Dec. 02, 2016
Ranking the NBA Point Gods...
The 82-game marathon that is the NBA season offers so much to talk about. The top story deals with a litany of the game's top stars, aligning for what should make for an intense MVP race. There's also the narrative of a few quiet contenders that have made this season more than just the Cavaliers vs. Warriors show. But, of course, I decided I wanted to discuss perhaps one of the toughest topics in the NBA world. The challenge comes with ranking perhaps the deepest position in the entire league. Honestly, you can't go wrong in ranking any of the top-five guys, but any avenue you decide to choose will get some scrutiny. It was tough deciding on whether or not I should base this off of legacy or just solely on the 2016 season. If I did that, though, Tony Parker would be the best PG in the NBA. Therefore, these rankings will be solely based off what we've seen this year, taking both team and individual in stride. Let's get started, and feel free to share your opinions on the subject as well.
• 1) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder - The explosive 5-time All-Star is the epitome of a player who puts up 'video game numbers'. Fans expected monster numbers from the Thunder guard, but it's fair to say he's exceeded some expectations. This doesn't look like 2014 - this year's version of Westbrook is better, and it looks like he has enough artillery to push this Thunder team into the Playoffs, given a small sample size. Westbrook recorded his 9th triple-double of the season in a 126-115 triumph over the Washington Wizards last night, and he's shown no signs of stopping. At the moment, he's averaging an unreal 30-10-11 line (which isn't even easy to do in NBA 2K, I might add), and he's making it look easy, with a triple-double coming in nearly every other game. The question now stands: can he hold up this form throughout the entire season? If he can do that, and manage to help the Thunder return to the upper echelon of Western Conference elites (among Golden State, San Antonio, and possibly the Clippers?), he may not just be the league MVP and premier PG, but also the best player on the planet. Yeah, I said it.
• 2) Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors - It's really 1A, 1B at this point in time for the league's top point guard. One thing I'll never be able to understand, though, is the hate for Stephen Curry. Here's a guy that has won back-to-back MVPs, led the greatest regular-season team of all-time (and nearly won back-to-back titles), and is perhaps the greatest shooter of all time at age 28. And even just during this season, Curry has been incredible. Even after joining forces with a 4-time Scoring champion and former MVP in Kevin Durant, the Chef has still managed to average 26.6 points per game, and has helped nullify any speculation of potential chemistry issues for this Warriors team. They've been able to take every distraction in stride, and just keep draining three pointers. Even if it doesn't seem fair, the Warriors are arguably the most fun team to watch in the NBA. Even more importantly, they're right up there for the best, and seem like a surefire candidate to represent the Western Conference in June, and Curry is the biggest reason why.
• 3) Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers - Don't let Portland's revolving door defense fool you. Damian Lillard is still one of the very best PGs on the planet. We're only a quarter into the season, and we've already seen 'Lillard Time' on multiple occasions. The Blazers' 2-time All-Star has already scored 30+ points in eight games this season, and if not for him, the Blazers might be a lottery team. Last season, Portland flew under the radar, and now they're struggling to regain their niche from a season ago, which saw them make the Western Conference Semi-Finals in impressive fashion. If the Blazers are able to return to prominence, the Weber State grad will be the biggest reason for that. The most impressive thing, to me, about Lillard's ascension is while Lillard is scoring more points and ramping up his production across the board, his efficiency has also improved, with career-highs in FG%, FT%, and Player Efficiency Rating. As the season goes on, we'll see if Lillard can maintain this level of play. If he can get Portland back into the upper echelon of teams in the West, and keep improving his defense, there's no reason he can't be the league's absolute best PG.
• 4) Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers - I've said it before. Kyrie Irving has some of the best offensive game in the NBA. Adding an NBA championship to his resume did nothing but add to his confidence. In turn, we're seeing a career season for Kyrie Irving, even as he's the 1A, 1B option. So far, my prediction has proved true. Irving is leading the Cavaliers in scoring, and he's even stepped things up on the defensive end. While his assists are down this season, as well as his rebounds, he's made up for that in efficiency. He's scarily close to a 50-40-90 season, and his clutch play has been up to par as well. Irving would certainly be higher if he were the alpha dog on his team, but Westbrook and Lillard are the clear-cut alphas on their team. Still, as long as he continues to help the Cavaliers run teams out of the gym, things should fare well for him. He's truly a player with no distinct flaws in his game, and his stock will be trending upward for the foreseeable future.
• 5) Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers - I might catch some flack for placing Paul in the five slot. Believe this - Chris Paul is still the best traditional PG in the entire league. A week ago, Paul had the Clippers at the very top of the Western Conference standings. While a three-game losing streak has soured a November that saw the Clippers win 11 of 12 games, the 2008 MVP runner-up has not been the reason why. In his last game, Paul finished with a triple-double, and has been a model of consistency. You know exactly what you're going to get with Chris Paul every night. All that's left for Paul to do is have a sensational Playoff bid that runs into June. Paul could just as easily be the league's top PG, but it's hard to place him atop the players mentioned above, given that he might not be the best player on his team. That's not a bad thing, though, as he and Blake Griffin are the perfect complement. At the end of the day, all that matters is that the Clippers put themselves in position for April, and so far, they are doing well.
• 6) John Wall, Washington Wizards - I almost criminally underrated John Wall before I came to my senses. From a pure point guard standpoint, Wall is a top-two guard, and it's been very entertaining to watch Wall fine tune his jump shot. He's been shooting the long ball at an impressive clip, and he's still on that 20-10-5 borderline. Unfortunately, Wall joins his Kentucky alums, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Eric Bledsoe (Devin Booker?) as sensational, elite performers who don't have enough help to win games. Wall is better than ever, but you wouldn't know that from looking at the Wizards record. Bradley Beal is coming along, so their back court is going to need to carry them to the Playoffs. If the Wizards manage to provide the 3-time All-Star with some solid help, he should be able to guide them there. If not, I think Wall has cemented himself as a borderline top-five PG in the league at this point.
• 7) Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics - Coming into the 2016-17 campaign, many expected the Boston Celtics to challenge for the Cavs' throne in the Eastern Conference. For a while, it didn't seem likely. The Celtics have resurrected themselves after a suspect start to the season, and Thomas has been instrumental in that process. Additionally, he's been the epitome of consistency, scoring 24+ in nine games this season, and he's topped 20+ in all but one game this season. Injuries have hit the Celtics hard this season, as they've already lost Al Horford, Jae Crowder, and others throughout the season. Thomas has been the constant, the glue holding this team together. He mentioned that he wanted to be just like Allen Iverson, and we certainly see that. Huge scoring numbers with efficiency that leaves much to be desired. Still, he's kept this Celtics team alive, and now they've got a chance to keep moving up in the standings. If the Celtics manage to get Banner #18, it'll likely go through Thomas.
• 8) Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets - For a little while, Kemba Walker had all the momentum. After guiding the Hornets to a franchise best (8-3) record, the former Connecticut Huskies guard was garnering MVP dark horse consideration. While his team's production has slipped in some close losses, his hot start has hardly cooled. Walker is close to a guaranteed 25-5-5 per night, and his clutch play has been unparalleled. Walker already has a couple of Jordan-esque fourth quarter performances in his back pocket, dating back to his college days. This season has been no different. The most impressive facet of Walker's game thus far? His incredible improvements in his efficiency. Walker has improved his field goal percentage by a full 5%, and his long range shooting by a whopping 6%, and he's doing this on only two turnovers per game. He's truly stepped into the role as the big-dog, the go-to-guy on a Playoff team, and he's got the Hornets looking pretty impressive at the moment. Charlotte will only go as far as Walker can take them, and their future seems bright with their lightning quick PG.
• 9) Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors - Justifying that there are eight points guards better than Kyle Lowry seems tough to say. Lowry's just one of those players who flies under the radar. He's been extremely consistent. You can always rely on at least 15-5-5 per night from the former Villanova Wildcat. With his teammate, DeMar DeRozan having an MVP-type season, Lowry has quietly poured in a solid season. What makes him so likable is the fact that he's leading the Raptors, one of the NBA's underdogs. Everybody knows that the Eastern Conference runs through the Cavaliers, and it probably will as long as LeBron James is playing. Still, Lowry and his group will be perhaps their toughest challenge. If the Raptors are able to build on a franchise-best season and gain a trip to the NBA Finals, it'll mostly boil down to how Lowry plays. It's inspiring to see how well Lowry has been playing as of late, shooting 22-of-35 (62.8%) from the field overall, and 14-of-19 (73.6%) from deep in his last three games. It's not likely that he sustains this, but it's hard to deny that Lowry is still one of the best, underrated players in our league.
• 10) Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies - Memphis games are sometimes tough to watch for me. In the 'Grind House' points are usually hard to come by. One thing's for certain, though - Mike Conley gets buckets. The future seemed bleak a season ago, when the Grizzlies were forced to play 28 different players heading into the Playoffs. Conley and his front court mates Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been the glue that keeps the Grizzlies intact, and now, Memphis gets a real test. With Conley missing time - up to six weeks - with lower back fractures, fans will get to see just how important Conley was to this team. I, like many, were flabbergasted at the news of Conley receiving the massive 5-year, $153 million dollar contract. Conley's been able to live up to most of that, I'd say. He's still not an MVP-type player, but he should be a consistent All-Star threat throughout his prime, and that is exactly what the Grizzlies need right now.
• Best of the Rest, Top 20 - Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Derrick Rose, Goran Dragic, D'Angelo Russell/Jordan Clarkson, Dennis Schroder, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jeff Teague, Elfrid Payton, & Brandon Knight // Not Listed Due to Injury - Reggie Jackson, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, and Ricky Rubio
As a disclaimer, all stats are accurate as of Wednesday, November 30 before games were played. I added in Conley's injury though. And as usual, much respect and appreciation to anyone who took the time out to read this. Any constructive criticism, comments, and inquiries are also appreciated. All this was written simply from the mind of a 18-year old sports fanatic with a dream of making it big. If you have further questions, shoot me an e-mail at [email protected], or leave a comment below. Have a great day.