NBA

NBA top 15 point guard rankings: Stephen Curry leads pack; Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard round out top three

1 Have the masses forgotten just how great Curry is? It sort of feels this way with all the talk that the Warriors are sunk without Klay Thompson. The Thompson loss is a huge hit, no doubt, but the Warriors are going to be fast and athletic with Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins on the wings, rookie James Wiseman catching lobs and a motivated Draymond Green. Curry has stuff to work with, and chances are we’re all going to be reminded just how much he can impact even a mediocre team. I’d put him in my top four MVP candidates for the opportunity he has in front of him to once again put a team nobody is taking seriously on his back, which is how he cut his superstar teeth in the first place. 2
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A showman! A superstar! A superhero! How is one supposed to describe Doncic without gushing or invoking all-time greats? This is a 21-year-old who had virtually the same usage rate as Harden last season, completely controlling the most efficient offense in NBA history. He raised his game in the bubble, hit a legendary shot in the playoffs and led the league in awe-inspiring plays. We haven’t seen anyone like him since LeBron, and even LeBron didn’t make the All-NBA first team in Year 2. 3
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To me, Lillard trails only Luka Doncic in MVP likelihood. The Blazers had a great offseason, and Lillard just continues to get better, as impossible as that seems given the heights to which he has raised his game in recent years. What he did in getting Portland into the playoffs in the bubble was beyond extraordinary. It used to be laughable to try to put any point guard in the class of Stephen Curry, but Lillard has changed that. You have to talk about him in the same conversation as the very best players in the world. To me, he should be above James Harden, but my vote was drowned out here. 4
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Considering the number of talented point guards that have entered the league in the last decade, many of whom attended his camp, it is staggering that the 35-year-old Paul still ranks above almost all of them. It’s not as easy for him to break down the defense or stay in front of his man at this stage, but he remains almost peerless when it comes to creating and capitalizing on tiny advantages. Even more than his spectacular first season in Houston, Paul’s stopover in OKC was a master class in coexisting with other creators: He gave his teammates plenty of room to make plays, only activating superstar mode in crunch time. No wonder Devin Booker wanted to play with him. 5
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When it comes to Ben Simmons, the conversation often turns to his shooting. But while he has yet to develop a reliable outside shot, he does virtually everything else at an elite level. Heading into his fourth season, Simmons is already a two-time All-Star, and he’s coming off of a First-Team All-Defense selection. He is one of the most versatile defenders in the league, and he is also one of the best passers, as he’s finished in the top six in assists per game in each of his first three seasons. He’s a nightly triple-double threat, and with a reshaped roster in Philadelphia that projects to complement his skill set, Simmons could be in store for a huge season. 6
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Did Murray make the proverbial “leap” in the bubble? I take issue with that word in this case because nothing Murray did in the playoffs surprised me. His consistency is the question, but even that discussion is skewed because of the presence of Nikola Jokic, who controls so much of Denver’s offense. Pretty much every other point guard with Murray’s ability has complete control of his offense, so Murray’s scoring numbers are going to fluctuate more on nights when Jokic is in attack mode. Bottom line: There are only a handful of guys in the league I would rather have on my team in a playoff series than Murray, who is, amazingly, still just 23 years old. What a future the Nuggets have brewing. 7
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The first question is can Irving stay healthy? If he can play 55-60 games and be fresh heading into the postseason, he remains one the best shot creators in the world, and after logging a career-high usage rate last season, he should be comfortable in a pseudo-No. 2 role next to Kevin Durant after all those years alongside LeBron James. With so much offensive talent around him, the hope is that Irving curbs his one-on-one instincts; last season 76 percent of his buckets were unassisted, the highest mark of his career. Irving has been a great spot-up shooter in the past and the hope is that he taps back into that. 8
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We’ve seen what Young can do when he’s solely relied upon to score and win games for the Hawks. Now, after Atlanta made several smart moves in the offseason to surround its All-Star guard with playoff-caliber talent, we’ll be able to see a version of Young that we haven’t seen in the NBA, or even during his time at Oklahoma. Expect to see his efficiency numbers jump up this season, with players like Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic flanking him on the wings. 9
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The ageless wonder looks as spry as ever coming off his sixth straight All-Star season, and his value continues to exceed even his very good numbers. Lowry averaged 19.4 points per game last season, his most since 2016-17, while launching a career-high eight 3-pointers per game and hitting at a 35 percent clip. Lowry is willing to do anything it takes to win, including drawing a league-leading 34 charges last season, plus a few more in the All-Star Game, and is the heart and soul of one of the Eastern Conference’s top contenders. 10
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How big is this knee issue? Danny Ainge has already said the Celtics probably shouldn’t have pushed Walker to play in the bubble, and he’s going to be out to start the season. This ranking reflects a bit of that uncertainty, because fully healthy Walker is still a top 25 player. It will be interesting to see how Walker, even in a relatively equal-opportunity offense, is affected as Jayson Tatum continues to widen the gap at the top of Boston’s scoring hierarchy. 11
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Westbrook was on the move again this offseason, traded to the Wizards where he’ll reunite with former coach Scott Brooks and team up with Bradley Beal. With some of his athleticism reclaimed by Father Time and injuries, a massive contract and an inefficient style that’s no longer in vogue, the pendulum has swung wildly on Westbrook’s value. But has it gone too far? When healthy he’s still an elite point guard and All-Star level player. 12
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Entering his fourth season and fresh off of signing a massive contract extension over the offseason, Fox could be in line for a career campaign. He has improved in each of his three seasons so far, and this year should be no different. Fox averaged a career-high 21.1 points per game last season while shooting a career-high 48 percent from the floor, and those numbers will likely improve as Fox has established himself as Sacramento’s top option. 13
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Mix the Road Runner’s speed with Wile E. Coyote’s creativity and you get Ja Morant, a basketball genius willing to try just about anything on the court no matter how ridiculous. As a rookie, that led to wild dunk attempts, plenty of turnovers and an uncomfortable number of awkward falls. But he is going to mature. Once he sands those rough edges off of his game, we’ll be left with an unstoppable athletic force that starts every play two literal and figurative steps ahead of the competition. 14
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It was the same old story for Brogdon last season. He played like a borderline All-Star when healthy, but since this is Malcolm Brogdon we’re talking about here, he didn’t stay healthy for long. The version of him that killed teams with late-game pick-and-rolls and carried the Indiana offense in Victor Oladipo’s absence was the best we’ve seen yet, but until he plays an entire season at that level without incident, he is always going to hit a ceiling at this point in the list. 15
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You cannot use stats to describe Marcus Smart, and even if you tried he doesn’t put up many of them for you to work with. He is an experience — at times exhilarating, at times maddening, but always memorable. There are few in the league who play as hard, or do as many little things to impact winning as Smart, which is why he’s become a fan favorite in Boston. He’s not the best player on the Celtics, but he just might be the most important.



 

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