Point guards in the NBA are essentially the quarterbacks of their respective team. Not many teams in recent history have been able to succeed without a marquis ball handler leading the team. Thus, as the league continues emphasize three-point shooting and ball movement, securing a talented point guard to lead the team down the stretch of the NBA season has never been more important.
Here are my rankings on the top 20 point guards in the NBA today. Let the record show that I am excluding combo guards such as James Harden, Jamal Murray and Jordan Clarkson, as it is too difficult to pinpoint their natural position. Additionally, my rankings are based off of current talent, and the players I list may very well be better (or worse) than their ranking come next year. Here goes!
Reggie Jackson: Jackson desperately wanted a change of scenery three seasons ago when he became unhappy sitting the bench behind Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, his numbers have been trending towards a slow decline after a good start in Detroit. He’s the type of player to be good enough to earn a starting role on a team but to not be good enough to be able to be the point guard of a playoff contender.
Malcolm Brogdon: The Bucks went out and got Eric Bledsoe, moving Brogdon to the bench. The all-around reliable reigning rookie of the year will have to wait until he’s dealt to a new team before he can show his true pedigree. High floor, low ceiling.
Kris Dunn: This speedy ball handler out of Providence College was quickly touted as a bust after not panning out in Minnesota. However, a new change of scenery certainly took Dunn’s career off of the backburner, and he’s thriving under a rebuilding team in the Bulls. Dunn must hope to stay healthy and continue developing if he wishes to continue his career turnaround.
Lonzo Ball: Lonzo definitely has game, but the man certainly needs a few years to develop. Ball is a triple double threat on any given night and a top five passer in the league, but the rest of his game needs too much work for him to make the list. His shooting percentage, free throw percentage, three point percentage and defense all need a tremendous improvement if he hopes to fulfill all of the promises that his father has made.
De’Aaron Fox: One of my favorite players coming up in the game, it would take an idiot not to see the raw talent that Fox possesses. Fox’s rookie year boasts relatively pedestrian numbers, but with the exit of George Hill and with the Kings out of playoff contention, he should see quite a bit of usage in the second half of the season. Fox is having that classic rookie season in which everyone can tell that his mistakes can be attributed to his lack of experience in the league, and these mistakes will surely lessen has his career continues.
Tier 5: Playoff Caliber Point Guards
20. D’Angelo Russell: Russell barely managed to make this list simply because of the lack of body of work that we have seen from him thus far into his career. He definitely experienced some growing pains in his first two years in the league with the Lakers, but got to start fresh with the Brooklyn Nets following a trade. He jumped to a start that would have put him higher on this list, but unfortunately went down due to injury for a large part of the first half of the year. Russell is still working his way back to the same minutes that he had during his surge, but we must see how he comes back. His defensive game could use work, along with his free throw shooting, and his maturity level from a leadership standpoint must improve if he hopes to lead the rebuilding Nets in the future.
19. Elfrid Payton: Payton has been stuck on a stagnant sub-par Magic team for his entire career, so it’s nice to see him find a new home in Phoenix. Known by most for his hair and unorthodox play style to match, Payton has been absolutely killing it in his first few games with Phoenix. An underrated defender and passer, he needs to become more of a scoring threat if he hopes to take his game to the next level. In his short time in Phoenix, he has shown an ability to take on more of a scoring workload, but we will have to see if this trend continues.
18: Ricky Rubio: Rubio is the perfect floor general for a team with plenty of scoring options. Unfortunately, he is on the Utah Jazz. Regardless, Rubio has consistently been an incredibly reliable defender and playmaker for both the Jazz and his former Timberwolves team, but needs considerable improvement on the offensive side of the ball. His percentages have slowly been trending upwards as he continues to develop his shot, and as he approaches his late 20s, he still has a few years to make it better.
17: Dennis Smith Jr.: This man is an athletic freak of nature. In just his first year, Smith has become a regular when it comes to churning out highlight reel dunks. As his career wears on, the Russell Westbrook reincarnation must make sure to take care of his body, as his talent is hinged on his athleticism. Smith plays solid defense and all around basketball, but his sub-par shooting percentages have floated under the radar. This will surely improve as early as next season, but for now, Smith is stuck at number 17.
Tier 4: All-Star Caliber Point Guards
16. Dennis Schröder: Schröder can just smell his first all-star appearance. The German point guard is often overlooked because of the team he plays on, but he can match up against any guard in the league. Schröder is physically gifted, with a wingspan that turns his 6’1” stature into an afterthought and large hands that drew comparisons to Rajon Rondo coming into the league. Despite his raw talent and improving numbers as his usage rate increases, Schröder has been abysmal from three-point range this season, averaging .287 from beyond the arc. Granted, given the lack of talent on his team, he has likely seen far less open looks this season, and his previous good three point shooting seasons allow me to give him the benefit of the doubt. If these struggles continue, he may wind up losing his spot on this list.
15. Jrue Holiday: New Orleans was one of the first teams in the NBA to adopt the “positionless basketball” mantra that is expanding in popularity. However, their roster personnel is the main motivator behind their affinity to this play style. Not only do they have two big men in Boogie and AD, but they also have two floor generals in Rondo and Holiday. The former all-star has shown his multifaceted skillset by seamlessly fitting into the shooting guard slot, but that hasn’t stopped Holiday from taking on the point guard role when Rondo misses games or sits out. The former all-star is helping keep the Pelicans afloat amid tragic injury to a certain Demarcus Cousins, and he is doing so with career highs in field goal shooting and points per game. His assists have taken a slight hit from sharing the point guard role, but his 5.6 assist per game average is more than enough to categorize him into the point guard position.
14. Jeff Teague: Teague has taken plenty of different roles in his time in the NBA, and his newest role features him on the Minnesota Timberwolves as its unsung hero. Prior to Jimmy Butler’s injury, the Wolves had plenty of scoring coming from all over the court, with three All-Star caliber players sharing a spot in the starting five. Teague, a former All-Star, is the fourth option on this team, but that is just fine. His shooting numbers have improved from last year, and he still ranks top five amongst point guards in assists per game. Teague, who once led an Atlanta Hawks team to 60 wins in subtle fashion, has never gotten the credit that he deserves. Point guards often produce the flashiest numbers among players on the floor, but Teague relishes in his opportunities to make the team better in any way that he can. Just because his role is smaller than some of the people above him on this list does not mean that he is a less effective player
13. Goran Dragic: Dragic was selected to his first All-Star team this year as a replacement, despite a dip in his numbers. This can probably be attributed to commissioner Adam Silver’s desire to reward Dragic for so many good seasons in the NBA without recognition. The Slovenian international is a shooting threat from all over the floor, and he can easily create for his teammates at any time. Dragic currently has a trash Heat team in playoff contention, and they can continue to look forward with such a reliable player to handle the ball.
Tier 3: Special Players
12. Eric Bledsoe: This man just wants to play basketball. From acting as Chris Paul’s backup in his first few years in the NBA to being stuck in a three-man logjam in Phoenix with the two guards sandwiched between him on this list, Bledsoe has constantly been in bad situations. This season, he finally finds himself on a contending team with other pieces, and despite the Bucks’ early struggles to gel together, Bledsoe has shown his natural ability. At just 6’1”, the man is a freak athlete, hard worker, and also extremely strong with the basketball. His work on the defensive end especially has improved as of late, and look for his offensive numbers to follow as he gets more acclimated with the young Milwaukee Bucks roster. It’s exciting to see what Bledsoe does with his first opportunity to shine.
11. Isaiah Thomas: Everyone knows what Isaiah can do on the offensive side of the ball. However, last year’s MVP candidate finds himself so low on this list because he is quite literally useless on defense. Even if Isaiah wanted to play defense, he is matching up against guys who are simply too big for him to guard. If a 6’0” point guard is considered undersized, then what is Isaiah Thomas? Regardless, his ability on the offensive side of the ball alone is enough to put him in the thick of things on this list. Thomas has been fighting a hip injury for the past year and is still looking to get back into form with his new Lakers team, but once the tiny titan actually gets his powers back, everyone will be reminded of just how good IT can be. Let’s not forget that the man averaged 29 and 6 on stellar shooting last year for the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
10. Ben Simmons: Along with Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons currently leads the ROTY race due to his unselfish play, unparalleled build for a point guard, and his basketball fundamentals. Simmons could be categorized as any position from 1-4, but as long as Markelle Fultz looks like a bust, Simmons is considered a point guard. Listed on ESPN at 6’10”, the 2016 first overall pick is a mismatch problem for any position on the floor, especially the point guard position. He averages incredible numbers all around as a triple double threat on a nightly basis. If he could expand his game beyond the three-point line and improve his free throw shooting, Ben Simmons could find himself among the NBA’s elite much sooner than even he himself had expected.
9. Kemba Walker: Cardiac Kemba sits just one spot out of the second tier, and that may be just because of the market that he plays in. On a team where the second offensive option is Dwight Howard, Kemba is averaging 23 and 6, steadily keeping up with his production from last year. The John Wall lookalike continues to improve his shooting as he adjusts to today’s NBA, and has rightfully received two consecutive all-star nods as a result. If he hopes to gain more recognition, Walker must either move to a contending team that receives more attention or help bring the Hornets into the playoff race. He’s stuck with them for the remainder of the season, so we’ll see if he takes this mediocre roster into playoff contention.
Tier 2: All-NBA Players
8. Kyle Lowry: Good NBA players make the most of their prime years and do as much as they can in the time that they are still at the peak of their game. Great NBA players adjust their game past their prime to prolong their greatness. This is exactly what Kyle Lowry has done. There is no question that, at the age of 31, Lowry is on his way out of the top ten point guards in the NBA. He is averaging 6 less points per game this year than his total in 2016/17. However, Lowry is still an All-Star talent, averaging career highs in rebounding, nearing his career high in free throw percentage, and leading his Raptors to the first seed of the Eastern Conference. He has effectively let DeRozan share more of the offensive load and has transitioned into becoming a reliable, experienced veteran point guard who can basically do anything on the floor. As long as Kyle Lowry helps the Raptors continue to contend, he will remain atop this list.
7. Mike Conley Sr.: Mike Conley is no longer overrated. Sure, he still hasn’t made an All-Star team, but that will likely come in the next few years. But the lack of exposure that he gets in a market like Memphis was offset when he was paid a hefty sum to continue being his reliable self. We are currently seeing exactly how much Conley means to Memphis in his time fighting injury. After starting out 5-1 with Conley, the Grizzlies have gone 11-34 since losing him for the season. His unavailability resulted in the controversial firing of head coach David Fizdale, and has also prompted thoughts within the organization of forcing a rebuild and starting over. I love the fact that the man has never received a technical foul, as it shows his character as a basketball player. Conley turns 31 next season, but his skillset is predicated on his basketball IQ rather than his athleticism, so we should see a few more good years from Conley after he gets healed up.
6. Damian Lillard: There may be no player in the NBA with more ice in his veins than Damian Lillard. The man who doubles as a rapper is known for hitting clutch shots when the team needs him most, and has averaged at least 25 points per game in each of his last three seasons. He’s another small market player who misses out on deserved recognition for reasons outside of his control. Lillard has career highs this year in FG%, FT% and BPG, while maintaining all other parts of his game. His team currently sits in 5th place, right in the thick of things in the Western Conference. Some may have Lillard a bit higher on this list, and he very well may be deserving of that. Besides for McCollum and Nurkic, his supporting cast is rather mundane and could use some help to take the next step in his career. He could also improve on the defensive side of the ball, as the people ahead of him on this list are better all-around players.
5. Chris Paul: I honestly believed that this would be the year that Chris Paul’s numbers take a dip. Suffice it to say that I was wrong. CP3 is showing his worth on the Houston Rockets, a team that currently sits atop the Western Conference, even above the Golden State Warriors. With Paul, the team is easily a championship contender. The fact that Paul is able to simply walk into that building and immediately gel with his new teammates speaks to his basketball IQ and his ability as a basketball player, especially after seeing the early struggles of teams like the Thunder. The Rockets have only lost six total games on the season when Chris Paul has played. If that doesn’t do him justice, his career high FT% and continuous production from other parts of his game absolutely should. Paul also does it on the defensive end as he has done for his entire career, which could not be said for many of the players on this list and many of the players in the NBA in general.
Tier 1: Perennial MVP Contenders
4. John Wall: Yes, the Wizards have a better record this season when John Wall is out. Yes, Wall is reeling from a season that had people predicting him as an MVP contender this season. No, he has not lost it. John Wall has the it-factor. Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook have it too. He wants the ball when the clock is expiring and he isn’t afraid of anyone. John Wall may be having an off year, but he was still named to the all-star team and he still does it on both ends of the floor. If these rankings were solely based off of defense, Wall would be in the top two between he and Chris Paul. On the offensive end, he is averaging a career high in the category that he needed to work on the most: three-point shooting. This kind of development makes me optimistic that Wall will come back with a vengeance from his injury. Just last season, the Kentucky product averaged 23 and 11, and we should see similar production later on as the Wizards make their playoff push. Wall should see considerable improvement before the playoffs, as his mentality can be compared to that of LeBron’s, who obviously kicks into a completely different gear once basketball starts becoming more important.
3. Kyrie Irving: I am obsessed with Kyrie Irving. I love the fact that he wanted to do it away from LeBron. It shows me that Kyrie has an alpha mentality and that he wants to be great. He knew what his legacy would have turned into had he spent all of his prime years being the Robin to LeBron’s Batman. Kyrie is considered an MVP candidate this season, as he has led a young, Hayward-less Boston Celtics team to the current most wins in the Eastern Conference. Due to coach Brad Stevens’ tendency to play unselfish, team basketball, Irving’s stats this season do not do him justice. He is the best ball handler and dribbler in the NBA, and is a top-five finisher around the basket. His shooting range extends throughout the floor once he crosses half-court, and his defense has been improving too. He is enjoying a career high FG%, and as long as he stays hungry, he will continue producing highlight reel plays and ridiculous stat lines. Look for him to take it up a notch in the playoffs, as well.
2. Stephen Curry: This man is easily the greatest shooter that the NBA has ever seen. Kevin Durant is the second best player in the NBA and Curry is still averaging more points than him this season. This purely speaks to his shooting prowess and reminds people around the league of why he was our league’s repeat MVP just two seasons ago. Curry’s averages are right on par with where they have always been, and the fact that he still does it on a team with four all-stars is simply ridiculous. Curry will remain a part of the NBA’s elite until he retires.
1. Russell Westbrook: I want to clarify this: I hate Russell Westbrook. He is probably one of my least favorite stars in the NBA. He’s a great person and role model in professional sports, but I just cannot grow to like him as a player. However, that does not stop me from accepting the fact that he is the best point guard in professional basketball. As of right now, he is .5 RPG away from repeating the feat of averaging a triple double for the duration of an entire season. On a team with two other stars who handily score the basketball, Westbrook also leads the team in scoring by a sizable margin of three points per game. The man does it all on the basketball court. He drastically needs to improve his three-point shooting, but you can count on him to hit the three when it’s clutch time. Westbrook was our league’s MVP last season, and if the Thunder make a late playoff push that sees them capitalizing on their potential, Westbrook can probably emerge as a surprise candidate. Even though they went down in five games last season, I’m still amazed at the fact that he averaged 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in that short-lived series. The only other player that I can think of who can shoulder a team as much as Westbrook can just happens to be the greatest player in the world.