5. chris paul, Houston rockets
A few years ago, it would have been unfathomable to have the player known as the Point God ranked this lowly. But heading into 2018-19, it’s clear Chris Paul has taken the slightest of steps back in form. The Wake Forest legend averaged merely 7.9 helpers last season, his lowest total since his rookie year. He also missed the most regular-season games (24) he has since 2009-10. Paul’s inability to stay healthy didn’t just affect him in the regular season either; it actually popped back up at the worst possible time for the Houston Rockets, at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State, with Houston about to be up 3 games to 2. Paul missed Games 6 and 7 due to a bad hamstring, and the Rockets weren’t able to recover without him.
But still, it’s hard to consider Paul anything but an elite floor general, even at this point in his career. He’s still the peskiest of defenders, he can still set up easy buckets for teammates with the best of them and, most importantly, playing next to reigning league MVP James Harden should help him extend the late stages of his prime, as Paul won’t be forced to carry the load every single night.
Ultimately, Paul’s 2018-19 season, and overall time with the Rockets, will be defined by whether he, along with Harden, can unseat the Warriors as the class of the Western Conference. It won’t be easy, but with a backcourt that talented, it won’t be impossible, either.
4. damian lillard, portland trail blazers
Despite an ugly end to his season, Damian Lillard still put up one of the best years of his career in 2017-18, receiving 1st Team All-NBA honors to prove it.
Last season was Lillard’s best according to both VORP and BPM, he came up clutch time and time again…
…and without him, the Trail Blazers likely wouldn’t even be a playoff team. Instead, they won 49 games and were the stacked Western Conference’s No. 3 seed heading into the playoffs.
And then… came the playoffs, where it all fell apart for both the superstar floor general and his team. Lillard shot just 35.2 percent from the floor in the postseason, averaging a mediocre 18.5 points along the way, in what amounted to a four-game sweep at the hands of Holiday and the Pelicans.
Lillard did have the excuse of there being a newborn baby waiting for him back at home when the playoffs rolled around, but even he would admit his game wasn’t up to par in those four outings.
Nevertheless, all things considered, only one other floor general makes the same offensive impact on a nightly basis as Lillard, and we expect him to bounce back and return even stronger in 2018-19.
3. kyrie irving, boston celtics
What could have been if Kyrie Irving didn’t need to go under the knife to clean up an infection in his already-surgically-repaired knee….
A Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals, featuring Irving and his former team, would have been fantastic theater. And who knows? Considering the upstart, young, not-injured remnants of the Celtics took Cleveland to seven, it’s not difficult to imagine Boston coming out victorious had they had their star floor general for the duration of the series.
But they didn’t, and we know how that story ended.
Even so, the return of a fully fit Irving to go with the rest of the Celtics’ young core should form one of the best teams in the league next year. Irving, particularly, in Year-2 of playing for Brad Stevens, will be exhilarating to behold, as in Year-1 – when he averaged 24.4 points, 5.1 assists and 2.8 triples on extremely efficient 49.1/40.8/88.9 shooting splits – he already further proved to be one of the best point guards in the NBA.
He should only be better next season.
2. russell westbrook, oklahoma city thunder
The flaws with Russell Westbrook’s games are well-documented: He’s inefficient, he takes a lot of shots and his defense tends to be a little too hit-or-miss. But even with those flaws, there aren’t many, or any, floor generals who are as explosively dominant as Westbrook can be. In 2017-18, Westbrook became the only player to average a triple-double two years in a row when he put up 25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and a league-best 10.3 assists per contest.
Heading into his second season playing alongside Paul George, and with the return of a healthy Andre Roberson (don’t underestimate how important his defensive tenacity is to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win total), Westbrook should be able to turn his personal accolades into more team-oriented success. If he doesn’t, and the Thunder are first-round fodder for the third consecutive postseason, then it may be time to reconsider Westbrook’s spot in the point-guard totem pole.
But for now, we’re content calling him the second-best floor general the Association has to offer.
1. stephen curry, golden state warriors
Even with lingering ankle and knee issues slowing him down in 2017-18, forcing him to miss 31 regular-season contests, there’s still no question who the top point guard in the NBA is.
That would be a two-time MVP who goes by Stephen Curry.
Last year, despite carrying multiple injuries, Curry averaged 26.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 4.2 three-pointers per outing, on ridiculous 49.5/42.3/92.1 shooting splits.
Simply put, even with Kevin Durant in the fold, Curry is the Warriors’ most important player. The space he creates on his deep heaves opens up so much room for the rest of the Warriors to get not just easy, but impossible-to-miss looks near the basket, that Golden State’s offensive numbers skyrocket with Curry on the floor, and become borderline average when he sits. According to NBAWowy, with Curry in the game last season, the Warriors posted an insane 124.4 offensive rating, which would have been the best mark in the league by nearly a full 12 points. When he sat, Golden State’s offensive rating fell to 108.2, which would have made them merely the NBA’s seventh-best offense, behind the Nuggets and Timberwolves.
Curry’s impact is that great.
And had it not been for one cold shooting night in Game 3 of the championship series against the Cavaliers, it’s very possible he could have added a Finals MVP to his list of accolades.
No matter, as Curry will likely get another chance to win it in 2019, after he wraps up another season as the NBA’s best floor general.
Frank Urbina joined Alex Kennedy on the HoopsHype podcast to go into further detail on his point-guard rankings. Click play here for his reasoning on the selections he made:
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.