by Ryan Sterling
My criteria for this list has nothing to do with analytics and everything to do with how we as fans perceive who is the best. I look at these players at their best (injuries aside) and see how they stack up. Players who are good analytically who you will not see on this list: Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, and Damian Lillard.
While these are good players they do not in my opinion have the ability to lead a team to the NBA Finals (with the possible exception of Conley). Without further ado here is my list of the top 10 point guards in the NBA.
1. Chris Paul
Paul is the gold standard for playmakers at the point guard position in the NBA. Since coming into the league in 2005 Paul has accumulated 5,449 assists averaging 9.8 assists per game. To put that in perspective, Jason Kidd, number two all-time in assists in NBA history, had 5,409 over his first 8 seasons.
Paul is the best pick-and-roll playmaker in the NBA with the ability to finish at the rim or drop dimes to players whose only skill is throwing the ball in the basket. Let’s be honest, DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler have no discernible skills on the offensive side of the ball, but with Paul each have given teams fits. On the defensive end Paul creates major problems with his active hands.
What he does better than any other PG (with maybe the exception of Rondo) is anticipate off-the-ball to create deflections and steals. The only “weak” spot in his game is his 3-pt shooting (35.8% career) and to be honest this is above average and Paul has vastly improved his jump shot since entering the league. With the ability to either score 40 points, have 20 assists, or get 10 steals in any given game makes Paul the most complete package at the PG position.
T-2. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook
I give Westbrook and Rose the same grade because they are built in the same mold, are both 24 years old and are both coming off knee injuries. Lets take a look at the career numbers for Rose and Westbrook:
- Rose PPG – 21.0 RPG – 3.8 APG – 6.8 3-pt % – .310 ft% – .815
- Westbrook PPG – 19.9 RPG – 4.8 APG – 6.9 3-pt % – .302 ft% – .814
I’m inclined to give Rose the nod at the number two spot because he shoots a better percentage overall (.464 – .432) and averages over a turnover less per game than Westbrook. Westbrook is the only player at the point guard position who can match Rose’s athletic ability on the floor. They both can slash to the rim and have underrated mid-range games to keep defenders honest. Both Westbrook and Rose are two of the most exciting players with the ball in the open floor in the league and each can create shot opportunities for others.
The only thing that keeps Westbrook from putting up 2011 Rose numbers is the fact he plays alongside Kevin Durant. Look for both players to bounce back from knee injuries to have good seasons and if either can up their 3-pt percentage to around 35 percent, look out.
4. Deron Williams
Deron Williams is in a career defining year with the additions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Williams has had successful playoff runs in the past with the Utah Jazz making one Conference Final, but with the team the Nets have assembled Williams will need to show he can lead a team to a Finals appearance. His numbers are very similar to Paul’s and their track records in the playoffs are eerily similar.
- Paul PPG – 18.6 APG – 9.7 RPG – 4.4 3-pt % – .356 DD – 263
- Williams PPG – 17.8 APG – 9.0 RPG – 3.2 3-pt % – .356 DD – 252
The numbers are there for Williams to be in the top three PGs in the league. The only thing separating him from Rose and Westbrook is his athleticism and his numbers are just below what Paul has been able to put up in the same amount of time. With a Championship ring Williams will jump up this list and the team the Nets have will give him a real chance at getting that ring.
There is no denying Williams’ playmaking ability, but his relationships with coaches and the early exit to a undermanned Bulls team have tarnished his reputation. This season can go one of two ways for Williams. Compete with the elite of the NBA and become one of the top two PG in the NBA or bust and see his position on this list fall. Like it or not the success or failure of the Nets season will fall onto Williams shoulders.
5. Tony Parker
Who thinks Tony Parker is old? For those of you who just answered yes, you are wrong. Parker is only 31 and while at the tail end of his prime he is still every bit the player he was four seasons ago when he averaged 22 points and 7 assists per game. His numbers dipped after that season, but have climbed every year since. He took last summer to play for the French national team at the Olympics in London and that might have had an effect on Parker’s ability to play a full season. Injuries have slowed him down a little over the past two seasons, but with a full summer off look for Parker to continue to see his numbers climb.
Defensively Parker can be a liability when matching up with some of the elite guards in the league. The three reasons he is so high on this list despite his poor defense and 3-pt shooting are the rings on Parker’s fingers. The only other player on this list with a ring is Rajon Rondo and Parker is the only player on the list with a Finals MVP award. Until Parker shows signs that he is slowing down offensively or someone else below him on this list wins a ring Parker is a top 5 PG in the NBA.
6. Stephen Curry
One PG who does not have to worry about upping his 3-pt percentage or ability is Stephen Curry. Curry is arguably the best 3-pt shooter the NBA has to offer. He made nearly 45 percent from three this past season and hit an NBA record 272 threes. Those numbers are video game-esque.
Curry’s playmaking ability was put on display during the Playoffs and hopefully people begin to see Curry for being more than a shooter. He is a playmaker. His comparison from a statistical outlook are very comparable to Westbrook and Rose the only difference is in the athletic ability each player displays. What I love about Curry is his ability to get into the lane and finish below the rim. He is the new Steve Nash in that he can get shots to the rim in ways most people would not even dream. Curry also has the ability to create turnovers averaging 1.7 steals per game over his career.
Of the players on this list Curry is my favorite, because with his ability to shoot the three and the fact that he has the ball in his hands the majority of the time, Curry can put games out of reach in a matter of a few possessions. With the addition of Andre Iguodala and as long as his ankles hold up look for Curry to move up this list.
7. Kyrie Irving
The former number one overall pick has the complete game. Look at his numbers and he is every bit the player as the top 5 guys on this list. With career numbers of 20.6 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 39.4 percent three point shooting Irving is among the top young offensive playmakers in the league.
What he has lacked in his first two seasons is the supporting cast to get him to the level of the other elite PGs in the NBA. We have not been able to see what he is able to do against the league’s best over a playoff run – and his turnover numbers are a bit too high. That is why we see him at number six on this list. With the addition of Anthony Bennett and Andrew Bynum (if he actually plays) and the continued progression of fellow lottery picks Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, Irving could get the opportunity to showcase his talent in a playoff series this season.
Irving is only 21 years old and has yet to play a full season, so he may only be scratching the surface of what we could see in the years to come. I would not be surprised if in three or four years we see Irving at the top of this list.
8. Rajon Rondo
The only other player on this list who has an NBA Championship comes in at number 8 on this list. Rajon Rondo has enjoyed playing with three future Hall of Famers for the majority of his career, but that comes to an end this year as the Celtics look to rebuild.
Rondo appears to be the centerpiece of the rebuilding project along with Jeff Green. What we see this year from Rondo will greatly determine how he is viewed in the minds of NBA fans. Another PG coming off of a knee injury, Rondo will have to prove he is more than a great distributor and defender. He needs to prove he possesses a consistent offensive arsenal.
He is a double-double machine and has led the NBA in assists per game the past two seasons. If Rondo can come back strong from injury and prove his offensive game is more than complementary, he can move up this list. Even with a sub-par year looming for the Celtics, the addition of Head Coach Brad Stevens will be beneficial to Rondo. Look for scoring numbers to improve, but watch for his assist total. With less talent around him, dimes might be harder to come by. If Rondo can keep his assist total in double digits, we will know just how special he is as a playmaker.
9. Ty Lawson
Lawson’s inclusion on this list is due in large part to his performance in the playoffs last season. His play was spectacular even though the Nuggets were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors. Lawson paid his dues by sitting the bench for the majority of his first two seasons, but when he got his chance to start in 2011 he made the most of it putting up two seasons with 16 ppg to go along with nearly 7 apg. Lawson has upped his game in the playoffs the last two seasons averaging 20.1 ppg with 6.9 apg in 13 games.
His rebounding numbers will never be anything to write home about given his size, but his ability to change ends of the floor is at or near the top of the NBA. His style of play was perfect for the Nuggets up and down style of basketball. Lawson shoots it well from downtown (.380 for his career) and can pressure the basketball in the backcourt.
This season will be a test for Lawson as Danilo Galinarri will be rocovering from a knee injury and Andre Iguodala has gone to the Warriors. He needs to show he can be the go-to offensive weapon for the Nuggets and if he can help the Nuggets repeat the success of last season he has the game to be higher on this list.
10. Jrue Holiday
The 76ers made a surprising move trading All-Star PG Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans. This move can do nothing but help Holiday as he moves to a team with a young core of talent that will look to compete for the playoffs this season in the Western Conference.
Holiday gets the nod on this list over Damian Lillard because he has been in the league for four seasons and has a lengthy playoff run (albeit a run helped by Derrick Rose being hurt) under his belt. His numbers have improved each season he has been in the league and we should look for those numbers to get even better playing alongside Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans. Holiday has a chance to grow into a premiere playmaker in this league.