A poll today on ESPN’s NBA homepage asked the following question: “Which of these point guards is the best in the NBA?” The options were the Suns’ Steve Nash, the Hornets’ Chris Paul, the Bulls’ Derrick Rose, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams of the Nets, formerly of the Jazz. As of 10pm Eastern Time last night, Derrick Rose (see left) was the runaway winner with 67% of the vote. Following far behind were Paul (11%), Nash (9%), Williams (8%), and Westbrook (5%). These results intrigued me because I’d always heard two separate lines of reasoning on this issue. The first one goes something like, “Steve Nash has won 2 MVPs and taken his team to the brink of the Finals – it’s gotta be him.” The second argument generally sounds like, “Chris Paul and Deron Williams are young, franchise-changing point guards who have yet to hit their peak – it’s gotta be one of them.” However, until recently, I hadn’t really heard Rose’s name mentioned as the best floor general in the league. And quite honestly, I hadn’t really considered him to be in that pantheon of point guards yet. I wonder if Rose’s poll numbers spiked mostly due to the Bulls’ big win last night that catapulted them into first place in the East? Or are Rose’s stats really that good, and I’ve just been missing something? Let’s run some numbers and find out:
To determine who is the best PG in the NBA, I decided to rank the top candidates based on the most important statistics for the position. I took the 5 ESPN choices and added the Celtics’ young point guard Rajon Rondo (see right), who has definitely entered the best-PG discussion this season, to the mix. Then I compiled their per-game averages in what I consider to be the 6 most important statistical categories for a point guard: Points, Assists, Turnovers, Field Goal Percentage, Steals, and Team Winning Percentage. I added the last category because the point guard is traditionally the leader of the team, and a good point guard should be able to pull out close wins for his squad. I thought about including other stats in the mix, like Rebounds and 3-Point Field Goals, but I figured that those were not traditional point guard stats. Instead, I focused on the numbers that truly capture the essence of what it means to be a floor general – a distributor who makes his teammates better. After compiling the data and ranking each player based on each statistic (each candidate got a 1-6 value for each category based on whether they were first, last, or in the middle of this elite cohort, 1 being the best), I got the following results:
1. Paul (16.5 points)
2. Rondo (18 points)
3. Rose (21.5 points)
4. Williams (22 points)
5T. Nash (24 points)
5T. Westbrook (24 points)
I bet I’ve annoyed a bunch of Bulls (and Thunder and Suns and Nets) fans with the results of this analysis, so let me break it down for you. Rose was the leader in Points and Team Wins among this group; however, he finished dead-last in both Assists and Field Goal Percentage. The low Assist total should not be particularly troubling for Chicagoans because, instead of dishing, Rose just takes the ball to the hole. However, this makes the low Field Goal Percentage that much more problematic. Sure, Rose scores a lot, but it takes him a ton of shots to do it – and those are shots that Carlos Boozer (52% shooter) and Joakim Noah (51% shooter) are not taking. This is a real chink in Rose’s armor – especially at a position where the first priority is supposed to be setting up your teammates for a bucket.
Maybe the only people I’ve made happy with this list are those in New Orleans (or Charlotte, if there are any Hornets fans left there?), which has had the privilege of rooting for Chris Paul (see right) for all these years. Paul clocks in first in steals – a sign of his superb defense – as well as in turnovers. He is also among the top half in both Assists and Field Goal Percentage. These numbers indicate that Paul is doing what a true floor general should do: take advantage of your own opportunities but focus on taking care of the ball and setting up your teammates. His only weakness would be in scoring, but he’s still getting a healthy 16.3 points per game in Monty Williams’ low-scoring system.
So that’s my take on the point guard race in the NBA. I was definitely surprised that Rondo came in so high – he doesn’t score a lot but he is an assists machine – and I figured Westbrook would have better efficiency numbers playing next to Kevin Durant. All in all, though, the analysis confirms my original suspicions: Paul #1; Rose coming up fast, but just not there yet. Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made a mistake.