Gone are the days of a dominant big man. Today's game is more focused on the small ball, pace-and-space game. As the NBA has just passed the quarter mark of the season, it gives us an opportunity to give a better evaluation of the worst to best point guards in the league.
Now some may break out their analytical logs and box scores and stats and try to tell you differently, but these rankings are done based on a carefully crafted mixture of chemistry, early season success for both team and individual and the good old eye test. Retro NBA fans will argue that a pure point guard is one who gets their teammates involved, orchestrates the offense, is an extension of their coach and contributes to the scoreboard as a second option. Modern NBA fans are used to point guards who are more shoot first and will dominate the ball more than the other four players on the floor.
It's been six years since the NBA crowned a champion that did not have an elite point guard (Miami Heat, Mario Chalmers, 2013). This year, when you look at the early season favorites (Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, Sixers, and Thunder), they all have one major thing in common, and that's an all-world point guard. All the rest are just pretenders.
30 Phoenix Suns - Isaiah Canaan
How would you like to be Canaan, knowing full well that a man was fired because he couldn't find a way to bring in a quality starting point guard and then the team hands you control of the offense? Yikes! There was a lot of action with the Suns roster during the off-season, adding and subtracting players, but at the end of the day failing to bring in a piece to make Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton better. The fact that Phoenix is horrible has very little to do with the 27-year-old point guard and more to do with the lack of management’s ability. At one point there was talk of the team moving Booker over to the point guard spot, and he's pretty much doing that for the meantime, given that the Suns recently cut Canaan after an uninspiring 19-game run with 15 starts.
29 New Orleans Pelicans - Tim Frazier (Elfrid Payton)
When the Pelicans lost Rajon Rondo last summer, they thought that bringing in Payton would fill the void. Unfortunately, the former lottery pick from 2014 has only been in the lineup for the first six games of the season as he has since been sidelined with a fractured digit on his left hand. Would Payton have elevated the play of the Pelicans this season? Considering that he would be playing with the best lineup of teammates he has had on both the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns combined, it would be hard pressed not to be improve one’s stats, especially as a offensive orchestrator. As for Frazier, the journeyman replacement, nobody will confuse him with a full-time starter, but he has done an adequate job doing whatever has been asked from him, regardless of being outplayed and overmatched nearly every night.
28 Orlando Magic - D.J. Augustin
The Magic thought they had their point guard of the future when the drafted Elfrid Payton. That thought lasted only three and a half seasons. At 30-years-old, Augustin isn't exactly a player that you would think of when it comes to starting point guards, with no offense to the 11-year vet. Currently on his eighth team, Augustin spent only one other season as a starter, back in his third year with the Charlotte Hornets.
As Augustin is more suited to being a backup mentor, the Magic have spent more time over the last few years building up their frontcourt than they have to develop any backcourt players. With Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Mo Bamba as pieces that the team can build around, it doesn't do the Magic any good not to have a quality starting point guard to orchestrate the offense.
27 New York Knicks - Emmanuel Mudiay
It's hard to really evaluate Mudiay's true value when his primary focal point, Kristaps Porzingis, has been sidelined with an injury that won't see him return at least until the All-Star break. Between Mudiay, Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina, and Ron Baker, the Knicks have a logjam of players that they can slot into the point guard position. Now in his fourth year, the 22-year-old is having one of his best statistical seasons. Some might look at this as a player posting decent stats on an awful team, which has happened to many players over the course of NBA history, but it seems as though Mudiay may have found a home after a roller-coaster start to his career in Denver. Once considered a project, even though he was a lottery pick, Mudiay has transformed himself into a legitimate NBA rotation player and potential long-term starter for the Knicks.
26 Cleveland Cavaliers - Collin Sexton
Collin Sexton isn't going to make fans forget LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but he has for the most part been given the green light to lead rebuild project that is the Cavaliers. While there are other rookies who are given the task of guiding their team's back to playoff contenders, it feels as though there is more pressure on Sexton, mainly due to the success the team had during the James era. Trading away George Hill, the team's starter for the first 13 games of the season, has given Sexton the ability to succeed and fail without worry of playing time. Sexton wasn't the most pass-friendly point guard in the draft, nor was he a reliable three-point shooter, but for both skills, he has worked hard to improve through the first quarter of the season. Odds are by the end of the season, we will see Sexton's name climb the ladder, even though the Cavs will remain at the bottom of the league.
25 Atlanta Hawks - Trae Young
As one of a handful of rookies on this list, Young has the most to prove, regardless of how bad his team may be. Instead of drafting and keeping Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks decided to swap the Euro star for Young and a protected 2019 draft pick. No matter how well Young plays, fans and media will analyze every mistake he makes and every Hawks loss, meanwhile, the Mavs will most likely have the 2019 Rookie Of The Year and a potential playoff spot on the horizon. After struggles during the Las Vegas Spring League, Young has found a handful of SportsCenter moments during his first season and is walking away as the best ball distributor among the rookie class.
24 Chicago Bulls - Kris Dunn
Drafted with the fifth pick in 2016, Dunn's rookie year performance had him headed toward a bust label. Then he was part of a trade package that allowed for a fresh start in Chicago. Last season Dunn, showed the NBA why the Timberwolves thought so highly of the Providence grad. Unfortunately this season, Dunn has seen limited time on the floor due to an early-season knee injury. In Dunn's place has been the former Villanova Wildcats 2016 National Championship star and NCAA MOP recipient, Ryan Arcidiacono.
Dunn hasn't been the only Bull sidelined with an injury this season, leading to Chicago's poor start. Assuming that they can eventually get their entire starting five of young talent back at some point, the Bulls might be able to dig their way out of the Eastern Conference basement.
23 L.A. Clippers - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Clippers were 5-4 when Coach Doc Rivers inserted the rookie point guard into the lineup as part of the team's starting rotation. At first, Gilgeous-Alexander was playing alongside Patrick Beverley in a two-point guard backcourt. However, six games, later it appears that the Canadian has won the starting role over the seven-year vet. Being that the team selected the Kentucky Wildcat one-and-done with the 11th pick in the 2018 draft and have trusted him with running the offense already, that all speaks volumes about their confidence in the youngster.
Although it is early, many are surprised that the Clippers are contending for a playoff spot in the Western Conference considering that most thought this season would be a rebuilding year for L.A.'s other team. While Gilgeous-Alexander will most likely have typical rookie struggles throughout the season, don't expect him to lose his spot in the starting five.
22 San Antonio Spurs - Bryn Forbes
Technically, Dejounte Murray was slated to be the Spurs starting point guard this year, but an unfortunate ACL injury sidelined the sophomore for the season. Instead of relying on veteran Patty Mills, Coach Pop turned the offense over to Forbes, a third-year guard out of Michigan State. With injuries taking a toll on a number of their players, one of the bright spots for the Spurs has been Forbes.
Nearly doubling his numbers from his second season, Forbes has earned the praise and confidence of Popovich, which as history has shown, is not an easy thing to accomplish. When one takes into account all of the roster changes with trades and injuries, Forbes' start to the season has been impressive and may put the Spurs coaches in a difficult spot when Murray returns to health.
21 Sacramento Kings - De'Aaron Fox
Although he had a few eye-opening games last year, showing the star level that many envision for the Kings' young point guard, he also had his share of struggles that plague most rookie point guards. This year, Fox and the Kings are surprising the NBA. With speed, athleticism, and an improving outside jumper, to go along with nearly doubling his assist numbers from last year, Fox is making a case for being one of the best players in Sacramento. Last season the Kings were awful, finishing 27-55. When you look at the improved play of Fox's teammates, considering that they are more than halfway to their win total of a year ago, it is easy to see how the point guard's ranking has climbed up the ladder this season.
20 Detroit Pistons - Reggie Jackson
Blake Griffin has been a monster for Detroit this year if you were to focus on everything but his turnovers. However, the team will only go as far as their point guard can take them. Unfortunately f0r the Pistons, Jackson has to find a way to remain healthy in order for them to take the next step. After playing a backup role in OKC, Jackson has started all but two games he has played with the Pistons since 2015. Whether it has been his health issues or his desire to control the ball more than he should or his less than stellar assist/turnover ratio, Jackson struggled to maintain the flow of the Detroit offense. Throw in a shooting percentage that is less than admirable, whether it be from midrange or long distance, and a win/share that has never advanced past two in the last couple of seasons, that leaves a lot of room for improvement for the 28-year-old point guard.
19 Indiana Pacers - Darren Collison
Currently posting some of the lowest numbers of his ten-year career, Indiana's starting point guard, who is in his second tour with the Pacers is often overlooked when it comes to floor generals. One reason is that Collison has never played a full slate of games, only twice playing over 80. Currently the Pacers fourth option on the floor behind Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis, Collison has shown consistency throughout his career, regardless of the jersey he put on. Hovering around the 12-14 points, five assists, and three rebounds mark, Collison, who just turned 31 this summer, continues to be a valuable piece on both ends of the court for a Pacers team that many believe can compete for an Eastern Conference title.
18 Dallas Mavericks - Dennis Smith Jr.
The Mavs are one of the early season surprises of the 2018-19 season, and while a lot of their spotlight is directed toward their star rookie, Luka Doncic, last year's draft pick is holding his own as a leader of Dallas' next generation. Those that think that Smith has regressed a bit in his second year when they look at his stats are focused mainly on his numbers, not his percentages. Yes, his overall numbers may take a hit as Doncic takes control of the ball, but you'll have to look further and notice the increase in his efficiency. A proficient and explosive scorer, Smith is still equally as important to the Mavs future as he was during his rookie season.
17 Brooklyn Nets - D'Angelo Russell
The Nets are just as bad as their crosstown rivals (though not really a rivalry), but their point guard is significantly better. After coming over to the Nets in a trade last season for Brook Lopez, Russell finally started to put together a consistent string of games that made people see exactly why he was drafted with the second overall pick by the LA Lakers. Currently in the midst of his best statistical season, Russell is doing his best to prove that the Nets are the best team in New York.
After sitting out nearly half of last season, Russell's improved play puts the Nets in a tough situation. A free agent at the end of the season, Russell will most likely command a big contract, but the team just shelled out three years/$34 million to Spencer Dinwiddie, a player similar to Russell and more than likely much cheaper.
16 L.A. Lakers - Lonzo Ball
Last year, Ball's shooting form and percentages brought doubt and negative reviews of his rookie year. However, that didn't stop the Lakers rookie from averaging around ten points during his first season. This year his percentages have improved, but his overall average numbers have taken a hit, and that is because a certain King has joined the purple and gold roster, one who dominates the ballhandling duties.
Many think that the Lakers would be better if James would allow Ball to handle the rock more, allowing the five-time champ to conserve more energy. His shooting may still be suspect, but with his ability to push the tempo, find teammates in transition, defensive skills, and the absence of father Lavar's off-court distractions, he has improved overall. Ball may be on the outside of the top ten this season but could sneak in next year.
15 Milwaukee Bucks - Eric Bledsoe
Mini-LeBron may have seen his personal stats drop slightly, but the trade for team success and positioning to be a competitor for the Eastern Conference title may well be worth the individual sacrifice. With a body and athleticism to be one of the elite two-way point guards in the league, Bledsoe has realized that playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo is similar to playing with James, as the Greek Freak controls the ball so much. Bledsoe is one of those players who is good enough at everything but not great at any one thing, a trait that keeps him from joining the elite point guards in the league. Some feel that the Bucks would be better with the offense in Malcolm Brogdon's hands while allowing Bledsoe to play off the ball.
14 Minnesota Timberwolves - Jeff Teague
When Teague signed with the T-Wolves last season, they thought was he would be an improvement over Ricky Rubio. While he is offensively a better addition, defensively, the team dropped a level in their backcourt. Currently being outplayed by Derrick Rose, his replacement off the bench, Teague still offers Minnesota a steady, yet unspectacular hand as their starting point guard. With higher-profile teammates like Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the dramatic enigma that was Jimmy Butler, Teague has had his hands full this season as the team tries to find their identity. The ten-year vet is one of those players that isn't really going to hurt you, but he isn't necessarily going to help you much either.
13 Miami Heat - Goran Dragic
He was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career last season, but fans, coaches and peers have known for a long time how good of a player Dragic is. One of the main problems for the Heat's starting point guard is his lack of a strong supporting cast. When you look at many of the other names on this list, most have one thing in common, and that is a superstar teammate (unless you are the Knicks, Hawks or Clippers). Yes, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, and Justise Winslow are having good starts to their year, but nobody would mistake them for star players. It doesn't seem that Pat Riley is interested in a rebuild and they don't really have the pieces to surround Dragic with players that will help him climb any higher on this list than the middle of the pack.
12 Denver Nuggets - Jamal Murray
It's interesting to see Murray's name on some of the trade rumor lists at this point in the season and of his young career. However, the keyword to that sentence is "rumor." Over the past few seasons, the Nuggets have quietly built one of the best young teams in the Western Conference, aided by the drafting of the Canadian point guard. Although he has never led his team in assists, Murray has improved his distribution numbers in each of the two-plus seasons he has been in the league along with his point production. Part of the new generation of score-first point guards, maybe we should have placed teammate Nikola Jokic in this spot instead, considering he has more than doubled Murray's assists over the course of their first three years.
11 Utah Jazz - Ricky Rubio
Winning, as we all know, changes how athletes are viewed. During the six years that Rubio was in Minnesota, he was viewed as a bust because he couldn't shoot, barely scored in double figures, and was unable to lead his team to a playoff berth. Since moving to Utah, opinions of the Spanish point guard have changed, but his production was relatively that same. Yes, he improved his shooting percentage, points and rebounds, but his assists and steals dropped. Again, this is a reflection of the players he is teamed up with and the role that he is asked to play. One of the more underrated defenders in the league, Rubio has benefitted from being backed up by the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, on the defensive end, while offensively, he has more weapons at his disposal with Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles.
10 Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley Jr.
Most likely the best point guard in the league to have never made the All-Star game, the Grizzlies go as Conley Jr. goes. Last year when the 12-year vet played in only a dozen games, Memphis had its worst season since 2007-08, when Conley was a rookie. While one of the knocks against the Grizz point guard is the high rate of pay for return (five years/$153 million), especially when it comes to his health, Conley has proven to be one of the best all-around point guards in the league. As Memphis has never been a run-and-gun offensive juggernaut, relying more on their "Grit N Grind" style, Conley's numbers won't be found among the league leaders, but that doesn't mean that he can't shoot, pass, or defend with the best of them whenever the need is called upon.
9 Washington Wizards - John Wall
He's a five-time All-Star and only 28-years-old, but for some reason, it feels like Wall is on the decline of his career rather than his prime. Maybe because the Wizards have been so dysfunctional to start the 2018-19 season to the point in which all of their big-name players, including Wall, have been talked about on the trading block. Last year, Wall missed half of the season and many felt the team played better without him. The fact is, when Wall is healthy and on his game, he has proven to be one of the best point guards in the league statistically, with career averages of around 20 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds. However, analytics and numbers only go so far when the chemistry doesn't work.
8 Charlotte Hornets - Kemba Walker
He's recorded more points, more assists, more rebounds and played in more games than the first overall pick from the 2011 draft. Their averages other than the three points per game difference are basically the same. The one glaring void that Walker has had in his career has been a lineup of helpful teammates. Having never played alongside an All-Star, Walker's best running mate was Al Jefferson back in 2013-14.
After back to back All-Star seasons, Walker has come out of the gate in 2018 posting the best numbers of his career, keeping the Hornets in contention for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. With his contract set to expire at the end of this season, Walker has a big decision to make: continue to be the leader of the woeful Hornets, or hope that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence somewhere else.
7 Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry
It took seven years and a move to Toronto before Lowry would develop into an All-Star level point guard, an honor in which he has been named the last four seasons. Many thought that with his best friend (on the team) being traded to San Antonio in the offseason for Kawhi Leonard that Lowry would be in a funk this year. While his scoring has taken a significant dip, his assists have reached a whole new level, to the point in which he is leading the league. One of the better defending point guards in the league, Lowry has adapted to the many changes in the Raptors locker room and continues to be a professional both on and off the court.
6 Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons
The Sixers tried to turn the team over to rookie Markelle Fultz last year, but it ended up being their other first-year player that dominated the pilot seat. Whether you agree that Simmons was the Rookie Of The Year, his performance was impressive and a reason why the team has a bright future heading forward. Currently posting similar numbers to last year, the addition of Jimmy Butler or the yo-yo-ing of teammates in and out of the rotation has yet to faze the 6'10" point forward. Sure, he has avoided the three-point line like the plague, but if he is capable of 55% from the field and nearly 16 points without leaving his comfort zone, then why force the issue? This year fans will have a different argument on their hands, as Simmons is not only one of the best point guards in the league, but possibly deserving of one of the best overall players.
5 Houston Rockets - Chris Paul
Stockton, Nash, and most likely Paul. Three of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Three Hall Of Famers (CP3 is basically guaranteed to get in). Three legendary point guards to never win a championship. Although Paul still has some tread left on his tires, his window appears to have just a small crack of an opening left in it. Many figured that had Paul not gone down with a hamstring injury during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals last season, the Rockets may have hoisted a banner and put a ring on Paul's finger. In his 14th season, Paul's numbers aren't quite up to his career average, especially his shooting percentages, but that hasn't given a reason not to rank Paul as one of the best point guards in the league.
4 Boston Celtics - Kyrie Irving
He left Cleveland two years ago to have his own team. Then an injury last year took the spotlight off of Kyrie in the way that he had wanted it and put it on the young Celtics, making many wonder how valuable Uncle Drew really was. This year, Irving has squashed many of those talks and even put a damper on the rumor that he will be relocating at the end of the season when he is up for a new contract. Offensively his numbers are roughly on par with his career averages, but it is on the defensive end in which he has proven to be more valuable. As part of the select group vying for league MVP, Irving and the rest of the Celtics came out of the gate a bit slower than many expected to start the season, but odds are still in their favor that they will be one of the final two teams competing to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
3 Portland Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard
Statistically, the Blazers point guard is having a similar season to what he had last year, one which netted him a trip to the All-Star game and in MVP conversations. However, all of the individual accolades and honors didn't stop the Blazers from being knocked off by the lower-seeded Pelicans in the playoffs. Everyone knows that the Blazers will only go as far as Lillard (and C.J. McCollum) can carry them. The fact that Lillard has made only three All-NBA and three All-Star teams in six seasons is somewhat baffling. A gifted scorer that can hurt opponents in a variety of ways, Lillard has managed to lead the Blazers to the playoffs in all but one of his six seasons in the league. Oh, did we mention that he has done so without another All-Star level teammate?
2 Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook
How is it that a player who has not once, but twice and in back to back seasons, averaged a triple-double, not be considered the best point guard in the league? Back in 1961-62, the Big O averaged the memorable feat, something that took over 50 years to happen again. Unfortunately for Westbrook, his second accomplishment was overshadowed by the Thunder's playoff failure. This season, the team is not only among the best in the West but one of the tops in the league. Yes, he continues to have a high turnover rate and he has an inefficient shooting percentage, but at the same time, he has been acknowledged as an MVP, a multi-time All-NBA team and a seven-time All-Star. Considering he is on pace for a third straight triple-double, the only thing standing in the way of taking over top spot is a championship ring on his finger.
1 Golden State Warriors - Steph Curry
As great of a point guard that everyone says that Chef Curry is, let it be known that he has only twice in his ten-year career been among the NBA top ten in assists. His teammate Draymond Green annually averages more helpers than the Warriors starting PG. But since we are in a generation of scoring point guards, Curry, one of, if not the, best shooters in league history grabs the attention of media and fans. He has the rings, the MVP's, the All-NBA honors, and the nightly highlights that look more like video games than real life. Some wonder if Curry is a product of the GSW system, but odds are his shooting, ballhandling, and playmaking skills could easily translate to any of the other teams in the league.