This article is article number one out of five that will be released in a short time span. I have gone through each position and came up with my top five for each position heading into the new season that starts October 17. There are a couple things that came into the thought process of deciding the top five for each position.
The stats for last year play a role in deciding their current position as well as the possibility of growth of their skills and stats. Facing a new role where they can thrive is a factor as well. Just so we are clear, we will go over some of the terminology so there is no confusion later in this article. Abbreviations will be used throughout this article (ppg, rpg, apg, spg, bpg = points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, and blocks per game). Advanced statistics can get tricky so I will define them now before the article. Terms like win shares (offensive and defensive), Box Plus/Minus (Offensive and Defensive), Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and Usage Percentage are used in this article. Win shares is the estimate of the number of wins contributed by the player. So Offensive Win Shares would be the number of wins contributed by the player due to his offense. Defensive Win Shares works the same way. Box Plus/Minus is defined as a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player which is translated to an average. Player Efficiency Rating is a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.00. Lastly, Usage Percentage is kind of self explanatory but the definition of it is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. Now that we have clearly defined the terminology, we can jump right in.
**Statistics come from ESPN.com & Advanced Statistics comes from basketball-reference.com**
Honorable Mention: Isaiah Thomas – Cleveland Cavaliers
Isaiah Thomas was the heart and soul for the Boston Celtics this past season. He inspired his team playing through his sister’s death during the first round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. He was the 5’9″ giant for the Celtics squad that defenses struggled to contain. In 76 games in the regular season, Thomas averaged 28.9ppg, 5.9apg, and 2.7rpg while shooting .463% from the field, .379% from the three point line, and .909% in the free throw line. He helped carry this Celtics team to a #1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs where he averaged 23.3ppg, 6.7apg, 3.1rpg while shooting .425% from the field, .333% from the three point line, and .820% from the free throw line in 15 games. This offseason, Thomas was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he will pair up with LeBron James. With those numbers, his name can be propelled into the Top 5. Unfortunately for Thomas, an injury to his hip suffered in the playoffs will likely keep him out until at least January (USA Today). When he comes back, he will have to slowly get involved again with limited minutes while getting adjusted to playing with a new jersey on. With all that being said, that is enough for me to disqualify him from contention of being in the Top 5.
#5 Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
It’s the Lillard-McCollum show in Portland. After that, the talent drops off significantly. Even with teams being able to game plan on mainly two players, Lillard put up tremendous stats last season. In 75 games in the regular season, Lillard averaged 27.0ppg, 5.9apg, and 4.9rpg while shooting .444% from the field, .370% from the three point line, and .895% from the free throw line with a 24.15PER. The 27.0ppg he averaged was a career high. His play contributed to +8.8 Offensive Win Shares and +1.5 Defensive Win Shares for a total of +10.4 Win Shares. Continuing with the advanced metrics stats, Lillard posted a +6.4 Offensive Box Plus/Minus and a -2.0 Defensive Box Plus/Minus for a +4.4 Box Plus/Minus. In only 4 games of postseason play, Lillard averaged 27.8ppg, 4.5rpg, 3.3apg, and 1.3spg while shooting .433% from the field, .281% from the three point line, and .960% from the free throw line. Lillard is in the prime of his career at only 27 years old and he has never lacked confidence on the court. He contains the killer instinct that is loved by fans and coaches in basketball. Taking that final shot does not scare him. The Blazers record is what makes him slide underneath the radar sometimes. He’s been snubbed from the All-Star Game even though he put up great enough numbers to be nominated. The Blazers being a middle of the level kind of team takes away from the recognition Lillard deserves. Due to Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers have one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Lillard’s 31.5 Usage Percentage was the highest for the Blazers last season and Lillard’s highest. With that percentage, Lillard looks to have another great season.
#4 Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics
My number four has lower numbers than Damian Lillard and I have him ranked below Kyrie. So why is that? Kyrie departed LeBron’s shadow by forcing his way to another time. Before James’ arrival in Cleveland, he was not ready to lead a team and the Cavaliers record showed. Now, I believe Kyrie has learned and matured enough after a couple of seasons of being in the NBA and after a couple of seasons of learning from LeBron that he can lead the Boston Celtics and be that number one guy that the Celtics need him to be. As a number two guy, Irving averaged 25.2ppg, 5.8apg, 3.2rpg, and 1.2spg while shooting .473% from the field, .401% from the three point line, and .905% from the free throw line in 72 games of regular season play. Irving contributed +7.4 Offensive Win Shares and +1.5 Defensive Win Shares for a total of +8.9 win shares for the Cavaliers last season. Irving posted a +2.5 Box Plus/Minus (+4.8 Offensive Box Plus/Minus and -2.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus). In 18 games played in the postseason, he averaged 25.9ppg, 5.3apg, 2.8rpg, and 1.3spg while shooting .468% from the field, .373% from the three point line, and .905% from the free throw line. While he might of downgraded team wise because there’s no LeBron James on the Celtics, his numbers should still thrive with names like Gordon Hayward and Al Horford sharing a team jersey with him, hence why I ranked him among the top point guards in the league. Irving saw a 30.8 usage percentage with a LeBron led Cavaliers team so now that he dons a new jersey, that usage percentage will likely increase and so will his stats. Watching his amazing handles in a Celtics jersey should be exciting to watch for not only Celtics fans, but NBA fans. With his new role for his new team, Irving should thrive.
#3 John Wall — Washington Wizards
John Wall really exploded onto the scene last year during the playoffs and raised eyebrows but before we even get into that, we should first take a look at the regular season. Wall played in 78 games for the Wizards and averaged 23.1ppg, 10.7apg, 4.2rpg, and 2.0spg while shooting .451% from the field, .327% from the three point line, and .801% from the free throw line. Wall posted a 23.28 PER. Wall contributed +5.8 offensive win shares and +3.0 defensive win shares for a total of +8.8 win shares. Wall posted a +3.8 Offensive Box Plus/Minus and a +0.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus for a +4.1 Box Plus/Minus. Like stated before, Wall really elevated his play for the Wizards in the postseason by averaging 27.2ppg, 10.3apg, 3.7rpg, 1.7spg, and 1.2bpg while shooting .452% from the field, .344% from the three point line, and .839% from the free throw line in 13 games. With a 30.6 usage percentage last season, Wall should see around that number once again and continue to dominant like he has been. Wall did not shy away from the spotlight. This season, Wall has higher aspirations. In a conversation with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Wall had this to say: “I feel like I am the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Maybe people didn’t get to see me on national TV as much last year, but they will this year. I want to be in the MVP conversation. My expectations are very high” (Yahoo Sports). Wall is clearly motivated and focused on this coming season. His expectations are high, as are mine, and is why I believe he is the third best point guard heading into the 2017-2018 season.
#2 Stephen Curry — Golden State Warriors
Just because he is apart of, arguably, the best team in the NBA, does not make him the best point guard in the league. Curry has the stats to make him number one if number one did not have the tremendous season he had (hint hint). The advanced statistics show that Curry contributed +8.7 Offensive Win Shares and +3.9 Defensive Win Shares for a total of +12.6 Win Shares. Also, Curry posted a +7.8 Offensive Box Plus/Minus and a -0.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus for a +7.3 Box Plus/Minus. The +12.6 Win Shares and +7.3 Box Plus/Minus is second among point guard in this list. Curry makes his presence known on offense as no where on the court is off limit for Curry to shoot from. Once he passes half court, defenses begin to pick him up. Curry and the Warriors followed up their 73-9 season with a 67-15 first place record in the Western Conference but this time they came away with a championship. Curry’s stats elevated in the playoffs compared to the regular season. In 79 games in the regular season, Curry averaged 25.3ppg, 6.6apg, 4.5rpg, and 1.8spg while shooting .468% from the field, .411% from the three point line, and .898% from the free throw line with a 24.74 PER. During the 13 games played in the playoffs on their way to winning the championship, Curry averaged 27.2ppg, 10.3apg, 3.7rpg, 1.7spg, and 1.2bpg while shooting .484% from the field, .419% from the three point line, and .904% from the free throw line. With a 30.1 usage percentage, Curry was the highest on the team, not completely surprising due to his position, but with Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson in the starting lineup with him, his percentage still matches other point guards on the list. Curry’s name brings excitement to NBA fans as his handles can dazzle and his shooting is out of this world. This Warriors core remains intact and looked poised to compete the championship once more (barring any major injury of course) with Curry putting up another tremendous season.
#1 Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder
I mean, why not? Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record and was the first player to average a triple-double since “The Big O.” Westbrook put up a historic season by averaging 31.6ppg, 10.7rpg, 10.4apg, and 1.6spg while shooting .425% from the field, .343% from the three point line, and .845% from the free throw line. With a 41.7 usage percentage, Westbrook has 9.9% more than anyone on this list. Looking at more of the advanced statistics, Westbrook finished with a 30.70PER, +13.1 Win Shares (+8.5 Offensive Win Shares and +4.6 Defensive Win Shares), and a +15.6 Box Plus/Minus (+10.9 Offensive Box Plus/Minus and +4.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus). The PER, Win Shares, and Box Plus/Minus is the highest among all the point guards on this list. During 5 games in the playoffs, Westbrook averaged 37.4ppg, 11.6rpg, 10.8apg, and 2.4spg while shooting .388% from the field, .265% from the three point line, and .800% from the free throw line. Westbrook causes fits for opposing defenses as the skills he possesses are hard to contain defensively. His shoulders are going to feel lighter this season as the Thunder have acquired Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to play alongside Brodie. With that being said, his numbers should decrease but on the contrast, his efficiency should increase with the new hired help.