Who is the NBA’s best young point guard?
Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
The quality of top end NBA point guards is as good as it has been in years. Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook are the five best PG’s.
I broke that race down here. But what about the young guns, the guys who are still making their name but have captured our imagination and should have a decade or more of dominance running the show for their teams.
The top three candidates are undoubtedly John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.
Two are #1 draft picks and one went #6 but was the rookie of the year and announced himself in this season’s playoffs.
All three players represent young, promising teams and all have their strengths while having a long way to develop, so just who is the best all-round player of the three?
Let’s start with Irving, the Australian-born first overall pick in the 2011 draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers have yearned a leader and face of the franchise since LeBron James ran out of town, and Irving figures to be that guy.
Despite being regularly injured in his three seasons, missing 65 games, Irving has been an offensively spectacular player. Averaging 33 minutes a game he has scored 20.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals. Irving’s true shooting percentage of 0.548 per cent and effective field goal percentage of 0.498 and his offensive rating of 108.8 is above average.
His assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.96 needs to improve, and that should come as the Cavs get stronger. His usage rating of 29 is very good, but the win share of 16 is in line with his team – they are just not that good.
If the game was played in the frontcourt only, Irving wins this debate hands down. But defensively he resembles Uncle Drew, the cult character from the Pepsi Max commercials whom Irving plays so well.
Irving is among the worst regular season rotation players in the league, with a 109.3 defensive rating. His player efficiency rating of 20.34 is above average, but the metric is skewed towards offensive performance and opposition point guards are lining up to play against this young star, knowing they will get plenty of chances to dominate when they have the ball.
His assists per 36 minutes average was 6.2 in 2013/14, ranking him 48th in the league and his steal rating was 1.6/36 minutes, good enough for 85th in the NBA.
Now let’s get onto Wall. Leading the Wizards to a surprising playoff run this season, Wall averaged career highs in almost every category while playing every game after missing 46 games in his first three seasons. The Wizards went from 29 wins last season to a 44-38 record this season, and that was in no small part to the fact that Wall played every game.
John Wall impacts the game at both ends, with 8.7 assists per 36 minutes, good enough for seventh in the league and 1.8 steals/36 minutes, which puts him 47th in the league.
Wall struggles in most offensive areas and his pure offensive numbers don’t compare to Irving’s. In 36 minutes a game throughout his career, Wall has averaged 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.6 steals. A true shooting percentage of 0.511 and effective field goal percentage of 0.446 reflect a below offensive performance, as does his offensive rating of 102.1.
Wall’s defensive rating of 104.6 is outstanding, and while his PER of 17.72 is less than impressive the lack of defensive allowances in this metric count against Wall. He turns the ball over too much at 3.6 times per game, and his assist-to-turnover rating is a barely passable 2.27. His usage rating of 26 and win shares of 18 are both solid numbers.
Each NBA post-season has a moment that all fans remember. Not something obvious like the winning team raising the championship trophy, but a split-second and a moment in time when we all realise why we love the game so much. For me, that was Damian Lillard hitting the game-winning shot against Houston in Game 6 of the first round. If he misses the shot, the Blazers go back to Houston for Game 7 and probably lose that series.
But Lillard hit the shot to win the game, just like he did more than once in the regular season. The kid has no fear, and is an offensive superstar already. In two seasons’ he has played 37 minutes a game and averaged 19.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 0.8 steals. His true shooting percentage of 0.558 and effective field goal percentage of 0.505 are outstanding, as is his offensive rating of 113.
Like Irving, Lillard has a substantial amount of improvement to make on the defensive end rating the worst of these three young guns at 110.5. The player efficiency rating of 16.76 is poor, given his offensive prowess and his assist-to-turnover rating (2.27), usage rating (24.6) and win shares (15.4) are all areas in which he will look to improve as he goes into his third season and beyond.
Lillard’s assist/36 minute (5.6, 59th) and steals/36 minute (0.8, 328th) leave plenty of work for the budding young trigger happy star in those areas, which serves true for his team as well.
So as of today, who is the best all-round player of the three? Wall has played one more season than Irving, who in turn has played one more than Lillard. Wall and Lillard have impacted the post-season, but Irving has been far more offensively dominant.
When you break it down, Wall is the only one of the three who plays at a high level on both ends of the floor and plays the best pure point guard game.
If I am choosing from these three it is Wall who gets the nod as the best young point guard in the league.