By Tolulope Odadele
In the last decade, we have seen the NBA slowly shift from a “big men” oriented league to a point guard dominated league. This is supported by the fact that three of the last four first overall picks have been point guards (Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving). In the past, it was very rare for a guard to be the cornerstone of a franchise, but today we see teams building around their floor generals as a result of the emerging point guard revolution. Here is my ranking of the top five “setup men” in the league, based on their overall skill set, potential, value to their team—and not on legacy.
5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook, who is considered by most to be an undersized 2-guard, has come a long way transitioning to the point guard position since his arrival in the league. Explosiveness is the only word that can truly describe what Westbrook brings to the game: his explosiveness manifests itself in his blazing speed and extraordinary athleticism, which have propelled him towards being one of the best on ball defenders. This is evident by his thefts (1.7) and rebounding (4.8) averages.
Furthermore, his jumper has noticeably improved from previous years—especially his pull-up foul line shot—although it’s still a work in progress. For Westbrook to fully make the transformation into an elite point guard, he needs to learn how to facilitate more and how to make wiser decisions with the ball (he’s averaging 4.1 turnovers to 5.5 assists). But at 23 years old, Westbrook still has plenty of time to improve and move up on this list.
4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
The reigning MVP and NBA “golden boy” has guided the Bulls to the NBA’s best current record with his humble disposition and willingness to win. Rose gets the job done by carving opposing defenses using his lightening quick first step. Rose is also one of the best finishers at the rim today because of his incredible body control, which allows him to seemingly defy laws of physics and make shots with contact.
Rose’s offseason work on his jump shot has shown this season with his increased confidence to shoot beyond the arc. But still, teams can dare him to shoot for profit. Rose has been humanized a bit this year with nagging foot injuries that have kept him out of a stretch of games. Although Rose is the league’s reigning MVP and looks to lead the Bulls to another best record in the East, his stats and skill set are very comparable to those of Westbrook, which is why he’s not higher on this list.
3. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
It is truly baffling to hear about the trade rumors circling Rondo when he can produce the monstrous stat line he did in an overtime win against the Knicks: 18 points, 17 boards, and 20 assists. He joins Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson as the only players to have at least 15 points, rebounds, and assists in the same game in the last 25 seasons. Just like Westbrook, Rondo is very effective on the ball defender because of his length and he uses this to generate the Celtics’ fast break points. With the space that the Celtics’ Big Three creates, Rondo is very good at penetrating the defense, creating mismatches for himself and his teammates.
One weakness Rondo has is his inconsistent jumper and dreadful free throw shooting (especially for someone who gets to the line frequently). Some argue that he wouldn’t be as effective without the Big Three, but that is ludicrous given how much impact he has on both ends of the floor. Even with these woes, Rondo is still capable of dominating games like he did against the Knicks. He currently posts the most triple doubles of any player this season, which is why he gets the nod over Rose and Westbrook.
2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Arguably the best traditional point guard in the league, Paul has single-handedly changed the perception of the Clippers from laughing stock to legitimate contenders in the couple of months since arriving in Los Angeles. He has, hands down, the best court vision of any guard in the league and he uses it to make his teammates better and to pick apart the opposing defense. He’s also has become an underrated and dangerous three point threat. Even at his size, Paul is still able to attack and finish in the paint against the best post defenders in league because of his craftiness and superior quickness.
There is only one that Paul isn’t the best point guard in the league in spite of having the highest player efficiency rating among all guards. Paul, at 6’0 (but more like 5’10), makes it easier for teams to double him for profit, especially since he relies heavily on pick and rolls. Moreover, on defense, he has to gamble a lot for steals, or else his opponent would just shoot right over him.
1. Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets
Even before he erupted for 57 points to torch the Bobcats, it was blatantly clear that Williams was the best guard in the league due to his versatility. Williams, who isn’t the best at any one particular skill, is very good at many skills that point guards have. He has the best range of any point guard besides Steve Nash. His court vision and passing ability isn’t better than Chris Paul, but it’s just a notch below. In terms of defense, he isn’t as athletic as Westbrook or Rose, but his size and strength make him an effective defender. Additionally, he’s deceptively quick and uses his size to post up smaller guards for profit.
Williams has the total package and yet he is still underrated and is only in headlines when linked with Dwight Howard or the departure of coach Jerry Sloan. Sloan chose Williams as his guard over Chris Paul the year they both entered the draft, which should say something about William’s abilities. Currently in head-to-head matches between Williams and Paul, Williams is 13-4.