No. 14 off-ball score throughout the league. However, he still has plenty of room to grow as a facilitator, so his non-scoring offense isn't all hunky-dory.
Richardson quickly realized his path to a larger role came on the defensive end, and his efforts paid off. He managed to turn his lanky frame into one capable of stopping most opponents in an on-ball setting while contesting plenty of spot-up jumpers. Discipline will come with time, since this 2-guard still gambled far too often and was often improperly positioned.
Richardson created a solid number of opportunities on the glass, but he had trouble converting them when another player was within an arm's length. Some of that stems from his deferring to teammates who are more comfortable throwing an outlet pass or leading the transition charge, but his box-out technique left plenty to be desired.
Injuries didn't plague Richardson until he hurt his shoulder during the playoffs. Instead, his score is lower because it took him a while to carve out a rotation role with Miami, and he spent a significant amount of time watching from the bench or suiting up for the D-League's Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Richardson asserted himself as one of the 2015 NBA draft class' gems. Despite being selected 40th by the Heat, he became an impact defender and tremendous marksman, earning a substantial role by the time his first professional campaign drew to a conclusion. He's one of the top 10 rookies in the NBA 200, regardless of position.
50. Ish Smith, PG, Detroit Pistons
Ish Smith will never be mistaken for a sharpshooter, but he did take on a relatively large scoring load once he migrated from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Philadelphia 76ers. It's even more impressive that he averaged 14.7 points with Philly, since the Sixers couldn't surround him with any floor-spacing talent and forced him to score over 80 percent of his two-pointers in unassisted fashion.
Smith's turnover figures are already spectacular, as he coughed up the ball only 2.3 times per contest despite shouldering so much responsibility. But they shine even brighter when you realize that of his 175 total possession-ending mistakes, just 75 were the result of bad passes. Smith could stand to tighten his handles, but he avoided mistakes when he wasn't looking to score.
No matter how the opposition attacked Smith, there was a solid chance they were going to score. That was especially true when they managed to post him up—he allowed 1.04 points per possession and finished in the 15.1 percentile. It's even more troubling that he bled points in pick-and-rolls, giving up 0.86 points per possession (30.1 percentile) on the plays that accounted for 47.7 percent of his defensive work.
Smith constantly attacked the glass and did a fantastic job of attempting to create rebounding opportunities. But his size and hands often betrayed him, as he struggled to wrangle the rock unless no one was within a wingspan of him.
Injuries didn't force Smith to lose points for durability; rather, his style of play did. Compared to other point guards, he didn't endure the same physical load during his average outing.
As soon as Smith gave the Sixers a legitimate presence at the 1, the offense started to experience some semblance of flow. His defense and lack of shooting confidence prevent him from emerging as a bona fide starter on a quality team, and he'll now settle in as a convincing backup for the Detroit Pistons. But he still maximized his talents in 2015-16.
49. Arron Afflalo, SG, Sacramento Kings
Arron Afflalo remains one of the league's most dangerous post-up threats, often taking advantage of undersized players who aren't used to defending on the blocks. He scored 1.03 points per possession in those situations, putting him in the league's 90.1 percentile. The rest of Afflalo's offensive profile was far less noteworthy.