Everyone loves player rankings, so let’s rank the most contentious position in the NBA: point guards.
In order to remove bias from my own ranking, I have decided to put together a formula to generate a new ranking. The list below isn’t my personal opinion on who’s better than who. Rather, it shapes my opinion on who provided the most value last season. For example, I know that Jeff Teague and Goran Dragic are better players than Fred VanVleet, but the backup point guard for the Toronto Raptors will show up as more valuable than either Teague or Dragic.
First, let me explain my logic and reasoning in crafting this list:
Methodology and Criteria
Going into the exercise, I knew I wanted to rank the most valuable players from last season, rather than the best players. I decided to rank the following six components of a point guard’s game to varying degrees:
- Scoring and facilitating, i.e. how effective the player was at generating points with the ball in hand.
- Number Production, i.e. how many points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks the player accumulated.
- Offensive Efficiency and Role, i.e. how frequently did a player score, and what level of volume did the player score with.
- Defensive efficiency and role, i.e. how frequently was the player tasked with defending opposing shot takers, and how frequently did they force a player to miss.
- Team Impact, i.e. how well did the team perform when the player was on and off the floor.
- Advanced Metrics, i.e. how effective do the advanced metrics say the player is in the moment and over the course of the season.
In order to turn each of these categories into a single number, I acquired per 100 possession data, point creation data, efficiency and usage data, defensive numbers, net ratings, and advanced numbers for all point guards to appear in 30 or more games. A giant thanks to Jacob Goldstein of The BBall Index, Adam Fromal of NBA Math, and Jeremias Engelmann of ESPN for their metric data.
The ranking is entirely statistical, but it doesn’t rely on just advanced metrics or basic points and assists numbers. It blends the above concepts into a composite ranking and adjusted for a player’s role and minutes played.
Let’s get into it.
- Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley, Markelle Fultz, Jeremy Lin, Dante Exum, and Derrick Rose all had a chance to crack the top 50, but none of them met the 30 game minimum.
- James Harden, Lou Williams, Tomas Satoransky, Tyler Johnson, Garrett Temple, Luke Kennard, Andrew Harrison, and Ian Clark will all be treated as shooting guards.
Just Missed the Cut:
- Shaun Livingston and Quinn Cook of the Golden State Warriors came in at 51 and 52 respectively.
- Raymond Felton, T.J. McConnell, Cory Joseph, and Tony Parker were all backups who struggled this past season.
- De’Aaron Fox, Frank Ntilikina, and Emmanuel Mudiay were young point guards that continued to struggle.
Average Backups (player - 2017-18 team)
50. Mario Chalmers - Memphis Grizzlies
48. Jarrett Jack - New York Knicks
47. Jerian Grant - Chicago Bulls
46. Frank Mason III - Sacramento Kings
45. Jose Calderon - Cleveland Cavaliers
44. Dennis Smith Jr. - Dallas Mavericks
43. Rajon Rondo - New Orleans Pelicans
42. George Hill - Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers
41. Patty Mills - San Antonio Spurs
There are some interesting names here. Isaiah Thomas, the new Denver Nuggets backup point guard, comes in at 49 primarily due to his scoring and passing production. In order to be better, he will need to improve his efficiency and team impact massively. Rajon Rondo, another former Boston Celtics star, was the most productive passer among all point guards but was a terrible scorer and defender. Playing in Los Angeles next to LeBron James and Lonzo Ball will make for an intriguing season, as all three are excellent passers, but only James doubles as a scorer of any sort.
Frank Mason III and Dennis Smith Jr. were the only rookies in this category, and they figure to both improve for the upcoming year. I expect DSJ to crack the top 30 playing next to rookie Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan this coming year.
Above Average Backups
39. Lonzo Ball - Los Angeles Lakers
38. Malcolm Brogdon - Milwaukee Bucks
36t. Kris Dunn - Chicago Bulls
36t. Yogi Ferrell - Dallas Mavericks
35. Shabazz Napier - Portland Trail Blazers
34. D’Angelo Russell - Brooklyn Nets
33. Milos Teodosic - Los Angeles Clippers
32. Raul Neto - Utah Jazz
31. Tyus Jones - Minnesota Timberwolves
30. Jordan Clarkson - Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers
I expected Lonzo Ball to show up higher, but combined with having the sixth worst efficiency score of qualified PGs, his scoring was poor overall, and he missed 30 games. The ranking is designed to identify total value, and it’s hard to do that while sitting with an injury. Had he played a full season, he likely jumps into the top 25.
Malcolm Brogdon was secretly worse than most will admit, though his efficiency was solid. Kris Dunn was extremely productive as a defensive player with his rebounding, steals, and blocks, but his offense is still poor. Yogi Ferrell benefitted from net ratings more than any player not named Raul Neto, who had the 4th highest Net Impact because he spent most of his minutes with Utah Jazz starters. Neither are top 40 PGs in my opinion. Shabazz Napier and D’Angelo Russell will spend time together in Brooklyn this year, and while Napier was just a solid all-around offensive player, Russell filled up the stat sheet with points and assists. Tyus Jones ranked 15th in advanced metrics and 9th in Net impact, but his true role in Minnesota was a complementary one, just one he filled extremely well.
Below Average Starters
29. Marcus Smart - Boston Celtics
28. Dejounte Murray - San Antonio Spurs
27. D.J. Augustin - Orlando Magic
26. Terry Rozier - Boston Celtics
24t. Devin Harris - Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets
24t. Dennis Schroder - Atlanta Hawks
23. Delon Wright - Toronto Raptors
22. Reggie Jackson - Detroit Pistons
Four solid defensive point guards come in here, with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier of the Celtics both cracking the top 30. Neither cracked the top 30 in efficiency score (Smart was 66th out of 72) but both were top 20 in defensive role, were reasonably productive, and Smart made up for his inefficiency with high team impact (11th out of 72). Dejounte Murray was a bad offensive player for San Antonio, but he produced the second most rebounds, fourth most steals, and seventh most blocks of any point guard. The All-Defense nomination was definitely warranted. Finally, Delon Wright was the second part of a two point guard bench unit that Toronto used to dominate the competition.
Augustin was the fifth most efficient point guard, helped by having the third best TS% among his peers. This helped make up for defensive deficiencies. Reggie Jackson and Dennis Schroder benefitted from having high production in points and assists as primary creators on bad teams. Both have a ceiling higher than this ranking, but not much higher given how little they impact their respective teams.
Devin Harris, like a number of other backup PGs on this list, benefitted from having a high net rating on the Dallas Mavericks bench unit. He was put in a nice position to score, and the scoring came at an above average rate, despite a smaller role. He’s not the 24th best point guard, and that number will surely regress next season.
21. Spencer Dinwiddie - Brooklyn Nets
20. Trey Burke - New York Knicks
19. Ish Smith - Detroit Pistons
18. J.J. Barea - Dallas Mavericks
17. Goran Dragic - Miami Heat
16. Jeff Teague - Minnesota Timberwolves
15. Ricky Rubio - Utah Jazz
14. Fred VanVleet - Toronto Raptors
13. Darren Collison - Indiana Pacers
12. Jamal Murray - Denver Nuggets
This tier features mostly solid starters while also giving love to the most valuable backups in the NBA. Starting with the backups, Trey Burke was a revelation statistically. The only other player to have top 10 finishes in all three of scoring, passing, and efficiency score was Chris Paul. Of course, he didn’t play enough to come in higher, nor was his defense any good, but in terms of creating offense in the short term, he was elite. His 4.2 offensive box plus-minus ranked 8th among all point guards.
The following were the only qualified point guards to put up top 20 marks in scoring and passing score, sorted by efficiency.
Ish Smith wasn’t nearly as remarkable, but he was solid all the way around. He finished in the top half in all measurable categories, and he contested the 4th most shots per 36 minutes defensively, while holding opposing players to below their shooting averages. Smith could probably start for Detroit and it wouldn’t change their team outcome.
The last two backups, J.J. Barea and Fred VanVleet, were the best two backup point guards in the NBA last year. Barea averaged 11.6 points and 6.3 assists while maintaining solid efficiency, numbers matched by only Lou Williams off the bench. VanVleet was the bench point guard for the best bench unit in the NBA, and his 4th best Net Impact score reflects it. He only lacked in minutes per game, so while it’s fair to assume he wouldn’t be as strong in a worse situation, his ranking here was also held back slightly due to his smaller role.
As far as true starters go, Spencer Dinwiddie, Goran Dragic, Jeff Teague, Ricky Rubio, and Darren Collison were all solid for different reasons. Dinwiddie was the most productive passer of the bunch and played solid defense. Dragic was the beneficiary of being part of many solid defensive units while scoring at a productive rate. Teague was also a good passer, but his lack of weakness across the board helped elevate his ranking. Rubio wasn’t always part of Utah’s best units because Donovan Mitchell played some point guard, but like Teague, he had very few weaknesses in his game as he improved his scoring massively. Finally, Collison had few weaknesses as Indiana’s starting point guard, and his 7th best efficiency was his biggest advantage.
Finally, we come to Jamal Murray. Denver’s starting point guard comes in at 12th overall here, surprisingly high for what I expected given his defensive issues. That said, his point production, efficiency, and team impact were all top 20 marks, making up for a low passing score. Given where the league is right now, guards like Murray are vitally important. As he enters his third season, it’s important to recognize how his skill set during his 20-year-old season was remarkable. With continued growth to his facilitation and defense, Murray has potential to join the upper echelon of point guards. If he can take those steps, Denver will be in good shape. He’s already one of the top three point guards under 24 in the NBA, and he has an opportunity to solidify that standing.
11. John Wall - Washington Wizards
10. Kyle Lowry - Toronto Raptors
9. Kyrie Irving - Boston Celtics
8. Eric Bledsoe - Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks
7. Jrue Holiday - New Orleans Pelicans
6. Kemba Walker - Charlotte Hornets
5. Ben Simmons - Philadelphia 76ers
In this tier, the majority of players are All-Star caliber point guards on a rotating basis. Notice the large number of Eastern Conference point guards here, which means that some just didn’t get the recognition.
John Wall and Kyle Lowry were All-Star mainstays, but after Wall missed over 40 games and Lowry fell back to earth as a scorer, both came in lower than expected.
To be clear, I don’t think Kyrie Irving is the ninth best PG in the NBA. He proved this past year that he’s at least top 7, maybe better. Losing valuable playing time to a knee surgery hurt him though, and combined with bad defensive scores and two backups that replaced him fairly effectively, Irving’s ranking dropped. Remember, this ranking is about who provides the most value, and given that Irving missed 22 games, it’s reasonable that he drops.
I didn’t expect Eric Bledsoe to crack the top 10, but here’s why he did: his efficiency score was higher than I thought it would be (15th in eFG%, 10th in TS%, 13th in USG%) and he was top 15 in every category except passing, which is understandable since he shared the floor with Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Still, I don’t think Bledsoe is a top 10 PG. His defense seems to be a degree of fake good, as he puts up solid production, while the metrics leave something to be desired. His playoff performance was sub par, so he has a lot left to prove.
First team All-Defense member Jrue Holiday came in at 7, and it’s no surprise to me. On top of being possibly the best defensive point guard in the NBA, he put up some great numbers offensively. He put up top 10 numbers in advanced metrics, defensive role, team impact, and minute load, as he was on the floor for the most minutes of any point guard. He had the benefit of playing with Anthony Davis, but Davis also had the benefit of playing with him. He played more of an off-ball role this past year while sharing the court with Rajon Rondo, but I expect him to continue benefitting from the added spacing of Nikola Mirotic next to Davis.
Kemba Walker comes in at 6. He was the engine for the Charlotte Hornets offensively, and his defensive scores were surprisingly good. He contested more shots per 36 minutes than Holiday and Dejounte Murray, while holding opposing shooters to below their average marks. Charlotte’s defense worsened by 2.3 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, and Michael Carter-Williams is no slouch defensively. His biggest value comes on offense though, where he posted the fifth best scoring mark offensively. He’s definitely in the top 4 in terms of scoring off the dribble, based on the play type data, so it’s no surprise to see a similar scorer to Kyrie Irving with better defensive numbers come in slightly higher. I’m not sure if I’d take Walker over Irving or vice versa, but Walker definitely provided more value this past year, given that he played 800 more minutes.
Finally, Ben Simmons comes in at 5. No, he still can’t shoot, but he gets to the rim at will, was the sixth best playmaker for others (11.6 assists per 100), and was top three in terms of total defensive value (Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry are his biggest competitors, and this factors in minutes played). He also played over 2,700 minutes, which helps verify what he produced over a prolonged period. Simmons is one of the most unique point guards to come into the league as an embodiment of position-less basketball. Some believe he should play power forward like Draymond Green, but I disagree. He just needs to work on his shooting off the dribble and post up game to take advantage of his physical gifts and skill set. Still, he could be one of the best defensive point guards of all-time if he sets his mind to it, and that matters in a ranking factoring in versatility.
4. Russell Westbrook - Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors
2. Chris Paul - Houston Rockets
1. Damian Lillard - Portland Trail Blazers
The four Western Conference point guards above are the cream of the crop in the NBA. In four of the past five years, at least three of the four listed made All-NBA, Curry all five times, Westbrook in four of five, Paul in three of five, and Lillard in three of five. It’s no surprise that these four are the top four in this exercise.
Westbrook was massively productive and had top five finishes in scoring, facilitating, production, team impact, and minute load. His efficiency hurt him though, and that 100% affects his top end potential for leading a team.
Curry comes in at 3, and the reason he’s not first is minute load. While he was the best scorer, the most efficient, and had the most team impact, his minute load dragged him down, as did his defensive numbers. Even while counting his entire playoff run (Lillard and the Blazers were swept in the first round) he still played over 700 minutes less than the Portland PG. If he played 65 games instead of 51 in the regular season, he likely finishes first. It was that close between the top 3.
CP3 comes in at 2, and while he didn’t play much more than Curry, his facilitation and defensive role lifted his total value above Curry, albeit barely. His value showed up in the playoffs, as his presence in game 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals may have elevated Houston above Golden State. Ultimately, we will never know, but it would go a long way if Paul could replicate his performance and stay healthy in the playoffs.
Finally, Damian Lillard comes in as the most valuable point guard this past year, and it’s no shock to me. He played 73 games but averaged the most minutes of anyone, and he had top ten finishes across the board in all but facilitation. As a top 3 scorer with top ten marks in efficiency, defensive role, team impact, and the best advanced metric score, it’s no wonder he came out on top.
He was unfairly bashed for the early exit in the playoffs. Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, and usually one other New Orleans Pelicans player hounded him at all times, and neither his running mate, C.J. McCollum, nor the rest of his teammates, could pick up the playmaking slack. Imagine Lillard trading places with Stephen Curry in Golden State. Would the Warriors struggle at all? Would Portland? At that level, it’s hard to tell, but it’s easy to rank Lillard first among value given how much he played and how valuable he was to his team.
There it is, over 3,000 words on the explanation of this ranking for 2017-18 value. Going forward and given equal health for every player, I would expect the ranking to look like this next season:
If Jamal Murray can crack the top 10, he will officially be All-Star caliber. He won’t make the team, but providing that value for a Nuggets team looking to grow and enter the playoff picture is paramount for Denver’s continued development.
Who knows what will happen though? The NBA is full of unexpected surprises, twists, and turns. John Wall may return to prominence. Lonzo Ball may take a major leap next to LeBron James. One of these top players may get injured once again and regress.
That being said, I feel comfortable with the above ranking. One must remember that it’s about total value, not total skill. If there are any questions on the formulation, please comment below or start the conversation on Twitter (@NBABlackburn).
Shooting guards next week.
Will Jamal Murray be a top 10 most valuable point guard after 2018-19?
This poll is closed
Right on the border