NBA point guard rankings: Who's the best of the best at the league's deepest position?

The Cauldron

It's become clear over the last few years that the NBA is increasingly becoming a point guard's league. Rule changes that outlawed hand-checking, and an increased emphasis on pick-and-roll play made sure of that. This season, in particular, the play at the position is so astoundingly spectacular that there's no other way to digest it than to power rank the league's point guards.There are 25 point guards who have a PER of at least 15.0 (league average), so that's how many we'll rank. Because this is a proper Power Ranking, we'll work our way down to No. 1 at the end, rather than starting with it up top.

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NBA point guard rankings: Who's the best of the best at the league's deepest position?

25. C.J. Watson, Indiana Pacers

He did a pretty decent job filling in for the injured George Hill. Watson himself didn’t play for the first 15 games of Indiana’s season, but is averaging 11.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 26.6 minutes per game since, to go with 45–38–81 shooting. Watson ideally is a perfectly capable backup who doesn’t do more than he’s asked, which isn’t a whole lot.

(Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

24. Tony Wroten, Philadelphia 76ers

Another injury fill-in here. Wroten took Michael Carter-Williams’ place while the reigning Rookie of the Year was hurt and actually played pretty well. In the first 15 games of the year (14 starts), Wroten averaged 17.9 points and 6.3 assists per game, but the 76ers went 0–15 and Wroten played a huge part in their atrocious 91.9 offensive efficiency with his turnovers and poor shooting. Wroten’s been less effective since MCW’s return, mostly because he doesn’t touch the ball nearly as much. He’s shooting slightly better, but is still turning it over a ton and dragging down the offense.

(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

23. Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons

I’m not entirely sure anyone would think this dude was good if he hadn’t scored 55 points in the seventh game of his rookie year.

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

22. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

How the mighty have fallen. Williams was replaced in Brooklyn’s starting lineup by Jarrett Jack, and recently he’s not even been the first man off the bench. He’s shooting south of 40 percent from the field, he’s lost way more than just a step, and his defense has hit a whole new low.

(Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

21. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks

Rondo, meanwhile, is averaging more than 10 assists per game, but his reluctance and inability to shoot from anywhere outside the immediate area of the rim is so, so damaging. Dallas’ offensive efficiency has dropped in each game Rondo’s played. His defense is helping Dallas a little bit, but that may just be because it’s extraordinarily hard to be worse on defense than the departed Jameer Nelson. In actuality, Rondo hasn’t been a consistently positive defensive force for at least a few years.

(Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

20. Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs

Joseph’s done a really nice job filling in for Patty Mills as Tony Parker’s backup and sometimes starter when Gregg Popovich decides Parker needs some rest. Just 30 games into the season, he’s two-thirds of the way to setting a new career-high in minutes played. For the third straight year, he’s improved his shooting percentage both overall and from three, and he’s using a greater percentage of team possessions while on the floor than ever before. He’s turned himself into a really solid role player, just like every Spurs role player before him. This year, “really solid role player” is only good enough for 20th.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

19. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

18. Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks

Both of these guys could reasonably be described as “solid starting point guards.” Knight gets the edge over Walker thanks mostly to better shooting. Neither one of these guys is the most dynamic guard, but while Walker drives to the basket more often, Knight finishes better on his drives.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

17. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder

Jackson, like a bunch of other players on this list, began the season as an injury-replacement starter and has since moved back to a back-up/sixth man role. He’s just better at it than those other guys. Jackson is Oklahoma City’s de facto third scorer when everyone’s healthy, and he’s formed a really nice offense-defense combination with Andre Roberson when they’ve played together.

Jackson continues to be dangerous when attacking the basket — his drives have produced the 15th-most points in the league. If he were shooting better than 29 percent or so from deep, he might be higher on this list despite his decidedly secondary role.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

16. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

Our injury guys. Parker and Rose have peak performance levels far higher than multiple players ahead of them here, but they simply haven’t played enough games to push themselves any higher on the list.

Parker’s only played about 45 percent of San Antonio’s minutes for the season, but he’s shooting a blistering 51 percent from the field and 62 percent from three (on his most deep attempts per game in a decade). One thing that keeps him behind Rose and others is the stark decline in his usage, particularly the amount of teammate baskets he’s assisted, which is down from over 40 percent two years ago to under 30 percent this season. It definitely doesn’t help that he’s only played three of the last 13 games, nor that his defense has undoubtedly slipped. Still, when Parker’s played with the rest of San Antonio’s starters, they’ve once again punished the league, this year by 13.4 points per 100 possessions. That counts for something.

(Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

15. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

Rose, meanwhile, has played even less than Parker, but most of his missed games came toward the beginning of the season. In December, he’s shooting about 47 percent on 18 shots a game, as opposed to the 40 percent clip on 13 shots a night he had through November. Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol have taken some of the pressure off Rose to create anything and everything for the Bulls’ offense, and both he and the team have been better for it. As good as Chicago’s offense has been this year relative to the last couple — they’re sixth in the league in offensive efficiency after checking in 28th last year and 24th in 2012–13 — it’s still been better with Rose on the floor than off, by 2.2 points per 100 possessions.

(Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

14. Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings

Collison has been much better in Sacramento than anyone — including, and especially, me — ever guessed he would be. He has a totally preposterous +20.5 on/off Net Rating, with the Kings outscoring opponents by 5.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the court and getting blasted by 15.0 pts/100 when he sits. He’s shooting over 38 percent from three on a career-high in attempts per game. He’s shooting even better in December: 51 percent from the field and 49 percent from deep.

And maybe most importantly, he’s helping Boogie Cousins play the best ball of his career. The Kings are destroying opponents by 15.9 points per 100 possessions when they play together, and Collison has been the passer on exactly half of Boogie’s assisted baskets.

(Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

13. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets

Lawson is our league leader in drives per game for the second straight year, and the only things keeping him from being higher on this list are the ridiculously good play of so many other point guards and his poor shooting, particularly from three (sensing a theme there, are ya?). He’s shooting just over 41 percent from the field and under 31 percent from deep, each career-low marks. Unfortunately for Lawson, his lack of size on defense is still, as ever, a problem. Denver’s been 4.5 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with him on the floor.

But Denver’s offense falls apart when he comes out of the game — they score a Philly-esque 91.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the bench. Lawson’s also checking in with more than 10 dimes a night — assisting on a career-high 44.4 percent of Denver baskets while on the court — and routinely putting pressure on opposing point guards with his speed. He’s driving to the basket 13 times a game, per the NBA’s SportVU data, and only James Harden has produced more points with his drives.

(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

12. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

Dragic hasn’t been quite the dynamo he was last year when the Suns took the league by surprise. His scoring and assists are down a tick, both on a per-game and as a percentage of team baskets basis. He’s not shooting quite as well from the field or from three, and he’s not getting to the free throw line quite as often.

But he still has a True Shooting mark over 58 percent, and he rarely turns the ball over. Like last year, he’s one of the best finishers in the league when he drives to the basket, connecting on over 58 percent of those shots, which is fourth in the league among the 62 players averaging at least 5.0 drives per game. He’s teamed with Markieff Morris to form a pick-and-roll tandem that, while not quite as deadly as his partnership with Channing Frye, is still very effective. And he still plays very well off backcourt-mate Eric Bledsoe. When those three are on the court together, Phoenix has a plus-6.9 Net Rating that would rank fifth in the league.

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

11. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans

About a month ago, I termed Holiday the 13th or 14th best point guard in the league, but here he gets the nod over Dragic and Lawson due to his superior defensive acumen, and Parker due to both defense and playing time. Holiday’s become a slightly better finisher this year, as evidenced by his 52.3 field goal percentage on drives as opposed to 45.9 percent last year.

He’s also slashed his turnovers a ton this year, and he’s played a role in Anthony Davis become an all-around freakazoid and destroyer of worlds. When Holiday and Davis have played with Ryan Anderson, the Pellies have put up an otherworldly 117.5 points per 100 possessions in over 380 minutes. Like with Lawson and others, Holiday’s team’s offense has fallen apart with him out of the game. He might have cracked the top 10 if he got to the free throw line more or was shooting better from three, but alas.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

10. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

Phoenix’s “other” point guard kicks off our top 10. Much like Dragic, he hasn’t been quite as good as he was last season, but he’s still one of the most versatile, athletic players in the league, regardless of position. If Russell Westbrook didn’t exist, he’d be the best rebounder in the league from the point guard spot. He defends just as hard as a guy like Holiday, only he takes on both point guards and off guards with equal frequency. He gets the nod over Dragic due to Phoenix’s offense and defense both being slightly better with Bledsoe on the floor than the Dragon.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

9. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

It’s a damn shame I couldn’t find a way to bump Teague up higher. He’s averaging career highs in both points and assists per-36 minutes, sporting his best PER, True Shooting percentage, free-throw rate and assist percentage of his career, and his team has the fifth-best record in the league. That Teague’s sitting down in ninth should only be a reflection of just how good the rest of these guys have been, not a slighting of his play.

Teague’s at the controls of what has been the NBA’s 12th-best offense so far this year, but with Teague on the floor they’ve scored better than all but three teams. He’s finding Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap for baskets seemingly every eight seconds, and he’s got Atlanta humming along despite what’s been a slightly subpar (for him) season from Al Horford.

Teague has also improved a bit on defense, not getting caught on screens quite as often and — to my eye — communicating a bit better with his bigs on pick-and-rolls. And the seventh-ranked Hawks D has been about two points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Given the relatively weak guard crop in the East, Teague might even deserve to be an All-Star come February.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

8. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

So much has been made this season of Irving’s passing that not enough attention has been paid to how well he’s been scoring the ball. LeBron James coming to town was bound to lead to a decline in Irving’s assists and that indeed has happened, but he’s responded with the best shooting season of his career as well as a career-high free throw rate.

He still has possibly the best handle in the league; at times, the ball appears impossible to take away from him. Cleveland’s fourth-ranked offense has been an absurd 17.4 points per 100 possessions better with Irving on the floor, and despite the aesthetics, the Cavs have set fire to the league offensively when Irving and LeBron have played together.

Irving still leaves something to be desire as a defender, but he’s undoubtedly put in the work to improve on that end. The Cavs as a whole haven’t executed their defensive scheme well enough and they haven’t defended exceptionally well with Kyrie on the court, but you can tell he’s made a concerted effort to be more stout at the point of attack.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I almost feel dirty putting Dame all the way down at seventh. The dude is ridiculous — a cold-blooded, crunch-time killer in the mold of former Blazer Brandon Roy. He’s setting career-high marks in basically everything and he’s somehow become an even better shooter than he already was.

There are few shots more automatic right now than Lillard pulling up from behind a screen. There aren’t enough good things I can say about the way he’s playing right now. He’s really only in this spot because of the preposterous play of the guys ahead of him and the fact that Portland has played the league’s second-easiest schedule, per Basketball-Reference.

(Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

6. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies

On track for career highs in points, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, True Shooting, free-throw rate, usage rate and PER, Conley has taken over co-No. 1 option duties this season along with Marc Gasol, seamlessly grabbing the reins from Zach Randolph.

There are few things more beautiful on a basketball court than the high pick-and-roll dance Conley and Gasol perform nightly, with Conley poking and prodding the smallest of creases until one of them has an opening or a help defender over-commits to create an opportunity elsewhere. Gasol is getting the MVP attention, but the work Conley has done leading the best Memphis offense of the Grit ‘n Grind era cannot and should not and will not be overlooked here.

Were this a just world, we’d find a way to sneak him onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team, because there’s just no way he cracks the field in the West given the profile of the guys ahead of him. I’ve got him in front of Lillard here basically just because he’s a better defender. In reality, the two of them — and the next guy on the list — could go in any order and I don’t think you could get me to argue it.

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

5. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

The best player on what has thus far been the East’s best team, Lowry is surpassing his career-best season from last year, when he should have been an All-Star but wasn’t. There’s no debate this time around. The dude is making the team. Lowry’s got the Raps humming along with the league’s best offense, he’s getting to the line a ton, and I think he’s turned it over once every five games or so.

He’s kept the Raps more than afloat in DeMar DeRozan’s absence, even if it took them until last week’s game against the Clippers to get a win against a winning team with DD out. He’s shouldering a massive load for Toronto’s offense and still finding a way to grind possessions out on D, particularly when guarding pick-and-rolls in tandem with Amir Johnson. A spectacular season.

(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

4. John Wall, Washington Wizards

Wall pushes a defense to its breaking point. When he gets in the open court, it is a thing of beauty; he finds shooters in a way unmatched by anyone else in the league, and he’s become one of the most acrobatic fast-break finishers I’ve ever seen.

In the halfcourt, he is crafty and equally skilled at picking out shooters dotted along the arc, as well as a force driving his way to the rim. But a little too often, he still settles for that mid-range jumper every defense wants him to take because they know they can’t stop him with a head of steam. Still, he’s setting career-highs in shooting, assisting on an otherworldly 46.4 percent of Washington’s baskets while on the floor and defending at a First Team All-Defense caliber level on the other end.

He’s going to very deservedly start for the East in the All-Star Game.

(Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

If Wall pushes a defense to its breaking point, Westbrook basically operates as though the opposing defense does not exist. The players on the other team are irrelevant as he gets to any spot he wants on the floor. Attacking in the pick-and-roll, in isolation, from the post, whatever — if he wants a spot, he gets it. He started off in his return from injury having cut down a bit on his threes — a welcome development — but even though he’s gone back to taking them more frequently as the games without Kevin Durant have piled up, he’s still not chucking them up at an absurd rate.

The numbers he’s compiled, and in the minutes he’s compiled them, are utterly absurd and unheard of in the history of American professional basketball. He’s averaging 28.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists in less than 32 minutes per game. Oh, and 2.3 steals a night too. That’s a 31.7–6.5–8.6–2.5 per-36 minutes line. That, my friends, is insane. He’d be No. 1 here if he wasn’t turning the ball over so much, even if that can be somewhat excused by having to play without Durant.

(Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

While Wall pushes a defense to its breaking point, and Westbrook plays as if the defense doesn’t exist, Paul takes anything the defense does and uses it against them. If they cheat away from their man and try to muck up his driving lanes, he hits the correct pass — always. If everyone stays home, he beats the man in front of him. If the defense plays things perfectly, he just keeps moving, probing every possible angle until they mess up. He is a modern marvel of ball control, the Aaron Rodgers of the NBA.

He’s still an absurdly good shooter from mid-range and in the paint, and his three-point marks have even ticked back up to 40 percent. He’s got the Clippers checked in with the NBA’s third-best offense despite a downright mortal season from Blake Griffin. There is still nobody on the planet who can control every inch of the floor quite like he can. In any normal year, he’d be a shoe-in for No. 1, but this is not a normal year.

(Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

And that’s because 2014–15 Stephen Curry exists, forcing NBA defenses to scrap everything that normally works and go completely haywire.

The volume and accuracy of his shooting is a skill unrivaled by anyone we’ve ever seen. It is a weapon that simply cannot be stopped, almost no matter how you defend it. Blitzing doesn’t work, trapping doesn’t either, and we know damn well you can’t go under a screen.

In addition to his offensive exploits, Curry is now playing an active rather than passive role in what’s been the NBA’s best defense to this point. Steve Kerr has given him far more defensive responsibility than Mark Jackson ever did, finally allowing Curry to test himself against the best offensive point guards in the league, and Curry’s succeeding. He’s not only no longer a liability on defense, he’s an asset.

And right now, he’s the best point guard in the league.

(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)


(Note: We're only considering players who have registered a PER of at least 15.0, played in at least 15 games and averaged at least 25 minutes per game. The rankings are based on a combination of statistics, copious game and film-watching, and of course, a bit of subjectivity, and strictly on performance during this season. I also created a poll just for fun. All team stats through games on Dec. 29.)

Related links:
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For more sports coverage, please visit The Cauldron and follow Jared Dubin on Twitter: @JADubin5
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