Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Challenge: Ranking the NBA's Point Guards

Greetings everyone... I was issued a challenge, and I'm going to deliver... below is the comprehensive ranking of the NBA's point guards as I see it... let's go...

Tier 9 - The Best of Rest
  • 35) Steve Blake - For purposes of this list, I had to include at least one PG from every team (**With the exception of the hapless Kings who refuse to actually PLAY a point guard), so Blake is here. He's unquestionably the better player between him and Fisher, and he's playing much better this year after being released from the world of the triangle offense. I've always had a soft spot for Blake and if he's your backup, you're in great shape.
  • 34) Mario Chalmers - Not a big fan of Chalmers' work in general, but he's a starting NBA point guard so he makes the list. He's posted an exceptional PER this year because of his unsustainable 58% from the field, but he's kind of a liability at times offensively. He's an above-average defensive guard because he's really long and good on the ball, but I think he'd be best used off someone's bench.
  • 33) Ramon Sessions - Sessions was the cut-off point for me of whether to be included on this list on my own free will. He's posted excellent PER ratings before included a career-high of 19 last year, and has career averages of 11 points and 5 boards. What does he do well? Eh, not a whole lot, but you could do much worse for 25-30 minutes a night at the point and he's worthy of inclusion.
  • 32) Luke Ridnour - For all the Ricky Rubio fuss (we're getting there), I think Ridnour has been pretty darn solid in Minnesota. He's posted a "league-average" PER of a little over 15 for the past 2-plus seasons, and as an assist rate of over 7 per 40 minutes. If he can shoot closer to the 44% from 3-point land that he shot last year, this is probably a little low, but at any rate, he's a very solid option.
  • 31) Rodney Stuckey - It was kind of difficult choosing who to go with for the "Detroit PG" slot on this list. Stuckey is playing off the ball a lot this year, but I think he's a default PG still, and I'll rank him as such. I'm against the shoot-first PG in general, and Stuckey is certainly that. High usage rate, career 12 FGA per game with a career high of 15 FGA per in 2009-10, and less than 5 assists per game for his career. Yikes. He can certainly score, but his career 42/27/83 slash line would indicate that it isn't particularly efficient, and on top of that, he's now overpaid. Congratulations Pistons!
  • 30) Kemba Walker - Forgive me everyone, but I don't really see it. Yes, Walker is a gutty, talented scorer and the fact that he utterly carried UConn to last year's title can't be ignored, but he's not a true point guard, he's very small, and I don't know if he has the skill-set to be a starting PG instead of a backup scoring combo guard. Blasphemy I know, and he'll have the chance to prove me wrong. Alas, here we are.

Tier 8 - The Should-be Starters

  • 29) Jason Kidd - For any confusion, the tier "title" above refers to the fact that there are 30 teams in the league, and therefore, the top 30 should, in theory, be the 30 starters (again, I'm leaving off Sacto lol) Yeah. Kidd is one of the hardest players to evaluate on this list. He's an unquestioned 1st-ballot hall-of-famer, and one of the 10 best point guards ever, but he also can't guard a soul at the moment, and he shot 36% from the field last season. If you're telling me I have an elite roster, and all I need is a facilitator? Kidd jumps way, way up this list, but as a pure player at this moment, he lands here.
  • 28) Jeff Teague - This may seem low, or may seem high depending on your opinion of Mr. Teague, but here we are. I firmly believe this ranking will rise in the coming months/years but thanks to the hapless management of his minutes in the first 2 years, he's experiencing the growing pains that he should've gone through as a rookie. That said, he's still shooting 49% from the floor and posting reasonable assist and turnover ratios. The issues are with finishing at the rim, and with his complete meltdowns defensively at times to the point where the opposition is singling him out in key spots with often subpar guards attacking him. The ceiling IMO is of an above-average but not-top-10 PG for Teague, and I don't think the basement is any lower than fringe starter. He's a nice player.
  • 27) George Hill - I've always had an irrational love for George Hill. He was wildly undervalued when playing behind Tony Parker in San Antonio, but with his exile to Indiana, he's gotten a bit more attention. He's certainly a combo guard because of his good size and ability to defend 2-guards, but he qualifies for the list. He'd be higher if he were a better passer/distributor, but I'm a sucker for defense, and he's one of the top-10 defensive guards on this list, and if Darren Collison continues to play terrible (small sample), he may get more run in Indy.
  • 26) Lou Williams - Williams is a bit of an interesting case, because he's certainly not a natural point guard, but he's the backup at both spots for Philly, and he's posted very nice numbers the last couple of years. As of this writing, he's 2nd in the league among PGs in PER this year (very, very small sample but still) and he's posted above-average ratings of over 18 in the last 2 seasons. He's a 14 a game scorer in about 25 minutes over the last 2 full seasons, which translates very well, and he's electric with the ball in his hands off the dribble. Jrue Holiday is the better player, but Williams is a nice option.

Tier 7 - The Enigma

  • 25) Baron Davis - Let me just say this. There's little-to-no possibility of Baron actually being the 25th best PG in this league. It's either a lot lower (if he's fat and doesn't care) or A LOT higher (if he's in shape and going off). But, because of the volatility that that brings, I can't rationally put him much higher than this. Let me take you back to the 2007 playoffs when he was running all over Dallas in front of a packed house in Oakland. When the 23 point/9 assist per game Baron, one of the strongest, most physically gifted guards of his generation, was literally unstoppable averaging 25 a game with 7 assists and 3 steals per in the playoffs. And then, let me take you to a half-empty Staples Center in 08-09 when he was putting up a 15/7 line with a hilariously bad 37% FG clip and was 40 pounds overweight. The pendulum is insanely huge for Baron, but if he's invested this year in New York, the sky is the limit.

Tier 6 - Something to be Desired

  • 24) Jarrett Jack - Always had a soft spot for Jarrett Jack. He flat-out battles all the time, and can defend both 1's and 2's with competence. He's been handed the Hornets' PG job after the Paul deal, and has played really well early this year (16 points, 8 assists, 17 PER) to make me look a little bit smarter. Just a valuable asset because of his flexibility.
  • 23) DJ Augustin - Augustin would be so much better if he were more efficient. A career 41% FG shooting number is masked a bit by a solid 38% from 3, but since he can't defend anybody (undersized, not that quick, etc.), his offensive efficiency has to be there. His assist numbers have slowly crept up each season, so that's a positive sign, but he'll also be chased down for minutes by Kemba Walker.
  • 22) Jameer Nelson - Remember when people thought Jameer was a top-10 point guard? Seems foggy now, but that actually happened. He had one exceptional year (08-09) where he shot 50/45/89 for 42 games before getting hurt, and ever since, he's a 44% FG shooter who can't defend, posts mediocre (5-6 apg) passing numbers, and doesn't really do anything particularly well. He's certainly league average at least, but Nelson has gotten some credit in the past that I don't think really bares out in how he's produced. Also, it helps to play with a center that can make up for every defensive mistake you make.
  • 21) Jose Calderon - Ole! I'll let you decide whether I'm saying that because he's from Spain or because he can't defend anyone (answer: it's both). I've always been high on Calderon even going back to the Calderon vs. Ford debates I'd have on a weekly basis when that was an argument (sorry Ryan). He has good size, he's an elite passer (over 10 assists per 40 minutes for his career), and one of the most efficient shooters in the entire league posting a career 49/38/88 slash line with career bests of 52/43/98. That's the good part. The bad part? He's a really, really, really bad defender. Most Euro guards are pretty bad on defense, but Calderon takes it to another level, and to go with that, he's not aggressive enough offensively for my liking at times. I really like his game, but the defense can't be ignored.
  • 20) Brandon Jennings - This one may surprise some people. Ever since Jennings threw up the double-nickel in MSG as a rookie, the hype machine has been churning a bit. Check these numbers out. He has a career true shooting % of under 50% (awful), under 6 assists per 40 minutes (pretty awful), and he's a career 38% (!) shooter on 15 attempts again. That's bad, folks. And on the other side of the ball, he's not exactly a world-beater defensively despite above-average quickness that leads him to nearly 2 steals per. I don't hate Jennings at all, and it's undeniable that his talents are there, but the lack of efficiency is a bit troubling for me.

Tier 5 - The Rookies

  • 19) Kyrie Irving - Both of these were pretty tough to rank. Irving is a guy that doesn't take anything off the table, and doesn't do anything in an electric fashion. He's posted a very, very good 19 PER rating in his short NBA stint so far, averaging 22 points per 40 minutes and nearly 8 assists. That's really nice. The efficiency offensively leaves a bit to be desired so far, but I honestly don't see a non-injury scenario in which he's not a top 12-to-15 PG perennially, and there's something to be said for that.
  • 18) Ricky Rubio - I'm irrational about Ricky Rubio. He's everything I love in a point guard. Pure passer, great court vision, really long and active defensively, and pass-first. What's not to like? His shooting stroke is his rumored downfall, but he's managed to post a 55 % TS so far, and 45% from the field. Take that and run with it, especially with his 11 assists per 40 minutes. Rick (no "y") is quickly rising up my favorite point guard list. Do yourself a favor and just watch him run the show one night.

Tier 4 - You Know What You Have

  • 17) Darren Collison - Collison is a guy I've always really enjoyed, but there are questions about his ceiling. Is this it? Very good D, 13 points, 6 assists? That's pretty solid, but unspectacular when you consider what's around the league. I've always valued defense higher than most (especially at the point) so there's something to be said for a guy with his length to bother opponents, but the offensive game needs some maturing to crack the elite.
  • 16) Andre Miller - If there was ever a guy you get different opinions about, it's Andre Miller. He's insanely slow, and he has absolutely no shooting range. I realize that. But he's big for a PG (6'3-6'4), has a good post game, is an above-average passer, and there's something to be said for consistency. At 35 years old, he's never posted a season with a sub-15 PER, never lower than 7 assists per 40 minutes, and hasn't shot less than 45% from the floor since 2003 with LAC. You know what you're getting, and it's average at the very worst.
  • 15) Raymond Felton - He's been woeful this year. Let me get that out of the way, but it's still a less-than-10 game sample size, and it's easily dismissed. Posted a career-high 9 assists a game last year to go along with 17 points, and while those numbers aren't reachable in the Portland offense vs. the NYK version, I think Felton brings a lot to the table. He seemed to have fixed his notorious issues with finishing at the rim last year, and if that continues, he's definitely worthy of this position. One caveat? He visibly put on weight last year, and doesn't seem to have lost it. Worth noting for a PG who needs to have quick burst.
  • 14) Devin Harris - Remember him? The guy who averaged 21 points a game just 3 seasons ago in NJ? That was a bit of a fluke, but Devin Harris is a career 13 a game scorer (with that rising to 16 a game as a starter) who does a lot of things well. He's insanely quick, and can stay in front of just about anybody on defense. One negative is his relatively inefficient offensive game (usually a low-40s % shooter), and his spotty injury history, but I think Harris has gotten a bad wrap for "falling off" after that first breakout year in NJ. The 21-a-game guy isn't coming back, but 16 and 7 with above-average defense is pretty nice.
  • 13) Mike Conley - Warning! Irrational love fest! With Conley's collegiate affiliation aside, I've always had a man-crush on him. Great speed, left-handed (I'm a sucker for that), and an improved shooter that peaked last year with career highs in points (14) and assists (7) per game. He's good at staying in front of quick guards, with a little trouble with bigger guys who can out-muscle him. I think the ceiling is a bit higher than what he's shown this far, and I expect him to reach it. Never a superstar, but an unquestioned above-average PG.

Tier 3 - Young and Upcoming

  • 12) Jrue Holiday - I almost put Holiday in the class below this, but then I remembered how old he is. Despite this being his 3rd year, he's only 21 years old, and improved across the board in year 2. 14 points and 7 assists last year and rising. He has great size (6'4) and reach along with the requisite quickness to be an insanely good defender if he can figure out how to beat a ball-screen (an issue when I've seen him). If he can continue to improve his range and become even an adequate 3-point shooter, the sky is limit, and let's not forget that he's just 2 years older than Kyrie Irving and the same age as Ricky Rubio.
  • 11) Ty Lawson - Maybe the quickest player in the entire league. He's been electric so far in 2012 (22 PER, 16 points, 6 assists, 50% FG), and has made the mini-leap as the perfect engine/creator to that up-tempo, deep Nuggets team. He has some limitations with his size (listed 6-feet, no chance), but he's been an efficient shooter (career 51/40/77 line) and that helps make up for a lot of it. I really like what I've seen from him in an expanded role as the unquestioned starter.
  • 10) Kyle Lowry - Some people might think this is too high. Some people might think I'm overreacting to a small sample size of this season. It's neither. Kyle Lowry is a top-10 point guard. This year's averages are out of this world (league-leading 26 PER, 15 ppg, 10 apg, 6 rpg line) and unlikely to continue at quite the same rate, but after his 14/7/4 last year, I think he could be in line for season averages of 16/9/5 or so this year, and if you combine that with his elite defense and strength, that's the recipe for this ranking. It's a shame that that team's rotation is in shambles, so Lowry will likely go virtually unnoticed, but he should get more love.
  • 9) Stephen Curry - We all love Steph. He's one of the best shooters on planet Earth, and has a Nash-like court vision at times, but there are a few hiccups along the way. First of all, he's almost at the point where injury-prone is a concern simply because he keeps having the same recurring ankle injuries. That's a small-ish issue in the present, but because of his size and already limited athleticism, he can't afford to be hobbled. And then there is his defense. He's honestly kind of a trainwreck defensively in terms of on-ball because he's either ultra-aggressive and gets blown by or he gets muscled off by bigger guards. In his defense, he's pretty long for a PG, and a very smart help-side guy, but because of his limitations, it's pretty unlikely he'll ever be even an average defender. That said, it's so difficult to overlook a guy who can shoot a career 47/44/91 slash line in that type of offense, and if he can ever get out from underneath Monta Ellis, the sky is the limit numbers-wise.
  • 8) John Wall - I'm as shocked as anyone that he didn't land in the next tier up, but it's pretty difficult to ignore how bad he's been so far this year. I had him penciled in to make the jump, and he still might, but he's posted a below-league-average 14 PER this year while shooting 35% and committing 4 turnovers a game vs. 7 assists. It's a very small sample, but it's looked pretty bad. Wall is a freak athletically with 6'4 size, and maybe the fastest end-to-end speed in the game, but he still lacks some decision making maturity, and has an inconsistent (at best) jump shot. I do like that he's cut down on his 3 point attempts (only 3 this year, vs. nearly 1.5 a game last year), but I'd like it MORE if he simply improved enough (28% last year) to make it an occasional weapon to keep defenses honest. He's got elite skills defensively, and while he makes the occasional lapse, he's already above-average there and could be ridiculous if he puts it together. I'd be a little surprised (still) if he didn't make the leap to the next tier by the end of the season, but he's not getting a lot of help from that woeful supporting cast.

Tier 2 - The Upper-Echelon

  • 7) Tony Parker - 3 titles. 4 years of 20+ PER including last year. A career 49% FG shooter with over 16 points a game and his assists have gradually risen throughout his career. That's Tony Parker. You may have been shocked to see him in this tier (I know someone will be, cough, Ryan), but I think Parker is perpetually underrated when you take a look at the league's landscape. I honestly don't even think there is a debate that anyone behind him is in front of him at this very moment (Curry and Wall are virtual locks to pass him without injury, but still) and I've always felt that Parker hasn't gotten his due. Has he ever been the best player on that team? Absolutely not, but it's not his fault he was given the right to play with Tim Duncan (greatest PF of all time) and Manu Ginobili (their current best player). Oh, and he was 6th in PG PER last year behind the 5 guys above him on this list not named Rajon Rondo, and he's a career 18.5 PER (behind only Nash, Paul, Williams, Rose, and Kidd on career list). Not the only measuring stick, but here we are.
  • 6) Steve Nash - Still here, huh? Steve Nash hasn't posted a PER under 19.5 in a decade. Read that again. He's slowed down a bit physically, but that hasn't stopped him from posting a ridiculous 13 assists per 40 minutes for the last season-plus, and shooting 50/38/93 in the process. He's still one of the best offensive players in the game, and if he was surrounded by a similar talent level to the one he had five years ago, he'd still be talked about just as much. I've preached about his defensive limitations in the past (he's pretty bad) endlessly in this space, but always with the caveat that a) they don't ask him to defend, and b) he's a brilliant help defender. Nothing but praise for Nash here, and what he's done for the past decade and is still doing at age 37 is ludicrous.
  • 5) Russell Westbrook - Lots and lots of discussion about Russ in the league for the past 2 years. The good: Insane athlete, great finisher, high assist rate, good rebounder for his size, good free throw shooter, elite defensive tools (and sometimes uses them). The bad: Shoots too much (high usage rate), turns the ball over too much, low field goal percentage, streaky/bad 3-point shooter (career 27%, 33% last year). What does it all mean? I think Westbrook is an up-and-coming star who's still 22 years old and not fully mature yet. The dissension issue with Durant is overblown, but Westbrook's usage rate is actually a problem, and not just because Durant is the better player. At any rate, there's no denying the physical tools of Westbrook, and his innate play-making ability to the point where he's a top-5 PG in the league.
  • 4) Rajon Rondo - Always a weird evaluation. He doesn't bring the same offensive arsenal of everyone else in this stratosphere, but his unique game and elite, elite, elite defensive pedigree brings him in ahead of Westbrook. He's managed to shoot nearly 50% from the field the past 3-plus seasons (tough to do with that jumper) while notching double-digit assist rates, and being a Kidd-like rebounder from the PG spot. His jumper has taken a step forward this season in confidence and technique and that'll go a long way to improving his career 11 ppg. Defensively, he's the best of the non-specialist guys at the PG position with his freakishly long arms and alarming quickness. If his free throw shooting and mid-range game improve to average levels, he'd make a run at the top 3. Oh, and he has a ring, can't be ignored.
  • 3) Deron Williams - The forgotten man. He's been dreadful this year (34% shooting) and his team is really, really bad so he's not going to receive the mentions he'd normally garner, but he's still elite. I've always been on the Paul side of the Williams/Paul debate, but that was never a slight against Williams. He's notched 4 straight 20+ PER seasons, and career averages of 17/9 with a 46/35/81 slash line. That's really impressive stuff capped off by last year's legitimate 20 point, 10 assist season. I've often heard the argument that if you had 10 different categories among point guards, Williams would be in the top-5 in each one, which speaks to his well-roundedness, but he doesn't have the court vision/command of Paul or the outright explosiveness of a Rose or Westbrook. If I have a critique, it's that he's often below-average on defense purely do to lack of effort (I assume this because I've seen him be fantastic), but that comes with the territory as a team's #1 offensive option. Really a great player.

Tier 1 - The Best of the Best

  • 2) Derrick Rose - The league's reigning MVP. The most explosive scorer (by far) of the point guards, and one of the best athletes in the entire league. He improved his jump shot last season to the point where it was a legitimate weapon, and along with a rising assist rate, his game crested with the MVP award and a ridiculous season by the Bulls. If there was a weakness with Rose, it's with his jumper still. Although it's greatly improved, it isn't consistent enough to overcome on some nights, but the advantage with him is that he has the ability to get the cup at will. I've never been a fan of the shoot-first point guard, but when you can do it with 8+ assists per 40 minutes, it makes it a bit easier. I'm expecting to catch some flack for this ranking, but with respect to Rose, I absolutely appreciate how electric and fantastic he is and will continue to be. He's an unquestioned top-6 player in the league for me with Lebron, Wade, Howard, Durant, and Paul.
  • 1) Chris Paul - Speaking of Paul, he may be the best short point guard in the history of league (notice I used the word short so Magic wouldn't strike me down with lightning). He has a career PER of 25.2 (3rd on the active list behind Lebron and Wade, and even ahead of Duncan and Kobe after their declines caught up) and career averages of 19 points and 10 assists per game with a 47/36/85 slash line. Oh, and he's led the league in steals 4 times before the age of 26. Admittedly, he's lost half a step with the advent of the knee injury that's limited him the past year or 2, but he's still a very capable defender. Above all, he has a mastery of the floor like no one in the league sans Nash and Kidd, and athletic skills that neither of those guys ever possessed, plus he's at the point where he's shooting 40% on threes for the last 2-plus seasons. There's no weakness here (aside from the knees), and if we're picking a player for a game this afternoon, I want Chris Paul.

There you have it... Comments appreciated!

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