Ranking the best point guards heading into the 2014-15 season

With the league as deep as its ever been at the lead guard spot, the 2014-15 campaign will be the season of the point guard.  The depth and athleticism for the games most important position is the reason for all of the excitement.  Dominant players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo will all enter the season with a clean bill of health and that will bolster the spot from a year ago.  Add in the fact that players like Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Goran Dragic gained valuable experience over the summer playing in the World Cup and you can see why expectations are high.

Here is a look at the best point guards in the NBA for the start of the NBA season.

15.  Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans: Holiday appeared in only 34 games a year ago before he suffered a season-ending injury.  Before the injury occurred, he showed the ability to get to the rim, knock down the midrange jumper (46.2 percent from 10-16 feet), and get his teammates involved at a very high rate (7.9 assists per game in ’13-14).  Even with the growth of Anthony Davis, it will be the play of Holiday that will be the deciding factor as to whether the Pelicans will make it to the playoffs.

14.  Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies: Conley is one of the best two-way point guards in the league.  On the defensive side of the floor, he is a solid on-ball defender who can also make plays in the passing lanes (1.5 steals per game in 2013-14).  Where he has made the most strides in his game has been on the offensive end, where he has improved his shooting (a career-best 45 percent) even though his field goal attempts have gone up.  He isn’t the greatest facilitator in the league (six assists per game in ’13-14), but he does know how to find players like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on the block and give them space to go to work.

13.  Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets: Lawson is one of the most underrated players in the league.  He made vast improvements to his game in 2013-14, including his ability to get to the paint and draw contact (a career-high 6.5 free-throw attempts per game) and create good looks for others (8.8 assists).  With his added aggressiveness, he also set a career-high in scoring with 17.6 points a night even though he attempted only 13 shots a game.

12.  Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Lowry had a breakout season for the Raptors in 2013-14 and earned himself a big new contract along the way. Lowry is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league and a great floor general.  In his second season in Toronto, He set career highs in scoring (17.9 points per game), 3-point percentage (38 percent) and assists (7.4 assists per game).  Now that he is under contract with the Raptors for the next four seasons, expect Lowry to get even better.

11.  Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets: Williams had his worst season in the league in 2013-14 since his rookie year (14.3 points and 6.1 assists).  Now that Shaun Livingston and Jason Kidd have moved on, don’t expect that to happen again.  Although Williams isn’t the kind of dominant player he once was, he still has plenty left in the tank to get back to all-star form.  For the Nets to make a push in the Eastern Conference, that is exactly what he will need to do.

10.  Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns: the development of Dragic was a huge reason why the Suns narrowly missed the playoffs in 2013-14.  He fit in perfectly in Jeff Hornacek’s system and carried Phoenix much farther than anyone could have imagined.  Where he made the biggest improvements was in the shooting game where he shot career highs from the floor (50.5 percent), the 3-point line (40.8 percent), and inside the arc (54.2 percent).  Those impressive shooting numbers added up to a career-high in scoring (20.3 points per game).

9.  John Wall, Washington Wizards: after back-to-back impressive seasons and a nice playoff run in 2014, there is no doubt that Wall is one of the elite lead guards in the game today.  He can get to the rim as quick as anyone in the game, find the open man (a career-high 8.8 assists per game in ’13-14) and has made huge strides with his outside shooting (35.1 percent 3-point shooting). Those numbers were good enough to make his first all-star game appearance.  After the fine season, he spent time trying out with Team USA for the World Cup in the summer before he got cut. The fact that he didn’t make the team just may be incentive enough for him to take another step forward this time around.

8.  Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: Lillard falls into the exact same camp as Wall.  He made his first all-star game in 2013-14, earned the chance to try out for Team USA, and then got cut.  That will no doubt add to the motivation that Lillard already had to be one of the best.  That will cause nightmares for opposing guards since he is already one of the most clutch players in the league.  He loves the spotlight and is more than willing to take and make the big shot.

7.  Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: with the departures of plenty of big-name players from Team USA, it was Irving who took over the reins and led the Americans to an unblemished record on their way to another Gold Medal in International play.  After playing such a big role with a solid cast of players, it will be interesting to see if the two-time all-star can take a secondary role in Cleveland after the additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love in the offseason.  One thing is for sure however, the arrival of James will open up plenty of clean looks for Irving and he is ready to knock them down.

6.  Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics: Rondo was limited much of last season coming off a brutal knee injury and his game reflected that.  He appeared in just 30 games and was much less effective than usual.  He didn’t attack the rim like in years past and settled far too often for the outside shot.  Now that he is back up to speed, don’t expect the same results.  He is still one of the best passers in the game and a great floor general.  His improved health will also help on the defensive side of the ball where he has great hands (1.9 steals per game for his career).

5.  Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: one of the best pure shooters in the game today, Curry has also showed that he can be a great lead guard.  He is just coming into his prime after a banner year in 2013-14 and a Gold Medal with Team USA in the World Cup.  What sets Curry apart from the other great guards is his ability to stretch the floor.  He has led the league in 3-point attempts and makes the last two years (533-of-1,215).  That opens up plenty of lanes for him to put the ball on the floor and create open shots for his teammates (8.5 assists in 2013-14) and to get to the rim and draw fouls (a career-high 4.5 free-throw attempts per game).

4.  Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: finding the right spot for Rose on this list is very difficult considering he has missed most of the last two seasons with various knee injuries.   But after watching his explosiveness on Team USA, it is clear that he is right near the MVP form that he showed in 2010-11.  When he is right, Rose is one of the prime scorers in the game because of his ability to blow by his defender off the bounce.  Once he gets into the paint, he is nearly unstoppable because of how well he finishes at the rim.

3.  Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: Parker didn’t have the most impressive statistical regular season (16.7 points and 5.7 assists), thanks to reduced minutes, but reminded everyone why the Spurs have rings when playoff time came around.  Parker has a deadly midrange game and the ability to shake even the best of defenders of the dribble.  Add in the fact that he loves to take the big shot and you can see why the Spurs are looking for their fifth ring with him at the helm.

2.  Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Westbrook is the best of the new style of point guards who can score (21.8 points per game in 2013-14) as well as they can run an offense (6.9 assists per game).  He is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim.  That leads to plenty of highlight dunks and even more free-throw opportunities (6.4 attempts in 2013-14).  His athleticism also makes him a solid rebounder (5.7 rebounds per game in ’13-14) and defender.

1.  Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: Paul isn’t the most athletic guy on this list, but he still has all of the skills to carry the title as the best point guard in the league.  He is more of a pass-first point guard (a league-leading 10.7 assists per game last season) than everyone on this list (except Rondo), but he can still can put points up on the board when called upon (19.1 points per game in 2013-14).  He is also an exceptional defender (all-defensive first-team each of the last three seasons) and team leader.

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