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).
NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers
The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.
The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.
The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.
“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.
General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.
“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”
Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.
“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.
When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.
“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”
Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.
“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.
Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.
“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”
Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.
“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”
Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.
“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”
Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting
Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.
“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”
With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.
“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.
Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.
“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.
For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.
“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”
Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.
“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.
Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.
“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.
Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.
“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.
When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.
“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.
“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”
The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’
Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?
In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.
While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.
The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.
After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.
The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.
And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.
But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.
This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.
Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.
However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.
Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?
Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.
There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.
It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.
And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.
Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.
NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?
Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?
The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.
In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.
Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.
He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.
In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.
That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?
Here are three possibilities:
Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.
Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.
He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.
Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.
Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.
He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.
This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.
He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.
In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.
With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.
In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.