NBA Position Rankings: Top 15 Point Guards for the Rest of 2017-18 Season
You know them. You love (or hate) them. But you probably don't agree with your best friend about how they all stack up.
Yep, we're talking about the NBA's premier point guards as we approach the midway point of the 2017-18 campaign. The season's first half has revealed plenty about the league's leading floor generals, exposing new weaknesses and shining a light on novel strengths.
Fortunately for you (and your best friend), Dan Favale and I are here to help solve the primary disputes. Has Kyrie Irving developed into a top-three player at his position? Is John Wall still elite? Can the reigning MVP be dethroned by any backcourt counterparts?
But before we dive into the rankings, let's lay down a few ground rules.
We're evaluating these players as if we were trying to acquire them for the rest of the current season and assuming health. The distant past and long-term future don't matter, but everything else is fair game as we analyze everyone who isn't out for the remainder of the campaign—and analyze them we did over the course of many debate-filled hours.
We're also using Cleaning the Glass to determine positions, with only James Harden serving as an exception since his role as a point guard will change drastically when Chris Paul is in working order. Fear not, because he'll be showing up later with the 2-guards.
Now, let's get to ranking.
15-11: Collison, Dinwiddie, Thomas, Bledsoe, Williams
15. Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
The Indiana Pacers' jump to No. 7 in offensive rating wouldn't be possible without Darren Collison's steady presence. The speedy point guard may continue to serve as a matador on defense, but his ability to space the floor, find open teammates and avoid costly mistakes allows him to maintain value into his 30s.
Last year, Collison became the 18th qualified player in NBA history to average at least 12 points and four assists while shooting better than 40 percent from downtown and coughing it up fewer than twice per contest. He's tracking toward the club yet again despite actively building up chemistry with a new set of teammates.
14. Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
Spencer Dinwiddie has become a machine in the pick-and-roll game, scoring effortlessly by maximizing his 6'6" frame and dismantling rotating defenses with pinpoint passes. His vision makes him a menace to any helping foes; he's already so damn good at keeping his eyes up on the move.
Might this seem like lofty placement? Sure, but Dinwiddie has pedigree (remember, he was viewed as a potential lottery pick before returning to Colorado and tearing his ACL) and has helped the lowly Brooklyn Nets earn a 0.8 net rating while on the floor—the lone positive among rotation members.
13. Isaiah Thomas, Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: N/A
Advanced Metrics: N/A
We don't yet know how Isaiah Thomas will look when he returns from the hip injury that has prevented him from making his Cleveland Cavaliers debut. Ditto for his fit alongside LeBron James after filling such a ball-dominant role for the Boston Celtics; Kyrie Irving had a then-career-high 30.8 percent usage rate last year, while Thomas' was 34.0 percent during his final Beantown season.
But we do know how deadly his offense can be when fully healthy. He performed like a top-15 player in 2016-17, and he could easily make this conservative placement look foolish by season's end.
12. Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks
Though he no longer enjoys unfettered access to the ball on a rebuilding team and now operates in a Giannis Antetokounmpo-centric offensive scheme, Eric Bledsoe has retained value after an early-season transition from the Phoenix Suns to the Milwaukee Bucks.
His athletic scoring instincts are useful, though he can occasionally drive into trouble with unchecked aggression. More consistent deep shooting would be nice, as well. But his defensive acumen is unabashedly beneficial, since he can leverage his size, strength and speed into tremendous on-ball work in a trap-heavy system.
11. Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
Guards aren't supposed to be submitting career-best seasons at age 31, but that's what Lou Williams is doing for the Los Angeles Clippers (and might be doing later with a different organization if they sling him to an offense-coveting contender for a first-round pick and change).
Though Williams' defense is predictably putrid, donwplaying his point-producing chops would be foolish. Not only is he averaging 20.8 points and 4.7 assists (both career highs), but he's doing so while shooting 44.3 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from downtown and 89.1 percent at the stripe. That's, in a word, superduperelite.
10. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
Rather than anything he's done during the 2017-18 campaign, Mike Conley's past and expected future justify this placement. He served as a below-average point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies before succumbing to left Achilles soreness.
But we know better than to judge the 30-year-old solely off a 12-game sample, even if he inexplicably struggled to find his shooting stroke, became less involved on offense and looked a few steps slow defensively. That's not who he's been in recent seasons, instead dominating thoroughly enough to become (arguably) the best non-All-Star in NBA history.
When healthy, Conley should pick up where he left off in 2016-17, controlling the Memphis offense with a steady supply of patient performances. He won't explode to the rim as frequently as some positional counterparts, but he's a careful attacker who probes for weaknesses before exploiting them.
His ability to generate points for himself while assisting teammates and avoiding turnovers makes him an elite offensive option, all while he conserves those quick bursts of energy for the defensive end.
Due both to his lack of availability and worrisome play during the season's opening salvo, Conley's stock has dropped. But he can't plummet too far without a larger sample of lackluster showings.
9. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks
We could highlight Ben Simmons' offense, picking apart his free-throw shooting and perimeter limitations before explaining how his preternatural passing and knack for getting to the hoop mitigate any concerns. But that's been covered ad nauseam—often at the expense of focusing on his ahead-of-his-experience defensive chops.
First-year players shouldn't display such fundamental understanding on the preventing end. And cry as you'd like about classifying him as a rookie, but he is an NBA freshman by definition. Spending a year on the Philly sideline doesn't change the fact that he hadn't logged a relevant minute until this year.
Simmons routinely baffles opposing backcourt members with his length and then switches over to guard a bigger player for a possession or two. His passing vision translates into opportunistic defense, frequently manifesting as a quick jump into the intended lane and a subsequent burst down the court to hammer home the resulting transition opportunity.
The Sixers star paces all point guards in ESPN.com's DRPM by a substantial margin. During the metric's five-year history, no rookie 1-guard has finished higher than No. 5 (Nate Wolters in 2013-14) or No. 6 (Marcus Smart in 2014-15).
8. John Wall, Washington Wizards
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Even after returning from a knee injury that kept him out of nine consecutive games and required platelet-rich plasma and viscosupplementation injections to lessen the inflammation, John Wall hasn't been himself. He's averaged 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 8.4 assists since throwing the Washington Wizards uniform back on, but two areas of his game still need significant work and hint at continued physical limitations.
During that eight-game stretch, he's shot just 36.3 percent from the field, failing to get the necessary lift on his pull-up jumpers or separation from opponents when driving into the teeth of a defense. He's also averaged a single steal per contest—the same thievery rate accumulated prior to the injury.
Wall still doesn't seem fully healthy. He's deferring more, willing to play the part of facilitator rather than taking over the Washington offense and punishing his foes' relative lack of foot speed. This should change as he continues to gain comfort alongside Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., which is part of the reason his placement in these rankings exceeds what the numbers might currently indicate.
The other factor? Even in a diminished state, Wall has continued to serve as a nightly 20/10 threat capable of playing elite off-ball defense, no matter how many additional possessions he might take off for conservation purposes.
7. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
Kemba Walker has done more than survive a dry spell from beyond the arc (though we should note he's not yet showing signs of pulling his three-point percentage out of the doldrums). He's continued to thrive as the unquestioned motor of the Charlotte Hornets, torturing countless foes with his basket attacks out of the pick-and-roll and weaponizing his game-changing step-back jumper.
Partially due to the putridity of Charlotte's supporting point guards, Walker has emerged as one of the game's most indispensible players. Some stars post dizzying on/off splits, but the Hornets with their fearless leader don't even resemble the bumblebees just attempting to survive the flyswatter without him.
When Walker is playing, they outscore the opposition by 4.8 points per 100 possessions—a mark that would match that of the No. 4 Boston Celtics. Without him, the net rating plunges to a dismal minus-15.4 that would leave them well behind the NBA-worst Sacramento Kings (minus-9.8).
Pick your favorite MVP candidate. Select your preferred superstar. As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale documented earlier this season, none of them are going to post differentials that span this yawning chasm created by Charlotte's irreplaceable heart and soul.
6. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.1 blocks
The perpetually underrated Kyle Lowry is now playing exactly the type of game that's going to make him...more underrated. He's scoring fewer points per game than in any of the past four seasons. He's not quite replicating his three-point numbers from 2016-17, though he's still at an impressive level of volume/efficiency/creation. He's playing fewer minutes than he has since his first season with the Toronto Raptors.
And yet, this is another All-NBA-caliber campaign.
In lieu of scoring, Lowry has spearheaded the Raptors' new-look offense, which has featured more ball movement and an egalitarian feel. His isolation frequency is down from 11.0 percent in 2016-17 to 6.9 percent this year, and he's replaced the production by averaging a career-best 7.8 assists per 36 minutes while keeping his turnovers in check.
Oh, and he's continued to excel defensively while putting up a great campaign on the glass. Throughout NBA history, only one qualified player listed 6'0" or shorter has averaged at least six rebounds per game: 1960-61 Guy Rodgers (6.5). Lowry is on pace to join the club during a year in which the league-average height is two inches taller.
5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 25.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Much like Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard isn't letting diminished scoring and (relative) three-point struggles keep him from submitting a fantastic resume. He's just as explosive getting to the rim, and the rest of his offensive game remains on point, whether he's calling his own number or setting up one of his Rip City teammates.
But the major improvement this year?
For the first time, Lillard isn't treating screens like brick walls while playing defense, and his newfound ability to repel initial probing from opposing point guards has helped the Portland Trail Blazers produce significantly better defensive numbers. After posting a minus-1.49 in ESPN.com's DRPM last year, he's up to minus-0.67.
The Weber State product still isn't a fearsome presence on the preventing side, but that's fine. So long as he's continuing to produce so many points with his shooting, athletic finishes and precision passes, he doesn't have to be a defensive ace. Merely functioning like an average stopper gives the Blazers a distinct advantage and eliminates one of their longstanding issues.
Now, just imagine what might happen if he begins regressing—meant positively, of course—to his career average from beyond the arc.
4. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 24.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks
Kyrie Irving keeps answering the questions that plagued him with the Cleveland Cavaliers and followed him to the parquet floors of the TD Garden.
Can he lead a team without LeBron James alongside him? Well, he's been one of the Association's premier scorers and has helped propel the Boston Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference. When he's on the floor, Boston's net rating has improved 3.8 points per 100 possessions—by no means a meager impact on a deep team brimming with talented backups.
Can he play enough defense to avoid canceling out his scoring production? No one would mistake him for a legitimate stopper, but the effort has been ever-present in 2017-18. He's engaged both on and off the ball, which is far more than we've been able to say at earlier stages of his professional career.
Irving might not have the non-scoring game necessary to surpass the three enduring elites at his position, but there's no shame in that. He's a fringe MVP candidate all the same, currently sitting at No. 5 in Basketball-Reference's award tracker.
Plus, he's closer to a podium position than ever before while still only 25 years old. Head coach Brad Stevens probably isn't done helping him improve his all-around game this early into their Beantown relationship.
3. Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
Chris Paul was the Point God with the Los Angeles Clippers. And though injuries have derailed the first half of his initial venture with a new team, he's remained a Point God for the Houston Rockets.
Sure, the style of play is drastically different. Whereas he patiently probed defenses in his old home, waiting for the right opportunity and getting to his preferred spot before launching a mid-range attempt, he's played with fervent fury alongside James Harden (or while running the show as a solo point guard). The shot clock and defense are his mutual enemies, and neither has proved capable of slowing him.
During his final season with the Clippers, Paul took 26.1 percent of his field-goal attempts from beyond 16 feet but inside the three-point arc. Meanwhile, 7.4 and 38.5 percent of his shots came from the two most efficient spots on the floor: within three feet and from beyond the three-point arc. This year, those three respective numbers stand at 8.7, 10.3 and 50.3 percent.
His shot profile has changed, and all for the better.
Paul under head coach Doc Rivers was unstoppable. Somehow, Paul under Mike D'Antoni is just as good. His production, while similarly mistake-free, is just coming in different fashion.
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
Russell Westbrook hasn't been nearly the same player he was during his MVP season. He's continuing to check out of too many plays on the defensive end, struggling with his free-throw stroke, letting those woes carry over into his half-court shooting, failing to finish transition opportunities and turning the ball over far too frequently.
But don't hold him to an unrealistic standard, especially while he tries to adjust to life with both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on the roster. He's still playing valuable basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder and starting to figure out that his squad is at its best when he's throwing caution to the wind.
During OKC losses, Westbrook is averaging 23.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists while slashing 38.8/34.0/70.1. When the Thunder emerge victoriously, he's putting up 24.3 points, 9.6 boards and 11.3 dimes (in fewer minutes) while slashing 44.3/28.0/73.6. With the exception of his three-point shooting (and even this is misleading because he's taking 2.7 fewer treys per game in wins), he's improved across the board.
Give him the ball and get out of the way. The strategy worked in 2016-17 with a drastically inferior supporting cast, and it's starting to lead toward even more success alongside improved running mates.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
The Golden State Warriors boast the services of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but the offense still falls apart without Stephen Curry on the floor. Seriously. The Dubs can only muster 107.6 points per 100 possessions without the two-time MVP, which would leave them trailing eight teams in the season-long standings.
Still impressive, right? Well, consider this: Every other member of the star-studded roster can head to the pine and watch as the offensive rating remains above 111, which would lag behind only the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers.
That seems impossible, but it's an objective fact. Curry is that important, twisting defenders into the ground with his yo-yo handles, initiating offense from the top of the key in a way that creates easy looks for his teammates and yanking foes out of the paint with his unmatched gravitational pull.
His positional defense still doesn't get enough credit, as he possesses both quick hands and the instincts necessary to usher his assignment into tricky areas. He remains one of the league's best rebounding guards. But his offense takes center stage yet again, even during a season in which he's struggled to keep his three-point clip above 40 percent.