With the 2014 NBA Draft less than three weeks away, it's time to start dissecting and analyzing the top prospects looking to make the jump to the big time.
Today we'll look at the point guards. As you're reading this article, you may be wondering where surefire top-10 pick Dante Exum is. Well, I wanted to avoid overlap in any of our positional profiles, and Exum currently looks like more of a shooting guard, although he certainly has the ability to develop into a point guard in the future.
Without further ado, here are the top point guards entering the NBA Draft.
1. Marcus Smart
School: Oklahoma State
Weight: 227 lbs.
If there was one player in college basketball this past season who embodied the term “Beast Mode”, it was Marcus Smart. Blessed with tremendous size and strength at the point guard position, Smart has the ability to bully opposing players at both ends of the floor. The sophomore did a lot of everything for a disappointing Oklahoma State team, and led all point guards in entered in the draft with a 27.2 Player Efficiency Rating. He also improved his Pure Point Rating significantly from -1.74 his freshman year to 1.45 this past season, showing he is learning the intricacies of running an offense.
The area where Smart will have the greatest immediate impact in the NBA, however, is on defense, as his 3.3 steals per 40 pace adjusted minutes was best among point guards in the draft. His physicality and intelligence on defense stood out on every play and he is capable of guarding any backcourt player as well as many smaller forwards. Smart was responsible for guarding potential number one pick Andrew Wiggins, and held him to just 39 percent from the field in three games, including just three points in a game at Kansas in January.
Where the 20 year old struggles is in his outside shooting and ability to play under control. Smart shot an abysmal 29.9 percent from three-point range last season, and he has some serious mechanical flaws in his form that need to be adjusted. He's a solid free-throw shooter at 72.8 percent, however he will need to be able to knock down outside shots or NBA defenses will just pack the paint on him. While he improved his efficiency as a point guard, he still often gets caught playing out of control and turns the ball over an excessive amount. If he can learn to harness his immense physical ability, Marcus Smart could be a superstar in the NBA.
Dwyane Wade – Wade has never been a consistent outside shooter, but he's one of the best guards of all-time down on the block and with his strength on the defensive end. Smart has the potential to enjoy similar success in both areas while also being more of a creator for teammates on offense.
Draft Pick Projection:
Los Angeles Lakers – Kendall Marshall performed admirably last season for the Lakers, but they're probably better suited bringing him off the bench. Smart would vastly improve the Lakers horrific defense, and would bring the kind of competitive fire that Kobe Bryant relishes.
2. Tyler Ennis
Weight: 182 lbs.
Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis is the one true, pure point guard in this year’s draft, and his Pure Point Rating of 5.38 blows the competition out of the water. There simply just wasn’t a more calm and collected player in college basketball last season, and it showed during crunch time - just ask the University of Pittsburgh how their battle with the Orange ended on February 12th.
While his ability to facilitate an offense and make the right pass are outstanding, Ennis is simply solid in other facets of his game. He was a decent three-point shooter at 35.3 percent, however his true shooting percentage was below-average at 0.51. He showed good anticipation skills patrolling the top of that patented Syracuse 2-3 zone and it lead to 2.6 steals per 40 pace adjusted minutes.
What Ennis lacks is the high-flying athletic ability and quickness we are accustomed to seeing with NBA point guards today. He won’t blow by any defenders and most of his offensive production will likely come off pick-and-roll situations. As with most of Jim Boeheim’s players, Ennis will struggle defending guards one-on-one as he never was faced with that challenge in college.
Tony Parker – This would obviously be a best-case scenario for Ennis, and I’m not sure if he has the quickness that Parker possesses. But they have similar fluidity to their game, and I do think Ennis is a better shooter currently than the Frenchman was at the same age.
Draft Pick Projection:
Chicago Bulls – Ennis could go anywhere from the lottery to the end of the first round. The Bulls could use some stability at the point with Derrick Rose’s always going to be a concern and Ennis’ defensive shortcomings could be masked by a strong Chicago defense.
3. Shabazz Napier
It's extremely rare these days with all of the “one-and-done's” to see a first-round pick have a National Championship victory going into the draft, let alone two victories. Yet that's exactly what Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier has accomplished, with the second one coming this past season.
The do-it-all point guard averaged 20.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 6.8 rebounds per 40 pace adjusted minutes this past season for the Huskies. Napier is an offensive juggernaut and arguably the best shooting point guard in this draft. His 40.5 three-point percentage and 87.0 shooting percentage from the line are the tops among the point guards entered. Napier’s greatest asset that will separate him from the competition and serve him will in the NBA however is his fearlessness on the court. Despite his small size, Napier refuses to back down from any player or situation presented to him.
Napier’s weaknesses stem from his size and his somewhat out of control style. At just 6’1” and 175 pounds, he has a difficult time finishing at the rim and he will need to learn how to maneuver and get shots off among the trees. Despite being an excellent ball-handler with superb vision, Napier often tries to do too much and ends up turning the ball over.
Mike Bibby – If Napier put up Bibby-esque numbers for several years, whoever will have drafted him will have gotten a steal. However, the former Kings star had great success scoring and passing on some excellent teams despite his size, something Napier has the potential to do.
Draft Pick Projection:
Miami Heat – With the ever-criticized Mario Chalmers set to be a free agent, the Heat could be a perfect destination for a winner like Napier. Do you think LeBron was impressed by his NCAA Tourney run, too?
4. Elfrid Payton
Weight: 185 lbs.
While he may be an unknown commodity to the casual fan, Elfrid Payton has been on NBA GMs' radars since his performance for the U19 USA National team last summer. Payton was very effective on both ends of the court, and worked himself into the starting lineup alongside the likes of Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart. The former Ragin’ Cajun’s value stems from his upside as a point guard and his current tenacity on defense. His cat-like quickness allows him to get to the rim with ease despite defenders giving his jump shot no respect. His length, quick hands, and quick feet make Payton a nightmare for opposing guards and he averaged 2.3 steals per 40 pace adjusted minutes while usually guarding the opponents most talented scorer.
Payton is easily the most raw of the point guards slated to go in the first round and there are several areas of his game that require improvement. Although he has good vision and passing ability, his Pure Point Rating of 0.04 shows he still has a long way to go before he can be considered an efficient point guard. His greatest weakness by far however is his long-range shooting. Payton was the worst three-point shooter out of this draft class’ point guards at a cringe-worthy 25.9 percent. His 59.0 percent mark from the free throw line doesn’t provide any optimism either. Unless he develops at least an average outside shot, it will be extremely difficult for Payton to succeed offensively.
Rajon Rondo – A long, wiry defensive-minded point guard without a jump shot is the consensus with Elfrid Payton, and Rondo had virtually the same scouting report coming out of Kentucky. Payton still has a long way to go to reach the Boston guard’s ability to dish, but this is a nice comparison for him to reach for.
Draft Pick Projection:
Oklahoma City Thunder – With two picks near the end of the first round, the Thunder can go in a number of different directions in this draft. With Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha likely going to be elsewhere next season, the Thunder could use the depth, defense, and upside that Payton provides.
5. Deonte Burton
Weight: 193 lbs.
The point guard class falls off a bit after the first four, however there are a number of things Deonte Burton does extremely well that could be valuable to an NBA franchise. Despite standing just 6’1”, Burton has a tremendous 6’7” wingspan and can leap out of the building. This allowed him to throw down highlight dunks, come out of nowhere to send back shots, and finish strong through contact at the rim. The Nevada senior is a nightmare for opponents on the fast break as he can finish score by either going through you or over you. A capable shooter from the outside, there is no shortage of ways Burton can burn a defense.
Currently, Burton is simply a scoring point guard as he lacks many the ability to facilitate an offense efficiently. Part of the reason for this is that he played on a sub-.500 team in Nevada, and there weren’t any threats to score other than himself. He's also extremely inconsistent with his outside shot and often took ill-advised jumpers in college as a result of trying to do too much. Being one of the oldest players in the draft will also hurt his stock, as he will be 23 years old before the summer is over.
Will Bynum – Bynum has never been a great outside shooter, but he scores by getting to the rim and knocking down open mid-range shots. Burton has the potential to be a similarly valuable player off the bench and he could even be a better outside shooter with some work.
Draft Pick Projection:
Milwaukee Bucks - Milwaukee's starting lineup should look interesting after their top pick in this year's draft, and picking Burton in the second round will provide their bench with a much needed scoring option.