On the first full week of each month this season, I’m going to rank the top 10 NBA players at each position based on how I expect them to perform in the coming month. If a player is injured and is expected to miss most of the month, then they probably won’t make the list regardless of his value when healthy. I’ll rank the point guards on Monday, the shooting guards on Tuesday … you get the picture. Your feedback is welcome, even if you want to tell me how incredibly, irredeemably clueless I am.
This is the final month of the 2010-11 NBA regular season, which means this is the last month I’m doing these rankings until whenever the next season begins. These have been as fun to do as they have been time-consuming and nerve-racking — I almost always feel bad that I had to leave a particular player off, and the exclusion of Andre Miller from my final point guard rankings is no exception. He’d be 11th, for what it’s worth.
10. (New entry) Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 74 GP, 26.0 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .499 FG%, .382 3P%, .759 FT%, 17.5 PER
In the 19 games since Lawson took over the Nuggets’ starting point guard job on February 22, he’s averaged 13.7 points, 7.1 assists, 2.1 turnovers and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 36 percent from deep. Those are impressive numbers, but not as impressive as the Nuggets’ 15-4 record over that stretch. This seems like a good time to remind everyone that Lawson was drafted 18th overall in the 2009 draft and five other point guards (Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holiday) were drafted before him. Only one of those players joins Lawson on this month’s PG rankings.
9. (Last month: 9.) Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 69 GP, 33.5 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .474 FG%, .435 3P%, .934 FT%, 18.9 PER
The strongest case you can make for Stephen Curry not being a “true point guard” is that he’s too indecisive on pick-and-roll situations. He takes too long looking for his shot or a safe pass and he gives the defense too much time to react. He’s young and can obviously learn to be more aggressive in those moments, but it’s holding back his game and the Warriors’ offense right now.
8. (New entry) Kyle Lowry, Houston Rockets — 2010-11 stats: 73 GP, 34.1 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 6.6 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .432 FG%, .379 3P%, .763 FT%, 16.8 PER
I’ll be honest and admit that I haven’t paid very much attention to Kyle Lowry’s career before this season. He always struck me as a tweener guard who wasn’t a good enough shooter to really make an impact as a sixth man. And yet here we are late in his fifth NBA season and it’s become pretty easy to make the case that he’s a top-10 point guard. He’s scoring more at a higher efficiency and with a vastly improved three-point shot, and he’s improved to the point that he’s an above-average playmaker who doesn’t turn the ball over often. It probably surprises many that Lowry is making 38 percent of his treys after he hadn’t made more than 27 percent of those shots in any of his past three seasons, but he shot over 50 percent on two-point attempts between 16 and 23 feet in the 2008-09 season (according to Hoopdata.com) so it’s not that shocking he was able to extend his range a few more feet.
7. (5.) Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 64 GP, 37.3 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 11.3 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .478 FG%, .256 3P%, .538 FT%, 17.0 PER
How the mighty have fallen. It wasn’t that long ago that Rondo was in the running to be considered the best point guard in the world. Now, the Boston Celtics are in a tailspin and Rondo’s inconsistent play is a significant contributor. Celtics fans know that they need the Rondo who showed up in the past three post-seasons if they’re going to have any shot of returning to the NBA Finals.
6. (7.) Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 70 GP, 33.6 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 11.4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .495 FG%, .398 3P%, FT%, 21.0 PER
Nash has finally passed Rondo for the league lead in assists per game but his 0.1 APG margin is unlikely to hold up. How do I know this? Let’s just say this particular title will probably go to the player who “wants it more” — I think most of us know which guy is more likely to pass up open shots to try to pad his assist total.
5. (6.) Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 74 GP, 32.6 MPG, 17.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .519 FG%, .368 3P%, .767 FT%, 20.3 PER
While he probably won’t play a whole heck of a lot in the Spurs’ six remaining regular season games, I still think he’s earned the right to be included among the top five point guards in the league this season. He’s one of those guys who tends to get overlooked in discussions about the best players at his position, but he’s played the most minutes on the team that will likely finish with the best 2010-11 regular season record. I may not be crazy about French hip-hop, but I’m a big fan of this particular French point guard.
4. (3.) Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets — 2010-11 stats: 64 GP, 37.8 MPG, 20.2 PPG, 10.1 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .440 FG%, .331 3P%, .849 FT%, 21.0 PER
Did D-Will forget to pack his shot when he left Utah? In 11 games with the Nets, he’s shooting 34 percent from the field and 26 percent from beyond the arc. To be fair, he’s playing with a strained tendon in his shooting wrist — it’s beyond me why he’s playing through that for a team with literally nothing to play for.
3. (4.) Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets — 2010-11 stats: 75 GP, 36.2 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 9.8 APG, 4.1 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .469 FG%, .392 3P%, .883 FT%, 24.2 PER
No David West? Fine, Chris Paul will carry his whole damn team into the playoffs by himself. Random fact that bolsters Paul’s aura of greatness: he’s the only point guard on this list who averages more steals (2.4 per game) than turnovers (2.2 per game).
2. (1.) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 76 GP, 34.9 MPG, 21.8 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .440 FG%, .337 3P%, .838 FT%, 23.2 PER
Since Derrick Rose isn’t likely to win Most Valuable Player and Most Improved Player — even though you can soundly argue he deserves the second award at least as much as he deserves the first one — I expect Westbrook to get the nod for the extremely arbitrary and almost entirely pointless M.I.P. award. Remember when a lot of people thought Westbrook was a reach with the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft? Yeah, not anymore. Consider that yet another draft that T-Wolves fans would prefer to forget about.
1. (2.) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 75 GP, 37.5 MPG, 25.1 PPG, 7.9 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .441 FG%, .334 3P%, .854 FT%, 23.7 PER
When Rose eventually hoists the Most Valuable Player trophy he essentially clinched with his strong finish to this regular season, he’ll be just the second player since 1965 to win the award with a field goal percentage under .450. I bet you won’t even need to get to the end of this sentence before you correctly guess who the other guy was — Allen Iverson and his .420 FG% in his 2000-01 MVP season.