The game has transitioned from an era of dominant big men to one controlled by players around the perimeter. At perhaps the most premium position in basketball, I’m going to rank my top five point guards in the NBA.
For my rankings, positions are defined by Basketball-Reference for the 2019-20 season. That means Ben Simmons is a PF and not a PG. Just for note, injured players are included on my list. Below are my results.
5. Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
In a deal involving Russell Westbrook, Paul was somewhat of an afterthought as he was shipped from the Houston Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only has Paul revitalized his career in OKC, but the Thunder have been a surprise team in 2020 and should be considered a sleeper out of the West this postseason.
Paul has been spectacular in 2019-20. He’s averaging nearly 18 points, 6.8 assists, and about 5 rebounds per game. The Thunder floor general is also among the leaders in free-throw percentage as Paul has made 90 percent of his shots from the charity stripe in 2020.
A career 9.5-assist-per-game player, Paul’s ball-handling duties have lessened quite a bit this season due to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a future superstar. Even with his usage and assist-rates down, Paul made his first All-Star appearance in nearly four seasons. At 34 years old, Paul has silenced doubters and proved that he is still an elite option in the backcourt.
He doesn’t score as much as Trae Young, and he isn’t as flashy as Ja Morant, but Paul is elite in just about every facet of the game. He’s still an elite defender and a highly efficient player who is capable of dominating on or off the ball. There probably aren’t many years left for Paul in the top five at his position, but he’s on of the best point guards of all-time and should certainly remain in the top 10 until his career is finished.
4. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
This season Westbrook and the Houston Rockets have taken the definition of small ball to another level. After the departure of Clint Capela in late January, Westbrook led the NBA in points in the paint at 19.2 per game. To put things into perspective, that’s more than Zion Williamson (18.3) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (16.3).
Why has Westbrook been so effective since the trade? Four shooters surround him, and Mike D’Antoni has allowed him to do what he does best, attack the basket. Westbrook is currently having the most efficient year of his career to date. The Rocket’s point guard is shooting a career-high 47.4% from the field while still collecting eight boards and dishing out seven assists per night.
This is what makes @russwest44 so dangerous. When he’s having a bad shooting night, Russ is still able to create so many open shots for everyone else.
— Aqib Gazi (@Aqib_Rockets) July 27, 2020
What knocks Russ on this list is shooting outside of the paint. His three-point and free-throw percentages have taken quite a hit this season. Shooting just 25.4 percent from three, Westbrook is in the midst of his worst three-point season since 2009. He’s also shooting below average from the charity stripe at 77 percent, compared to his 80 percent career average.
On occasion, Westbrook fails to show up in the playoffs but should benefit tremendously from the extra rest. I’m still unsold on the Rocket’s small-ball lineup, as the West has several teams that boast strong frontcourts like the Lakers and Nuggets. Although the sample size is small, having another MVP-candidate in James Harden alongside Westbrook should greatly benefit him.
Had the Rockets moved to send Capela off earlier, Westbrook might be putting up numbers to garner MVP consideration. He’s an easy top-five selection who has the tools to make the top three if he continues his stellar play in Orlando this month.
3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
A couple of years ago, it might have sounded crazy to put Lillard in the top five of any list. Times have changed since then. Lillard is now a shoo-in at the All-Star Game after being snubbed numerous times in previous years.
Lillard silenced critics during last year’s playoffs, as he led Portland to the Western Conference Finals while compiling several signature moments during his playoff run. He single-handily broke up the Russ-PG era in Oklahoma City with one of the best scoring streaks in NBA Playoff history that included one of the most memorable game-winners of all-time.
On Damian Lillard's 30th birthday, we celebrate one of the greatest game-winners in NBA Playoff history. Is @Dame_Lillard the most clutch player in the NBA? #NBA #RipCity @trailblazers pic.twitter.com/ukkp6XTkXk
— Stick2Sports Podcast (@stick2sports) July 15, 2020
This season, Lillard has improved his game in just about every area. He’s putting up career-highs in both points, assists, and made threes per game (28.9, 7.8, 3.9 made 3’s). The Blazers are in the middle of their worst season since Dame’s rookie year, but the star point guard deserves little fault for any of that. He leads the Blazers in scoring and has played the most minutes for a team that has been plagued by injuries yet again in 2020.
Even with Portland 3.5 games out of the 8th spot in the West, Dame and the Blazers have been dangerous in the postseason. Lillard’s playoff averages include 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game. He also shoots 35 percent from three and 87 percent from the foul line during the postseason.
The question isn’t if Lillard will show up come playoff time, but more about if his teammates can match his stellar play. It’s a shame that Portland hasn’t put Lillard in a position to make a title run, but with the additions of Carmelo Anthony and Jusuf Nurkic in Orlando, the Blazers look like a dark horse in this year’s playoffs.
2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Luka mania, Luka magic. Call it whatever you want, but Doncic may be the best young player that we’ve ever seen in an NBA uniform. Doncic recorded a rookie season for the ages in 2019, joining the great Oscar Robertson as the only player to put up the kind of numbers he did during his rookie campaign. If you thought his rookie season was outstanding, it’s hard to fathom that he could get better the following year.
That’s precisely what he’s done in 2020, averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game. Doncic’s trajectory is unprecedented, and he’s by far the best 22-year-old we’ve ever seen in the sport of basketball. At this rate, he’s set to pass even LeBron James and Michael Jordan. This season, Doncic has increased his averages in every statistical category except for his three-point shooting. His efforts were rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game this season, as Doncic was voted as a starter.
💫 LUKA MAGIC 💫
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) July 14, 2020
Unlike Devin Booker or Trae Young, Doncic isn’t stat padding on a lottery team, as he has the Mavericks 2.5 games out of the six seed the West. Doncic is leading the best offense (statistically) in NBA history this season, and Dallas could be a surprise contender in this year’s playoffs barring any setbacks or injuries.
Even without playoff experience, we’ve seen Doncic unafraid of the moment, and he has shown the ability to hit pressure shots in clutch situations. Given his track record and trajectory, Doncic has all the making of a perennial MVP-candidate, and it shouldn’t be too long before he takes the number one spot on this list.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
The Warrior’s point guard appeared in only five games this season and still manages to sneak into the top two. Curry’s averages through five games are nowhere near the gaudy stats we’re used to seeing him put up on a nightly basis, and for a good reason. I mean, take a look at some of the lineups Golden State has rolled out onto the court this season. Even with so few games under his belt in 2020, Curry’s skillset and resume solidify his position as the top point guard in the league.
Steph Curry heads to the locker room with an apparent wrist injury after taking a scary fall. pic.twitter.com/xt4fgp6Y4U
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) October 31, 2019
There’s little doubt that Curry is the greatest shooter in the history of basketball. When Curry gets hot, he’s one of the hardest players to stop in the NBA, given his unlimited range, tight handle, and elite finishing ability. The 3x NBA champ has also been crowned the league’s leading three-point scorer numerous times. Curry led the league in made threes five seasons in a row and set the NBA record with 402 made threes in 2015-16.
After winning two MVPs, the Warriors found themselves with Kevin Durant as the best player on their roster. Curry often found himself playing second fiddle to Durant, and his numbers took a slight hit. Despite the addition of an MVP-caliber player, Curry still averaged 26.8 points per game. With Durant now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Curry’s production will be back at an MVP-level.
No Kevin Durant and a healthy Klay Thompson should ensure that we’ll see the MVP version of Steph in 2021. His per-minute production with Durant and Thompson for the last three seasons combined bested even that of James Harden. Although we won’t get to see Curry as a lone horse much as we saw at the end of the Finals in 2019, the Warrior star gave us a few glimpses as so what we should expect in the future.
After missing 58 games with a hand injury this season, Curry posted 23 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in 27 minutes in a game against the Toronto Raptors. You could see the type of energy and excitement Steph brings to the Warriors with his presence alone. Now imagine that for 82 games and add in a healthy Klay Thompson and Draymond Green; that’s spells championship formula to me.