Player rankings are some of the most divisive conversations in the NBA. Every fan wants their player to rank highly, and every fan will question why their player isn’t ranked as highly as they want. Positional rankings are also difficult due to the blending of roles and position-less basketball.
But I’m going to do it anyway.
These rankings will consist of the top 50 players at each of the five widely accepted positions in the NBA: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. There are different ways to classify it, but this is the best way to break down the talent into multiple categories.
Each list will be released on Wednesday of that week, starting with point guards and finishing with centers. A top 100 players in the NBA list could follow if the lists are well received.
Point Guard Criteria:
First, players that qualify for this list had to play predominantly point guard, based on their categorization on Basketball Reference. They will also play predominantly point guard next year. James Harden is the best example of this, as he was a primary ball handler and will continue to handle the ball, but with Chris Paul in town, he will move off-ball more frequently and defend shooting guards more frequently. He has the skill set of the point guard, just like LeBron James, Draymond Green, or Nikola Jokic, but none of those guys will be seen on this list either.
Here are some primary players eliminated based on this criteria:
- James Harden
- Lou Williams
- Seth Curry
- Tyler Johnson
- Jamal Murray
Murray will be graded as a shooting guard because he spent the majority of his time as an off-ball player. He will likely play more point guard in the coming years, but for now, he is considered in the same light as Harden, Williams, Curry, and Johnson.
Second, only players that played 1,000 minutes in the NBA this past season were considered, which eliminates three parties: injured players, foreign players, and rookies.
Here are some primary players eliminated based on this criteria:
- J.J. Barea
- Jeremy Lin (who had an excellent season, by the way)
- Michael Carter-Williams (he didn’t)
- Milos Teodosic
- Markelle Fultz
- Lonzo Ball
- De’Aaron Fox
- Dennis Smith Jr.
There are many ways to break down the impact of a point guard, but the fact of the matter is that most of them are too good for the position’s own good. It’s nearly impossible for these point guards to defend each other. The ones who can are special, and the ones who can’t are basically normal. The ones who are apathetic...we will get to them later.
With that in mind, I will be weighting offense twice as strongly as defense. Statistics like usage rate and assist rate to focus on a player’s role, while true shooting percentage is the catch-all number to focus on how well a player is performing in said role. The catch-all metric for defense that will be used is ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, which factors in multiple variables on the less glamorous end. It’s more accurate than steal rate or block rate, and it doesn’t double dip on other metrics like NBA Math’s Total Points Added.
These numbers will be adjusted for minutes, which rewards players that played the most minutes and remained effective on both ends of the floor. I have generated a single number that creates a ranking for all qualified point guards. Remember, this is statistically generated, and it’s not etched in stone that this is where these players should rank, nor how I would rank this list due to subjective biases.
Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Tier 1: Contextual Megastars
1. Russell Westbrook - Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors
Westbrook was the MVP for a reason. He carried the load for the Oklahoma City Thunder and did some things on the floor that left me speechless. After last season, he’s earned the right to be the top point guard (though James Harden would have a case if he wasn’t classified as a shooting guard). Curry isn’t far behind though, and he will have a claim at the top spot if this past year’s second half ends up being the norm for next year.
Tier 2: Efficiency members only
3. Chris Paul - Houston Rockets
Paul is the only player on this list to be top five in true shooting percentage, assist rate, and DRPM. What hurts him is his below-elite usage rate and the fact that he missed a chunk of the season. If he hadn’t, he may be the best player on this list. There are age related questions with Paul though, as well as fit questions next to Harden.
Tier 3: The rest of the elite
4. Mike Conley - Memphis Grizzlies
5. Isaiah Thomas - Boston Celtics
6. John Wall - Washington Wizards
7. Kyle Lowry - Toronto Raptors
8. Jeff Teague - Minnesota Timberwolves
Mike Conley posted the 5th ranked true shooting percentage, the 13th ranked usage rate, the 13th ranked assist rate, the 15th best DRPM, and played the 13th most minutes. Conley has absolutely no flaws, unlike players that struggle to remain efficient in a high volume role or choose to not play defense. Thomas is the worst defender on this list, but he has a claim for best scorer with the best true shooting on the second highest usage. Wall carried the Wizards, playing the most minutes of any point guard to go with the fifth highest usage and second best assist rate. Lowry was extremely efficient, but he also posted the second best DRPM. Teague basically serves as a mini-Mike Conley. He’s not the best at anything, but he was so versatile last year and stayed on the floor for over 2,600 minutes, which is a skill Tom Thibodeau will use.
Tier 4: Various people say we are elite
9. Damian Lillard - Portland Trail Blazers
10. Eric Bledsoe - Phoenix Suns
11. Jrue Holiday - New Orleans Pelicans
12. Kyrie Irving - Cleveland Cavaliers
13. Kemba Walker - Charlotte Hornets
Lillard and Irving should be talked about at the same time. Both have the ball in their hands a lot and throw up a lot of shots, ranking 3rd and 4th in usage rate respectively. Both make shots as well, ranking in the top 10 in true shooting percentage. However, both struggle to generate assists for others and are apathetic on the defensive end, which drags their ratings down massively. Isaiah Thomas separated himself by also creating assists for others, which is something both Lillard and Irving need to learn if they refuse to play defense.
Bledsoe and Walker are in a similar situation to both Lillard and Irving. They aren’t in the same tier as shot makers, but they aren’t as apathetic on defense. Jrue Holiday is actually great on defense, but he struggled to remain efficient in his role with a below average true shooting percentage.
Tier 5: Average Starters
14. Goran Dragic - Miami Heat
15. Dennis Schroder - Atlanta Hawks
16. Ricky Rubio - Utah Jazz
17. George Hill - Sacramento Kings
This is the section of players that fans are most undecided about. Is Dragic in the next tier up? Are Dennis Schroder and Ricky Rubio too high or too low? How do you rate George Hill?
These four are in a tier of their own due to various skill differences between those above and below them. Dragic is an efficient creator for himself, but not quite as good as the guys above him, and not good enough as a facilitator or defender to make it up. Schroder creates for himself and others in volume, but he’s not efficient enough to go any higher. Rubio can’t create for himself and has average efficiency, but he’s elite as a defender and creator for others. Hill is extremely efficient and an elite defender, but he struggles to create for others and was out for half the season.
Tier 6: Below average starters and high quality bench players
18. Elfrid Payton - Orlando Magic
19. Deron Williams - Free agent
20. Darren Collison - Indiana Pacers
21. Ish Smith - Detroit Pistons
22. Ty Lawson - Free agent
23. Patty Mills - San Antonio Spurs
24. Malcolm Brogdon - Milwaukee Bucks
25. T.J. McConnell - Philadelphia 76ers
26. D’Angelo Russell - Brooklyn Nets
This group has a variety of young players with different ceilings, Patty Mills, and some older players that will transition to bench roles. Elfrid Payton receives a bad rap, but during the second half of last season he averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 assists, and 7.0 rebounds on 55.6% true shooting. That’s pretty good, and he’s not done developing. Deron Williams remained efficient next to LeBron James in a backup role until the NBA Finals, and his numbers will likely trend down quickly. Darren Collison is returning to the Indiana Pacers in a starting role, and he should continue to be reasonably efficient but not good at anything else. Ish Smith was the best point guard on the Detroit Pistons last year, which is amazing because his true shooting percentage was worse than Emmanuel Mudiay’s.
Ty Lawson was pretty average across the board, which is good. He has other issues though and hasn’t signed a contract with a team yet. Patty Mills has though, a four-year, $52 million deal to remain with the Spurs as presumably the new starting point guard. He may rank higher next year in a larger role. Same with Malcolm Brogdon, who was a nice addition to the Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup. His trajectory is pointing up. T.J. McConnell will back up Markelle Fultz this year for the Philadelphia 76ers, a role that best suits McConnell. D’Angelo Russell had the 11th highest usage rate among all point guards, but he will need to improve his efficiency and playmaking for others on the Brooklyn Nets if he wants to move up this list.
Tier 7: These guys DEFINITELY didn’t play like starters
27. Derrick Rose - Free agent
28. Reggie Jackson - Detroit Pistons
29. Jameer Nelson - Denver Nuggets
30. Rajon Rondo - Free agent
31. Devin Harris - Dallas Mavericks
32. Tony Parker - San Antonio Spurs
33. Spencer Dinwiddie - Brooklyn Nets
34. Yogi Ferrell - Dallas Mavericks
Derrick Rose is at the top of this tier, and it’s amazing that he isn’t lower. The two primary reasons? Usage rate and the fact that he didn’t get hurt. Jackson experienced a regression in all five categories this past year, and a lot of that was due to injuries. He should move up next season. Jameer Nelson was the starter by default in Denver because Mudiay wasn’t up to the task; if his usage rate wasn’t so low, he would actually rank much higher (Nuggets fans surely aren’t complaining). Rajon Rondo was excellent passing the ball once again, and that kept him from falling into the next tier since everything else was bad.
Devin Harris defended really well in Rick Carlisle’s system last year, which helped elevate his overall profile last season. Tony Parker was below average in every single category, but he wasn’t awful in any of them either, making this ranking pretty realistic. Spencer Dinwiddie was top 10 in true shooting and DRPM, as well as bottom 12 in usage rate, assist rate, and minutes played. He won’t have a larger role with Russell coming to town, but Dinwiddie has been fun in Brooklyn in his short stint. Yogi Ferrell has also been fun in Dallas, but it’s unlikely he will be a starter there with Dennis Smith Jr. being drafted.
Tier 8: Average to Below Average bench players
35. Brandon Jennings - Free agent
36. Tim Frazier - Washington Wizards
37. Jerian Grant - Chicago Bulls
38. Tyler Ulis - Phoenix Suns
39. Cory Joseph - Indiana Pacers
40. Shelvin Mack - Orlando Magic
41. Matthew Dellavedova - Milwaukee Bucks
42. D.J. Augustin - Orlando Magic
43. Emmanuel Mudiay - Denver Nuggets
44. Shaun Livingston - Golden State Warriors
Brandon Jennings had a solid return when he was with the New York Knicks, then the Washington Wizards grabbed him and he left his skill in the Big Apple. Tim Frazier will replace him in Washington, especially if his shooting continues to improve. Jerian Grant was one of the many backups at point guard in Chicago, and while he was an efficient scorer and defender when he played, he barely played or created for himself or others. Tyler Ulis was the exact opposite. He created for himself and others frequently, but he was horribly inefficient and didn’t play a lick of defense. Cory Joseph will fight for a starting role with Darren Collison in Indiana, even though he was surprisingly below average at everything last year.
Shelvin Mack was a fringe backup for the Utah Jazz last year, and he will operate in the same role in Orlando. Matthew Dellavedova was supposed to be a starter in Milwaukee, but he was hit with the reverse LeBron James effect. He should thank the King for that contract. D.J. Augustin is the other backup in Orlando, which makes me wonder why Orlando signed Mack. Emmanuel Mudiay has struggled these past two years, and he’s dangerously close to the bust label if he can’t improve his efficiency or his defense (or both) in a reduced role. Shaun Livingston is a better player than his ranking, but his role in Golden State provides him with the lowest usage rate and second lowest assist rate. It’s nice to have four All-Stars.
Tier 9: End-of-rotation/Ride-the-pine guys
45. Malcolm Delaney - Atlanta Hawks
46. Brandon Knight - Phoenix Suns
47. Dante Exum - Utah Jazz
48. Andrew Harrison - Memphis Grizzlies
49. Raymond Felton - Oklahoma City Thunder
50. Terry Rozier - Boston Celtics
Malcolm Delaney was possibly the worst point guard offensively in the entire NBA last year, so it’s a good thing he’s an above average defender. Brandon Knight has the reputation of a good offensive player, but his true shooting percentage was 42nd among point guards, and he doesn’t pass. Dante Exum is still young and has potential to be unlocked on both ends, but to this point, he’s not good at anything. Andrew Harrison was a good defender like Delaney, but close to the same level offensively.
Raymond Felton loves cupcakes, and the Celtics wouldn’t trade Terry Rozier for Serge Ibaka. Feels like a good place for both of them.
Which player was ranked too low?
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