Top 10 Point Guards Entering 2016-17 NBA Season
10. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns (20.4 PPG, 6.1 APG, 4.0 RPG): The only reason Bledsoe ranks tenth and not higher is because he tore the meniscus in his left knee and played only 31 games this year. Prior to his injury, Bledsoe was leading the Suns in scoring while also averaging two steals a game. There are very few point guards in the league that can matchup with Bledsoe’s athleticism and possess Bledsoe’s two-way ability. Hopefully he can rebound from his injury and return to form.
9. Rajon Rondo, Chicago Bulls (11.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 6.0 RPG): Rondo is not as gifted a scorer as the other players on the list but he is one of the best playmakers in the league, regardless of position. There were questions about Rondo after his tumultuous stint in Dallas the last half of 2014-15. Rondo showed all the critics he can play by taking a one-year deal with the Kings, and then led the league in assists and averaging a double-double for the season. Rondo was also a menace on defense, averaging two steals per game for the first time since 2010-11. He also shot a career high 37% from three (although he only averaged 2.4 threes a game). Now in Chicago, Rondo will have the chance to run the show for a competitive team surrounded by the likes of Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler.
8. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors (21.2 PPG, 6.4 APG, 4.7 RPG): Lowry’s play this season was a big factor in the Raptors’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals. While his assist numbers dropped (6.8 last season), Lowry increased his scoring to 21.2 from 17.8. Lowry was also much better from the three-point line (34% in 2014-15 to 39% this season) and was a legit threat from deep, forming a nice balance with backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan. Lowry has improved as a player every year since he came into the league in 2006, but now at 30 years old, I have questions about how much higher his ceiling can go.
7. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets (20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 4.4 RPG): One of the biggest questions I have left about the 2015-16 season is how in the world the Hornets made the playoffs. Walker is that reason. Even surrounded by the likes of Jeremy Lin (now in Brooklyn), Nicolas Batum, and Al Jefferson (now in Indiana), Walker was able to produce on a consistent basis for the Hornets. At only 26 years of age, Walker is already a great leader on the floor and was the main reason the Hornets won 48 games consisting of Walker and a bunch of role players. Walker’s numbers could increase this season with the losses the Hornets suffered in the summer.
6. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers (19.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.0 RPG): Prior to Irving’s play during Cleveland’s postseason run to the title, I would’ve probably had Irving beneath Lowry on this list. However, I think Irving finally got his legs back under him after missing the first 24 games of the season with a fractured kneecap. After the All-Star break, Irving averaged more points per game and shot a higher percentage from three (his overall shooting percentage was less then prior to the break though). Then in the postseason, Irving was able to showcase his offensive firepower by averaging 25.2 PPG on 48% from the field and 44% from three. I think most people would agree that without Irving, Cleveland probably doesn’t overcome the 3-1 deficit in the Finals, regardless of what LeBron James did. I believe Irving and James have finally found away to coexist in Cleveland and Irving could put up bigger numbers next season.
5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (25.1 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.0 RPG): Lillard can flat out score the basketball and he is the heart and soul of the Blazers. He put up some great numbers this season and there was a lot of controversy when he didn’t make the All-Star team in the West. The problem is that three of the next four point guards are in the Western Conference (not to mention other non-guards like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis). As good as Lillard was and as great as his some of his performances were, he shot 42% from the field, the lowest percentage of his career. Lillard has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor but he is not as good a setting up plays for his teammates as the guys above him. If Lillard can get more efficient on the offensive end and contributed more on defense (0.9 steals per game) he could find himself among the top tier of point guards next season.
4. John Wall, Washington Wizards (19.9 PPG, 10.2 APG, 4.9 RPG): Wall narrowly edges out Lillard for the fourth spot. He improved in every category except field goal percentage (46% to 42%) from 2014-15. While Wall’s playmaking ability is probably higher now than Lillard’s ever will be, it is Wall’s improvement in three point shooting that lifts him over Lillard. Wall is generally not regarded in the same shooting category as Lillard but an identical field goal percentage and a similar clip from deep (Lillard- 38%, Wall- 35%) gives Wall the edge, otherwise he is a Rondo that scores more points. Wall is also much more disruptive on the defensive end than Lillard thanks to his elite athleticism. Wall averaged 1.9 steals per game this season and is the only reason Washington came within three games of a playoff spot.
3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (19.5 PPG, 10 APG, 4.2 RPG): You could put the last three players of this list in any order and make a compelling and valid argument for why they should be in a spot. I don’t think Paul got nearly enough votes for MVP this season. In all honesty, where would the Clippers have finished if were not for Paul willing the Clippers to victory while Blake Griffin missed 47 games due to a myriad of issues. It isn’t just Paul’s intangibles that make him so great; he is an excellent two-way player (2.1 steals per game, 46% from the field). Paul was the heart and soul of that team and it is a shame they didn’t get a chance to compete in the playoffs with a fully healthy roster. Paul is probably the best leader in the league and I’m not sure anyone else on this list could’ve kept the Clippers in the playoff hunt with their second best player out for an extended period of time.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, (30.1 PPG, 6.7 APG, 5.4 RPG): I know this is probably not the popular opinion; Curry is the best shooter in the NBA and maybe even NBA history. So why is he not the best point guard? Because I don’t think his shooting ability alone is enough to overtake my number one player. I have seen all the impossible shots Curry has hit this year, but I don’t believe the hype and people saying he is one of the best players of all-time and already comparing him to Michael Jordan. I know Curry isn’t just a one-dimensional player, he led the league in steals (169) and can also finish in the paint, I just don’t think he is the best point guard. I think his stats are a little inflated because of the system he plays in. With the Warriors, he is able to let Klay Thompson guard the best player in the opposition’s backcourt and Curry is able to sit in the passing lanes waiting for an interception. I also think his record breaking three pointers made (401) is a product of Golden State’s offensive system. I’m not saying the man can’t shoot, 45% from the arc justifies his ability to shoot the ball, but I think it is a similar situation to an Air-Raid offense in football. Quarterbacks in an Air-Raid system pass the ball way more than a traditional pro style offense, similar to the Warriors’ reliance on the three ball. When Air-Raid QBs are put into another type of offense, they struggle and do not perform as well. Maybe Curry can flourish in another system, but I have my doubts that he would be as effective as he is on Golden State.
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (23.5 PPG, 10.4 APG, 7.8 RPG): There hasn’t been a player of Westbrook’s athleticism and competitiveness in the history of the league. Unfortunately for Westbrook the one thing he has yet to incorporate into his game is jump shooting. Westbrook shot 50% on two point field goals last season. His 30% shooting from three dropped his overall percentage to 45. Westbrook is impossible to stay in front of in isolation and is one of the top finishers at the rim, all he needs to add is a reliable three point shot (around 35%) and he can perhaps become the best player in the world. The best triple-double machine since Magic Johnson, Westbrook’s all around game is unmatched by the rest of the players in the NBA. When Westbrook is intent on getting teammates involved instead of creating a personal one-on-one battle, the Thunder are almost impossible to defend and defeat. It isn’t just Westbrook’s offense; he always wants to guard the best player in the opposition’s backcourt and even wanted to guard Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs. He averaged 2.0 steals per game and I think his overall game makes him the best point guard in the league. With Kevin Durant now in Oakland, I wouldn’t put it past Westbrook to average around 32 PPG, 12 APG, and 8 RPG for the upcoming season.