The point guard used to be the focal point of an NBA offense. They were the traffic directors of the non-stop half-court motion. They were the conductors of an organized offensive orchestra. But the floor general position has since been de-valued. The Steve Nash’s and the John Stockton’s of the league are rare to find.
Instead, we have a front row seat to the evolution of the NBA into an increasingly-positionless league. Length, athleticism, and long-range shooting rule these parts now, and the traditional point guard has been tossed to the wayside.
Now, point guards are lauded for their scoring. With teams stacking up on playmakers around the court, sometimes a point guard need only put the ball in the basket to be valuable.
And going into the 2019-2020 season, the point guard is still, somehow, one of the most valuable positions in the NBA. It’s in large part due to the elite of the elite of the point guard class, and their undeniable impact on the league.
So let’s examine the top five point guards entering the upcoming season, and why their dynamic play is making sure the point guard position isn’t going anywhere:
5. Ben Simmons
The 6’10” point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers is a unique specimen. The tallest guard in the league can do most everything on the basketball court well except shoot. But that might not even matter. He followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with his first All-Star selection this past season, averaging 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game.
Simmons likes to do his damage in transition. His 4.7 possessions in transition per game was seventh in the league among guards. He converted 61% of his shot attempts in transition–most at the rim. His size and speed are almost an unstoppable combination when he gets a full steam ahead, and the Sixers love it when Simmons gets out in open space.
His length and quickness are also assets on the defensive end. Opposing players made a measly 29% of their three-point shots when Simmons was the closest defender. Simmons’ 61 blocks this season is also the most for any guard in the NBA.
As a facilitator with size, Simmons has drawn some comparisons to Magic Johnson. But at the end of the day, there may not truly be a guard out there with the size, speed, athleticism, and playmaking abilities of Ben Simmons. And he’s only going to grow on both ends of the floor as he enters his third season, again holding the reins to a 76ers squad hoping for title contention.
4. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving took some heat this year with his leadership of a young Boston Celtics team. He called out his teammates publicly, was supposed to be the leader of a team that vastly underachieved, and finally bolted for the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason after telling fans last year that he would re-sign.
While his off-court drama bubbles to the surface, his on-court play is a big reason why he’s one of the top point guards in the league. A six-time All-Star, Irving averaged 23.8 points, 6.9 assists, and 5 rebounds per game this year while shooting 40% from three-point land.
While his ability to score has never been in question, it’s his silky-smooth handles that has fans jumping out of their seats. Mere words on a screen can’t do the beauty of his ball-handling justice. So take a second to admire the craftiness and calm control of Kyrie’s handles from this past season:
Irving is a career 22 point-per game scorer and is just now hitting his prime at 26 years old. Given a new start on the Nets, Irving will have a chance to put his full repertoire on display this season before Kevin Durant, and legitimate title contention, joins him the following season.
3. Damian Lillard
Lillard continues to quietly become one of the best point guards in the NBA. With numbers similar to Irving’s, Lillard has only made four All-Star teams due to the stacked nature of the Western Conference. And with the Portland Trail Blazers never going deep into the playoffs, Lillard has been routinely overlooked.
But after this past postseason, he’s just now starting to get the recognition he deserves. He made one of the most iconic shots of the 2019 playoffs with his cold-blooded three over Paul George to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged an obscene 33 points per game in that first round series. In the second round, Lillard led his team to a gritty seven-game series victory over the second-seeded Denver Nuggets.
Even in their Conference Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, with Lillard having the full attention of the Warriors’ defense, the Blazers had double-digit leads in three of the four games. Lillard showed up in this year’s playoffs, and his career trajectory is only going up moving forward.
It is not sufficient to say that Lillard has “arrived.” for he’s already been on the scene for years. But with his performance in this past playoffs, he’s bursting into the spotlight to finally get the recognition he’s already earned.
And he’s done enough this year to cement a spot as the third-best point guard in the NBA.
For a majority of NBA history, Oscar Robertson was the only player to average a triple double in a season. In the past three years, Russell Westbrook has done it three times. This past year, Westbrook averaged 22.9 points, 10.7 assists, and 11.1 rebounds per game. He led the league in assists for the second straight season, and though his scoring numbers have dipped, let’s not forget he’s been a two-time scoring champ in the past.
This past season, Westbrook continued to astound with the second-ever 20-20-20 triple-double. Against the Los Angeles Lakers in April, Westbrook complied an otherworldly stat line of 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 21 assists.
His relentless motor and ability to get going downhill puts immense pressure on an opposing defense. Westbrook averaged 18.4 drives per game this year, which ranked third in the NBA. He’ll continue his unending quest to get to the rim with force in Houston, as he teams up with fellow MVP and former teammate James Harden.
Westbrook is an eight-time All-Star and a former league MVP. He is the master of individual accolades and statistical dominance. He’s a high-volume scorer, an underrated passer, and a high-energy force on the court. He’ll stuff the stat sheet in every way imaginable, and he’s rocketed his way to becoming the second-best point guard in the game right now.
The best point guard in the league has never been in question. There was a time not long ago when he was considered, by some, as the best overall player in the league. But the rise of the Warriors’ superteam and the arrival of Kevin Durant cast a shadow over the reputation of Stephen Curry.
But like them or hate them, the Warriors’ dynasty run is likely over. And as the dust settles, Curry still stands atop the mountain of elite point guards in today’s NBA.
A two-time MVP, including the first unanimous MVP in league history, a six-time All-Star, a former scoring champ, and a three-time NBA champion. He continued his brilliance this past season, averaging 27.3 points, 5.2 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game.
But his revolutionary play stems from his three-point shooting, and this past year he averaged 5.1 made threes per game, which was tops in the league. He shot threes at an impressive 43.7% clip this year, which ranked fourth-highest in the NBA of all players who attempted at least three triples a game. But of course, Curry attempted an insane 11.1 three’s per game, second only to James Harden.
A career 43.6% three-point shooter, Curry will go down as one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time. He already holds the record for most made threes in a season (402), and it’s merely a matter of time before Curry hunts down Ray Allen for the most made three’s in NBA history.
Next season, he’ll have a fresh start on a younger, new-look Warriors team sans KD and Klay Thompson. Don’t forget that the last time Curry had full control of the Warriors offense was 2015-16, when he averaged 30 points per game and joined the elite 50-40-90 club that season.
Some already peg him to be a dark horse MVP candidate. Next season, Curry will have the full attention of both opposing defenses and of fans anxious to see Steph unleashed.
And perhaps the world will again get a chance to see, that in a league full of high-scoring point guards, why Steph Curry is still undoubtedly the best one around.