The Five: Best Guards In The NBA

The most important position in today’s game.

(AP Images/Lede In Illustration)

There used to be a strong distinction between a point guard and a shooting guard. The point guard ran the offense, controlled the pace of the game, and played the role of primary facilitator. The prototypical shooting guard played off the ball, used screens to catch and shoot, and filled the role of primary scorer.

Now the lines have been blurred and both positions have become homogenized. You have point guards that score rather than facilitate (Kyrie Irving) and shooting guards that facilitate rather than score (James Harden), kind of.

The days of posting up and running your offense through big men are over. Today’s NBA is about spacing the floor, playing small, and using the pick-and-roll to exploit mismatches.

The onus is now on guards to facilitate, score, and win games. Here are the five best all-around guards who get the job done.

5. Klay Thompson, Shooting Guard, Golden State Warriors

Klay Thompson is that special type of player that can be an ancillary character on most nights, only to steal the show when it’s least expected.

He get’s overshadowed by his megastar teammates and rightfully so. But there should be no mistake; Thompson is one of the game’s elite.

The obvious reason being, he can score in bunches probably better than anyone in the league. With his quick high release, he needs little to no space to get a shot off.

The proof is in the pudding when Thompson has it going, he is unstoppable. He dropped 60 points in 29 minutes this season and broke George Gervin’s record for most points in a quarter two seasons ago.

On top of his incredible scoring feats, Klay does it efficiently because he works to get good shots. He does not isolate, post up (unless he has a size advantage), and you will not see him shoot over a double team.

Part of Thompson’s scoring efficiency is a product of Golden State’s offense. With all the pin downs and flare screens, the Warriors work in tandem to get great shots within their pass happy motion offense.

He might not be as well rounded a scorer as some of the other guards on the list, but he makes it up by being a two-way player.

Other than Chris Paul, Thompson is the best two-way guard in the league. He usually matches up against the opposing team’s best guard, which is usually the toughest assignment in today’s league. He used to struggle with foul trouble by playing over aggressive on ball defense, now it only happens on occasion.

His lateral quickness and ability to recover are elite, he does a good job of playing to the help when he gets isolated on the weak side, and he has good instincts when it comes to contesting jump shots.

4. Russell Westbrook, Combo Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder

Putting aside the ball dominance and inflated rebounding numbers, Westbrook is something this league has never seen. His ability to play the way he plays is staggering. Where he gets the stamina to do that on a nightly basis? Who knows.

Westbrook has truly carved out his own niche in the NBA. On paper, it says he’s a point guard, but he is something otherworldly. Despite having some deficiencies, poor shooting and questionable decision making, his production is insane.

He broke a 55-year-old record, which very few players in those five and a half decades came close to. And upon closer look, his triple double season was far better than the Big O’s.

Robertson’s 1961–62 season: 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg

Westbrook’s 2016–17 season: 31.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 10.4 apg

The difference? First, Robertson played 10 more minutes per game than Westbrook. Second, there were only nine teams in the NBA. Third, the 1960’s on average was the fastest decade in terms of pace, hence more possessions equals more shots.

Thanks to the highest single season usage percentage in NBA history he made his triple double season possible.

He is the first player to surpass the 40 percent mark and it’s hard to think someone will break that record anytime soon. All of this in laymen terms means: he is hogging the ball at an unprecedented historical rate. Granted it’s probably Oklahoma City’s best plan of attack.

3. James Harden, Combo Guard, Houston Rockets

Many view this season as a transformative year for The Beard. But there has been little to no change in his game.

His ability to shoot from range, get to the foul line, and pass off the dribble are still the essentials of his game. He has been doing this since his Oklahoma City days. The difference now; he has the keys to the car for all four quarters, and Mike D’Antoni does not regulate him with stop signs and speed limits.

He is a shade under averaging 30 points and 10 assists per game, a feat that has not been done since Tiny Archibald in the 1972–73 season. Another incredible feat, like Robertson’s, which was done in a league with less competition and a faster pace of play.

Harden’s only demonstrable limitation, and it is demonstrable, is his defense or lack thereof. He has as the tools to be a good defender; he reads the game well and is athletic enough. He just does not put in the effort or focus on a consistent basis. In fairness, he has put in more effort this season and he takes on one of the biggest offensive workloads the game has ever seen.

2. Chris Paul, Point Guard, Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul does not shoot 30-foot jump shots, display flashy ball handling, or silly dance moves after he makes a basket. CP3 is a throwback. He has been one of the best point guards since he entered the league for three reasons: he defends, shoots efficiently, and takes care of the ball.

He is elite at all three. His per game averages pale in comparison to other elite guards, but he is still on par or better then most when it comes to advance stats.

From player efficiency rating to box score plus minus, Paul still checks out as one of the league’s best. What really separates him from the pack is his ability to control the game.

Other than LeBron, there is no better floor general in the league. On defense, he calls out plays before they go into motion, makes smart gambles, plays the passing lanes masterfully, and is he solid on the ball.

On offense, you would be hard pressed to find a part of his offensive game that is not great. He can shoot from range, uses the mid range jumper like no one else, and he is a pick-and-roll virtuoso.

You have to nitpick to find flaws in CP3’s game.

1. Stephen Curry, Point Guard, Golden State Warriors

Just to clarify, Stephen Curry is not having a down year. He stat line is 25–4–6, he’s shooting 41 percent from deep, all the while playing 33 minutes per game. His numbers are down, not his game. As would any player if Kevin Durant, one of the greatest scorers of all-time, joined their team.

By his shooting ability alone he can change the tone and tenor of a game within a matter of a few possessions.

On top of his unrivaled shooting prowess, he is great at scoring off the dribble, finishing at the rim, and finding the open man. He has an all around great offensive game.

Although he might not be the defender Chris Paul is, he is a solid defender. He plays the passing lanes well, limits his mental lapses, and more importantly, he puts in the effort.

Curry truly is a transcendent talent, a player that can dominate the game by playing into a singular strength. In a way, he is like Shaquille O’Neal, an absolute monster, who dominated the game with power. Shaq had the drop step and Curry has the step back 30 footer.

His ability to score from range with ease and efficiency is what makes him the best guard at this time and date. In an era where 3–point shooting is more prevalent than ever, there is no better player to have than Curry.