Ranking the NBA’s Top Point Guards

This seems to be a very lively debate right now–both with regards to how the top few spots shake out, and further on down the line, whether precocious talents like John Wall and Derrick Rose have yet managed to surpass the old guard (pun!). There really is a glut of quality point guards in the NBA right now, something we are reminded of when we see promising players like Ty Lawson and Eric Maynor fighting to see the court, or when somebody evokes the name of Ricky Rubio and it strikes us that we really don’t mind that he’s taking his sweet time to show up for work. There are just that many marquee floor generals on display any given night in the Association. Here’s how we see the top 10. As always, dissenting opinions are more than welcome in the comments section. As a quick primer, assist % measures a player’s assists as a proportion of his teammates’ made field goals when he is on the floor, while turnover % measures a player’s turnovers as a proportion of his team’s possessions. And LeBron James does not qualify.

10. John Wall
’10-’11: 18.4 PER, .085 WS/48, 41.5 AST%, 19.9 TOV%

I didn’t want to have to do this. 8 games is a horribly small sample size to go by, and it’s really just awkward trying to figure out where to place Wall in relation to a guy like Andre Miller, who’s played more than 900. But the talent is instantly recognizable, and he’s putting up the numbers to justify his placing here. Besides, there’s typically a significant adjustment period to becoming an effective NBA 1, and Wall’s a quick study. If he hasn’t already separated himself from the rest of the pack (Tony Parker and Brandon Jennings are particularly deserving of honorable mentions), it’s safe to assume he will have by the end of this season.
Weaknesses: Turnovers are an issue, as Wall’s body understandably moves a bit too fast for his mind to match sometimes. And while he’s shooting well from distance at the moment (.368 3PT%), the jury’s still out on his range. Also, he’ll never win a championship because he dances too much, or something like that.

9. Stephen Curry
Career: 16.6 PER, .082 WS/48, 25.2 AST%, 16.5 TOV%
’10-’11: 19.6 PER, .135 WS/48, 31.0 AST%, 16.5 TOV%

Curry was still learning the position last year after spending much of his college career off the ball, but his assist-to-turnover ratio is steadily rising. Really, he’s always going to be more of a scorer than a distributor–guys who shoot like he can just don’t come around that often. His efficiency is up across the board this year as he leads the charge for a Warriors team that should significantly improve on last season’s 26 wins.
Weaknesses: While he’s no longer quite the stringbean he was at Davidson, Curry doesn’t have the strength it takes to defend and get to the rim at the elite levels of some other guys on this list. While he’ll never be an explosive athlete, his passing is something that should improve with time and experience facilitating an offense.

8. Chauncey Billups
Career: 19.0 PER, .179 WS/48, 28.6 AST%, 13.4 TOV%
’10-’11: 13.2 PER, .060 WS/48, 20.8 AST%, 17.1 TOV%

If winning games is something you value in your point guard, Mr. Big Shot might be your guy. Since becoming a regular starter in the League, Billups has been the starting point man for three franchises in 9 seasons, and in none of those years did his team fail to crack 50 wins. He’s the only man on this list with a ring, and was named Finals MVP to boot. He can score in a variety of ways, doesn’t miss free throws, doesn’t turn the ball over, and while his assist tallies aren’t eye-popping, he excels at setting up teammates when the situation calls for it.
Weaknesses: His defensive reputation is a tad overblown from his days in Detroit, and really he’s always been more of a Jason Kidd-type defender: great when he can body up on a player, but a bit of a liability against the league’s more athletic guards. While his record speaks for itself, Billups’ form dipped in the second half of last year and he’s off to a slow start this season. At 34, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end.

7. Jason Kidd
Career: 18.5 PER, .135 WS/48, 40.0 AST%, 18.7 TOV%
’10-’11: 17.4 PER, .169 WS/48, 43.4 AST%, 26.1 TOV%

He’ll be on this list until he’s 50. His court vision is still the standard to which other point men are held, and he’s big and physical enough to defend both backcourt positions and be a force on the glass. I don’t know where they keep track of double-doubles with just rebounds and assists, but if anybody is even close to Kidd’s career mark on that particular stat, I’d be shocked. In addition, the kid they used to call Ason has nailed 41% of his triples over the last 3 seasons.
Weaknesses: He was never great at creating his own shot or defending small, quick point guards, and the fact that he’s now playing on 37-year-old legs doesn’t help those causes. And he’s started to turn the ball over a lot these past few years. At this point, he pretty much is what he is. And we’ll never see another player quite like him.

6. Steve Nash
Career: 20.2 PER, .169 WS/48, 40.4 AST%, 18.8 TOV%
’10-’11: 23.8 PER, .173 WS/48, 44.8 AST%, 17.7 TOV%

He might be the best passer and shooter on this list, so those are pluses. And as we’ve said on this blog before, if the game was played entirely on the offensive end, Nash would be one of the all-time greats–his career offensive rating of 118.67 is bested by only 10 players in league history. Surround him with a couple of shooters and a decent post player to pick-and-roll with, and a Nash-led team will be competitive every night. The man simply manufactures points.
Weaknesses: He really isn’t very good at defense. They don’t just say that because he’s a floppy-haired white dude who’s friends with Mike D’Antoni. He doesn’t stop scorers, doesn’t create turnovers, and doesn’t rebound. But with a guy like Nash, you simply take the good with the bad. His numbers took a slight hit at the close of the 7SOL era, but even at 36 he shows no sign of slowing down.

5. Derrick Rose
Career: 17.6 PER, .093 WS/48, 30.3 AST%, 13.0 TOV%
’10-’11: 22.7 PER, .157 WS/48, 43.1 AST%, 14.7 TOV%

Rose is at an early crossroads of his career, similar to where Kevin Durant was coming into last season. He has all the tools, but at this point hasn’t been able to harness his considerable talent in a way that tangibly helps his team, at least not to the same extent as the game’s established stars. Early indications, however, are that this is the year. Rose is scoring more and more efficiently than ever, demanding double teams, and assisting 43% of his teammates’ buckets to boot. In addition, his defensive metrics have improved with Tom Thibodeau’s arrival. His low turnover rate is truly impressive for a young point guard, especially one who carries as heavy of a scoring load as Rose does for Chicago. Many are expecting the Bulls to take a jump this season and join the East’s elite, and if Rose continues to play at the level he has through 10 games, they should be right up there.
Weaknesses: He’s not a 3-point threat or a great spot-up shooter. He also continues to mystify with his ability to get to the rim but not the free throw line. Still, he’s not terribly far from being the full package.

4. Russell Westbrook
Career: 17.2 PER, .079 WS/48, 33.6 AST%, 16.9 TOV%
’10-’11: 26.0 PER, .186 WS/48, 39.0 AST%, 15.1 TOV%

Westbrook is one of the NBA’s most electrifying perimeter players, but in his first couple of seasons some questions were raised about how natural of a point guard he was. Like Curry, he played off the ball in college, and initially looked more comfortable creating offense for himself than for others. Turnovers were also a problem early on. Things started to click last season, and watching him this year it looks like he’s been running the point his whole life. He still looks to get into the lane and make things happen every chance he can, but he also picks out the right pass when he can’t get a clean look. He’s developed into one of the NBA’s best second options, and is also a linchpin of OKC’s highly-rated defense.
Weaknesses:He’s not a good shooter, though he stays efficient by drawing fouls and hitting free throws (.920 for the season). Still, he’s made less than 25% of his 3’s for his career and really isn’t a threat to score if he’s kept away from the basket. People like to harp on his turnovers, but they’re not unreasonable when adjusted for pace, and decision-making improves with time. Really, with a consistent jumper, he’d be contending for All-NBA status.

3. Rajon Rondo
Career: 17.2 PER, .144 WS/48, 36.4 AST%, 18.9 TOV%
’10-’11: 20.1 PER, .178 WS/48, 53.3 AST%, 24.8 TOV%

He’s shown flashes in years past, but whatever got into him as he was lighting up the Cavs in last year’s playoffs seems to have stuck there. He’s vaulted past the Big 3 to become the Celtics’ clear-cut best player and most consistent producer. His 14.9 assists per game would be the highest single-season mark in league history if he can sustain it, he’s playing lockdown defense, and if the MVP were voted on today, only a handful of names would come before his.
Weaknesses: He shoots jumpers the way new teammate Shaq shoots free throws: like he’s making a wild guess on a multiple choice exam and hoping for the best. Also, he pretty much shoots free throws the way Shaq shoots free throws (.625 career), and a 3-point shot just isn’t in his arsenal. There’s no need to skirt the issue and say it just needs work, either. Allow me to do a reverse Stephen A. Smith here: the guy’s got big hands. That helps in jumping passing lanes, but not in getting off a steady release. He’s among the league leaders in turnovers, but he’s also up there in steals. He who giveth, taketh away.

2. Deron Williams
Career: 18.7 PER, .142 WS/48, 41.6 AST%, 16.6 TOV%
’10-’11: 21.9 PER, .175 WS/48, 43.7 AST%, 16.1 TOV%

D-Will’s been carrying the Jazz on his back virtually since he was drafted, and has never looked anything but up for the task. A consummate floor general, he also runs the pick-and-roll to perfection, sees all available lanes to the hoop, and he’s money spotting up. On defense, he causes problems with his size and physicality. He rises to the occasion in big games, performing particularly well in the playoffs, and his battles with Chris Paul make for some of the best viewing on the NBA calendar.
Weaknesses: His 3-point shooting is a little up and down from season to season (high .416, low .310). He’s a capable defender, but far from being elite. Ultimately, he doesn’t absolutely wow you in any one category except perhaps passing, but there really aren’t any major holes in his game. He’s rock-solid, and incredibly consistent.

1. Chris Paul
Career: 25.6 PER, .235 WS/48, 46.9 AST%, 13.2 TOV%
’10-’11: 28.9 PER, .324 WS/48, 52.1 AST%, 13.3 TOV%

You don’t lose your spot because you got hurt. That’s a time-honored, unwritten rule of sports. Thankfully, CP3 is as healthy and effective as ever, and we can return to just sitting back and being wowed by him on a nightly basis. The man is making up for lost time, and is nothing less than the MVP of the league in this young season. He’s an exceptional talent on both ends of the court, and with the exception of Steve Nash, no other point guard scores as efficiently or is as prolific at setting up teammates. One of the fastest players in the league with the ball, he’s just as devastating on the break as he is in the half-court. All that, and he rarely turns the ball over.
Weaknesses: He got hurt. That’s why there was a debate in the first place, right? As he missed 37 games last year and hobbled through many of the 45 he played in, some renegade factions decided it was time to pass the crown over to Williams or Rondo, particularly come playoff time. But without the injuries, we wouldn’t even be having a discussion about who the best point guard in the NBA is, right? That discussion would just be, “Who’s the best point guard in the NBA? Chris Paul.” And then we could move on to things like the economy. If there’s a chink in his armor, it’s probably that he’s only won one playoff series, but that just goes to show you the limitations of basing judgments of an individual player’s merits on team success. There really isn’t a single skill you’d want a point guard to have that Paul doesn’t excel at.

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5 Responses to Ranking the NBA’s Top Point Guards

  1. thecornerthree says:

    I’m torn about one other player–Tony Parker. He runs a pick and roll, hits shots, is as quick as anyone going to the hoop, and wins games. Hey may be better than Wall, Curry, or Billups right now, but it’s a tough call.

  2. slickmilicic says:

    Good point. TP’s having as good a year as pretty much anyone right now; my concern is he wasn’t a top-10 point last year, and he’s been beating up on some crappy competition thus far. Think Wall + Curry have higher ceilings in terms of placing on this list at the end of the year, but agreed–if anyone’s being shafted right now, it’s Parker.

  3. me says:

    westbrook for nash how many games would the suns win? very few

  4. Dave says:

    Seems to me you are thinking about where the young players are going to end up, not where they are at the moment. If we need to judge JKidd on where he is now (still crazy good, I still can’t believe how he has managed to shoot the three since getting to Dallas) surely we have to do the same for Curry and Westbrook and Wall.
    Westbrook’s inability to shoot the three would be a huge liability – except they have quite a few good 3 point shooters, which helps Rondo as well.
    I can’t have Curry or Wall ahead of TP, or even Journeymen points like Felton and Jameer Nelson. those three are just more complete points. Gotta give people more credit for skills they HAVE, not might be developing…

    Interesting to see there is no Devin Harris love here – despite him performing better as a point than half your list … just his team sucks.

    There is no way Rose is ahead of JKidd, in 2010/11, or at his peak, or looking back over his career in 15 years time. Oh and Nash should be in the debate with Wesbrook and Rondo behind Williams and Paul.
    Laughed to see Williams’ defence was both a plus and minus.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I thinks it is Chris Paul, Deron Williams,Derrick Rose its my opinane….

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