With the season so near, it's time to look at the impact players at each position on the basketball court. That's exactly what HOOPSWORLD will be doing this week – looking into our ever-so-powerful crystal ball to see which players at which positions will have the greatest impact on their teams (both on the court and on fantasy island).
Today, it's the point guards' turn.
First, though, something worth mentioning: point guards aren't what they used to be. There's been a movement in the NBA towards point guard play that emphasizes the lead guard's ability to not only set the table for those around him, but to also score when asked to. Although the "pure point guard" still exists, most on this list are the "pure point guard" plus so much more.
The bottom line for a point guard, though, is to lead his team to bring victories to his squad. With that out of the way, on to the rankings ..
6. Chauncey Billups – Detroit Pistons
When the Detroit Pistons put Chauncey Billups on the block this summer, plenty of squads had interest in him, but the Pistons couldn't find a package to their liking. Since signing a big contract, Billups has lost some of the luster on the "Mr. Big Shot" reputation he developed, but there's no doubt that the team has seen tremendous success under his steady leadership. Despite supposedly declining abilities, Billups still averaged 17.0 points and 6.8 assists per game last season and shot .448 from the field and is poised for another steady year with basically the same numbers.
5. Baron Davis – Los Angeles Clippers
When healthy and motivated, Baron Davis is one of the most awe-inspiring athletes in the world. He's strong. He's quick. He's brash. He's thoughtful. Unfortunately, Davis' career has been marred by both injuries and playing for teams that haven't been in contention. But Davis is coming home now, which should push him to push as hard as he ever has to play through injuries and position in the standings. It'll be a lot to ask Davis to once again play 82 games and score 21.8 points and dish out 7.6 dimes again this season as he did last – he doesn't have the same weapons around him (Monta Ellis, Stephen Jackson), but he'll get serious recognition as an All-Star if he can make something of a run with the Clippers.
4. Deron Williams – Utah Jazz
One of the best young guards in the league, Williams' growth before everyone's eyes has certainly justified his high draft pick ahead of Chris Paul. They're not the same player – Williams is bigger and a better outside shooter and worked better in the very structured offense the Jazz employ. Williams and Carlos Boozer have brought the Jazz back to prominence in the Western Conference with Williams averaging a double-double with 18.8 points and 10.5 assists per game and Boozer doing his part in the paint.
3. Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs
It's weird – Tony Parker doesn't get the respect he deserves. Maybe it's because there's a hesitation to call him great because he plays with a Hall of Fame big man or a jealousy because he's married to a super hottie or just some sort of nationalistic disdain for Europeans (Frenchman, in particular). In any case, Parker's game easily makes him one of the best point guards in the NBA. Off the dribble, there isn't a more lethal player in the NBA (although Monta Ellis is close) and his ability to get creative and do unconventional things around the basket to score is impressive and incredibly entertaining. Parker must continue to expand his game beyond his quickness, though, specifically improving upon his outside shooting. But, as one of the criteria for a point guard was laid out above, there hasn't been a point guard that parallels the success Parker has helped bring to the Spurs.
2. Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets
Surprise! It's easy to say that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league now, but that's definitely one of those "what have you done for me lately" moments. There's no doubt that the dynamic guard can do anything on the court – averaging 21.1 points, 11.6 assists, and 2.7 steals per game last season (at the ripe age of 23) and there hasn't been a team that has improved in the win column more than Paul's Hornets. But anointing him the best in the league for a few years of success is a bit premature – there's no doubt that he's going to get better and unseat the man ahead of him on this list, but where Paul goes from here is essential to seeing where he'll rank as time goes forward. Paul has all the tools to be not just the best point guard in the league, but the best player in the league – he's quick and he's smart, but he must remain healthy (there are some durability concenrs) and must continue to get better (especially his outside shooting). The only reason he isn't number one on this particular list is because the guard ahead of him has had a more prolonged success and is poised to surprise people this year by bringing success to a team that many will sleep on.
1. Steve Nash – Phoenix Suns
Anyone else forget about this guy? The two-time MVP has largely been forgotten because the Suns seem to have fallen off the map a little bit, but there isn't a better lead guard in the NBA even though Paul is closing in on this title very, very quickly. When it comes to leading an offense, though, there hasn't been anyone over the past few years in the NBA that has been better and Nash is still on top. Nash has been hampered by injuries, specifically in his back and shoulder, but he still goes out and is tremendously productive, to the tune of 16.9 points and 11.1 assists per game last season. He still is shooting above 50 percent from the field, above 90 percent from the line, and almost 50 percent from three-point range. He's not the same player he was a few seasons ago (age does tend to do that), and it'll be a challenge for him to integrate Shaquille O'Neal into the offense this season, but there's no one more capable and smart to do that. With an aging Shaq, a budding Amare Stoudemire, and nice role players in Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Matt Barnes, and Grant Hill, the Suns will be good again and it's all going to be because of Nash because he's the straw that stirs it all for them and will keep the team together. Nash's quickness has tapered, but he's still a formidable offensive foe in the league and will find a way to get things to work again in Phoenix this season, which should surprise a whole bunch of people around the league.
Gilbert Arenas - Washington Wizards: The only reason he's off the list is because he's always injured and it's tough to say exactly how successful the Wizards can be with him consistently in the roster.
Monta Ellis - Golden State Warriors: Out for the beginning of the season and the de facto point guard for the Warriors, Ellis is arguably the most efficieint perimeter player in the league .. but he's not really a point guard, is he?
Rafer Alston - Houston Rockets: Honestly, this guy is under the radar more than any point guard in the league. When Houston went on their streak last season, there weren't many lead guards playing better in the league.
Andre Miller - Philadelphia 76ers: Seeing what Philly did last season without a bona fide superstar was impressive and Miller was the cog that made that machine really work. With Elton Brand headed to Philadelphia, Miller will be able to set the table for many weapons and will serve as the lynchpin for the team's success.
And with that .. LET THE DEBATE BEGIN!