NBA point guard rankings: Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic battle for top spot; where does Ben Simmons land?
Mon, Sep 19, 2022
NBA News (AP)
We always talk about ring culture in the NBA. But what about wing culture? The emphasis on 3-and-D, versatile forwards dominates essentially every basketball team-building conversation. And those guys are great, we're not denying that. But ultimately it's hard to make it work without a dynamic point guard to run the show.
The days of the John Stockton "game manager" type point guard are long gone. In 2022, the best lead guards are as athletic as the wings, can shoot from the logo and finish around -- and sometimes over -- the biggest bigs in the league. Just take a look at recent NBA champions:'Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving. It's nearly impossible to win a title without an All-Star level point guard.
So today, we pay homage to arguably the most important position in the NBA. As part of our rollout of the NBA's Top 100 Players -- which will be released on Tuesday -- we tasked our AP Sports NBA staff with ranking the top 22 point guards heading into the 2022-23 season, taking into account projected improvement and decline.
As you'll see, the list is full of big-time scorers who dominate their offenses with pick-and-rolls and isolation buckets, but still have the vision to set up teammates. The usual names are at the top -- or bottom as far as the list goes -- but you'll also find we're highlighting some up-and-comers who are ready to take the next step. Needless to say, the future of NBA point guards is in good hands.No. 22 De'Aaron Fox SAC - PG - 5 View Profile
Man, it's a deep point guard crop when a guy averaging 23 points per game can barely make the list. Fox sneaks in at the bottom after another injury-plagued season for the Kings in which his numbers dropped pretty much across the board. The lightning-quick lefty has become an excellent isolation scorer, but his lack of 3-point shooting continues to hinder his ceiling. He showed good chemistry with Domantas Sabonis after his arrival in Sacramento, so perhaps that will unlock some more potential. -- Colin Ward-HenningerNo. 21 Jalen Brunson NY - PG - 13 View Profile
Get this: Brunson, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, has shot 70 percent at the rim over the past two seasons, per Cleaning The Glass. His vertical isn't crazy, and neither is his wingspan, so he has to be crafty around the basket -- it's all angles, timing and touch. Brunson always had some funky finishes in his bag, but over the past few years he has become hyper-efficient from everywhere on the court. Now that he's a pull-up threat, he's even more dangerous going downhill. The Knicks haven't had anyone quite like him in some time.' -- James Herbert
No. 20 Tyrese Haliburton
At 22 years old, he's already an efficient scorer from everywhere on the court, a passing genius and a savvy off-ball defender. Talented players this young are almost never traded, and the Pacers are appropriately ecstatic about the opportunity to "build our team around him." He already knows his next step will require a more aggressive mentality -- he had a 19.5 percent usage rate in Indiana and does not get to the free throw line often. Couple that with improved one-on-one defense and All-Stardom awaits.' -- James HerbertNo. 19 Tyrese Maxey PHI - PG - 0 View Profile
Maxey emerged as an elite guard last season thanks to his combination of speed and athleticism, and his ability to put the ball in the basket. He's a three-level scorer who can take the ball to the basket, knock down shots in the midrange and space the floor with his shot. He took a major statistical jump last season -- his scoring jumped from 8.0 to 17.5 points per game, and his assists doubled from 2.0 to 4.3. Most impressively, his 3-point shooting skyrocketed from 30.1 percent as a rookie to 42.7 percent last season. If he can continue to improve he'll quickly solidify himself as one of the top guards in the entire NBA. -- Michael Kaskey-BlomainNo. 18 Marcus Smart BOS - PG - 36 View Profile
A true defensive mastermind, Smart made history last season as the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. His evolution as a true point guard, though, was just as important in the Celtics' run to the Finals and bodes well for them moving forward. He averaged a career-high 5.9 assists, refined his shot selection and had the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (2.8) in the league among point guards.' -- Jack MaloneyNo. 17 CJ McCollum NO - SG - 3 View Profile
McCollum is more of a one-on-one scorer than a point guard, but again, Curry has blurred the lines and McCollum is certainly capable of organizing and initiating offense. After the trade last season, McCollum was terrific for New Orleans, shooting 39 percent from 3 and a sizzling 51 percent from his midrange office, per Cleaning The Glass. All told, New Orleans lineups featuring McCollum registered a 118.6 offensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass, which bested Utah's league-leading mark. -- Brad BotkinNo. 16 Cade Cunningham DET - SG - 2 View Profile
Cunningham is a do-it-all point guard with top-shelf size, IQ and spatial feel. He's also a bit of an isolationist; 64 percent of his buckets last season were unassisted, per Cleaning the Glass. Does that change playing next to Jaden Ivey? However Cunningham creates his looks, he needs to be more efficient than the guy who shot 31 percent from 3 and ranked in the 16th percentile among point guards in points per 100 shot attempts, per Cleaning the Glass. The goods are there for Cunningham, no question, and he steadily progressed over his rookie season, culminating in a historic March, when Cunningham joined Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies in NBA history to average at least 22 points seven assists and five rebounds for an entire month. -- Brad BotkinNo. 15 LaMelo Ball CHA - PG - 2 View Profile
Ball was an All-Star in just his second season, and for good cause: He was one of just five players to average 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and he was the only one who did so with a 3-point percentage north of 36; Ball actually caned 39 percent of his treys and was a top-10 assist man. Next up: Ball needs to improve his finishing. He ranked in the bottom 20 percent among point guards with a 54-percent conversion rate at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. -- Brad BotkinNo. 14 Ben Simmons BKN - PG - 10 View Profile
The 6-foot-11 Simmons is far from the only position-fluid player in the NBA. More than perhaps anybody else, though, his existence is inconvenient for rankings such as these. In making his Defensive Player of the Year case in April 2021, he pointed to the fact that, when Kevin Durant was a late scratch against the Sixers, his assignment shifted from Durant to Kyrie Irving. Now that he's teammates with both of them, he'll be asked to set the table for them, screen for them, rebound, push the pace and hound the opponent's best player. Is he the Nets' "point guard" on offense? In transition, yes. In the halfcourt, they can initiate offense through him, Durant or Irving. If they play with pace and movement and the fit is as good as it has looked in Brooklyn's collective imagination, no one will have a problem with Simmons calling himself the PG. -- James HerbertNo. 13 Darius Garland CLE - PG - 10 View Profile
Here's yet another case of just how deep today's point guard talent pool is. Garland, who was an All-Star last season averaging better than 21 points and eight assists a night, slots as the 13th best player at his position on this list. You could argue he deserves to be a couple slots higher, but you could also argue he should be a few slots lower, beneath Ben Simmons and LaMelo Ball. Either way, Garland is a tailor-made point guard in today's pick-and-roll era. Go under high ball screens and he'll torch you, posting 1.1 points per off-the-dribble jumper, per Synergy, which is in the statistical neighborhood of Trae Young and Chris Paul, and going over isn't a good option either given Garland's speed and full navigational package.'-- Brad BotkinNo. 12 Fred VanVleet TOR - PG - 23 View Profile
Nobody averaged more minutes than VanVleet last season, and those were some hard minutes. He's switching onto bigger guys, scrambling all over the floor, taking charges, taking hits, pushing the pace and carrying a big offensive load for a team that doesn't space the floor well. If he's doing all that, though, then how can anyone else complain? VanVleet has long played a leadership role in Toronto, but last year was the first time he was the undisputed lead guard, rather than splitting the responsibility with Kyle Lowry. He answered the call by making his first All-Star team, on the strength of his strongest all-around season yet. VanVleet made 43.3 percent of his spot-up 3s and has earned the green light on mid-range pull-ups, too. -- James HerbertNo. 11 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander OKC - SG - 2 View Profile
Once the Thunder begin to improve as a team, Gilgeous-Alexander will likely garner more attention, because he can really do it all as a point guard. He was one of just four point guards to average at least 24 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season. The other three were Steph Curry, Luka Doncic and Ja Morant. Gilgeous-Alexander is already keeping that company statistically, and like his team, he still has room to improve. -- Michael Kaskey-BlomainNo. 10 Jamal Murray DEN - PG - 27 View Profile
Murray's always been a natural scorer, but his development as a facilitator is what's been most impressive about his game over the years. Nikola Jokic may be the guy who is initiating the offense more for the Nuggets, and understandably so, but the benefit of having someone like Murray who can hurt you with his scoring and passing, as well as with or without the ball, is that when Jokic gets jammed up, Murray is right there to make the defense pay in a variety of ways.' -- Jasmyn WimbishNo. 9 Kyrie Irving BKN - PG - 11 View Profile
In terms of pure skill, Irving is right there at the top of the league -- he was one of four players last season to score 50 points multiple times despite only playing 29 games. But that last note is the most important; in order to make use of that ability he has to be on the court, and he just hasn't been often enough in recent seasons. Combined with the offcourt drama and distractions he brings, it's hard to blame anyone who comes to the conclusion that his talent isn't worth the trouble. -- Jack MaloneyNo. 8 Jrue Holiday MIL - PG - 21 View Profile
Now entering his third season with the Bucks, Holiday has been a perfect fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. In addition to being one of the most destructive defensive guards in the league, he's an underrated facilitator who can contribute in the scoring department when necessary. He finished 13th in the league in assists and only missed out on a 50/40/90 season because he didn't shoot free throws well enough.' -- Jack MaloneyNo. 7 James Harden PHI - PG - 1 View Profile
'Even if he's lost a step, Harden is still one of the most elite guards in the league when it comes to being a dual threat. In fact, he was the only player in the entire NBA to average over 20 points and 10 assists per performance last season. After a full offseason to nurse his hamstring and gain familiarity with his new Sixers teammates, he could be in line for an extremely productive campaign.'-- Michael Kaskey-BlomainNo. 6 Chris Paul PHO - PG - 3 View Profile
I'm not sure that any other guy on this list can do what Paul did both in Oklahoma City and in his first season with the Phoenix Suns. Twice now he's taken two teams to the playoffs when no one thought it was possible, one of which made it to the NBA Finals. He may be the elder statesman on this list, but there's no denying Paul's other-worldy basketball IQ and ability to completely flip a team around like a dilapidated home on HGTV. If you're playing alongside CP3, he's going to elevate your game. After all, he's called The Point God for a reason. -- Jasmyn WimbishNo. 5 Trae Young ATL - PG - 11 View Profile
When it comes to what you're looking for in a point guard in 2022, at least offensively, Young checks every box. He's as efficient as they come in the pick and roll, has incredible vision and can hit 3-pointers off the dribble and off the catch with unlimited range. Last season he became the only player besides Tiny Archibald to lead the NBA in total points and assists in the same season and, at only 23, his best basketball is surely still ahead of him. -- Colin Ward-HenningerNo. 4 Damian Lillard POR - PG - 0 View Profile
Last season was a wash for Lillard, so let's all remember how magical he was in 2020-21 when he led the league with 162 clutch points on 51-percent shooting, resulting in a plus-100 clutch point differential for the Blazers. Over Lillard's last two full seasons he has averaged 28 and 30 points, respectively, and now the Blazers have outfitted him with a much better defensive support system. -- Brad BotkinNo. 3 Ja Morant MEM - PG - 12 View Profile
Morant has emerged as one of the top guards in the league, and certainly one of the most exciting. His athletic, high-flying style makes him must-see TV, and he has the substance to back up the style. Last season, he was one of just five players (and one of two point guards) to average over 27 points, six assists and five rebounds per game, along with Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic and LeBron James. Not bad company. -- Michael Kaskey-BlomainNo. 2 Luka Doncic DAL - PG - 77 View Profile
The no-look passes, off-balanced shots and whiparound assists are what get the most attention from Doncic's game. But when we talk about controlling every aspect of the offense, from putting points on the board to reading the defense to putting his teammates in a position to score, no one fits the bill better than Doncic. The entirety of the Mavericks' offense runs through this 23-year-old's hands, and he excels at it with ease. His combination of size, strength and finesse also make him an absolute terror to guard for opposing teams. '-- Jasmyn WimbishNo. 1 Stephen Curry GS - PG - 30 View Profile
Curry is still the standard not just for current point guards, but perhaps, arguably, for any point guard who has ever played the game. Don't punish the guy because he's an all-time great off-ball mover and shooter by saying he's not a "true" point guard. The position has changed. He is the one who officially changed it. And he remains at the height of his powers. -- Brad Botkin