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Tiered NBA Rankings: Lead Guards, Part 1

It’s time for the last classification of players to be ranked. If you missed the Big Men rankings, you can view Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Part 1 of the Wing rankings can be seen here, Part 2 can be seen here and Part 3 here.

“Lead Guard” isn’t the most commonly used term for the position some of these players play, but it might be the most accurate. Whether on offense or defense, these players initiate the team’s possessions, and are usually the smallest players on the court for the respective team.

The players will be ranked considering usage percentage, true shooting percentage, points created per game (points per game plus points created by assist), assist to turnover ratio, steal percentage and defensive box score plus-minus.

Lead Guards 1

The list begins with a player who had a lot of promise coming out of high school and college, but has never able to live up to it. Jerryd Bayless is a shooter who doesn’t shoot very well, a creator who doesn’t handle the ball very well and struggles on defense. The only positive for Bayless is he’s young enough (27) to hope for some improvement to become an average player.

Trey Burke is slightly above average among players I’ve ranked in usage percentage, but well below average in true shooting percentage. Burke doesn’t shoot well from the outside and is miserable finishing around the rim (49 percent according to Basketball-Reference.com). He does a decent job taking care of the ball, as his assist-to-turnover ratio is slightly above the average.

After his Finals performance, Matthew Dellavedova became a sort of cult hero for people who like things like “grit” and “toughness.” The problem, however, is Dellavedova isn’t very good. He’s a good three-point shooter, but his size limits his finishing ability at the rim and he shot a total of 38 free throws in 67 games last season. His defense was good in the playoffs, but he doesn’t force turnovers and his height allows opponents to shoot over him.

The Miami Heat had an argument as having the worst point guards in the league last season before the trade deadline, and Norris Cole was a large part of that. Cole isn’t impressive with the ball in his hands, hasn’t been a good shooter at this point in his career and his defense may be his worst attribute.

Lead Guards 2

J.J. Barea wasn’t as terrible as he seemed last season. His usage and true shooting percentages were bad, but he was a very good ball-handler for the Mavericks. Much like Dellavedova, his size makes it nearly impossible for him to be a good defender, and unlike Dellavedova, he didn’t have the help behind him to make the defense passable.

It’s a shame we won’t get to see what improvements Dante Exum made this season due to his injury, but he wasn’t a good player last season. He wasn’t a good shooter and was used more as a secondary ball-handler when sharing the court with Gordon Hayward. Exum does have defensive potential at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, but we’ll have to wait until 2016 to see how good he can be.

Jarrett Jack will be the starting point guard for the Nets this season, and that’s not good news for the one Nets fan you know. Jack carried about average true shooting and usage percentages, but had one of the lower assist-to-turnover ratios. On a team filled with players who look to shoot first, having the lead guard who looks for his shot first is a bad idea.

Mo Williams isn’t my favorite type of player, but there’s no denying his impact on the Hornets last season. When he’s not asked to be the primary ball-handler and creator for the team, Williams can better utilize his three-point shooting and secondary creating ability, which could fit perfectly in Cleveland this season.

Lead Guards 3

After winning Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, Michael Carter-Williams had a disappointing sophomore season. A full offseason under Jason Kidd and the rest of the Bucks’ training staff could be effective for Carter-Williams, but he still lacks a dominant offensive skill. It took him over 12 field goal attempts to score 14 points per game last season, his assist numbers look impressive as long as you avoid looking at his turnovers and for a 6-foot-6 point guard, his 54.5 field goal percentage within three feet last season in Milwaukee is less than impressive.

Much like Carter-Williams, Kemba Walker looks like a good guard based on his counting stats. Only 12 players averaged over 17 points and five assists last season, and Walker was one of them. However, he also had the lowest true shooting percentage of that group by a large margin (John Wall was the next lowest at 52.3 percent), and is arguably the worst defender of that group. Walker’s best skill on offense is his ability to keep a relatively high assist-to-turnover ratio, but it’s offset by his shoot-first mentality which stagnates the offense.

Lead Guards 4

All three of these players should be in for an improvement year due to either a new situation, a full recovery from an injury or simply a young player getting better. Jordan Clarkson didn’t start receiving regular minutes until January of last season, and from that point, averaged 15 points, almost five assists and just over two turnovers while shooting 45 percent from the field. He’s still a young player who needs to improve his defense and outside shooting, but with a season surrounded by actual NBA-level talent, Clarkson could improve on his already impressive young career.

Patty Mills is known for one thing, his scoring ability. Mills was recovering from a shoulder injury for most of last season, but the three seasons prior to last he shot almost 42 percent from three-point range, over 51 percent from two-point range and was a key cog to the Spurs’ success over that time. With the possibility of Tony Parker declining even more this season, Mills could be called upon to expand his role for a team that expects to contend on a yearly basis.

Lead Guards 5

A team like the Indiana Pacers that’s struggled to find scoring should be able to integrate Monta Ellis into their lineup fairly easily, but I’m not sure relying so heavily on Ellis is a recipe for success. Ellis had a true shooting percentage over 53 percent two seasons ago in Dallas, but did so with his highest free throw rate in five seasons, a higher three-point percentage than his career average and surrounded by Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, Jose Calderon and a number of other good offensive players. Indiana has Paul George, but few other relevant offensive players to divert attention from Ellis.

Brandon Jennings struggles to shoot from almost everywhere on the floor, but unlike Kemba Walker, he’s shown glimpses of outside shooting. Jennings is a gifted passer, but he often lets his love for shooting get in the way of creating for others. His defense is never going to be stellar, but it needs serious work to become passable, as he’s often caught in no man’s land. It’s impossible to tell how Jennings will look after his injury, but if he returns to the level he was playing at pre-injury, the Pistons could have a good situation in the backcourt for the first time in a long time.

Dennis Schroder was one of the most improved players last season when looking at both raw totals and his per-minute statistics. His points, steals, assists and rebounds all improved on a per-36-minute basis, and his field goal percentage improved from just over 38 percent two seasons ago to just under 43 percent last season. Schroder likes to dominate the ball, which doesn’t fit perfectly with Atlanta’s offensive scheme, but at age 22 for all of next season, there’s room for him to improve.

Rarely do players become excellent shooters after a large sample of evidence that suggests otherwise, but that seems to have happened to Rodney Stuckey last season. After seven seasons of three-point shooting ranging from 18 percent to 31.7 percent, Stuckey shot 39 percent on two attempts per game last season. With the injuries the Pacers suffered last season, Stuckey was one of the only players able to score at an average level last season, and he could be a scorer off the bench for the team, although I expect his shooting to slightly regress this year.

Lead Guards 6

It’s not easy putting a former MVP this low on the list, but Derrick Rose wasn’t a particularly good player last year. Among players who carried a usage percentage greater than 25 percent and had enough minutes to qualify, only Carter-Williams and Walker had a lower true shooting percentage than Rose. In addition to his poor shooting, Rose had the lowest assist-to-turnover ratio among guards ranked. There’s hope that Rose could improve a year after recovering from injury, but with him there’s always the fear of another injury right around the corner.

Marcus Smart was an impressive rookie under head coach Brad Stevens, and he should continue to be in his second year. Smart is a physical player capable of guarding multiple positions at a passable level this early in his career. His assist-to-turnover ratio was exactly average among the guards ranked, but he didn’t shoot well from anywhere inside the three-point line.

Lead Guards 7

Patrick Beverley is a stout defender who benefits greatly from his situation. Beverley acts as the lead guard defensively, but he’s asked to work off the ball on offense. The Rockets are able to get away with this because Beverley is a slightly above-average three-point shooter and has some ability to work as a secondary ball-handler. But most of Beverley’s value comes on the defensive end, as he allows James Harden to take the easier of the assignments.

With the expected improvement that should come with a 21-year old, Elfrid Payton will move further up this list in the coming years. He doesn’t shoot well, but he attempted fewer than nine shots per game last season and did almost everything else well. He had one of the highest assist-to-turnover ratios despite playing with very little spacing on the floor. His defense was phenomenal for a rookie, and along with Victor Oladipo, could be a problem for other teams for years to come.

Rajon Rondo is a perfect “buy low” stock, albeit one I’d probably shy away from. Rondo is coming off his worst season as a professional. He was traded from a potential lottery team that immediately got better without him, and his new team was worse with him despite one of the best coaches in the league. So, his value plummeted so low that his best option in free agency was a one-year deal despite most teams trying to lock up players for the foreseeable future. Now Rondo is on a team where the star player (DeMarcus Cousins) and head coach (George Karl) have volatile personalities.

The thinking among some around Brooklyn is the Nets will be better without Deron Williams. I’d remind those people that your starter is now Jarrett Jack and that Deron Williams wasn’t as bad as people remember. Williams isn’t the player who should be compared to Chris Paul anymore, and definitely wasn’t worth the money he was making over the past few years, but he was a productive player. He may not be able to score at the level he once did, but his passing ability is still above average, and his ability to do it without turning the ball over is an attribute the Nets will miss.

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