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Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Young point guards starring early

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

I'm sort of obsessed with point guards.

It started at the dawn of the millennium with my first fantasy team, when my three-headed point guard monster of Stephon Marbury, Jamaal Tinsley and Jason Williams won my first fantasy title (for you young people, those were three top-10 point guards in the standard definition era).

Elite point guard play needs to be at the center of your construction of a successful fantasy team. You need to be starting as many point guards and as few shooting guards as your league's rules will allow.

It's not rocket science. Point guards dominate the assists category. You're better off overcrowding your backcourt and utility slots with floor generals who can distribute, nail 3s and grab steals than with shooting guards who tend to be bent on "getting theirs."

This year's group of point guards features one overall characteristic: young upside.

Lillard
Damian Lillard has gotten off to a hot start as he's run with the Trail Blazers' starting point guard job.

There is a bumper crop of outstanding rising point guards with three or fewer years of NBA experience. There's so much young upside available that I've been forced to alter my view of the player pool.

I noticed it in the preseason when I began to make my pre-draft tiers, grouping players via their projected value. As always, I expected to push The Big 3 -- Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams -- toward the top and then slot the other point guards accordingly.

But it was impossible not to notice that The Big 3 were about to have some company.

There were already several players still on their rookie contracts who were -- when healthy -- top-10 point guards: Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson and Ricky Rubio. (Not to mention Jeff Teague, who established some sneaky high-end value last season.)

These players had already flashed elite or near-elite value. Then due to offseason player movement and the draft … another group of rookie contract point guards landed on the fantasy radar. (Now you know how Andre Miller must feel: he's still a world-class distributor, but these young guns are everywhere.)

In my drafts this year, instead of going for a Paul or Williams in the first round, I waited until the fourth or fifth round to take my first point guard (usually Damian Lillard). Then I would promptly overstock at the position, taking four or five point guards by the 10th round.

My reasoning was that I could expect two or three of them (Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Goran Dragic) to break out. Accordingly, I could instead spend my high picks on shallower positions (shooting guard, center), and then go for volume at the 1. And so far that strategy has worked … to a great extent.

To help you stay on top of the market, here's a look at 10 point guards with less than three years of NBA experience who have been shaking things up this season.

(I'm including their current Player Rater ranking among point guards along with where they finished last season.)

 Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday has made the most of being the focal point of the 76ers' offense.

Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers (Current: 3rd, 2011-12: 15th): This is all with an average draft position of 54. Did you see what Holiday did to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday? Thirty-three points, 13 assists, 13-of-21 from the floor. Holiday has posted the largest (non-injury-related) jump in value this season, and we have to thank … Andrew Bynum?

Dealing Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets meant that the direction of Doug Collins' offense was being solely entrusted to Holliday. Then Bynum went bowling and the 76ers needed scoring and floor leadership. Enter Holiday.

What I especially love is the across-the-board value. Holiday gives you everything without hurting you in a single area. His field goal percentage has taken a small hit (and his 3-point shooting has dipped from 41 to 38 percent), but the volume stats have spiked in a way that more than makes up for it.

The player he's reminding most of now? The Utah Jazz-era Deron Williams. (And that was prime Deron Williams).

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Current: 4th, 2011-12: N/A): His average draft position was just 77.4. I've been gushing about Lillard for so long now -- since draft night -- that I think it's beginning to affect my marriage. It hurts me to type this, but I think Lillard's due for a slight leveling off in production. I've already said to expect Kyrie Irving rookie year stats with Lillard. So far, he's posting Irving Year 2 numbers.

There just has to be some first-year inconsistency thrown in the mix at some point, right? (He did shoot 4-for-18 Monday night.)

Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns (Current: 7th, 2011-12: 13th): This is a guy shooting a Nashian 47 percent from the field while canning 1.6 3-pointers per night. Almost half his attempts (4.5 out of 11.7) per game are from downtown. And yes, while he's averaging career highs across the board, anyone who followed him in Houston knew this potential was there. But it's the improvement in efficiency and volume that impresses me most.

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats (Current: 14th, 2011-12: 37th): His average draft position was 92.3. I've written before that Walker has the potential to be a poor man's Baron Davis: production you can count on as long as you're willing to absorb the hit to your field goal percentage. But Walker has upped his shooting from the field overall (37 to 40 percent) this year, even in the face of his 3-point shooting's falling off a fiscal cliff (29 to 19 percent). It shows he's getting more disciplined. The assists and steals are way up, and the 3s will start falling eventually. Bonus value: Walker qualifies at shooting guard.

Darren Collison, Dallas Mavericks (Current: 17th, 2011-12: 34th): I was expecting about 10 percent more production across the board. Collison's averages for the season have been solid (12.9 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.2 SPG), but Collison has yet to find any semblance of real consistency. If it looks like Dallas is headed for the lottery, Collision may have to fend off a time-share with Roddy Beaubois at some point this season. He needs to turn it up a little.

George Hill
George Hill's shooting is off, but he's still providing decent stats in other categories.

George Hill, Indiana Pacers (Current: 19th, 2011-12: 45th): While he's outperformed his ADP of 99.4, he's still somewhat of a disappointment. He's still getting it done in multiple categories, but Hill's 3-point shooting has been Kemba-esque (27 percent, 10 points below his career average).

With Indiana's offense sputtering and D.J. Augustin in the fold, some lineup shake-ups could be coming (like Hill at the 2). But if you've watched Indiana this year, you know their offensive issues are deeper than Hill. I think he turns it around as the Pacers' point guard.

Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers (Current: 25th, 2011-12: 75th): He's averaging 19 minutes a night. He's also a top-25 fantasy point guard. Bledsoe's problem this season is that those minutes will stay locked in; Chauncey Billups will be back soon and oh, he's already backing up Chris Paul. But Bledsoe is oozing with the kind of upside that will blossom given 30 minutes a night. You have to think he'll be dealt as soon as Chris Paul re-ups.

Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons (Current: 27th, 2011-12: 28th): He went for 26 points and six assists Monday night. If you've been sleeping on Knight, it's almost too late to pick him up cheap. Ultimately, he might be more of a scorer than distributor, but the overall trend here is that Knight is on the rise.

Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans Hornets (Current: 28th, 2011-12: 29th): A classic case of what low expectations, a steady diet of minutes and solid surrounding veteran play can do for a young point guard. Eric Gordon's injury opened up a big opportunity in the Hornets' backcourt. Austin Rivers hasn't shot the ball well, while Vasquez is showing he's elite in assists. Think of a healthier Jose Calderon, with no competition at the position.

E'Twaun Moore, Orlando Magic (Current: 36th, 2011-12: N/A): Moore has understandably tailed off with Jameer Nelson's return, but he showed enough the first couple weeks of the season to raise his profile in Fantasyland. If J.J. Redick is dealt, Moore could be in line for 25 minutes per game by the end of the season.