Hashtag Basketball 5x5: Best Point Guards in the NBA

With the NBA season upon us, it's time to get ranking. Today, we discuss the five best point guards in the NBA for the 2018-19 season.

Basketball season is finally here again. While Sports Illustrated and ESPN have their player rankings, we at Hashtag Basketball (Jeremy Stevens and Kevin Nye) have taken it upon ourselves to release a more relevant ranking system. This isn't a matter of comparing apples and oranges - after all, how do you compare the value of a Kyrie Irving to a Joel Embiid? This is a matter of determining who is the best player in their respective roles.

It's an inexact science, knowing that the NBA has transitioned away from old-school positions, but since the frontcourt vs. backcourt mandate still exists, positions are effectively still part of the game. As such, we have spent time and effort pitting members of each traditional position - point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center - against each other to determine who is the best at each position in the NBA. If you want to argue that the best power forward is better than the best shooting guard, knock yourself out. In the meantime, we present to you the Hashtag Basketball 5x5: The best point guards in the NBA. Notes and snubs will be acknowledged at the end.

Number 5: Damian Lillard

Players who manage to achieve more with less at their disposal deserve to be appreciated. Damian Lillard has kept the Trail Blazers, at their worst, competitive in the Western Conference. Lillard is not a defensive stopper (few point guards are), but his defensive vulnerability is massively overstated. In fact, Lillard ranked in the 72nd percentile among all NBA players last year in defensive PPP (points per possession). Don't get caught in the trap of comparing every single guard to Steph Curry and Chris Paul; Lillard is an incredible scorer in his own right and at least above average as a rebounder, passer, and defender for a guard with so much responsibility on his shoulders. If you heard about a guy who averaged 26.3 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 37% from three-point over the past three seasons, you'd think that guy was pretty darn good, right?

That's Dame. Lillard comes in at #5.

Number 4: Kyrie Irving

(From Jeremy Stevens) *rubs hands together* I know my Celtics bias will show here. Let me say this: I've never been more wrong about a player in my life. I was against trading Isaiah Thomas for him, as I thought the cost of a star point guard and filler to get younger at his position was far too high. I knew the Nets pick wouldn't be top five, and I was still against it. It turns out that Irving is un-freaking-believable at basketball. He's as adaptable as a "net negative" defender can be - and even led the league in steals for a few weeks last season. He can make any play at the rim that Thomas could make, with the added bonus of landing on his feet instead of his rear end.

(From both) While the reputation of being a bad defender is earned - teams attack him all of the time - his role in Boston's top-shelf team defense makes him look pretty good on paper. Irving came in at the 48th percentile last year on Synergy's overall defensive PPP. He struggled against post-ups and defending the roller in pick-and-rolls, but otherwise looked pretty OK. His biggest question mark - and the reason that Nye almost left him off this list - is health. However, Kyrie Irving at full-strength is something truly special, as these two Cavaliers/Celtics fans know. Even so, he couldn't crack the top three.

Number 3: Chris Paul

Between the two of us, we have called Chris Paul overrated, we have hated him for being a nut-puncher (starting back in the Wake Forest days), we have derided his dirty play, and we have made fun of his lack of postseason success. However, we can admit our past wrongs. Chris Paul can still play, and he's still a top-3 point guard. There's so much value in having players who make almost no mistakes while constantly handling the ball, and Houston has two such players in their backcourt. Watching Paul score 41 against the Utah Jazz in a series-clinching Game 5 was a religious experience. He's old, but he just keeps finding ways to be good. He still defends well, draws fouls (infuriatingly), makes open shots, gets good looks for his teammates, and breaks down defenses. It might pain us to put him this high, and we might be ready to embrace him getting old and losing a step or 10, but he's just consistently better than everyone except these next two.

Number 2: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook is often accused of stat-padding and poor shot selection. He's guilty on both counts, but the man can get a triple-double on a whim and is far and away the most explosive guard we've ever seen. Westbrook alone can keep any team he's on relevant, which pushes him higher than the rest of the guards on this list; would Lillard or Kyrie have made last year's OKC team as threatening as they were? Furthermore, while he has major flaws (poor three-point shooting and 20 - yes 20 - games last season with at least seven turnovers), he can also go for 45/15/7 in a playoff game against one of the league's best defenses last season.

Westbrook is a lot of things to a lot of people, and he's a polarizing figure among NBA media, but he's also the 2nd best point guard in the NBA.

Number 1: Stephen Curry

As if there was ever a doubt. Here are some highlights of our notes about Stephen Curry, all of which are direct quotes:

  • A no-brainer.
  • He's on another plane of existence.
  • He's still underrated.
  • He's a consensus top-5 player, top-3 to almost everyone, and top-2 to a lot.
  • He's the best shooter in NBA history.
  • I hate him.

OK, that last one may have been an emotional response to seeing him winning the Finals all the time, but the reality is that he's an above average defender in a league stacked with star point guards, which is especially impressive given that everybody plays at 150% intensity against Golden State. Sometimes, the minutia of basketball goes unappreciated in today's stat-happy environment. The stat-happy crowd loves Curry because he's the best shooter the league has ever seen. And yet, Curry's off-ball movement, screen-setting, and other nuts-and-bolts contributions are something that he does correctly all of the time. You can't say the same thing about any other point guard in basketball right now.

If any readers think someone else deserves this #1 spot, those readers are wrong.

Notes about the list

Major consideration was given to Ben Simmons, who wound up at the #6 spot. Ultimately, his fatal flaw (which hand does he shoot with? Trick question, he doesn't shoot) was too hard for us to overlook, even though he's clearly superior to Irving and Lillard on defense. Some of it might be a matter of proving it long-term as well, but Lillard's supporting cast is probably worse than Simmons's, and Lillard has still carried them to the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference for five straight seasons.

Simmons is great, and he might make us look dumb this year, but we don't quite think he's #5 yet. However, we did put him ahead of John Wall, Kyle Lowry, and Mike Conley. Conley is good, sure, but constant injuries make him hard to nail down. Lowry will turn 33 by this year's playoffs and, while both underrated and overpaid, he can still play. However, who would you rather have this year between him and Ben Simmons? Simmons by a long shot, right? The same goes for John Wall, who has looked like he was about to turn the corner and be a megastar for about three years now. That breakout could finally happen, or he could continue being a problem as a teammate and a flashes-of-brilliance guy.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Hashtag Basketball 5x5's next installment: Shooting guards.

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