Scott breaks down the Point Guard tiers in the NBA for the second year in a row.
On the Brink:
Kemba Walker and Reggie Jackson - Both had their best years to date.
Kemba had a breakout year last year to bring the Hornets to the 6th seed in the playoffs. His career year included career-highs in pts, rbs, FT%, PER, and possibly most importantly, 3pt%. He improved his 3pt% by nearly 7% while taking a career high 6.1 threes per game. This allowed the Hornets to space the floor like they hadn’t been able to before. The bad news for Kemba is that he may need to turn in another career year in order to make the playoffs again and for the sake of the Hornet’s future because as Lynch says, their future isn’t looking too bright. I look for Kemba to be about the same as last year, without large roster improvements as the Eastern Conference around him has improved. However, he does his best when people count him out, so I guess that is me hedging my bet as a Hornets believer.
Jackson is step behind Kemba right now if I am putting these two in order. He also improved his three point shooting last season by over 5%, but he was still below average at 35.3%. He is the floor general of a rising Detroit team who may find himself on this short list soon enough. He will need to take a big step within the next two years. This team is set up well for the future, but they need an all-star in the backcourt, and Jackson is trying to be that guy.
Now to the top 10...
10. Isaiah Thomas
Like Kemba, Thomas had a career year all around last year, earning his first all-star appearance in his first year starting on a playoff team. Thomas finished 4th in scoring, 5th in PER and 6th in 3pm among point guards. As the only scorer on the Celtics he led them to the 5th seed in the playoffs, knowing the opposing team’s defensive focus was on him every night. Thomas looks to excel this year with another superstar in Horford on the team to draw some of that defensive attention away from Thomas. Yet, his defensive liabilities are obvious as he struggles to guard the better and bigger point guards. He will need to improve defensively if he wants to move up this list.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo
This may be cheating, but i’m going to do it anyway. Thomas and Kemba are definitely better offensively and will possibly prove me wrong overall with this ranking, but Giannis gives the Bucks incredible versatility defensively. No one else in the league is like him right now (with Simmons potentially in the future). He shot a mediocre 25% from the deep this year, but that is why he has moved to point guard. It has been proven that if a wing player cannot shoot, give him the ball so the defense is forced to defend him. Giannis’ ceiling at point guard cannot be overstated.
8. Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe finds himself in the exact same spot as last year rankings. He started off this past season looking strong, improving his 3pt%, one of the weaker parts of his game, by 5% up to 37% on a career high 4.2 attempts per game, while averaging over 20 ppg for the first time in his career. His season was cut short by a torn meniscus in his left knee. We thought he may have gotten past his injury woes after playing 81 games the season prior, but apparently that wasn’t the case. This is a huge worry moving forward, but I am still one of the biggest Bledsoe believers. He is so good defensively, with incredible offensive explosion and talent, especially with his new and improved jump shot. I look forward to seeing him back on the court whether it is with the Suns or not. Bledsoe is still just 26 years old, but it is time for him to make the leap into the upper esselon this season if he doesn’t want to become a “what if” player.
7. Kyle Lowry
Lowry has been a huge part of the Raptor’s recent success, and many will say this is disrespectful to Lowry, who was a top-5 point guard statistically last year much better than Wall. Lowry had a career year last year with career bests of 21 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 38.8% from deep and a PER of 22.2. So he is on a winning team and has the stats to back it up, but he will be 30 this season, and this may be the year he falls off in a much improved Eastern Conference. All of the other Guards on this list past the top-3 are 26 or under and entering their prime. I believe he has one more great year left, possibly a top-5 year again, but if I am choosing a team, I’d rather have the six ahead of him for next season.
6. John Wall
Wall is the highest point guard on this list who failed to get his team to the playoffs, above Lowry who was the two seed in the East. When everyone was expecting Wall to take another big step in his 6th year in the league, he put up disappointingly similar numbers to his previous years. His 2015-16 stat line of 19.9/10.2/4.9 was slightly better than the previous year. He posted a nearly identical PER of 19.8, but his big improvement was in his 3pt shooting. While shooting over 1.5 more threes per game, his shot 35.1% (5% better than 2014-15, and the exact same as two years prior). I expect to see another bump in three point shooting this upcoming year as he tries to get the Wizards back into the playoffs, and finally break into that top-tier point guard status.
5. Damian Lillard
Lillard surpassed all expectations of both him and his team last year. The Blazers, who were projected to be in the bottom three, were the five seed in the West thanks to Lillard’s performance. He had a stat line of 25/6.8/4 while being in the top five in point guards in both PER and VORP. He was sixth in scoring in the league after averaging nearly 30 ppg in February. He missed the All-star game this year, but I would be shocked if he still hasn’t made an all-star game at the end of next season. It will be interesting to see where this team will compare to the Durant-less Thunder, as the Blazers have been able to maintain all of their talent while adding more piece, bringing them to the second-highest payroll in the NBA and ready to compete once more,
4. Kyrie Irving
Irving Gets the edge over Lillard even though they really should be tied in my mind. Both similar scoring point guards that aren’t necessarily great defenders. Lillard actually has the better stats, but I give the nod to Irving heading into this year without having to recover from a fractured left kneecap. However, the main reason he has the edge is because these rankings are about this upcoming year. I expect Irving to take an even bigger role on team this year after his impressive playoff performance. Lebron will be able to take another step back during the regular season, letting Kyrie run the team. I expect to see a boost in production for these two main reasons from the now NBA Champion.
3. Chris Paul
Paul did not have his best season statistically at the age of 30 last year after being ranked at number 1 in the previous Point Guard Rankings, but at this point in his career he also brings his leadership to the team. If he and Griffin did not get injured, the 2016 playoffs and the future of the NBA would’ve turned out a lot different. (The Clippers would’ve taken the Warriors to at least six, who then probably lose to the Thunder after being worn down from two tough series’ in a row, leading Durant to stay with the Thunder.) That’s besides the point though. Paul averaged 19 and 10 for the fifth time in his career, one of only three players to do so last year, but they didn’t lead the league in assist ratio as well. Paul is a leader and even though many don’t think he is clutch because he hasn’t advanced past the second round, I, along with Alvin Gentry believe he is. The fact that he is the go-to man on his team gives him the nod over Kyrie.
2. Russell Westbrook
The triple-double machine will be out to prove himself this year. I believe he will go into Westbrook-maniac mode this year. He can do whatever he wants with that team now, and I expect him to be up in the conversation for MVP. We saw what he did with Durant out in the 2014-15 season, but now we get the full season. If you’re looking for a downside, you can say a team’s sole focus now will be to stop Westbrook with seemingly only minor offensive pieces around him, but the defensive unit will be very difficult to score on headlined by the backcourt of Westbrook and Oladipo along with Adams at Center. Ideally Westbrook will be able to improve on his 3pt% of 29.6% (bottom 6 in the league) because unless he literally averages a triple-double, he’ll need to improve that to be considered the best point guard in the league.
1. Stephen Curry
The unanimous MVP, back-to-back MVP and best point guard in the NBA. Just because he had a rough finals (the worst ever for a MVP) people forget how spectacular his regular season was. So good, he was even considered to be a legitimate Most Improved Player candidate after winning the MVP the season before! He led the league in scoring with just over 30 ppg, FT%, TS%, 3-pointers, and possibly most impressively PER (31.5), which ranks in the top ten in all of NBA history. Curry will not follow up this historic season because he will take more rest this season while not going for 73 wins. Plus, he has yet another superstar in Durant on his team now. Curry may not have the most gaudy stats this season (that award will belong to Westbrook), but he is still the best point guard. He won’t be close to the MVP race but still has to be the main focus of the defense, even when he is nowhere near the ball.