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PG debate: NBA's top youngsters

12/20/2012 - NBA

Over the past few seasons, the NBA has seen more than its share of top-level point guards enter the league. Who are the best of the last five draft classes? Our panel weighs in.

1. Who's the fifth-best PG of the past five draft classes?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Stephen Curry. He seems like a logical choice, even though his shaky ankles are starting to drag down his production, even as he continues to sharpen his defensive instincts. Threats to Curry here? Jrue Holiday (if he improves from long range), John Wall (if he recovers), Damian Lillard (if the current trajectory continues) and Eric Bledsoe (if he proves capable of running an offense).

D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Eric Bledsoe. Here's Bledsoe's itinerary over the last seven months: post the league's best adjusted plus/minus in the playoffs. Have the second-highest PER of all point guards. Block a higher percentage of shots than Dwyane Wade, pick a higher percentage of pockets than Chris Paul, post higher rebounding percentages than every other point guard. Dunk absolutely everything.

James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Ricky Rubio. On a list full of guys who routinely make breathtaking plays, Rubio might be the most fun to watch. He might also be the guy you'd most like to play alongside. He makes passes other point guards just don't see. Pesky defender, too.

Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: Ricky Rubio. It's hard to differentiate between all these great point guards but Rubio gets "dropped" this low because his flaws as a shooter/scorer will be a problem as he moves forward in his career, especially in the playoffs. But if he improves in those areas, he'll probably top this list in five years.

Tom Sunnergren, Philadunkia: Ty Lawson. Although his stroke's been off this season (on shots that don't come at the rim, he's posting Chris Dudley-type numbers) and he leads a Nuggets team many had pegged as a dark horse and is consequently treading water. Lawson has submitted an impressive body of work in his first four seasons. He's too good to keep sputtering.


2. Who's the fourth-best PG of the past five draft classes?

Arnovitz: Rubio. Charting Rubio's future requires a leap of faith, because his body of work during his short tenure in the NBA hasn't told us anything definitive. But if the exercise is to peer into the future to project which point guards will leave the most vivid imprint on the game, it's hard to bet against the 22-year-old. There's too much potential on both sides of the ball to ignore.

Foster: Stephen Curry: Marksmen of Curry's caliber typically just shoot and do little else. While the percentages are the main appeal here (he's the mythical "180-shooter"), Curry can also run a team, get to the rim and rebound surprisingly well. He's a more complete player than we've been led to believe.

Herbert: Stephen Curry: People say he's not a "true" point guard, but there's a reason people so often make Steve Nash comparisons. There are All-Star teams and 50/40/90 seasons in his future, provided he stays healthy.

Koremenos: Derrick Rose. This is how absurdly talented this crop of point guards are. A former MVP is dropped to fourth. For Rose, the reasoning is simple: Will his knee injury rob him of the athleticism that makes him so special?

Sunnergren: Bledsoe. Here's the thing about the critical darling of the young season: For all the subjective accolades he's coaxed from onlookers -- the freak-show athleticism, the defense, those arms -- he's been even better on paper. He leads the position by large margins in rebounds per 48 minutes, he blocks, he scores efficiently and he has more than doubled his PER from a season ago.


3. Who's the third-best PG of the past five draft classes?

Arnovitz: Russell Westbrook. Speaking strictly between the lines, is there a more polarizing player in the league than Westbrook? For those who want purity at the point, Westbrook's distributive powers have traditionally been wanting, especially considering that he plays alongside Kevin Durant. But have you seen Westbrook's impressive assist rate this season? That improvement shows he's growing into a complete playmaker.

Foster: Russell Westbrook: He's almost too good. Westbrook has the athleticism to take him anywhere at any time faster than anyone else, which makes deferring a difficult exercise. While he's still spectacular offensively, his immense athleticism doesn't translate to the defensive end as much as his reputation would have you believe.

Herbert: Kyrie Irving: He's basically the new Chris Paul, and he might be higher on this list in a couple of years. Irving has essentially no weaknesses offensively and looked the part of a franchise player less than halfway through his rookie season. His defense isn't there yet, but he's 20 years old.

Koremenos: Curry. He is going to be a more aggressive scoring version of Steve Nash if he stays healthy, but the injury concerns regarding his fragile ankles will hold him back until he proves they are behind him.

Sunnergren: Kyrie Irving. Per Pro Basketball Prospectus, three point guards in the Association's long history have posted a season of 8-plus WAPR before they hit age 21: Magic Johnson, Chris Paul and -- yup -- Irving. As far as the injuries and the assist-to-turnover ratio that's crept disconcertingly close to 1-to-1? We'll forgive him.


4. Who's the second-best PG of the past five draft classes?

Arnovitz: Rose. There's one MVP in this group and that's Rose. We live in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind sports universe, so it's easy to forget how easily he can dominate a game with his athleticism.

Foster: Derrick Rose: Allow me to summon my inner Jon Gruden: I call this guy "Poohdini" because he's a constant threat to escape to freedom and score, even with all eyes trained on him. That's why he's ahead of Westbrook for me -- Rose doesn't have the benefit of a superstar drawing away defenses and opening up gigantic driving lanes for him like Westbrook does.

Herbert: Russell Westbrook. His numbers are ridiculous, on par with Rose's, but we'll give Rose the edge because he's had to carry a team offensively in a way Westbrook hasn't. It's remarkable, though, that such a tremendous scorer fits so well alongside another one. At this point in the season he's averaging more assists than Rose ever has.

Koremenos: Westbrook. Choosing between him and Curry for this spot was probably the hardest choice on the list. Westbrook's a dynamic scorer and an improving playmaker that runs the best team in the league. If it weren't for his teammate, Kevin Durant, he'd be an MVP candidate at some point in the near future.

Sunnergren: Westbrook. A flashpoint in the analytics versus eyeballs versus different analytics debate -- if you want to know how somebody thinks about basketball, just drop his name. He's like a human Rorschach test -- Westbrook has had a characteristically hard-to-characterize season. His field goal percentage has plummeted, but he's shooting less and facilitating more. The bet here is that he -- someday, somehow -- puts it all together.


5. Who's the best PG of the past five draft classes?

Arnovitz: Irving. It's still early, but after 66 NBA games, Irving has already mastered the specifics of pick-and-roll basketball, the nuances of directing an offense and the ability to shred his man in isolation. He acknowledges that his defense needs more bite, but let's project ahead a season and a half or so, to a time when Irving has logged 200 games. What's he going to look like then?

Foster: Irving: Plain and simple, Irving has the most skill of the group. He's the best ball handler, the best perimeter shooter (non-Curry division) and the best shot-creator. These types of efficiency numbers typically don't happen with such a high usage rate and such bad teammates, but they are. Once he starts defending, Irving will have a spot in the league's best point guard conversation, period. He's that good.

Herbert: Derrick Rose. It might be a while before Rose looks like the best of the bunch once he returns from injury, but at his peak he is a (slightly) more destructive force than any of his peers. The strides he made from his rookie of the year season to his Most Valuable Player season are immense.

Koremenos: Irving. This kid can just flat-out play. He's a taller, better-shooting version of Paul who is already capable of being the first option on a contender. The only thing holding him back from superstardom is if his odd assortment of injuries continue to force him to miss time.

Sunnergren: Rose. Though the next fact I learn about ACL recoveries will be my first, I can't shake the feeling that Rose's best chapter is yet to be written. Temporarily sapped of the athleticism that's carried him, he'll be forced to become a more cerebral player in the initial stages of his return. And when the explosiveness returns, which it will, watch out.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA writer and editor for ESPN.com. D.J Foster, James Herbert, Brett Koremenos and Tom Sunnergren are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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