Recent NBA history has been identified by some as the 'golden age' of the point guard, ushering in the popularization of the do-it-all floor general who can score, dish and serve as the fulcrum of a club's offensive attack. Just last year, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers toppled Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, soon after contenders like Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs fell by the wayside.
But just as we appreciate true greatness through exposure to that which is less than great, we can also only understand what makes an elite point guard by having lesser ones to compare them to. After all, life is hard for point guards in today's NBA. It isn't enough to be a steady, reliable, play-it-safe distributor - not when Westbrook is exploding coast to coast on a fast break and Curry is making a mockery of NBA history from the three-point line. Where the league used to find a valuable place for a safe, un-sexy ball handler like Jose Calderon, those players have now been largely cast to the side in favor of flashier, younger talents.
It is this changing of the guard that makes identifying the 15 worst point guards of the 2010s such a difficult exercise. Many of these players, after all, were never going to be Chris Paul. They had simply hoped for a career in which they could provide a stabling presence on a roster filled with plenty of supporting talent. But just as the expectations for the point guard change, so too does our outlook on what comprises a good - and bad - point guard. Here are the 15 worst, based on the modern concept of the point guard.
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15 D'Angelo Russell
The designation of D'Angelo Russell as one of the worst point guards of the 2010s could well look positively head-scratching in a few years if Russell is to deliver on his promise as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. After all, few rookies have been thrown into the fire with quite the degree of flourish as was Russell, who was basically handed the keys to the offense while sharing a back court with Kobe Bryant in his swan song campaign. But if he is to fulfill some pretty lofty hype and become the next Los Angeles Lakers superstar, he will have to overcome an awfully rocky introduction to the league.
Russell reportedly clashed with head coach Byron Scott from the outset, throwing in some not-so-subtle digs this summer as Scott was being shown the door in favor of new coach Luke Walton. That's not even mentioning his well publicized issues with Nick Young, where he filmed him without consent while he admitted to cheating on his wife. Although he averaged 13.2 points per game, he never seemed entirely at ease while running the team's offense, averaging just 3.3 assists to 2.5 turnovers per game.
14 Earl Watson
Credit the one-time UCLA standout Earl Watson with squeezing every ounce of ability out of his game, turning some solid ball-handling abilities, a high basketball IQ and stingy on-the-ball defense into a 13-year playing career that has now transitioned into a coaching career as head coach of the Phoenix Suns. But an NBA starting point guard?
Watson was twice actually handed the reins to man the point guard position. First, he helmed the 2007-08 Seattle SuperSonics to 20 wins and a one-way ticket out of Seattle en route to Oklahoma City and then he led the 2009-10 Indiana Pacers to the franchise's worst record over the past 28 years. Even still, it's tough to blame Watson, who largely overachieved to enjoy the career that he did. As a backup, he was a sturdy and reliable presence, which is probably the role he should have held all along.
13 Raul Neto
If you aren't a fan of the Utah Jazz or the Brazilian national basketball team, chances are you would probably have trouble picking Raul Neto out of a lineup. Yet, the 2013 second rounder was still the primary option at the point for the Jazz during the 2015-16 season, which also happened to be his rookie campaign. Neto did well in what was largely a caretaker role, with the offense running through Gordon Hayward and the injured Dante Exum having already been tabbed as the hoped for point guard of the future in Utah.
After a season in which he shot 43.1% while averaging a modest 5.9 points and 2.1 assists per game, Neto's stock already seems to be on the decline at 24 years of age. He had already been bumped from the starting role late last season by mid-season acquisition Shelvin Mack. Now, with Exum back and veteran George Hill added to the fold via trade, it's hard to see Neto being any higher than fourth on the point guard depth chart for the rising Jazz.
12 Patrick Beverley
If it seems like Patrick Beverley's path to the NBA could serve as the basis for a Hollywood movie, it's because it already sort of has been. Hoop Reality, the 2009 documentary sequel to the better known Hoop Dreams, charts the path of Beverley as a hyped high school guard facing the challenges that come with being an NBA-bound local legend. He didn't handle it perfectly - being expelled from the University of Arkansas due to academic fraud and toiling in a Ukranian semi-pro league.
Credit Beverley, then, for making the most of his opportunity with the Houston Rockets, starting 173 games for the perennial playoff contenders over the past three seasons. The aggressive defender certainly belongs in the NBA, but maybe not starting for a championship hopeful. Beverley's mediocre shooting (41.2% career shooter) and underwhelming scoring numbers look particularly glaring when compared to his back court mate, James Harden.
11 D.J. Augustin
A lot of baggage comes associated with being a lottery pick, both good and bad. While the pressure and expectations can be a burden to some young NBA debutantes, the sense of achievement and lucrative financial reward offer reason for celebration. One other positive that is rarely discussed is the job security that can typically come with being selected in the lottery. Take D.J. Augustin, for example.
Augustin was a standout at the University of Texas, earning the Bob Cousy Award and even getting a Sports Illustrated cover before being drafted ninth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008. The Bobcats gave him every opportunity to shine, having him start all 82 games during the 2010-11 season. But those opportunities exposed his flaws as a shaky ball handler who lacked the explosive scoring to make up for it. He started 46 games again the following season, but has only gotten 28 starts while bouncing around six teams in the four seasons since.
10 Derek Fisher
It's hard not to love Derek Fisher. His teammates and fans did during his Laker heyday, his Oklahoma City fans did when he came in as a veteran sage. Heck, even Utah Jazz fans couldn't muster anything but love when he asked for a trade in order to be closer to his daughter while she fought a rare illness. Okay, maybe the San Antonio Spurs weren't terribly fond of him when he hit the dramatic game winner with .04 seconds on the clock in the 2004 Western semis, but that's about it.
Still, there's a distinct difference between the Fisher of his prime years with the Lakers and the Fisher that held on until nearly reaching the age of 40. Between 2009 and 2012, during a second go-round with the Lakers that included 207 starts, Fisher shot 38.1% from the field and saw his scoring numbers regress in each season. Even worse, he became exposed defensively for failing to keep up with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Tony Parker.
9 Michael Carter-Williams
You might consider every entry on this list to have, at one point in time, been a colossal draft bust, but that is far from the truth for Michael Carter-Williams. The former Syracuse standout could actually be considered a steal for the Philadelphia 76ers, who landed him with the 11th pick in a terrible 2013 draft and later saw him earn Rookie of the Year honors. But credit then-GM Sam Presti and the Sixers with knowing to cut the bait.
Less than halfway through his sophomore season, Carter-Williams was traded by Philly to the Milwaukee Bucks while still riding high from an impressive rookie campaign. Since joining the Bucks, the 24-year-old has regressed considerably, seeing his scoring numbers plummet while continuing to struggle as a three-point shooter (25.5% for his career) and having yet to resolve his turnover issues (3.4 per game for his career). Meanwhile, the Sixers are sitting pretty with the Lakers' top-three protected pick in one of the next two drafts.
8 Luke Ridnour
Pity poor Luke Ridnour. A veteran of 12 NBA seasons and 830 career games, Ridnour remains best remembered for an odd and rather embarrassing bit of cap manipulation when he - and his contract - were traded four times in a week in June of 2015. Before that whirlwind week, the number 14 pick of the 2003 NBA Draft had carved out a rather nice niche for himself as a steady hand, a safe and sure-handed but unspectacular ball handling option who could offer some serviceable minutes.
But nothing about his game screamed starter, which made the decision of the Minnesota Timberwolves to make him their No. 1 option at the point between 2010 and 2013 rather perplexing. Yes, he often played off the ball alongside Ricky Rubio but he was regularly relied upon to help guide the young Spaniard in some of the finer points of the NBA game. Still, a two season stretch (2011-12 and 2012-13) in which he started all 135 games he played can hardly be considered a success after he shot just 31.6% from three and had just 11 games of 20 points or more. He certainly didn't do much to help his team, who won just 57 games over the two seasons.
7 Donald Sloan
A quick glimpse at the NBA career of Donald Sloan indicates that the 2013-14 season represented something of a turning point for the Texas A&M product. After bouncing around the league on a slew of 10-day contracts over two seasons, Sloan found a landing spot in Indiana, opening the door for a two-year stint over the past pair of seasons as a regular starter on both the Pacers and, this past season, the Brooklyn Nets. So what changed in 2013-14 for Sloan? Well, nothing really.
The undrafted 28-year-old still has only managed two career games of 20 points or more and finished 48th last season in scoring among all point guards despite starting 33 games. And that 2013-14 season that was supposedly a turning point? It's hard to see what keen-eyed NBA scouts saw in a 37.6% shooter who made just 23.8% of his three-point attempts. Now, it appears as though his NBA window has closed, with Sloan set to suit up for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association this season.
6 Trey Burke
The cache of young talent currently enjoyed by the Utah Jazz drove a crafty veteran off-season signing splurge that saw Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw come on board, not to mention swayed many an NBA observer to tab the Jazz as a sneaky wild card in the Western Conference playoff picture. Guys like Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood have Utah on the verge of heights they haven't hit since the Karl Malone / John Stockton era.
Still, Jazz fans can't help but be a little wistful at what could have been had their 2013 first rounder panned out. Trey Burke looked like a safe choice as the No. 9 pick after a standout career at Michigan and was rewarded with immediate major minutes and a starting role. However, despite plentiful opportunities, he failed to shoot 40% from the floor over his first two seasons in the league and also saw his assist numbers plummet during three years in Utah. Burke will look for a fresh start in Washington as a member of the Wizards, but the lack of reaction to the July trade that brought him there highlights how far his stock has fallen.
5 Rafer Alston
Credit Rafer Alston with leveraging his status as a street ball legend into a notable 671-game NBA career filled with plenty of highs and lows. The guard once known as 'Skip to My Lou' turned a surprisingly productive 2003-04 campaign alongside Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat into a $24 million contract in Toronto. When that fizzled out on account of questions about his attitude and work ethic, Alston still managed to find starting jobs in Houston and, later, in place of Jameer Nelson on the NBA Finals-bound Orlando Magic.
For Alston, this seemed to be the case of being more lucky than good. He largely benefited from arriving at fortuitous injury situations and on bad teams with no better options, leading to 452 career starts for a guy who never averaged 15 points or seven assists per game in a season. He narrowly fit the criteria for this list, playing just 25 games in 2010 during a second go-around with the Heat before a suspension for missing a game and practice quickly ended his Miami encore along with his NBA career.
4 Isaiah Canaan
Murray State University alum Isaiah Canaan now has 60 NBA starts on his resume because, well, someone had to suit up for the deplorable Philadelphia 76ers. True, nine of those starts came for the playoff-bound Houston Rockets, who thrust him into duty after nabbing him with a second round pick in 2013 to address their own point guard inadequacies (see Beverley, Patrick). But Canaan might have found the only landing spot in the NBA that would grant him the opportunity to take about 10 shots a game and play 25 minutes per night.
Canaan is still only 25 years old, but the early returns have not been promising. He certainly isn't solely to blame for the Sixers' 10-win campaign last year, but his woeful 36% shooting and 1.2 turnovers to just 1.8 assists per game didn't exactly help matters. The fourth-year guard has found new NBA life thanks to a two-year contract with the Chicago Bulls, but he sits a distant third on the depth chart behind Rajon Rondo and Jerian Grant. In other words, don't expect to hear his name called as part of a starting five any time soon.
3 Mike Bibby
In his heyday, Mike Bibby was a special player. The second pick of the 1998 draft never made an All-Star team, but he averaged as many as 21.1 points and 8.4 assists per game during a 14-season career that also featured an impressive 10 trips to the postseason. Most of those playoff appearances came as a member of the vaunted Sacramento Kings, with whom he enjoyed 40 playoff starts by age 25.
By the time the 2010s hit, however, that prime Bibby was long gone. In his place remained an older, slower and less dynamic version who was still getting by on his past reputation. After averaging between 13 and 21 points per game over the first 11 years of his career, 2009-10 began a downward trend that saw him average 9.1, 8.6 and then 2.6 points per game for four different teams before calling it quits. Despite an obvious decline, Bibby still started 152 games over that three-year span.
2 Jamaal Tinsley
There's something about former streetball players that make for intriguing NBA prospects but rarely effective players. We already discussed Rafer Alston earlier in this list and now we get to Jamaal Tinsley, who once went by the handle of "Mel Mel the Abuser" (no, not in the criminal sense). Tinsley, who once strung together a season of 15.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, seemed to have nine lives as an Indiana Pacer. Despite ranking among the league leaders in turnovers each season, he managed to last seven seasons in Indy.
After a 2007-08 campaign when he was finally jettisoned by the Pacers after shooting 38% and coughing up 3.3 turnovers per game, Tinsley found other life rafts in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies and, later, the Utah Jazz. The Jazz, who seem to have the market cornered on mediocre starting point guards, handed the then-34-year-old the starting reins for 32 games during the 2012-13 season. Although the older, wiser Tinsley cut down on his turnovers, he only mustered 3.5 points per game on 36.8% shooting.
1 Raymond Felton
Raymond Felton has now spent 11 seasons in the NBA, often seemingly in spite of himself. After all, clashing with your head coach, complaining about playing time, showing up to training camp out of shape and being arrested on gun felony charges are all actions capable of resulting in a messy divorce between player and team - and Felton has done all of them!
On the court, Felton has been just good enough to remain gainfully employed. The former UNC standout's career averages of 12.4 points and 6.0 assists per gamehelp overcome his 2.4 career turnover per game rate, but you would think NBA general managers would be just as content to opt for a serviceable point guard without the added baggage. And yet, here he remains, having just signed a new contract with the Los Angeles Clippers after starting 223 games over the past five seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks.
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