Part of being a hoops head is engaging in viral debates. The genesis dates back to verbal
fisticuffs on talk radio, water coolers, and 24/7 news cycle round-table discussions.
We are initiating a series of articles around the top five players at each position. Even though positional rigidity is becoming archaic, there is still a chat to be had about where players fall within those defined characteristics.
The first in our series is about the top five point guards in the NBA. We will list and rank the five we feel are at the top of the echelon, considering statistics, future projections, career accomplishments, and how they have evolved the game.
With that out of the way, let’s pour some gasoline on the fire.
5. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Let’s momentarily pause on the social media accusations and potential legal ramifications of his
immaturity. In terms of power, Morant is the most explosive, unstoppable downhill force guard there is. His feel for pace and ability to play under control makes him one of the most efficient
points of attack, as he can initiate fast breaks with his lightning-quick first step and tight handle.
The prime Derrick Rose comps are repetitive but so accurate. They share similar builds, frames, and mentalities. Advanced metrics love him, too, as he is at the top of the field in RAPTOR, which which stands for Robust Algorithm (using) Player Tracking (and) On/Off Ratings. Morant is
+4.9 on offense, +0.8 on defense, for a total of +5.7 7. Morant’s offensive savvy has helped his
Grizzlies reach the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference this season.
Morant has developed into an elite pick-and-roll player with big man teammates Steve Adams
and Jaren Jackson Jr. Nearly half of his 28.5 points per game come in P&R, at 12.4. This comes from Morant leading the league in P&R possessions at 13.3 per game, making it a dangerous wrinkle in Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins’ offensive gameplan. And why wouldn’t it be?
Suppose Morant passes to one of his rolling bigs. In that case, you are faced with the massive strength and stride of either Adams or Jackson Jr. If Morant retains possession, opposing defenders have to deal with his athleticism and insane handle while trying to keep him from the basket, where he is second in the NBA at points scored at the rim (14.8). This attack makes up for nearly 70 percent of Morant’s offensive game, making him an unstoppable force heading toward the rim.
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Want to hear something crazy? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is already better than Paul George, who
was included in a package for George from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Oklahoma City
Thunder as the second star next to Kawhi Leonard. At the time, Gilgeous-Alexander was a young player included in the deal, but the immense draft capital was the real centerpiece of the trade for OKC.
But four seasons later, SGA is a legit candidate for both Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player. He made a seven-point statistical jump in points per game, from 24.5 to 31. In addition, he has been unstoppable driving to the basket, leading the NBA in drives at 24.4 per game while hitting 50.7 percent for 17 points a game. SGA’s driving ability is the lynchpin to the Thunder’s offense, accounting for 12.2 percent of the team’s fouls and 69.7 percent of SGA’s points.
Behind SGA’s ascension into superstar status, the Thunder rank third in pace (102.07), 11th in net rating (0.9), 12th in defensive rating (113.1), and third in points (117.8 ppg). While SGA is averaging a career-high in points, his efficiency across the board hasn’t taken massive jumps. That’s because he isn’t necessarily shooting better, just shooting more. His growing confidence has paralleled his approach to becoming a better leader, taking charge of the Thunder’s point-of-attack.
He has gotten even better at using his shifty driving ability to break down opposing defenses to give his teammates open looks from the 3-point line — the Thunder rank 11th in three-point attempts. SGA is proving he can be the first option on this newest version of Thunder U, and his
evolution has accelerated their rebuild while helping his young teammates reach their potential.
3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
To casuals, Damian Lillard’s 71-point onslaught against the Houston Rockets was a reminder of
how great the Portland point guard still is. But those paying attention know the 6-foot-2 scoring
maestro has led the league in scoring since Jan. 1. That’s not to discount the 71 he dropped last month, doing it in 39 minutes while hitting 13 three-pointers on 80.4 percent true shooting. Lillard also ranks third in ppg for the season at 32.3, a career-high. He is one of the league’s best pull-up scorers, drivers, and three-point shooters. He is the best all-around scorer among point guards, even though he has never possessed elite athleticism, size, or strength.
Although he has been criticized for not leaving Portland and joining a real contender, there is
something to be said of Lillard’s loyalty, even if the Trailblazers have yet to build a contender
around him after 11 seasons with the team.
At 32 years old this season, Lillard is also averaging a career-highs in eFG% at .575, two-point field goal percentage at 58.6, and overall field goal percentage at 47.2. He’s done that playing around less spacing, as the Blazers have tried to retool around Lillard by trading long-time backcourt mate CJ McCullom last season and surrounding Lillard with long, athletic wings. Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped the team in the standings, as the Blazers currently sit in 12th place, a slot out of the Play-In Tournament, with a 29-33 record entering the Friday games.
Lillard’s usage rate is at an all-time high at 33.6 while dominating the advanced metrics, hitting highs in TS% at .653, PER at 27.4, and win shares per 48 minutes at .231. It shows his greatness that even with an underperforming team around him, he can still have the best single season of his career. It makes sense for a guy to be known as “Dame Time” to describe his history of clutch play during crunch time, where he has sunk countless game- winners in the regular season and playoffs.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Isn’t it obvious? Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, a four-time NBA champion, a Finals MVP, a two-time regular season MVP, and a nine-time All-Star. Even at 34 years old, Curry is as lethal as ever, averaging 25.5 ppg a year after winning his fourth chip and finally capturing MVP of the Finals. He has partnered with Klay Thompson to form the greatest shooting backcourt ever.
Curry’s game has never been predicated on athleticism, so it has aged like fine wine. It will take some retooling from the Golden State Warriors to take advantage of his continued prime. Over the last decade, Curry has been the undisputed best point guard in the NBA, not just for his elite shooting but his leadership and ability to make the guys around him better. Look at how many journeymen have joined the Warriors over the years. Everyone from Leandro Barbosa to Kevin Durant has paired with Curry in hopes of winning a championship.
Curry has also been one of the greatest examples of loyalty in league history. He was drafted in 2009 out of Davidson College to the Warriors, accelerating the team’s rebuild after the “We Believe” era. After an injury-plagued early career, he has cemented himself as the best player in
Curry is deadly not just in catch-and-shoot scenarios but because of the immense attention you must pay him when he is off-ball. Even at 6’2, he has as powerful of a gravitational pull as LeBron James. This season he has added new wrinkles to his game, averaging a career-high 6.3 rpg and the second-highest field goal percentage (49.5) of his career.
1. Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
The modern erosion of basketball positions affects Dončić more than anyone else on this list. Is
he a point guard? Shooting guard? Small forward?
At 6’7, he’s big and strong enough to be a forward, but his court vision and passing skills peg him best as a lead facilitator. Both BasketballReference.com and ESPN have Dončić listed as a point guard. There is no arguing that he initiates and runs the Dallas Mavericks offense. It’s a testament to his generational talent that he would be at the top of the list for any of the three positions he could qualify for. As a point guard, no one can match his sheer physical dominance and ability to score at will. Only Stephen Curry can match Dončić’s clutch factor.
Donic has been my pick for NBA MVP since the start of the season. He plays with the worst
supporting cast — talentwise — of any of the NBA’s superstar. He does not play with the
championship supporting cast of Curry, and Kyrie Irving is the first bonafide Hall-of-Fame player he has been paired with in his prime.
Dončić is the best scorer and passer of any point guard. He currently leads the league in scoring at 33.2 ppg, is sixth in assists at 8.1 per game, and leads all guards in rebounds at 8.8 rpg. He is the most complete player in the top three statistical metrics. Sure, he could improve his maturity and effort against bad teams, but he has the best odds of winning multiple MVP awards of any player on this list.
Honorable mentions: Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks; Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks.
Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo