The point guard position is the most important position in the NBA today. The reason being is that the point guard has the ball in his hands, by far and away, the most of any player. So their abilities — moreover their decision-making abilities — directly correlates on how their team performs.
Today’s top-NBA point guards are no longer just ball-handlers who are looked to get the team into their offense. The top-point guards now look to create for themselves as well as others. The top-point guards still possess excellent handles and are skilled passers but they also can make defenses pay for leaving them open. In addition, they are good on-ball defenders.
Since point guard is such an important position and there are several top-notch lead guards in the league, I have added a couple of tiers to my top-10 list. I also included the top-rookie point guards in 2017-18 and a few players that just missed the cut.
Seven of the point guards listed are in my list of top-20 players in the league for 2017-18.
Top Rookie Point Guards
4. Markelle Fultz, 76ers
The No. 1 overall pick sprained ankle during a Summer League game in Las Vegas and did not return. He is a well-rounded, athletic score first point guard. He will likely start right away for the 76ers. The big question being can he stay healthy?
3. De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Fox was the fastest player in the 2017 draft. He will likely start the season backing up veteran George Hill at point. He can get to the hoop at will and should be able to cause havoc on the defensive end. Perimeter shooting is a concern as is turnovers.
2. Dennis Smith, Mavs
The Mavs are in a rebuilding process which means that they will likely give Smith a chance to learn on the job. Smith is an explosive athlete who will get after it on the defensive end. He is a score first point guard who can also facilitate an offense.
1. Lonzo Ball, Lakers
Ball is going to start for the Lakers from Day 1. He had a phenomenal Summer League, demonstrating his exceptional handles and superb vision as well as extraordinary passing skills. He will likely struggle with his shooting but should get several baskets in transition as well as on drives. Defense as for all rookies is an area of concern.
Jeff Teague, Timberwolves
The 2015 NBA All-Star selection has finished in the top-half of the league (among guards) in assist/turnover ratio the last five years. He had his best season overall in 2016-17, averaging 15.3 points, 7.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game. Teague could have a huge season as he will be surrounded by the most talented teammates that he has ever been around — Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford.
Kemba Walker, Hornets
The 26-year-old is just entering his prime and is coming off his best season of his career. The 2017 NBA All-Star looks to score first but does an excellent job taking care of the ball. Walker ranked first in the league in turnover percentage (7.6) and ranks 72nd all-time in turnover percentage (10.6).
Top 10 Point Guards
10. Mike Conley, Grizzlies
Conley is a steady point guard who is a capable scorer and distributor. The 29-year-old is not flashy, but he makes good decisions with the basketball and has tight handles. Conley has suffered two major injuries the last two years — he tore his Achilles Tendon in 2015-16 and then fractured vertebrae in his back last season. He has missed 39 games, plus the playoffs in 2015-16, during this two-year span and has not played 80 games since 2012-13.
Conley is a good defender, earning a place on the All-Defensive Team in 2012-13. He has finished in the top-10 in steals three times and steals per game three times in his career. He ranks 80th all-time in the NBA steals list with 1.5 a game.
Conley had his best season of his career last year, tallying a career-high 20.5 points to go along with 6.3 assists and a personal-best 3.5 rebounds a game while shooting 45.9% from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc. His true shooting percentage of 60.4% was also his highest of his career. He tied a season-high with eight double-doubles and had a 2.78 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2016-17. For his career, Conley has a 2.78 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Conley stepped up his production during the 2016-17 playoffs in a huge way. He produced 24.7 points, 7.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds while turning the ball over 2.0 times a game in six games. He also shot 48.5% from the field and 44.7% from beyond the arc for a 56.8 effective field goal percentage.
Conley ranked eighth in the NBA in offensive plus/minus last season (6.5), which was sixth best among point guards. Conley also finished fifth in true shooting percentage, 12th in turnover percentage, seventh in PER and fifth in real plus-minus among point guards. Overall, he ranks 72nd in NBA history with 5.7 assists per game and 68th in assist percentage (28.6%).
9. Ricky Rubio, Jazz
Rubio is an elite playmaker who is a sensational passer and possesses slick handles. The 26-year-old is a strong individual defender with exceptional hands. However, he is a poor shooter who doesn’t finish well at the rim. Also, he sometimes tries to be too cute with his passes, resulting in unnecessary turnovers.
Rubio is coming off his best season in 2016-17, averaging career-highs with 11.3 points and 9.1 assists a game. He also set personal-bests with 25 double-doubles, 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, and a 40.2 shooting percentage. He finished in the top-10 in league last year in assist-to-turnover ratio (3rd), assists (4th), assists per game (5th), assists percentage (6th), steals (10th), steals per game (9th) and steals percentage (9th).
Among point guards, Rubio ranked second in assist ratio (41.3), ninth in real plus-minus though just 20th in PER.
Rubio has ranked in the top-10 in the NBA in assists per game and assist percentage five times overall. He has also finished in the top-10 in steals percentage five times, including first three times.
8. Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Lowry is an elite two-way point guard who is a tough defender. He is a prolific outside shooter who creates out of the pick-n-roll by getting to the hoop and shooting off the dribble. The 31-year-old is a good passer with wonderful handles.
Lowry is coming of his best season of his career in 2016-17. The 31-year-old, who collected 11 double-doubles, averaged a career-best 22.4 points to go along with 7.0 assists and a career-high 4.8 rebounds a game. His seven assists produced 16.7 points, which was the 10th most. He also shot a 46.4% from the field and 41.2% from beyond the arc as he made 3.2 triples a game — all personal bests. The three-time all-star ranked 10th in both assists per game and offensive rating last season.
Lowry ranked 10th in PER and ninth in value added to his team last season among point guards as his true shooting percentage of 62.3% was third best — just a tick behind Thomas and Curry. He also finished fourth in real-plus minus.
7. Damian Lillard, Blazers
Lillard has improved in each of his first five years in the league and is ranked 18th in my 2017-18 top-20 players list. The two time All-NBA guard is a ball-dominant point man who looks to score first.
Lillard is very good at getting to the basket and has a nice mid-range game. He scored 23.2 of his 27.0 (85.9%) points last year on drives, off a pull-up jumper and at the free throw line. The 27-year-old is also a reliable three-point shooter, ranking in the top-10 of the league in each of his first five seasons in treys made. However, he has had problems with turnovers though he recorded a 2.23 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2016-17. He also recorded just an 8.3 turnover ratio which was tied for third best in the league.
Lillard set career-highs in points and rebounds (4.9) last year. He also set personal bests in shooting percentage (44.4%), free throws made (6.5) made and free throws attempted (7.2).
Lillard is not a great defender. While he set a career-high with a 24.15 PER (16th), he finished 28th in real plus-minus among all NBA players.
6. Isaiah Thomas, Cavs
Thomas, 16th in my list of top-20 players in 2017-18, is great in the open court and awesome in pick-n-roll situations as well as finishing at the basket where he can finish with either hand. The 5-6 score first point guard needs to be more of a distributor and have more of presence on the defensive end. He is also is shaky ball-handler and passer.
Thomas tallied a career-high 28.6 points a game last year as he was held to single digits only once — and that was in the playoffs — and topped the 40 point mark six times. He poured in 53 points, the second highest point total in the Celtics playoff history, in an Eastern Conference semifinal game against the Wizards.
Thomas also shot a career-best 46.3% from the floor and made a career-high 3.2 three-pointers while shooting 37.9% from beyond the arc. Thomas, who scored the third most points in the league, compiled five double-doubles and had a 2.13 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also gets to line a ton, which helps his efficiency as he made 590 free throws (third most). Thomas led the league in points off a drive at 9.3 points a game.
The two-time all-star is tied for ninth in the league in turnover percentage (8.9). He finished in the top-10 of the league in PER, value added and estimated wins added. But he was just 59th in ESPN’s real plus-minus rating due to a poor defensive score.
5. John Wall, Wizards
Wall, 12th on my list of 2017-18 top-20 players, possesses elite athleticism and is an outstanding point guard. He is amazing in the open floor as he has terrific court vision and is an exquisite passer. His biggest weaknesses are shooting and turnovers.
Wall is one of the best in the league at getting to hoop where he is an excellent finisher though he also looks to create for others on drives. He was second in the league at generating points off his assists (25.3 ppg) a game last year.
Wall had his best season in 2016-17, compiling a career-best 50 double-doubles while also recording his best scoring efficiency and shooting efficiency numbers of his career. The 26-year-old produced 23.1 points and 10.7 assists while shooting a personal best 45.1% from the field last year, marking the third straight year that he has averaged a double-double for the season. The four-time all-star turned the ball over 4.1 times a game, which tied for third most in the league, though he did post a 2.58 assist-to-turnover ratio — the second best of his career.
Wall, the best shot-blocking point guard in NBA history, has regressed to one of the worst defensive point guards in the league according to real plus minus. However, his 23.38 PER last year was a personal best. He came up with two steals a game as well as lowered his personal fouls to an average of 1.9 a game. In addition, Wall ranked third deflections a game (3.9) and second in loose ball recoveries (1.6).
4. Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Irving ranks ninth in my top-20 players and is also No. 1 on my top-10 isolation players in the league. Irving is a top notch playmaker who is a wizard with the ball in his hands as he possesses some of the best handles in the league. Not only is he one of the best-shot-makers in the league, he finishes at the rim well and reigns down jumpers off the dribble. He also is a very good three-point shooter.
Statistically, Irving had his best season of his young career in 2016-17, totaling eight double-doubles and averaging a career-best 25.2 points a night. The 25-year-old shot a personal best 47.3% from the field and sanked 2.5 three-pointers — setting a career-high — at a 40.1% clip. He only looks to set teammates up after he makes a first move, which is why is only averaged 5.8 dimes (21st most among point guards) — his 19.3 assist ratio ranked 60th among point guards. Irving also set career-highs in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.32), and shooting efficiency (53.5).
Last year, Irving ranked 12th in real plus-minus thanks to a fifth best offensive plus-minus rating. He also ranked eighth in PER and sixth in value added.
3. Chris Paul, Rockets
Chris Paul is perhaps the best all-around point guard in the league. Paul is as gifted at setting his teammates up as he creating a shot for himself. The 32-year-old is one of the league’s three most gifted ball-handlers who is less explosive than he was a few years ago.
Rather than live in the open court, like previously, he settles for setting up teammates and taking mid-range jumpers though he will still push the pace when he has the opportunity. Paul, who racked up 10.3 points a game off of his pull-up jumper, has developed into a consistent three-point shooter — making 2.0 triples a game at a 41.1% clip.
Paul posted 24 double-doubles and one triple-double in 61 games last season. He averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds — marking the fourth straight year he has compiled 18 points, 9.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds. He also posted a 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2016-17. The top-active assist man finished fourth in assist, fifth in points from assists (16.5), seventh in assist ratio and 14th in turnover ratio among point guards last year.
Paul is an elite defender. He has been named to the NBA All-Defensive first team seven times, including last season where he registered the 22nd best defensive real plus-minus rating. Overall, he was ninth in PER and ninth in real plus-minus wins.
Paul could set assist records this year in Mike D’Antoni’s open offensive system. He will have one of the best scorers on one wing in James Harden and will have a plethora of other shooters as options — Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and P.J. Tucker. If Carmelo Anthony ultimately ends up in H-town, things could really blow-up in a good way.
2. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
The reigning NBA MVP is a fabulous playmaker as he is impossible to contain off the dribble or in transition. Westbrook has become a reliable distributor though he turns the ball over a ton. He also struggles with shot selection which causes his shooting percentage to plummet.
Westbrook has an explosive first-step to get by any defender and into the lane where he finishes well at the rim, a lot of times through contact. Additionally, he has good mid-range game which allowed him to tally a league-leading 10.3 points a game off of pull-ups.
Westbrook was the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for a season. The seven-time all-star collected a NBA-record 42 triple-doubles and the second most double-doubles (62) in the league last year. He led the league in several categories including scoring (31.1), field goal made (824), Player Impact Estimate (PIE), assist percentage, PER and turnovers. Westbrook also was third in assists and third in points from his assists (23.9).
However, his 1.92 assist-to-turnover marked the fifth time in his nine seasons that he posted under 2.0 assists per turnover.
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry is not a conventional NBA 1 but does possess the unbelievable handles and the passing ability to be number 1 on this list, not to mention a deadly shooting eye. The No. 4 player on my top-20 player list is the best shooter in the game today and one of the best of all-time. He is dangerous of the bounce as he is in catch-and-shoot situations. However, Curry is way more than just a shooter. He can score from anywhere on the court, is outstanding in transition, and a superb finisher at the rack.
The two-time NBA MVP and the only unanimous MVP in league history didn’t have a great season statistically last year but that shouldn’t overshadow his greatness. He led the league in offensive real plus/minus (7.27), three-pointers made (4.1) and on/off court plus/minus (+12.8). He also finished 15th in PER, 10th in value added and 10th in estimated wins added.
Being careless with the ball and defense are where Curry gets dinged the most. The truth is Curry does commit bad turnovers but he cut down his turnovers in 2016-17. The 29-year-old dished out 6.6 assists a game last season, marking the fifth straight season that he has accumulated at least 6.0 dimes a game, and he lowered his turnovers to 3.0 a game — a career-low. The two-time NBA MVP compiled nine double-doubles and registered a 2.20 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Curry is very much underrated defensively. Granted, he is not a great individual defender. However, in reality, he is an above average defender (+0.14 DPM). Overall, opponents shoot 44.3% from the field against Curry — which is the league average –. But his 35.8% three-point percentage against is better than the league average (38.2%) and he averages nearly two steals a game.