Let’s pretend that every guard drafted over the past 3 years was made available. Who would be chosen first? Who would be available later than you might expect? Here’s how I would approach ranking the top young guards in the NBA, if I were an NBA GM trying to project out the remainder of these player’s careers. I’ll limit this to the top 20 choices and include, in parentheses, the player’s original draft year and the overall choice he landed as.
Jonny Flynn (2009, 6th) – What happened to this guy?
Avery Bradley (2010, 19th) – Kills me to do it, but tough to back a guy if he can neither shoot nor run an offense, even if he is a tough on-ball defender.
Xavier Henry (2010, 12th) – Smells like a bust.
Reggie Jackson (2011, 24th) – Athletic and some tools; wait and see with this BC alum.
Jordan Crawford (2010, 27th) – Ceiling is scoring guard on a poor team; will probably always be best known for an exhibition dunk in Lebron’s general direction.
Greivis Vasquez (2010, 28th) – Runs an offense well enough to be a competent backup PG for quite some time.
Toney Douglas (2009, 29th) – 3rd guard 4-life; awful shooting #’s so far this season.
Norris Cole (2011, 28th) – More skill than Douglas, but less athleticism. 3rd guard.
Alec Burks (2011, 12th) – Has the tools to start sometime in the future. We’ll wait and see.
Jimmer Fredette (2011, 10th) – Can’t even crack the top 20; talented shooter who can get his own shot, but that’s really about it. 3rd guard.
Klay Thompson (2011, 11th) – Good size, good bloodlines, talented shooter, but 2 FT attempts in 331 minutes is an ENORMOUS red flag.
Evan Turner (2010, 2nd) – Obviously a big disappointment considering his draft position. Not sure he does anything well enough where he’ll ever merit a starting spot.
Eric Bledsoe (2010, 18th) – Attractive player, but sample size is relatively small at this point, so tough to be overly confident about his future.
20 – Jodie Meeks (2009, 41st)
Meeks has really settled in the past couple of years as a dangerous shooter in Philly; his percentages from 3 and the FT line are outstanding. Could be this generation’s Craig Hodges, though presumably without the late career conversion to Islam. Only time will tell.
19 – Iman Shumpert (2011, 19th)
Shumpert is having a pretty nice rookie season for the Knicks. Good size and excellent athleticism, but not much of a shooter. If he learns to run an offense he’d project out as quite the athletic specimen for a starting PG, so plenty of upside.
18 – Darren Collison (2009, 21st)
Collison is a competent starting PG in the NBA who probably won’t improve much on what he already is. The Pacers aren’t complaining, considering they traded Troy Murphy’s corpse for him 2 years ago.
17 – Jeff Teague (2009, 19th)
Taken 2 picks ahead of Collison in 2009, Teague’s finally gotten an opportunity to start in Atlanta, and he appears to have what it takes to be an OK starting PG for a while. I give him a slight edge on Collison due to a bit more athleticism/upside.
16 – Marcus Thornton (2009, 43rd)
Hasn’t scored efficiently since his rookie year the past season and a half, but he can still score. A bit undersized at the “2”, not a standout defensively, but scoring is a commodity in the NBA, and Thornton can do it in a number of ways.
15 – Gerald Henderson (2009, 12th)
A high pick out of Duke in 2009, Henderson has been an every-game starter in Charlotte this season. He’s used his athletic ability to put up 15 ppg this year, and is a pretty tough defender. Unfortunately, he is still not a threat to shoot from the outside, which is tough to get away with at 6’5”, limiting his ceiling as a player.
14 – MarShon Brooks (2011, 25th)
MarShon’s “S” and game have both gotten a little bigger since his days at PC. Brooks was a volume scorer for some poor Friar teams, so it’s been a surprise to me that he’s scored with such efficiency during his rookie season. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him go 20 PPG a couple of times before he’s through.
13 – DeMar DeRozan (2009, 9th)
DeRozan was a 1 and done at USC and is an elite athlete with great size (6’7”, 220) for an NBA 2 guard. He can score a bit, but most of his damage is done at or around the rim. He is a poor outside shooter, though he’s doing more of it this year, which given the 38% he’s shooting from the floor thus far, can probably be considered counter-productive. I give DeRozan the nod over Brooks because they’re actually the same age, and DeRozan’s athletic gifts are so elite that he could develop into something that Brooks is simply incapable of becoming. Close call though, as I feel the odds of this actually occurring are fairly low.
12 – Kemba Walker (2011, 9th)
Kemba, who led UCONN to last year’s NCAA title, has had an up and down rookie season. His role has been largely undefined on the Bobcats thus far, which I think has hurt his development. He needs to be allowed to run an offense full-time. Once this happens, Walker can become an excellent NBA PG given his ability to handle the ball, his competiveness, and his work ethic. Walker could be a bust, but I’m confident that he won’t allow himself to be one.
11 – Roddy Beaubois (2009, 25th)
Beaubois is a very explosive guard who is slight in stature (6’0”, 170), but is quite an athlete. Incredibly, he’s blocking nearly a shot a game so far this season. He’s been a part-time player on a veteran Dallas team the past 3 seasons, but I feel once he is given a starting position that his offensive skill set will allow him to be a dangerous scorer. Only major downside is he is far from a natural PG, which is something he has in common with the next man on this list.
10 – Tyreke Evans (2009, 4th)
Evans has no business running an NBA offense and jacks up entirely too many outside shots for someone who does this poorly (career 27% from 3). However, Evans is an elite athlete who can get to the rim and sees the floor well for a “2”. I feel like Evans could be a borderline All-Star performer for a decent team if employed properly, but suspect he’ll be tossing up numbers for awful teams for the foreseeable future, partially due to his own inability to make his teammates better.
9 – Ty Lawson (2009, 18th)
Given where Lawson and Evans were drafted, this should be quantified as an upset of sorts. Lawson was a very successful college player who has steadily improved each year of his NBA career. He possesses top-notch speed, and shoots, defends, and runs an offense fairly well. If he continues to trend upward, he’ll be a top 10 NBA PG and may even sneak onto the back end of an All-Star roster or 2 before he hangs it up.
8 – Brandon Knight (2011, 8th)
Knight’s upside gives him the slight nod over Lawson. Knight’s having a pretty good rookie season for an over-matched Pistons team, but he’s got decent size for a PG, has most of the skills you’d look for at that position (though his assist/turnover ratio is concerning) and seems like someone who’s going to be a winner in the league at some point in his career. I’ve just got a hunch that Knight will be a big-time PG for at least a couple of seasons at some point in his career.
7 – John Wall (2010, 1st)
Wall is the only representative from the class of 2010 on this top 20 list, and an unbelievable athlete with perfect size (6’4”) for an NBA PG. He’s got speed to burn, finishes strong at the rim, and distributes the ball fairly well, especially on the break. However, Wall is currently doing whatever the hell he wants for an awful Washington team, turning the ball over more than he did as a rookie, and is still a non-threat as an outside shooter. I fear that giving Wall the car keys to an awful, undisciplined team may stunt his growth as a player, and prevent him from reaching his elite potential.
6 – Brandon Jennings (2009, 10th)
Jennings took the league by storm in 2009-10, making 1st Team All-Rookie after having played overseas the previous season. He has continued to develop as a player, and the crafty lefty has all his shooting percentages trending in the proper direction in his 3rd season. While still not a natural distributor, he has appeared to take steps in the right direction in running an offense this season. While I don’t love PGs who are not elite distributors, the rest of his game is pretty darned good and I can see him being the top player on some playoff teams at some point in his career.
5 – James Harden (2009, 3rd)
Harden, an All-American at Arizona State, has developed into an incredibly efficient and valuable scorer for a very good Thunder team. Harden can shoot, get his own shot, get to the rim, and his an excellent free throw shooter. Beyond this, Harden passes, defends, and rebounds JUST well enough to be more than just a scorer. While not a great all-around player, his scoring without needing to jack up a ton of shots and/or stop the ball makes him the type of player that can take a team from good to elite, which is exactly what the Thunder may become this year.
4 – Jrue Holiday (2009, 17th)
Holiday entered the draft after a disappointing 1 and done at UCLA, where he entered as, arguably, the top recruit in his class. Now in his 3rd NBA season, Holiday is developing into a well above-average PG. He is competent at running an offense, though not a great natural distributor. Holiday shoots well, can get to the rim, and is a borderline elite defender at this point. If he continues to develop as both a scorer and distributor, he should be a perennial All-Star for quite some time. Everything Holiday does helps his team win, unlike a player like Wall or Evans, where the individual numbers look good at the expense of the scoreboard.
3 – Stephen Curry (2009, 7th)
Curry, one of the greatest college basketball players of my lifetime at Davidson, has not been a disappointment as an NBA player. He may well be the best shooter in the NBA, is very capable at getting himself space to use that shot, passes well (2 to 1 assist/turnover), and while not a good defender, is at least adept at getting into passing lanes and making things happen. I think Curry could easily be part of a championship backcourt, especially if paired with a big, physical PG. Curry showed himself to be a winner who embraces the big stage while in college, and I envision him having plenty of great moments during his very promising NBA career going forward. Curry’s elite shooting gives him the slight nod over Holiday, as this is a skill that will make him incredibly valuable in the league for an awfully long time, even if his ceiling isn’t quite as high.
2 – Ricky Rubio (2009, 3rd)
Rubio, after 2 more years playing in his native Spain, has arrived in the NBA with a flourish this season. Rubio has the “deluxe” package when it comes to a PG’s skill set, with elite passing, ball-handling, and floor vision. He is an OK shooter, with mechanics that would seem to indicate he can improve with time. He has, unexpectedly, been a disruptive force defensively, averaging over 2 steals a game, often leading to fast break opportunities that he is very adept at leading. He also rebounds relatively well for a PG. Rubio’s ceiling would appear to be Steve Nash with a little less shot but a lot more “D”. Considering Nash has been a league MVP, this is a rather excellent ceiling.
1 – Kyrie Irving (2011, 1st)
Irving is having an enormously impressive rookie season as a PG on an underwhelming Cleveland team. Making it all the more impressive are his 11 games of experience at Duke; obviously Irving was not expected to be inching toward All-Star status given the learning curve of the PG position, especially at the NBA level. Irving is a shockingly efficient offensive player, with terrific shooting percentages across the board. He runs an offense fairly well, and figures to get much better at it going forward. He does not shrink in big situations, as evidenced by his dagger against my Celtics in Boston last week. While Irving has a ways to go defensively, the rest of his game is unbelievably refined given his age and experience. Expect Irving to be one of the elite guards in the NBA for a long time, which will certainly help the Cavs inch back towards respectability and give owner Dan Gilbert a fighting chance to make good on his prediction of the Cavs beating the Heat to the winner’s circle.