The NBA is Overflowing With Young Point Guards, Perhaps Like We've Never Seen Before
The NBA is absolutely loaded at point guard. Earlier this week, I looked at how difficult Coach K’s cuts at the position will be for Team USA. But look around the league, and there are a ton of studs at the position under the age of 25. From up-and-comers to established superstars, the position is going to be in good hands for the next decade.
Here, I've broken down the league’s crop of young guns into several categories, ranking them by their nERD score from last season (or, in some cases, their last full season). Who will reign supreme over the next few seasons and who will rise up?
Quarter Century Superstars
Stephen Curry (14.6 nERD)
What more is there to say about Steph? He’s one of the few players in the league who legitimately needs to be guarded the second he crosses half court. His true shooting percentage (61.0), accounting for twos, threes and free throws, and effective field goal percentage (56.6), weighted for twos and threes, are both stellar, thanks to the fact that he shot 42.4 percent on nearly 8 three-point attempts per game last season. Add in the fact that he’s ever improving as a distributor, with his assist rate shooting up to 39.9 percent last season, and that his ankle issues seem to be behind him, and you’re looking at one of the most devastating forces in the NBA.
Russell Westbrook (11.1, 2013)
Speaking of devastating forces, Westbrook is like a hurricane and earthquake combined with a lightning strike on the court. Despite coming off of multiple knee surgeries, he still led the Thunder in drives per game in the regular season at 6.4, according to NBA.com’s player tracking, and he led the playoffs in points off of drives per game. He’s improving as a passer as well, with his assists per 36 minutes hitting career highs in his truncated season. He completed tons of nifty passes that he wasn’t able to make earlier in his career. He still turns the ball over more than anyone would like and is very fond of pull-up jumpers (38.1 percent on 8.7 attempts per game), but those are the kind of things you come to accept with Russ. Let Westbrook be Westbrook, people.
Derrick Rose (7.6, 2012)
You’ve heard this before: if Derrick Rose is healthy, the Bulls are terrifying. They were the top seed in the East in Rose’s two full years under coach Tom Thibodeau, and could very well get back there this year. The question is what kind of player we’ll see when Rose does step back on the court. He was aggressive in his 10 games last season, driving the ball 6.6 times per game, but he shot 42.2 percent on those plays. Any improvement is Rose’s outside stroke would be huge for the Bulls. They’ve already added Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, both of whom should be helpful from long range, but if Rose can raise his marksmanship above the career-best 34 percent he hit in his short 2013 campaign, that would loosen things up for Chicago’s cramped offense.
Damian Lillard (7.5)
After a successful rookie season that saw him win Rookie of the Year, Dame entrenched himself among the league’s elite in his second season. He established himself as one of the best volume bombers in the league, hitting nearly 40 percent of his 6.8 three-pointers per game. He’s definitely not a prototypical point; Lillard’s 25.1 assist rate didn’t even rank him among the top 60 in 2014, so there’s room to improve. His defense has been horrific since day one, which he’ll have to correct for the Blazers to improve on that end.
John Wall (3.2)
After getting a max extension prior to last season, Wall made the leap to stardom. He finally learned how to use his speed as a change-of-pace weapon instead playing like a kid holding the turbo button, and got into the lane with devastating results. He basically earned Trevor Ariza his hefty Houston deal by repeatedly finding him in the corner for open threes. Wall generated 7.6 points per game off of drives last season, according the SportsVU. Once he masters the mid-range, where he shot just 36.6 percent last year, he’ll be damn near unguardable.
Kyrie Irving (3.0)
Kyrie Irving is an All Star, a Team USA camp invitee, a commercial star (word to Uncle Drew) and now LeBron James’ running mate. He’s a brilliant scorer, averaging over 20 points per game over three seasons, but he does it inefficiently, with a 53.3 TS% and a 48.0 eFG%. He’s a turnstile defender, but still managed to pick up 2.2 steals per game last season. He’s a stellar ball handler (12.1 turnover percentage) and distributor (31.6 assist rate) while maintaining star-level usage at 28.2 percent. Irving will have to adjust to playing with the King, but there’s no doubt he makes for LeBron’s best Cleveland teammate of all time already.
On the Cusp
Eric Bledsoe (2.3)
Bledsoe is currently mired in the no-man’s land known as restricted free agency, miles apart on a contract with Phoenix. The former Clipper couldn’t make it through his first full season as a starter, missing nearly half the season with a troubling meniscus injury. He improved last season from deep to something around league average (35.7 percent on 3.3 attempts per game), making his terrifying speed and strength all the more dangerous. If he can work something out with the Suns’ front office, he and Goran Dragic will once again make up the most enjoyable backcourt in the NBA.
Ricky Rubio (0.1)
Do you realize the Kevin Love Affair probably wouldn’t be a thing if David Kahn didn’t decide to save his five-year max contract slot for Tricky Ricky? Rubio is a passing savant, seeing lanes that don’t exist for anyone else, but his inability and unwillingness to shoot from anywhere on the floor (38.1 FG%, 49.1 TS%) makes it near impossible for the Timberwolves to score in crunch time. In the final three minutes of games with the margin at five points or less, Minnesota shot just 36.8 percent from the field and 21.3 percent from deep despite Love’s presence. For all his basketball genius, Rubio is going to have to become at least somewhat of a threat to score for his career to finally take off.
Trey Burke (-8.0)
Burke is about to become part of a dual-PG lineup with Dante Exum, but he showed flashes of being able to lead a team last season. He averaged 15.6 points and 9 assists in April, easily his best month. As can be expected with an undersize rookie, he struggled shooting the ball (38 percent from the field, 33 percent from deep), which could be an issue if Exum’s jumper is as shaky as many think it is. There’s definitely some promise in Salt Lake City, though.
Michael Carter-Williams (-8.1)
MCW took him the Rookie of the Year award last season, doing so with numbers that put him in pretty good historical company. Only two other rookies have averaged 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists: Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. His 48.0 TS% is obviously not good, but it’s excusable when you remember the talent black hole that Philadelphia was last season. As the Sixers slowly put a team around Carter-Williams, the game will surely become easier for him.