It’s 2013 and the NBA is in the midst of a golden era of point guard play. The league is chalk full of ultra-talented floor generals who can score, dish, and defend (sometimes). It seems as though every year for the past 8 or so years, a young point guard enters the league and stakes a legit claim to be considered top 10. Some continue to improve every season and are always in the discussion, while others wade in the middle of the pack without achieving their full potential.
I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of criteria for ranking point guards for a while now. Should I put a greater weight on rebounds or steals? How much should their team’s success factor in? Would I rather a guy average 20 and 7 or 14 and 11? Do I count Derrick Rose? These are just some of the questions that I’ve considered when coming up with this list.
However, the one question that stands above all others is this:
Which point guard best helps my team win a championship this year?
That’s really what it’s all about. I want the player who’s going to lead my team to the promise land and get a ring. The guy who has the right mixture of talent, leadership, IQ, skill set, and killer instinct to make my team the best it can possibly be. The player who has the biggest balls on the court, for lack of a better term.
That’s how I based these rankings. Playoff experience and performance played a big factor for me, so most of the guys you’ll see in the bottom five are either young and on bad teams that haven’t made the playoffs, or they haven’t performed well in them. Raw scoring ability is a plus, but I put more weight on the assists for the point guard position.
So here are my top 10 point guards that can help your team win the 2014 NBA Championship.
10. Jrue Holiday
When I watched a young Jrue Holiday at UCLA, I never thought I’d be discussing him as a top 10 NBA point guard. He seemed to lack a little bit of everything in his game, so I figured he’d be just another lottery pick that was pretty good, but never good enough to lead a team. Well, after four years in the league I think it’s safe to say I was wrong. Holiday has blossomed into one of the league’s most promising young point guards with the potential to lead the young core of the New Orleans Pelicans back to their first playoff appearance since a certain other point guard left. Holiday’s best asset might be his size. At 6’4, he’s got a couple inches on most of the other guards on this list. Because of this, he’s deceivingly quick. His length allows him to finish in the lane over and around smaller guards. Overall he’s been a pretty consistent shooter throughout his career, hovering around 43% from the field and 37% from three. Last season he took a huge step forward in distribution, averaging a solid 8 assists per game, nearly double the 4.5 he averaged the previous year. He does need to take care of the ball better, though. He turned the ball over almost 4 times per game last year. If he wants to take the next step in joining the game’s elite point guards, that number needs to be cut in half. I’d also like to see a little back to the basket post game developed. He’s got the size and the length to do it, so I hope one of his coaches has him watching Andre Miller tape. Also the jury is still out on whether or not he has the killer instinct gene in him. Hopefully the Pelicans have success so we can see for ourselves.
9. Mike Conley
A lot of people will disagree with putting Conley in the top 10, but I really like his game. His basketball IQ is as good as anyone’s, and he’s proven himself to be a cool customer in the big moment. I put a lot of weight on playoff performance, and Conley has proven in the past few years that he can go toe to toe with the best point guards in the Western Conference and not miss a beat. If I had to describe his game in one word, it would be “smooth.” All of his movements and his demeanor are just smooth. Last year in 15 post season games (all against point guards ranked higher than him on the list), he upped his averages in every major statistical category. He’s got quick hands and is always among the league leaders with over 2 steals per game. Pessimists would say that Conley benefits from playing on a very well-balanced team. True, but he’s the engine that makes the team go. He knows how to get everyone involved, which can be tough down the stretch of playoff games considering it’s basically “Throw The Ball Into Zach Randolph On The Block” time. When defenses collapse on Randolph and Gasol, Conley has proven he can consistently knock down the three ball in key moments, which is something every team needs from their starting point guard. Conley is the perfect example of playing himself into the top 10 conversation through playoff performances.
8. Kyrie Irving
Most of the pictures I’m using for each player were completely random and I chose them based on nothing at all. However, this one above I chose for a reason. I’m a Celtics fan, so naturally I believe Avery Bradley is the best on ball defender in the league. Well last January I watched Kyrie Irving torch Bradley for 40 points, which made him skyrocket up my list of favorite players in the league. The kid can flat out score. He made Bradley look like a high schooler. He hit shots from all over the court with all sorts of hands in his face, but nothing could stop him. He’s the type of offensive player that can get in a zone, and when he’s in that zone, it’s over. At the young age of 22 and only entering his third season in the league, the sky is the limit for Irving. The Cavs beefed up their roster this offseason and are expected to make a run at the final playoff spot in the East. This is a big season for Irving for that reason exactly. The expectations are finally in place for his team, so missing the playoffs will be a disappointment. He needs to step up to the plate and show us that he can elevate not only himself, but his teammates to the next level. The only real criticisms of Irving are his lack of rebounding (3.7 RPG) and the fact that he’s injury prone. He played in 51 games his rookie season, and 59 last year. He also missed a large chunk of his only season at Duke, but was still picked number one because of his undeniable talent. Now that he has a decent supporting cast, I expect his assists per game to jump from the 6 he averaged last year, to closer to 8. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he averaged 25 points per game either. He’s that good. Kyrie Irving is a superstar in the making, and this year will be a telling sign of what we can expect from him in the future.
7. Deron Williams
If basketball was purely based on statistics, one would assume Deron Williams was a top 3 point guard in the league, which is what he was considered to be a few years back. However, his lack of leadership and tendency to disappear in the big moment has led to him falling out of grace with many NBA fans and writers, including myself. The guy’s talent is off the charts. He’s an offensive force that can’t be guarded when he’s on his game. He’s a big, wide body that can move quicker than most. His crossover is filthy and when he gets the inside shoulder on a defender, he’s too big and strong to stop. He’s consistently averaged 20 and 10 for his career, while making all-star teams and winning two gold medals with Team USA. So why is he all the way down at number 7? Well, to be honest, I just don’t think he has the balls to win. I don’t think he can be THE guy on a successful team. Last year his Brooklyn Nets got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls. He was straight up out-played by Nate Robinson. There was no reason the higher seeded Nets should have lost that series. They should have taken care of business and went on to play the Heat. But teams follow their leader, and I can’t think of a more apathetic combo to lead a team than Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. However, it’s been a big offseason for the Nets, with the acquisition of future hall of famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (still so sad). Williams will finally be playing with a couple of the league’s all time greats who have won a championship. Maybe this is the year Williams breaks out of his shell and develops a killer instinct. Maybe he won’t have to because he can defer to more seasoned veterans who shine in the spotlight. Either way, the Nets need to win now. So if Williams can’t do it now, I don’t think he ever will.
6. Steph Curry
Steph Curry is another player who I watched tear it up in college, but never thought his skill set would translate to NBA success. Boy was I wrong. Curry’s 2013 post season was an absolute thrill to watch. He’s one of those guys you want to shoot the ball every time he touches it, no matter where he is on the court. Everything he tosses up looks like it’s going in, and it usually does. He had his best season last year, averaging 23 points and 7 dimes per game. He shot 46% from the field, 45% from three, and 90% from the line. What exactly does that mean? It means the guy is efficient as hell and takes good shots. He grew up as the son of NBA player Dell Curry, and you can tell he’s been around the game his whole life by his confidence, calm demeanor, and high basketball IQ. Oh, not to mention the silky smoothness of his shot. When Curry steps on the floor, he’s like an offensive bomb waiting to explode, and this last playoff run for the Warriors let everyone in the league know that he’s here and he’s one hell of a problem. Curry has improved his command of the game so much since entering the league. Occasionally he’ll make a boneheaded pass, but he’s not really a natural point guard so it’s understandable. I’ve been most impressed with his ability to create and shoot off the dribble. When he came out of college he was deadly coming off a screen and catching the ball on the run for a one-dribble shot or drive. Now, he’s a primary ball handler who reads the pick and roll extremely well and forces defenders to jump out on him because of his quick release and deadly shot. For the type of exciting player he is, I couldn’t be happier that he’s on a team like the Warriors, playing in Oracle Arena in front of those fans. It’s the perfect storm. Curry is the type of player you can literally feel getting hot, and Oracle is the type of venue where you can feel the tension and excitement rising through your television. I look forward to watching Curry improve his defense and overall point guard play. He’ll turn 26 this season, so his time is now. The Warriors are definitely a top 5 exciting team to watch this year.
5. Rajon Rondo
Oh Rondo. As I mentioned before, I’m a lifelong Celtics fan. I’ve watched Rajon Rondo develop from Danny AInge’s “project,” to an NBA champion, to an all-star starter. I’ve watched games where I’m on my knees thanking God that the Celtics have Rondo, and I’ve also watched games where I’ve cursed him out for his questionable play. It’s the definition of a love/hate relationship, as I’m sure most Celtics fans can attest to. But let me put my heart aside for a second and look at Rondo objectively. Besides Lebron James, he’s the biggest threat in the league for a triple-double on a given night. He’s proven to be a dominant force in the playoffs. He’s the best rebounding point guard in the league. He’s a pass-first guard with an incredibly high IQ. He sees the court as good as anyone in the league. He’ll give you 10 assists on an off night. These are all major pros on our imaginary venn diagram. However, Rondo does have some glaring cons. He can’t shoot. Plain and simple, the guy just isn’t a natural shooter. Everything looks so mechanical coming out of his hand. People who defend Rondo’s shooting will say that he had one of the highest field goal percentages for a guard last year. Doesn’t matter. If you watch the guy play on a nightly basis, you know he flat out can’t shoot. This allows defenders to sag off him and help on big men. Rondo also has a tendency to shy away from driving to the hoop and drawing fouls in the final minutes of a game because he lacks confidence in his free throws. There have been varying opinions from teammates and ex-teammates on Rondo’s mentality. Some say he’s a great teammate, others (cough Ray Allen cough) think differently. He sometimes passes up wide open shots or fast-break layups in order to pad his assists. It’s a frustrating cycle rooting for Rondo, but when it comes to playoff time, he brings his A-game. He averaged a triple double in that epic Bulls series in 2009. He dropped an absurd 44/8/10 on the Heat in a losing effort during game 2 of the 2012 Conference Finals. He has seven career playoff triple doubles, and averages 17/7/12 and 2.5 steals for his playoff career (92 games). The point is, Rondo gets the number 5 spot because of his unique skill set and flare for he big moment. He’s proven he can do it with Pierce and Garnett, but this season is the one where we see what he’s really made of. If Rondo can increase his scoring and keep his assists above 10 while rebounding the same, he’ll keep his spot at number 5.
4. Derrick Rose
Two years ago, Derrick Rose would have been number 2 on this list, but missing an entire season dropped him a couple spots. A lot of people wanted Rose to come back during the playoffs when he was cleared to play. I was not one of them. First of all, why screw up the chemistry of a team that’s been playing without you for 82 games when you aren’t a full 100%? It just doesn’t make sense. Second, let the man come back when he’s ready. Watch his game. It’s all based on athleticism and explosiveness. He’s a decent shooter, but getting to the rim and rising up to finish is what makes Derrick Rose the incredible, exciting player he is. So if he doesn’t feel like he can play his game, let him wait. But let’s look at what Derrick Rose brings to the table. He’s going to give you 20-30 points per game, 6-10 assists, and a few highlight-reel plays that can shift the momentum of a game to the Bulls. He’s crazy aggressive in the open court and when he gets a head of steam going, he’s as sure a finisher as anyone but Lebron. He’s proven to be a clutch performer (the 09 series against the Celtics was unbelievable to watch a rookie do what he did), and he’s the type of guy you can give the ball to down the stretch, clear out, and let him make something happen. But maybe most important, Rose is a natural leader. He reminds me of Tim Duncan because he plays the game completely stone-faced, but has the complete trust of his teammates and coaches because they have 100% confidence he’ll lead them to victory. His actual game is much flashier than Duncan’s, but they each have the leadership intangible that you can’t teach. I’m extremely excited for Derrick Rose to play again. Anyone who’s a basketball fan should feel the same way. Let’s hope he’s fully healed and is back to his normal self, because it’s a treat to watch him play.
3. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is a freak athlete. Along with Rose, I’d consider him to be the most freakishly athletic point guard to ever play the game, He gets to the hole in ways that I’ve never seen before. He can jump so far and cover so much ground in the air off the dribble that pull-ups and floaters for other guards end up being layups for him. Also like Rose, he attacks the hoop mercilessly, aggressively, and with no regard for his or anyone else’s body. Few people play the game with the kind of ferocity that Westbrook does. He’s got a long, successful career ahead of him and if Oklahoma City can keep him and Durant happy together then there should be a championship or two as well. However, having said all of that and dishing out all that praise, I have a confession: I don’t really like Russell Westbrook. I don’t like the way he bitches and moans about everything on the court. I don’t like how he celebrates every bucket like it was the game winning shot. I don’t like how he dresses for post-game interviews. And I REALLY don’t like how he jacks up contested three pointers down the stretch of games without looking to see if anyone is open, or looking to get the ball to his teammate, the most gifted scorer in the league. He’s the type of player you don’t want on your team playing pick up. He’s a black hole, and he lets his emotions get the best of him, sometimes taking it out on teammates. So why did I rank him #3? Well, because all it takes is one game of watching him to see how talented he is. He may be lacking in the cerebral portion of the game, but his talent more than makes up for it. He’ll always average between 20-25 points per game, dish out 7 assists and grab 5 rebounds. If he can work on limiting the turnovers (3.6 career average), and being more patient down the stretch of close games, he’ll be a hall of famer. He and Durant have been blessed with the opportunity to play their careers together on a good team in front of some of the league’s best fans. If they never win a championship together, it will be a HUGE disappointment.
2. Tony Parker
Tony Parker lacks the flash that most of the other point guards on this list possess. He doesn’t have stats that jump out at you, and he doesn’t really look like your prototypical top 5 point guard. But Parker gets it done, and he gets it done better than almost any point guard in the league. He, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili have been the three pillars of the Spurs dominance over the past decade-plus, earning three championships together and losing in last year’s epic 7-game Finals to the Heat. He was the MVP of their last championship victory in 2007. In terms of team success, Rondo is the only other player on this list that has a ring, so that goes a long way for me ranking him this high. There’s no statistic to measure composure and experience in championship games, and Parker is leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else on this list. He’s been the best player on the Spurs for the last four years or so, taking a team that formerly was called “boring” because of their defense-first mentality, and revamping them into one of the league’s most efficient offenses. His improved mid-range pull up has forced teams to fight over picks, giving him more chances to use his quickness to get to the rim, which is what he’s best at. The Spurs have done a great job in surrounding Parker with knock-down shooters like Danny Green, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner, while of course he has the Big Fundamental to throw the ball into down-low. (Side note: Duncan’s efficiency is unreal. We take for granted what he does year in and year out. He’s a top 10 all-time player when it’s all said and done.) Parker will give you around 20 points and 7 assists every night, and he’s always ready to make the right play in crunch time. Emphasis goes on the word RIGHT. I think that’s what makes Parker so great. He knows and trusts the guys around him, so rarely will you see him force a bad shot. His IQ won’t let him. All of the guys on this list might be more talented and athletically gifted than him, but to me, Tony Parker ranks above all but one point guard in terms of potentially leading your team to a championship…
1. Chris Paul
…and that one point guard is Chris Paul. A couple years ago there was debate as to who was the best point guard in the league. Well, I think now it’s universally agreed that Chris Paul is a level above every other point guard in the league. He’s everything you want from your floor general. He’s supremely talented and extremely smart. He’s fast up and down the court and quick in the half court set. He handles the ball like it’s a yoyo on his finger. He can drive, finish, and knock down the three when presented. He finds passing lanes that nobody else on the court knew existed. He’s basically the GM for the Clippers and helped turn that franchise from a constant bottom-dweller to a legit championship contender overnight. There would be no “lob city” without him. He leads the league in steals on a regular basis. He’s a team first guy who’s mentoring a group of young, talented players on the fly. He’s one of the league’s best ambassadors and is now the President of the NBA Player’s Association. He brings his best during playoff time as well, averaging 21/9.5/5 for his post season career. Basically, Chris Paul is as close to a perfect point guard as you’ll find in the NBA right now. The only thing missing from his resume is a championship. The addition of NBA champ Doc Rivers will surely help the Clippers come playoff time. The last two years they’ve come up short of the conference finals and anything less than a finals appearance this year will be a disappointment. Now that I live in LA, I’ll be watching the Clips on a nightly basis. I will look for them to improve greatly throughout the season because I know Doc will be throwing stuff at them that a lot of the younger guys haven’t even heard of before. It’ll be really fun to watch Doc and Chris Paul’s relationship grow. They’re both brilliant basketball minds and I believe great things are in store for the Clippers this year.
So there you have it. My top 10 NBA point guards for the 2013-14 season. The first two I left off were Ty Lawson and John Wall. Wall gets hurt a lot and hasn’t elevated his team any further than they were when he arrived. Lawson could be swapped with Jrue Holiday, but I felt Holiday’s size makes him more effective.
Agree? Disagree? Think I’m some idiot who doesn’t know basketball? It’s all good. This is an opinion piece to get discussion going. Let me know your top 10.