Who are the top-10 NBA point guards in 2016? In a point guard-driven league, this question actually holds importance. Having an elite quarterback makes a team better, and having the best point guard makes a team elite. So, without further ado, here is my list:
The Elite Superstars:
1: Russell Westbrook: Considering yesterday’s post was entirely about Russ, I won’t go into too much detail. If you want to see the post, I have linked to it here. It is worth mentioning that Westbrook is responsible for more points per game than any other player in the NBA this season. Combine that with him being responsible for nearly 45% of the Thunder’s assists, it is this author’s opinion that Westbrook is clearly the best point guard in the NBA. He mixes the ball distribution skills of Chris Paul, with scoring burst not seen since Allen Iverson, and the will to tire out opponents like Kobe.
2: Stephen Curry: The #1 and #2 rating really could flip weekly. ESPN recently ranked the top-10 point guards of all time, and Steph made the list. And while I disagree with this ranking, it is hard to argue against it. Curry is on pace for the highest Offensive Box Plus-Minus in NBA history, he’s on pace to break his own three-point scoring record, and he is the leader of the current best team in the NBA. Where this author views Westbrook as superior to Curry is the former’s passing ability; but nevertheless, deciding between these two is more personal preference than actual empirical statistics.
The Elite, Nearly-Superstars:
3: Chris Paul: This choice will be unpopular for a variety of reasons. Many Paul supporters will ask why I don’t have him in the top-tier. Others will say I’ve ranked Chris way too high and am just historically biased. Nonetheless, looking at statistics, Paul is still special. He is the only NBA player with below a 30% usage percentage to have an assist/turnover ratio above 3.00 who also scores at least 16 points per game. On top of that, he is a defensive force, averaging nearly 40% of his team’s steals and he has forced opponents to shoot worse against him over his entire career (sans this year, where without Matt Barnes, the Clippers area struggling immensely at defending the pick-and-roll). He is nowhere near the level he played at in 2012-13; but nonetheless, Paul is still one of the best point guards in the association.
4: Kyrie Irving: If I thought Chris Paul’s ranking would upset people, well, I can’t imagine what putting Kyrie here does. Last season, Kyrie Irving led all guards in points scored off drives, was fifth amongst guards in eFG% on pull-up shots, and was the Cavs go to scorer against many opponents. This season, against Phoenix and Dallas, Kyrie has hit game winning shots. That is impressive because he has only played ten games this season. On that note, amongst guards that have played significant clutch minutes, Kyrie Irving has the highest True Shooting Percentage at 90.2%. Overall, Kyrie’s scoring ability and dribble-drive dominance makes him a special player in the modern NBA, and he has the potential to become the best scorer in the league.
Figure 1 Stats via NBA.com’s Stats Page
5: John Wall: John Wall is an athletically gifted, pass-first point guard that continuously takes his team to the playoffs. For a point guard with little interior defensive aid, Wall’s opponents shoot 1.4% worse against him than they do normally, which is incredibly impressive. Moreover, he is responsible for 44.3% of his team’s assists while on the court. This is evidence of him being a true point guard with athleticism to boot.
6: Damian Lillard: Lillard takes the second most three point attempts on pull-up jumpers in the NBA, only behind Steph Curry. With those attempts, he also has the third highest eFG% on those shots. This is evidence of his advanced shooting game, which trails behind Curry, but only minimally. Lillard needs to develop a stronger passing game, however, if he hopes to crack the top-5 on this list.
The Next Best:
7: Kyle Lowry: Lowry is an excellent perimeter defender. When he is defending, opponents shoot 5.7% worse fifteen feet or more outside of the basket than they do normally.When he is guarding, opponents shoot 5.7% worse fifteen feet or more outside of the basket than they do normally. Additionally, Lowry is the primary scoring option on the Raptors, who have the second best record in the East, and it is clear Lowry is a great all-around point guard. Unfortunately, his passing game is not as strong as many point guards, as he ranks 21st in the league amongst those at his position in assist percentage. This negatively effects him in the rankings. Combined with his limited potential compared to others like Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, and John Wall, it is difficult to rank Lowry as elite; however, he absolutely is a top-10 point guard in today’s game.
8: Jeff Teague: Teague leads a resurgent Atlanta offense that is the second best motion offense in the association. Surprisingly then, Teague ranks 27th amongst point guards in passes made this season. Nonetheless, he ranks 7th in catch-and-shoot percentage amongst point guards, and overall is a perfect fit for the Hawks.
9: Rajon Rondo: Rondo is singlehandedly transforming the Kings from a mediocre team to a potential playoff team… Okay, maybe not singlehandedly. Having the best center in the NBA, a bevy of three point shooters, and an all-time winning coach certainly help. Nevertheless, Rondo has resurged his career in Sacramento. Most importantly, he leads the league in assist percentage, and is having a historically great season passing the ball.
Figure 2 Stats via SportVU Player Tracking
10: Isaiah Thomas: Don’t freak out. There are plenty of players who could’ve grabbed this spot. Among them are: Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, Eric Bledsoe, Elfrid Payton, Tony Parker, and Deron Williams. Nonetheless, Isaiah Thomas is averaging 21.4 points per game and a respectable 34.8% assist percentage. He has shown potential to improve over the past few years and is already a fairly effective point guard. Thus, he has earned the tenth spot in our rankings.
Overall, these rankings are subjective with slight amounts of empirical evidence injected in. Nonetheless, these statistics should help paint a picture of what makes a point guard dominant in today’s NBA.