By Matt Flynn | Staff Writer
With the COVID-19 outbreak shutting down the NBA season, it remains unclear whether the playoffs will occur in their ordinary course. It seems certain, however, that the regular season is largely over, and our playoffs teams and stats for the year are set in stone.
This series of articles ranks the Top 50 players at each position heading into the playoffs. The essential premise is as follows: for a hypothetical team during a playoff run, which players hold the most value? This means that two-way talent and ability to scale with other players is going to be valued over traditional counting metrics.
One other caveat here is that the drama is not over what position to put players but rather the rankings inside the position. In this article, I’ve included players that act as offensive creators who don’t fit the body mold of a “traditional” point guard (LeBron, Luka, Ben Simmons) but started at point guard for their respective teams.
The way I chose where to put guys is a three-way consideration of a) what position they play with their own team, b) what position they’d play on most teams, and c) their height and weight listed on Basketball Reference. It isn’t perfect, but I thought it best to think of a point guard as the primary offensive ball-handler and creator for most NBA teams.
I’ve listed players in tiers and have put below an index of what the abbreviations on their 2020 stats mean.
Here’s what the abbreviations mean:
- ppg=points per game
- apg=assists per game
- rpg=rebounds per game
- spg=steals per game
- bpg=blocks per game
- fg=field goal percentage
- 3p= three-point percentage
- ts=true shooting percentage (an all-sizes fits all metric for how efficiently a player shoots from various levels on the floor), usg=usage rate (an estimate of a percentage of team possessions “used” by that player)
- o/o= on/off rating (how much better a player fairs in pts per 100 possessions when he is subbed into a game)
- nrtg= net rating (offensive rating and defensive rating in pts per 100 possessions subtracted from each other) was also used in putting this together.
Tier #1: Superstar Quality Players
#1- LeBron James (LAL)
25.7ppg-10.6apg-7.9rpg-1.2spg, 58%ts-32%usg, +10.8o/o, +10nrtg
#2- Stephen Curry (GSW)
2019-20 stats omitted because of hand injury
#3- Damian Lillard (Por)
28.9ppg-7.8apg-4.3rpg-39%3p, 62%ts-30%usg, +8.9o/o, +1nrtg
#4- Luka Doncic (Dal)
28.7ppg-8.7apg-9.3rpg-1.1spg, 58%ts-37%usg, +1.2o/o, +6nrtg
All four of these players represent the absolute peak of creating efficient offense for themselves and other members of their respective teams. I have LeBron first in this group because of his league-leading assist numbers and his ability to scale defensively in the playoffs. The other three guys in this tier are average to below average defenders, while LeBron has really rebounded on that end after a few bad seasons of neglectful defense.
Curry, to me, still deserves to be second because of his unprecedented shooting and postseason success even though he missed a large percentage of this year with injury. If it was a choice between him and Lillard, I still would choose Steph to anchor my offense. Lillard’s shooting and microwave scoring ability should not be discounted, however.
Finally, I included Luka in this group because of Dallas’s #1 offense status with him at the helm, and the numbers are just off the charts, with team success, compared to everyone else lower on the list.
Tier 2A: Two-Way Stars
#5- Chris Paul (OKC)
17.7ppg-6.8apg-4.9rpg-1.6spg, 61%ts-23%usg, +10.1o/o, +7nrtg
#6- Kyle Lowry (Tor)
19.7ppg-7.7apg-4.8rpg-1.3spg, 59%ts-23%usg, -0.9o/o, +6nrtg
Tier 2B: Offense-First Stars
#7- Kyrie Irving (Brk)
2019-20 stats omitted because of injury
#8- Kemba Walker (Bos)
21.2ppg-4.9apg-4.1rpg-38%3p, 57%ts-28%usg, +0.2o/o, +8nrtg
#9- Russell Westbrook (Hou)
27.5ppg-7.0apg-8.0rpg-1.7spg, 54%ts-34%usg, -1.2o/o, +4nrtg
#10- Trae Young (Atl)
29.6ppg-9.3apg-4.3rpg-36%3p, 60%ts-35%usg, +7.4o/o, -5nrtg
Tier 2 for point guards still consists of star players, but I elevated the two who scale defensively much better than those lower in this group. Chris Paul has had a resurgent season and remains one of the decade’s best players, and Kyle Lowry is a perennially underrated player because he doesn’t put up some of the big stats that some others in this group do.
Lowry is still a solid defensive player, good rebounder for his size, and can work on-and-off the ball as a shooter. He deserves major credit for Toronto still being second in the East despite Kawhi’s departure. I’d have Paul and Lowry just slightly ahead of the Tier2B group if I wanted to make a deep playoff run.
The players in the offensive stars tier from #7 to #10 were the toughest to rank on this list. I have Kyrie at the top because we know what he did in the Finals previously, and we know the kind of efficiency he can bring an offense from his first year in Boston. The locker-room stuff is troublesome, as are the injuries, but he still has the highest upside here for me.
I put Kemba right behind him for the same reason; I think Kemba can play alongside other players effectively and has essentially taken Kyrie’s role in Boston and played it successfully.
The next two are very difficult. There is an argument to have Westbrook much higher on this list, but I’m not sure there’s an argument to have him lower. Some advanced stats basketball guys really don’t like Westbrook, but his numbers this year are weighed down by a ghastly first two months of the season when he was recovering from the knee procedure he had in the offseason.
He was one of the league’s most productive players after Houston traded Capela and went to a five-out system, and superstars have career years when playing alongside his attack-and-pass mentality (KD had multiple MVP-caliber seasons, Paul George was one of the league’s best players last year, and now Harden is averaging more ppg than ever).
Westbrook could still drive an efficient offense on his own when at his best, so there’s an argument he even deserves to be above Kemba/Kyrie/Lowry. The problem is that he’s so difficult to scale because he makes every team a Westbrook team.
Trae Young gets included only because of the offensive efficiency aspect. When on the floor, he drove an above-average offense with terrible supporting personnel. I elevated him above some of the young guys you’ll see lower on this list for that alone; I know if I have Trae Young, I will have a good offense.
It remains unclear whether his defense is so bad that he never really deserves this spot because his teams won’t ever win. I may regret having him this high in the future, or I will be dignified by seeing his potential and not blaming him for bad personnel.
Tier 3: Solid Starter Quality
#11- De’Aaron Fox (Sac)
20.4ppg-6.8apg-4.0rpg-1.4spg, 56%ts-30%usg, -2.5o/o, -3nrtg
#12- Malcolm Brogdon (Ind)
16.3ppg-7.1apg-4.7rpg-0.7spg, 54%ts-25%usg, +1.7o/o, +3nrtg
#13- Ben Simmons (Phi)
16.7ppg-8.2apg-7.8rpg-2.1spg, 61%ts-21%usg, -1.2o/o, +2nrtg
#14- Jamal Murray (Den)
18.8ppg-4.8apg-3.9rpg-1.2spg, 56%ts-25%usg, +6.7o/o, +6nrtg
#15- Ja Morant (Mem)
17.6ppg-6.9apg-3.5rpg-37%3p, 57%ts-26%usg, +2.1o/o, 0nrtg
#16- Eric Bledsoe (Mil)
15.4ppg-5.4apg-4.6rpg-0.9spg, 58%ts-24%usg, +3.9o/o, +13nrtg
#17- Fred VanVleet (Tor)
17.6ppg-6.6apg-1.9spg-39%3p, 55%ts-22%usg, -3.3o/o, +5nrtg
#18- Patrick Beverley (LAC)
7.9ppg-3.7apg-5.4rpg-1.1spg, 55%ts-13%usg, +6.1o/o, +10nrtg
#19- Mike Conley (Uta)
13.8ppg-4.3apg-0.8spg-38%3p, 53%ts-23%usg, -2.3o/o, +2nrtg
Admittedly, this is a big group. It starts with young talents that are just a bit away from being stars and ends with veteran players who could start on a majority of teams. Fox is probably the closest on this group to being a star in his own right.
After the Kings season started dreadfully, they really started playing better in the weeks leading up to the season’s closure, and Fox was driving that resurgence. Brogdon is pretty high on my list because he is a solid two-way player who can fit almost anywhere, and he was able to successfully run his own offense as a point guard this year after being more of a combo guard for the Bucks in seasons prior.
Also, his shooting numbers were down this year, and I expect those three-point numbers to tick back up closer to 40% in the coming seasons, making him a huge two-way weapon who can play on and off the ball.
Ben Simmons is one of the best defenders on this whole list, able to guard multiple positions and have superior help-defense instincts while on the floor. He really understands the game and is able to really solidify a team’s defense while also running in transition effectively.
The stats are all there, yet, his teams are always better when he isn’t on the floor because of how he mucks up spacing. The lack of a jump-shot means he still is not an elite player and probably will remain a liability against higher-level teams.
Jamal Murray is a player who does just about everything a solid starter at this position should do, the fact that he has not turned into a complete star doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player. Ja Morant, in my view, will rocket up this list in the coming years as his shooting gets more confident and his team gets better. In every game I watched this year, he had moments where he was the best player on the floor.
The lower people here are all solid starters in their own right. Bledsoe is one of the best defenders at his position and can fit offensively despite some inconsistent shooting. His flameouts in the playoffs have me concerned. VanVleet strikes me as a guy who probably is best as a third guard coming off the bench, but he’s smart, can defend semi-effectively, and really drive offense.
Meanwhile, Beverley deserves inclusion here because of his style of play. If you have Beverley at point guard, you need creation at other positions, for sure, he isn’t really a great distributor. However, for a low usage role player on offense, he makes players crazy on the defensive end with high energy and competitiveness.
I included Conley last because he started to show signs of turning the corner after a really bad start to the season. He can still be a good two-way starter with shooting and on-and-off ball ability.
Tier 4: Offensive Floor-Raisers
#20- Derrick Rose (Det)
18.1ppg-5.6apg-2.4rpg-49%fg, 56%ts-32%usg, +0.9o/o, -3nrtg
#21- D’Angelo Russell (Min)
23.1ppg-6.3apg-1.1spg-37%3p, 56%ts-32%usg, -2.4o/o, -8nrtg
#22- Spencer Dinwiddie (Brk)
20.6ppg-6.8apg-3.5rpg, 54%ts-29%usg, +4.2o/o, +1nrtg
#23- George Hill (Mil)
9.6ppg-2.9apg-48%3p, 67%ts-16%usg, +2.0o/o, +12nrtg
#24- Goran Dragic (Mia)
16.1ppg-5.1apg-38%3p, 57%ts-26%usg, -2.4o/o, +2nrtg
This group is meant to be players who are largely more effective as a bench guard but who can keep an offense afloat when the star players head to the bench. Rose has really returned to a productive form over the last two years with improved shooting and increased usage, but his talents are being wasted on a terrible Detroit team.
Russell, despite good counting statistics, is tough to place because there’s a reason he has been with four teams over such a short period of time. He gobbles up a ton of possessions to run about an average offense as the lead guard, but that’s about all he can do effectively and hasn’t shown an ability to fit into a larger scheme.
Dinwiddie has shown that but remains at about league average efficiency. George Hill has continued how well he played in the playoffs last year and has morphed into a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate with excellent shooting and low usage. He can fit into a good defensive scheme and shoot.
Finally, Dragic is really good as a bench guard, driving good offense with good shooting. He just is probably a bit too fragile this late in his career to gobble up the kind of minutes he used to. I’d probably rather have him than some of the others in this grouping depending on circumstance.
Tier 5: Fringe-Starter Quality
#25- Lonzo Ball (NOP)
12.4ppg-7.0apg-6.2rpg-1.4spg, 53%ts-19%usg, +3.2o/o, +1nrtg
#26- Ricky Rubio (Phx)
13.1ppg-8.9apg-4.6rpg-1.5spg, 53%ts-20%usg, +9.9o/o, +4nrtg
#27- Dennis Schroder (OKC)
19.0ppg-4.1apg-38%3p, 57%ts-27%usg, +9.3o/o, +6nrtg
#28- Patty Mills (SAS)
11.7ppg-1.8apg-38%3p, 59%ts-21%usg, +9.8o/o, +4nrtg
#29- Kendrick Nunn (Mia)
15.6ppg-3.4apg-2.7rpg-36%3p, 55%ts-24%usg, -1.1o/o, +2nrtg
#30- Reggie Jackson (LAC)
12.8ppg-4.4apg-40%3p, 53%ts-25%usg, +7.2o/o, +7nrtg
#31- Derrick White (SAS)
10.4ppg-3.4apg-3.2rpg, 59%ts-18%usg, +1.9o/o, 0nrtg
#32- Terry Rozier (Cha)
18.0ppg-4.1apg-4.4rpg-41%3p, 55%ts-24%usg, +8.0o/o, -9nrtg
#33- Dejounte Murray (SAS)
10.7ppg-4.1apg-5.8rpg-1.7spg, 54%ts-21%usg, -6.3o/o, -5nrtg
#34- Tomas Satoransky (Chi)
9.9ppg-5.4apg-3.9rpg-1.2spg, 53%ts-17%usg, +2.0o/o, -2nrtg
This is obviously more of a flawed grouping, but depending on the circumstance, every player on this section of the list would be a replacement-level to slightly-above-replacement-level starter. Ball and Rubio top this section because of their traditional point guard status as effective players.
Rubio played very well paired with Devin Booker this year, and Ball can be a solid two-way guard option, even if the shooting never quite normalizes.
Schroder, Mills, Nunn, and Jackson are all solid offensive options. Nunn was legitimately in the rookie of the year conversation, Schroder was a career best shooting this season, Patty Mills was the best of the Spurs’ plentiful guard rotation, and secretly, Reggie Jackson has become a good shooter amidst his injury concerns.
I really like Derrick White’s upside as a two-way option whose shooting gets better, but he’s probably still a year of development away from being an above-average starter. The same goes for Dejounte Murray, who had a hot-and-cold season returning from his ACL injury.
It is tough to determine whether Murray’s ghastly on-off numbers were more attributable to the fact he played in the Spurs’ lineups with DeRozan and Aldridge (which were ineffective) or because he was a drain on the team this year. My guess is that it is a little of both.
Terry Rozier was one of the harder guys to place in this list because he obviously fits as an above-average backup; we’ve seen that happen in real time. He struggled as a #1 option this year in Charlotte.
Satoransky may be ranked a little higher than his numbers this season as a starter in Chicago would indicate, but he’s clearly better than just a pure backup option.
Tier 6- Can Be Productive Depending on Circumstances
#35- Lou Williams (LAC)
18.7ppg-5.7apg-3.1rpg, 55%ts-28%usg, -5.7o/o, +5nrtg
#36- John Wall (Was)
Missed Full Season with Injury (Achilles)
#37- Collin Sexton (Cle)
20.8ppg-3.0apg-1.0spg-38%3p, 56%ts-27%usg, -3.3o/o, -9nrtg
#38- Devonte Graham (Cha)
18.2ppg-7.5apg-3.4rpg-1.0spg, 54%ts-25%usg, -9.5o/o, -5nrtg
#39- Darius Garland (Cle)
12.3ppg-3.9apg-1.9rpg-36%3p, 50%ts-21%usg, -2.1o/o, -9nrtg
This group consists entirely of players who don’t fit a traditional backup mold but who could potentially be successful depending on their role. Someone like Lou Williams has been among the best sixth men in the league for years, while someone like Darius Garland played terribly until the last couple months before the closure.
Sexton and Garland both make it here because they both have the talent and skills to be a solid offensive guard, but neither have proven in-game usefulness. The same goes for Devonte Graham, who exploded in usage for Charlotte this year.
I have Lou on top because he’s actually accomplished the offense-first model, even if his skills are deteriorating, and I have John Wall here because I just was not sure where to put him. Coming off multiple years of serious injury, I have no clue whether he will even resemble the all-star caliber player he was before.
Tier 7- Solid Backups
#40- Monte Morris (Den)
8.4ppg-3.5apg-38%3p, 54%ts-17%usg, -2.2o/o, +2nrtg
#41- Aaron Holiday (Ind)
9.4ppg-3.3apg-39%3p, 52%ts-19%usg, +1.8o/o, +2nrtg
#42- Shabazz Napier (Was)
10.3ppg-5.0apg-1.3spg, 56%ts-20%usg, +1.9o/o, -3nrtg
#43- Jalen Brunson (Dal)
8.2ppg-3.3apg-2.4rpg, 55%ts-20%usg, +3.2o/o, +7nrtg
#44- Kris Dunn (Chi)
7.3ppg-3.4apg-2.0spg, 51%ts-15%usg, +4.6o/o, 0nrtg
#45- Jeff Teague (Atl)
10.9ppg-5.2apg-37%3p, 56%ts-20%usg, -0.7o/o, -6nrtg
#46- Tyus Jones (Mem)
7.4ppg-4.4apg-0.9spg, 53%ts-17%usg, -2.0o/o, -2nrtg
#47- D.J. Augustin (Orl)
10.4ppg-4.6apg-2.2rpg, 55%ts-19%usg, +6.0o/o, +2nrtg
#48- Elfrid Payton (NYK)
10.0ppg-7.2apg-4.7rpg-1.6spg, 47%ts-20%usg, +4.4o/o, -3nrtg
#49- T.J. McConnell (Ind)
6.5ppg-5.0apg, 54%ts-17%usg, -0.2o/o, +1nrtg
#50- Cory Joseph (Sac)
6.3ppg-3.4apg-2.5rpg, 51%ts-13%usg, +4.5o/o, 0nrtg
The final members of my Top 50 list are merely good backup-quality guards who could fit into a successful rotation. Some of them are younger guys who have carved out a role on good teams (Morris, Holiday, Brunson) and others flash enough passable defensive ability to make up for inconsistent offense (Dunn, Payton, McConnell).
Jeff Teague and D.J. Augustin have both had seasons as good starters, but they’re both aging and probably had down years more because of that than random chance.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Shooting Guard will be the next position up.