After too many months of waiting for the 2013-2014 NBA Season to begin, it’s almost here, which means it’s time for some best-by-position previews, beginning with the point guards, which include the usual suspects of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Deron Williams, while the return of Derrick Rose and the rise of Stephen Curry messes quite a bit with the order.
Asterisk – Both Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo aren’t starting the season, and it’s not quite clear when they’ll be back.
Reminder – This isn’t an indication of who was the best when last season ended, but of who we think are going to be the best point guards, by this order, of the upcoming season.
Number 6 – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
A huge test year for Irving and the Cavs. Despite being the rookie of the year and posting career averages of 20.6 points and 5.7 assists so far, we haven’t seen much of an upgrade in the win columns for Cleveland since his arrival. Irving improved the team from 23.2% win ratio to 31.8% during his rookie season, but missing over 20 games last season due to injury dropped them back into under .300 territory, winning only 24 games.
With a number one draft pick and a healthy team to start the season with, there are no excuses. Irving is good enough to be more consistent and not just raise his game when it’s a more formidable rival like Russell Westbrook challenging him. It’s also time he proves he’s a point guard for all that it means, and not just an extremely talented scorer that has the ball in his hands for most of the game.
Number 5 – Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry didn’t have any injuries to slow him down last season, becoming an immediate contender for one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. He averaged 22.9 points per game while hitting 45.3% of his three-point attempts, averaging 7.7 shots a night. More than just placing himself among the league’s best scorers on his first full season without Monta Ellis hogging the ball next to him, the Warriors, led by Curry, are suddenly looking like being on the verge of getting the contender label.
Teams will make better defensive schemes to handle the point guard, like the Spurs did in the final three games of the Western Conference semifinals, but if Curry’s work regime during the offseason will yield impressive results as they should, we’re seeing the improvement of a legendary shooter who is adding more and more ways to score, and possibly the rise of a franchise that hasn’t known what consistency is for a very long time.
Number 4 – Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Is this going to be another season of hearing about ‘Tony Parker for MVP’ talk? Probably. He enjoyed what might have been his best season in 2012-2013, leading the Spurs 58 wins and the NBA finals, averaging 20.3 points per game along with 7.6 assists, and posting the same numbers in the playoffs as well. We should expect to see some fatigue from the Frenchman after an exhausting summer of leading his national team to the European title.
One problem for Parker is going to be age and fatigue. The Spurs haven’t really added exciting new pieces to take the scoring load off of him, unless Marco Belinelli is going to be a surprising success. With Manu Ginobili declining, the point guard burden is on his shoulders more than ever, and we saw in last year’s Finals and especially the last two or three games that he can’t keep playing at this pace forever.
Number 3 – Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
Even with his injury problems and the change in head coaches, Deron Williams averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 assists for the Nets last season. This year we’re probably going to see his usage rate drop slightly as another player who loves the ball in his hands, Paul Pierce. It doesn’t mean Williams won’t be as good as before, especially if he’s completely healthy and he doesn’t get pissed off with his head coach at some point, which has happened twice before.
Williams was fifth in the NBA last season in offensive win shares, ninth in win shares and 10th in offensive rating. He’s playing for a team that’s not very exciting to watch and is probably fighting for the spotlight with their more famous Manhattan sister, but it doesn’t make Williams any less good than in the past, as he’s still in his prime, and an even better roster of teammates next to him shouldn’t really hurt his ability to shine throughout the season.
Number 2 – Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
There isn’t a single playoff team that is so dependent on their point guard as much as the Los Angeles Clippers, who had to deal without Paul for 12 games last season and looked absolutely awful. Paul averaged 16.9 points per game last season but that was because of his minutes dropping, and his attempts in games that weren’t too close to give someone else the ball.
He is the Clippers’ best player, but the team isn’t at its best when Paul is their only option to create something on offense by trying to slash his way through an entire defense. He’s their leader on defense as well, in a follow-by-example kind of system that might do better with Doc Rivers preaching X’s and O’s from the sidelines instead of Vinny Del Negro, who wasn’t exactly someone Paul really loved.
Number 1 – Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
It doesn’t take too much of preseason watching to see that Derrick Rose hasn’t changed. Still the same player, with the same intensity, speed and athleticism when driving to the basket, making the Chicago Bulls instant contenders in the Eastern conference after a season of waiting too much for him.
It might take him a few more games of adjusting to actual defenses and calibrating his pace to that of his other teammates, but barring any injury (remember – Rose missed quite a lot of games in the lockout-shortened season due to back pain among other injuries before tearing his ACL), he should be back on top of the league when it comes to point guards, just where he was when he left us for almost 18 months.