Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ranking the NBA's 35 Best Point Guards

The point guard position in the NBA is completely stacked. It's full of young players, players square in their primes, and Steve Nash, who will be able to make 50% of his shots on his deathbed. The depth of talent at the position changes the opportunity cost of losing or acquiring a player: there's likely someone just as good available at a fair price.

This list does not include salary. It takes into account age, offensive performance, defense (which, as Grantland's statistics expert Zach Lowe points out, is half of basketball), and health. I'm only talking about a guy for next season, so Steve Nash probably being retired four years from now is irrelevant when comparing him to Eric Bledsoe.

Tier 8--You're probably going to be in the lottery...again
35. Michael Carter-Williams--I'm not going to tell you what team he's on. But if you know off the top of your head, you're a huge NBA fan. He's from Syracuse and not very good at basketball.

33 and 34. Steve Blake and Kirk Hinrich--Two white guys who try hard and were college stars. Yeah, they are obviously going together because you should really never ever compare players when they don't have the same race. Both are respectable backup options who can initiate your offense but have basically no upside and are injury risks.

32. Brandon Knight--He's young, so there's that. But basically his career highlights are getting crossed over and dunked on. He's on a shitty Bucks team and is a classic nondescript point guard for a lottery team.

31. Andre Miller--Yay, it's the Professor. Dude is old as dick, can't play defense, can't shoot, and is just getting by on fewer and fewer minutes and being wiley. Not horrible as a backup again, but as someone who could feasibly be a starter, he's about as bad as you can get.

30. Eric Bledsoe--He's going to be good, or at least he's super athletic. But he's more of a Patrick Beverly or Reggie Jackson type at this point. He's great in theory, but as someone who's been in the league for three years, he still has not developed. This is due in part to playing behind Chris Paul, but again, he's a starter for a lottery team for the near future.

29. Jameer Nelson--The Eastern Conference was once so bad that the Magic made the Finals with Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu as their crunch-time scoring options. He's only 31, but his stats are getting worse and worse. Also, a terrible defender because he's got some T-Rex arms.

28. Nate Robinson--He's pretty much all inconsistent offense, someone you never want to give responsibility to, but if you are shit out of luck he can come through in a pinch.

27. Trey Burke--He's going to get minutes for an okay Jazz team, but he's still small and probably not capable of leading an actual offense. He also got super hyped from a great tournament run but was not as highly rated before making a few huge shots.

26. Mario Chalmers--Dude can play defense and make timely 3s. That's his game and he's got balls. Mario "Motherfucking" Chalmers gets a lot of shit for being the Heat's whipping boy but he's good enough to run an offense. He could put up better stats if he had a bigger role, which makes it hard to rate him much higher. However, he's 27, so this is basically what we're going to get with Mario.

Tier 7--Decent, but not your ideal for a playoff team

25. Kemba Walker--Bet you didn't know he scored nearly 18 points a game last year. Of course, he was on an all-time bad offense and team. Dude is only 23 and is in a shitty situation, but at this point, there's not enough to rank him higher.

24. Jeremy Lin--I've written plenty about Lin before. He put up fine numbers for the Rockets, numbers inflated a bit given the pace they run at, but he's not a great shooter and turns the ball over too much to be dependable. Two straight seasons with injuries in the playoffs doesn't portend well for his durability and he's already 25. Needs the ball too much to be a complementary player, but doesn't have enough skill to be any more.

22 and 23. Steve Nash and Goran Dragic--Offense only players, one with incredible court vision and shooting, the other capable of slashing to the rim and creating his own fast break. These guys give you enough that you can deal with their minuses. But Nash is old as dirt and can't play defense, and Dragic has never been enough offensively to make up for his defense.

Tier 5 and 6--Starters to get you to the second round
The next eight guys are basically good enough to start for any team, but they aren't good enough to make All-Star teams or take over games consistently. They all have a few flaws that they generally can overcome but they aren't quite good enough to be a second banana, let alone a first.

20 and 21. Jose Calderon and Greivis Vasquez--See the Blake/Hinrich corollary as applied to two foreign dudes. These guys are solid offensive players. Not super exciting, but they can run an offense, rack up assists, and sort of float from lottery team to lottery team. This year appears to be no different as Calderon will play for a rebuilding Mavericks and Vasquez got flipped to the Kings for Tyreke Evans.

19. Ray Felton--Fine, I like Cupcake Ray. He's not a great defender, but he can get into the lane and is a good enough shooter to knock down open 3s. Not consistent enough, although he deserves credit for being strong and rarely turning the ball over. Additionally, he's come into camp in shape for almost all of the years of his career--an incredibly impressive feat for a professional athlete.

18. Jeff Teague--Teague is such a random ass guy. He's been on the Hawks for a while and I can't remember anything about his career. The Hawks didn't even want to keep him this offseason before they decided he was probably more valuable to them than Jennings or Monta Ellis. Pretty boring, pretty average.

16 and 17. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings--Bucks in 6

15. George Hill--He's a great defender. He's super long, can disrupt pick and rolls, and is a smart player. He's not consistent enough on offense, turns the ball over too much, and is solidly in his prime, so a huge improvement is unlikely to come.

14. Ricky Rubio--This man, once deemed the NBA guy I'd have sex with if it had to be anyone, could go into any number of tiers after this season. He's got a ton of promise, makes his teammates better, but he can't shoot. Additionally, not playing a whole NBA season or making the playoffs hurts him at this point. Lo siento, me amo.

Tier 4--Good, but not great

13. Jrue Holliday--He probably deserves a lot more national love. He's young, he can shoot, he's big, and can play some D. However, he was on a shitty offensive team, there are real questions about his consistency, and his name is fucking Jrue.

12. Ty Lawson--Ty Lawson benefits so much from Denver's system, its altitude, and the Nuggets' other athletes. He's basically in the ideal situation for his skill set. That being said, he's been a great player for playoff teams and is a bona fide #1 option for a legitimate offensive playoff team.

11. Damian Lillard--He's got tons of potential and he put up great numbers in his one year, although his efficiency was pretty shitty. Lillard could easily ascend to the next tier if he can continue to improve and doesn't turn into Brandon Jennings or Tyreke Evans, quality players during their first season without any discernible improvement afterwards.

Tier 3--Now we're cooking with gas

10. John Wall--John Wall is a polarizing player that will have a lot of his fate determined this season. He can look so damn good at times. He's 6'4'' and quick as hell, but he cannot shoot and he's had health issues his whole career. The Wizards finally have a decent supporting cast around him and they were .500 or so when he did play last season. Wall's spot comes with the expectation that he leads his team to the playoffs this season in an East that lacks depth after the top five teams.

9. Mike Conley--Defensively, Mike Conley is a beast. The guy can score, he can play D, and he was the #1 option for a team in the Western Conference Finals. He's still young, and despite an offensive system that doesn't let him use his speed, he's still an efficient scorer and shooter.

Tier 2--Thanks for reading this far, here's the good stuff

8. Deron Williams--Fat Deron Williams is a smart player and a good enough shooter that he can lead an offense really well. He's fine defensively, and offensively, he can read the floor better than just about anyone. His numbers are down, however, ever since he left Utah, and there's a real concern about slipping athleticism as he ages more and more.

7. Steph Curry--A lot of people would have him a lot higher, but I see too many question marks. He's still only a scorer who's streaky, brittle, and as beautiful as his shooting was during the postseason, he still scored only 23 points on 43.4% shooting. Curry is young and certainly capable of getting better, but given his injury history and the fact that he doesn't weigh more than me, he simply isn't a sure enough bet to go any higher.

6. Rajon Rondo--Rondo is a fucking weirdo, in his game and his Connect Four personality. He oscillates from terrifying to non-existent from game to game. Also, for all of his offensive prowess, the Celtics' offenses haven't even been above league average with him at the helm. The ACL is of minor concern to me given his age and the fact that he's been durable in the past. Rondo's a hell of a player when he wants to be and as the Celtics become "his team," he will hopefully move past the immature and inconsistent shit.

5. Kyrie Irving--Irving is a hell of a talent. He's the prototypical point guard in terms of his size and shooting. Defensively, he should, you know, try. It'll probably help his effort level now that he is on a team that is capable of making the playoffs. Injuries are a legitimate concern for him and have been throughout his career. However, he's the only person in this tier capable to me of being the best point guard in the league someday and that puts him higher than Curry, Rondo, or Williams.

Tier 1--Damn it gets hard from here

4. Derrick Rose--Rose was the best point in the league his last healthy season. He won the MVP and was an absolute beast. The ACL is enough of a red flag that he can't go higher, even if he's got the potential to be better than anyone else on this list. Athletically, he was on a plane with just Westbrook, but it's unclear if he will return to that level.

3. Russell Westbrook--Here's where it becomes impossible. Westbrook is the only guard left who is still capable of dramatically improving his game. He does enough dumb shit at this point that he can't be higher. The question is whether or not he's capable of becoming more efficient while still playing as aggressively. My guess is that he won't, at least not this year.

2. Chris Paul--Chris Paul is a god damn beast. He guarantees you a great offensive option in the last quarter, plus the ability to make everyone better around him. However, it is worth noting that Blake Griffin has been stuck in neutral the past two seasons despite Paul replacing the Baron Davis/Mo Williams shitshow. He's also got a balky knee that requires him to basically coast, albeit it at an extremely high level, for three quarters before taking over as is necessary. Paul, for example, takes 2.2 of his 4.6 free throws in the fourth quarter, a huge percentage that suggests a player capable of getting into the paint and subsequently the free throw line, but not for a whole game. Point guards always requires toeing the line between getting your teammates involved and taking over yourself, but Chris Paul doesn't average 20 points a game because of his knee, not his approach.

1. Tony Parker--Tony Parker is relentless. The entire Spurs offense hums on him sprinting full speed around pick and after and running pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. He doesn't put up the PER of someone like Paul or Westbrook, but the Spurs are consistently one of the best offenses and he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that. Defensively, Parker is a quick and smart player even if he lacks in size; he's not a liability.

Parker v. Paul is a toss-up. Parker's ability to play at his peak every single second is ultimately the deciding factor.

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