This week, the good folks here at Basketball Insiders are embarking on the unenviable task of ranking the top-10 NBA players at each position.
First up, we tackle the point guards.
Such rankings inevitably generate much debate, so please let your own opinion be heard in the comments section below.
1. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors:
Yes, we know the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals last June. Yes, Curry struggled in the postseason (mightily at times) and got outplayed by Kyrie Irving on the game’s biggest stage. Despite that bad taste left in the mouths of NBA fans, let’s please not forget Curry is the reigning back-to-back MVP (as well as the first unanimous MVP in history) and authored one of the most impressive offensive seasons in NBA history in 2015-16. Per NBA.com, he became the first guard to average at least 30 points while shooting 50 percent or better from the floor since Michael Jordan in 1991-92. Curry also led the league in steals (2.14), becoming the first player to lead the league in both scoring and steals since Allen Iverson in 2001-02, to go with 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 34.2 minutes. Curry hit a three-pointer in each of the 79 games he played in 2015-16, setting an NBA record by hitting at least one three in 152-straight regular-season contests. He obliterated his record for most three-pointers a single season with 402. Also, Curry knocked down at least 10 three-pointers four times during the season – a feat no other player has accomplished more than three times in their entire career. Curry also led the league in player efficiency rating (31.56), true shooting percentage (.669) and offensive rating (116.7), and posted more games with at least 30 points (40), 40 points (13) and 50 points (3) than any player in the league. So, yes, although Steph was “relatively” disappointing in the 2016 postseason, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s the best shooter in NBA history.
2. Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder:
I had a tough time placing Westbrook ahead of Chris Paul, but I think Russ finally overtook CP3 on the point guard pantheon last season. The amazingly aggressive Westbrook was unstoppable at times last year. He finished the regular season averaging 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson as the only other player in NBA history to average 23+ points, 10+ assists and 7+ rebounds. The most impressive aspects of his game are his incredible versatility and ability to stuff the stat sheet, just like the Big O. During the 2015-16 season, Westbrook recorded 18 triple-doubles, which equals the most in the NBA since Magic Johnson during the 1981-82 season. During the month of March, Westbrook posted seven triple-doubles to become the first player since Michael Jordan (in April of 1989) to register seven triple-doubles in a single month. With Kevin Durant now in Golden State, there’s a very good chance he flirts with a triple-double on a nightly basis, and threatens to become the just the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for the entire season.
3. Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers:
Currently 31 years old, Paul is still undoubtedly one of the best and most valuable players in the NBA. Over the second half of last season, he averaged 20.1 points and 11 assists per game. Per NBA.com, Paul’s player efficiency rating in that span (29.5) ranked third in the NBA behind only Stephen Curry (30.3) and LeBron James (30). While not as quick or explosive as he once was, CP3 still finds ways to punish and destroy defenses. Like many great players, Paul’s value can be highlighted by his team’s record with him versus when they are forced to play without him. Since Paul joined the Clippers in 2011, the team has gone 26-24 (.520) without him in the lineup. The Clips are 237-111 (.681) in games in which Paul has played.
4. Damian Lillard – Portland Trailblazers:
Lillard has been remarkably productive since the day he was drafted out of tiny Weber State University. He doesn’t get nearly as much national recognition as many of the other players on this list, but it’s hard to argue that any of the players listed below Lillard have been as consistently productive as him since he set foot on an NBA court. For starters, he’s been extremely durable – having played in 321 out of a possible 328 games in his career. Last season was the first time he missed a single game. As we know, availability is important. Also, he’s averaged at least 19 points, 5.5 assists and three rebounds per game every year of his career. Lillard has also knocked down 828 three-pointers in his NBA career, the most by any player in their first four seasons in NBA history. In 2015-16, Lillard joined Steph Curry as just the second player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, six assists and three treys per contest. Moreover, Lillard has already established himself as an extremely clutch performer. Lillard finished the season ranked third in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring.
5. Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers:
If we are basing this ranking strictly on the last series of the season, Irving would be higher on this list. But looking at the big picture, Irving still has a bit more to prove. Nonetheless, as his incredible performance in the NBA Finals exhibited, Irving at his best is as unstoppable and electrifying an offensive player as there is in the NBA. Irving still needs to improve as a facilitator and focus a bit more on the defensive end, but if he can build off the momentum he generated in the 2016 postseason, there is no ceiling to his potential.
Steph Curry: 22.6 ppg (40.3 FG%), 3.7 apg, 0.9 steals, 4.3 TO's
Kyrie Irving: 27.1 ppg (46.8 FG%), 3.9 apg, 2.1 stls, 2.5 TO's
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) June 20, 2016
6. John Wall – Washington Wizards:
Nobody in the NBA is quicker baseline to baseline with the ball in their hands than John Wall. He’s a blur who can get into the paint at will against even the best defenders in the Association. He’s also a terrific passer, as evidenced by his assist totals climbing in four straight seasons, topping off last season at a career-high 10.2 dimes per game. However, he hasn’t yet been able to overcome his most glaring flaw: his broken jumper. Defenses continue to slack off him on the perimeter and dare him to beat them by hoisting up jump shots. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Wall shot just 37 percent from between 10-15 feet from the basket and below 36 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point arc. Overall, his career 45.5 Effective Field Goal percentage is keeping him from becoming an All-NBA caliber player. It’s truly surprising that an athlete with his raw, physical talent and offensive skill has yet to crack the 20-points-per-game plateau in his career. He’s also recorded a PER north of 20 just once, back in 2012-13.
7. Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors:
Lowry averaged a career-high 21.2 points, a team-high 6.4 assists and was tied for third in the NBA in steals (2.05) last season. He also shot a career-best 38.8 percent (212-for-547) from three-point range, while ranking fifth in the NBA in three-pointers made. Unlike Wall and Irving, Lowry was named to an All-NBA team (third team). He became just the third player this decade to average at least 21 points, six assists and two steals per game over the course of a full season (Steph Curry and Russ Westbrook are the other two). However, Lowry stumbled badly in the playoffs when he lost confidence in his game and his shot. For his career, he is shooting a ghastly 38.3 percent from the floor in the postseason. It will be interesting to see how Lowry bounces back in 2016-17. Will we see a player more representative of the “regular season Lowry,” or the “postseason Lowry” throughout next season?
8. Mike Conley – Memphis Grizzlies:
I’m guessing Mike Conley won’t lose any sleep being ranked outside the top-seven on this list considering the man just signed for a whopping $153 million – the largest contract in NBA history. Before gaining national exposure for his massive contract, Conley was widely considered one of the league’s more underrated floor generals. He was sidelined late last season by an Achilles injury, but had been remarkably durable throughout his career, playing in at least 85 percent of the Grizzlies’ games in each of the previous six seasons. It is also important to note that Conley has been a winner. He’s captained a Memphis team that has won at least 50 games in three straight seasons.
9. Isaiah Thomas – Boston Celtics:
Thomas is the high-riser on this list, as he wasn’t even in the discussion of top-tier NBA point guards at this point last year. But based on his performance during his breakout 2015-16 campaign, he muscled his way into this elite grouping. Last season, Thomas became just the fourth player since 2005 to average at least 22 points, six assists and two made three-pointers per game over the course of a full NBA season. He also joined Larry Bird and John Havlicek as the only Celtics in franchise history to record at least 1,600 points and 500 assists in a single season. Thomas made his All-Star debut this past season and seems poised to continue shining in Boston.
10. Kemba Walker – Charlotte Hornets:
This last spot may have been the toughest call of all. There were plenty of players who have a case for the 10th spot. However, based on his breakout season in 2015-16, Kemba Walker gets the nod. He set career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks, shooting percentage, three-point shooting percentage and free-throw percentage. Kemba’s play in the clutch was also noteworthy. Per NBA.com, Walker led the NBA in scoring in late and close situations (last two minutes of the final quarter when the game is within four points) last season. Walker, who scored a total of 83 points in such situations, shot 44.7 percent from the field and was 39-43 (90.7 percent) from the free-throw line in crunch time. Since entering the NBA in 2011-12, he ranks sixth in late and close points with 236, trailing only Kevin Durant (309), LeBron James (296), Monta Ellis (286), Chris Paul (277) and James Harden (248).
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