NBA Notebook: Early point guard rankings

Good luck trying to win your fantasy league without a few solid point guards. Some call them the running backs of fantasy hoops. I liken them more to quarterbacks, but whatever you call them, there's no doubt they're needed in the fantasy game.

Why do we love point guards so much? Well, no other position can really fill your need for assists. Sure, there are a few stud swingmen like LeBron James or Paul Pierce, and even some big men like Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol, but those types of players are few and far between, not to mention all gone by the end of the third round. Overall, the assist category is a dead zone outside the point guard position. It's not like I'm splitting atoms here, either; it's pretty obvious that if you want to be competitive in assists, you'll need to secure some quality point guards.

It's not just the assists, though. Point guards are a versatile bunch. Aside from their ability to dish, the good ones will also be able to score, hit the 3-ball, record some steals and maintain a highly efficient rate from the free-throw line. For those keeping score at home, that's five categories right there. Think about it: You can win almost every week in head-to-head leagues with a point guard-dominated roster.

Problem is, this year, the point guard position is kind of a mess and quite top-heavy. A frustrating number of teams have serious logjams in their respective backcourts, and that means lots of time-shares. In the fantasy game, time-shares are your worst enemy because minutes equal production, and lack of minutes equals, well, lack of production.

With that in mind, securing a stud point guard in your draft should be a top priority this season. It's just too risky to rely on those stuck in crowded backcourts. Let's take an early look at the fantasy point guard rankings sorted by tiers:

Tier 1

1. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
2. Steve Nash, Suns
3. Chris Paul, Hornets
4. Jason Kidd, Nets
5. Chauncey Billups, Pistons

You really can't go wrong with any of the studs listed in Tier 1. All are low-risk investments who are near locks for a high-reward payout. What's not to like?

Arenas always fills the stat sheet, but he could be even better this season since he's playing for a contract. Scary thought, huh?

Kidd won't score like the rest of his counterparts here, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who contributes consistently across the board like J-Kidd. He's ranked only slightly behind Chris Paul because he's starting to get to the age where his body may begin to break down.

Chauncey Billups won't completely wow you like the others in the first tier, but he earns major bonus points for consistency and durability because he's dominant in points, assists, 3s and free-throw percentage and has missed an average of just five games per season over the past three years.

Tier 2

6. Deron Williams, Jazz
7. Kirk Hinrich, Bulls
8. Raymond Felton, Bobcats
9. Mike Bibby, Kings
10. Baron Davis, Warriors
11. Mo Williams, Bucks

Two players in Tier 2 jump out at me as guys who could easily make the jump into Tier 1 by this time next season. Deron Williams and Felton are not just ultra-talented -- they're young, exciting and ready to make the jump into elite point guard territory.

I know I'll catch some flak for not ranking Deron among the elite this season, but he just doesn't do enough for me in steals (1.0), 3s (1.0) and free-throw percentage (76.7) to put him up there just yet. He's solid in all categories, but really dominant in only one: assists. As for Felton, well, he's not nearly as good as Deron in real life, but he does have the potential to be a better fantasy player. His ability to provide steals, 3s and assists in bulk more than makes up for his lack of efficiency from the floor (38.4 percent).

Davis would be in Tier 1 if it weren't for the wave of frustrating injuries he's suffered over the past five years. Baron hasn't been able to suit up for 70-plus games since the 2001-02 season, making him one of the draft's biggest high-risk/high-reward picks.

Mo Williams and Bibby are two of my favorite point guard targets this year because they can produce numbers comparable to the upper echelon, but both can be found hanging around in rounds five or six on draft day.

Tier 3

12. Andre Miller, 76ers
13. Tony Parker, Spurs
14. T.J. Ford, Raptors
15. Stephon Marbury, Knicks

Parker and Miller are similar fantasy players, except I guarantee that Parker will go at least a round earlier in your fantasy draft. Problem is, Parker is a much better player on the court than he is in the fantasy game. Don't get me wrong: Parker is a solid fantasy point guard, but he just doesn't do enough in steals (1.0), 3s (0.2) and free-throw percentage (career 71.6 percent) for my liking. He will be a dominant force from the field, however, which makes him quite special among point guards.

Look out for Ford in Toronto. He has a capable backup in Jose Calderon, and his stats could suffer the consequences of the time-share. Last season, Ford earned the lion's share of minutes (29.9 to Calderon's 21.0), but that could even out more this season as Calderon continues to gain experience in his third professional campaign.

Tier 4

16. Jameer Nelson, Magic
17. Randy Foye, Timberwolves
18. Rajon Rondo, Celtics

Here's where things start to get dicey, and there's a reason why Tier 4 is a short one. It's really the last tier of point guards that I'm comfortable with right now. I'm sure some other contenders will be able to move into this tier as we start to sort out position battles during preseason action, but for now, this is what we're left with.

All three players in Tier 4 can be considered sleepers, especially Nelson and Foye, who are both coming off underachieving seasons. I'm not buying all this Sebastian Telfair talk in Minnesota, and I fully expect Foye to be the starting point guard from Day One. With the youth movement in full effect, expect Foye to take advantage in his second season.

Tier 5

19. Devin Harris, Mavericks
20. Jose Calderon, Raptors
21. Chucky Atkins, Nuggets
22. Jamaal Tinsley, Pacers
23. Derek Fisher, Lakers

Now do you see why it might be more important to lock down a few quality point guards early in your draft? The players in Tier 5 aren't exactly bad fantasy players, but they're more like role players who can fill specific needs rather than starting fantasy point guards. Many of the players listed in Tiers 6 and 7 are easily more talented than guys like Atkins and Fisher, but Atkins and Fisher have one key thing that the others don't: a clear-cut starting job and, therefore, guaranteed minutes.

Tier 6

24. Mike James, Rockets
25. Delonte West, Sonics
26. Mike Conley Jr., Grizzlies
27. Smush Parker, Heat
28. Acie Law, Hawks
29. Luke Ridnour, Sonics
30. Daniel Gibson, Cavaliers
31. Kyle Lowry, Grizzlies
32. Brevin Knight, Clippers
33. Sam Cassell, Clippers

And here come the time-shares. I'm not going to lie: It's an absolute mess in Memphis, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland and Houston. In fact, we could probably do a full column on each team and still have plenty of issues to discuss. I'm not going to tell you who will be the starters, because I don't know. I don't know because the coaches still don't know and probably won't know until midway through training camp. And even then, we're likely to see the minutes spread out rather than see true starters and backups. Like I said, it's a mess. There are just too many point guards and not enough minutes to go around. Let me be clear about one thing: The rankings in Tier 6 are very tentative, as some of these position battles will be ironed out in preseason action.

In Houston, James seems to have the initial upper hand, given Rafer Alston's recent legal woes. James should be able to knock down plenty of 3s with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming commanding most of the attention. Still, James probably won't see more than 30 minutes per night with Alston, Steve Francis, Luther Head and Aaron Brooks all pushing him for minutes.

West is more of a shooting guard, but in Seattle this season he'll probably be thrown into the mix at the point with Ridnour and Earl Watson. West is the most talented of the Sonics' three-headed point guard machine, and since he can contribute in multiple categories, he'll likely have the most fantasy value of the three.

In Memphis, it looks like Conley Jr. will get the nod as the starter, but look out for second-year man Lowry. Lowry is pretty talented in his own right, and if the summer leagues were any indication, we could be looking at a true time-share here. The addition of Juan Carlos Navarro makes the situation even more cloudy, since Navarro also can handle the rock like a point guard.

Most folks are fully expecting the Atlanta Hawks to simply hand the keys to rookie Acie Law, but the Hawks still have Tyronn Lue, Speedy Claxton and Anthony Johnson on the roster. Law should log around 25 minutes per game, and that will undoubtedly hurt his overall value.

In Los Angeles, the Clippers will go with a true split between Sam Cassell and Brevin Knight. Their respective values will depend largely on who is hurt less. And that's a tough call given their respective injury histories. I like Knight slightly better because he's shown the ability to produce near-dominant assist and steal numbers in his previous time-share in Charlotte.

Tier 7

34. Jason Williams, Heat
35. Rafer Alston, Rockets
36. Steve Blake, Trail Blazers
37. Chris Duhon, Bulls
38. Jarrett Jack, Trail Blazers
39. Sergio Rodriguez, Trail Blazers
40. Earl Watson, Sonics
41. Tyronn Lue, Hawks
42. Speedy Claxton, Hawks
43. Antonio Daniels, Wizards

If you thought things were confusing in Houston and Seattle, just take a look at Portland's logjam. Not only do they have three capable floor leaders, but they also have too many shooting guards to slide any of their point guards over to the 2. Unless we get confirmation that one of the three will earn 30-plus minutes per night (which probably won't happen), I'll be staying far away from this situation on draft day.

Alston could easily be ranked much higher than this, but his off-court problems are pushing him further and further down in the rankings. The Rockets have way too many players ready to take his spot, so unless he cleans up his act or is traded, I don't see him having much fantasy value this season.

The Jason Williams/Smush Parker preseason position battle won't actually be much of a battle. J-Will is the starter when healthy, while Smush will come off the bench. Smush, however, may end up earning more minutes because the Heat will try to preserve J-Will's erratic health. Both will be solid role players for their abilities to hit 3s and create steals.

So there you have it, an initial look at the fantasy point guard landscape. Rankings this early in the season are always up for debate. So, whether you think I'm brilliant, or an idiot, let's hear it.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.