I’ve read several articles on the evolution of the Center position and what the future may hold for 7-footers. I’ve probably read even more pieces on positionless basketball and how it’s changing the game. But here I wanted to discuss the astounding number of starting-caliber, and even elite, Point Guards we have in our game, and how spoiled we are to the spectacular floor general play that we’re watching today. Then, we’ll review the landscape of what’s to come for the position. First, a brief story:
Feel free to bypass the following story and get down to brass tax (just past the Chris Paul image) if you wish.
Over the short stretch of time that I spent in my life going door-to-door when I was trying to make it in the sales industry, I met a lot of… interesting people (when they weren’t slamming the door in my face, obviously). But I remember one man in particular who I just couldn’t help but spend half the day with trying to pick his brain. His name was Bob and he lived such an incredibly fascinating life that he’s probably forgotten more interesting memories than most of us will ever even get to experience.
One particularly noteworthy story that I had the privilege of reliving was the night Bob hung 32 points on Pete Maravich back in the Pistol’s LSU days. It may have been just a playground scrimmage but Bob made sure I understood that he accomplished this, his most prized victory, with no 3-point line. You see, the reason Bob took such pride in that performance was that he respected the hell out of Pete Maravich’s talent. He idolized him to an extent, which isn’t out of the norm for an older gentleman in south Louisiana. “There wasn’t anyone like Pete back then,” Bob would say. “He would do the craziest things with a basketball that you never thought possible.”
Appreciating the Pistol
In Maravich’s fourth season as an All-Star, playing for the New Orleans Jazz, he averaged 27 points, 6.7 assists, and 2 steals while shooting 87% from the line. This was two seasons before they began tallying 3’s but he was a career 66% sharpshooter from beyond the arc in his final three seasons in the league. In terms of fantasy, he would’ve been elite, putting up Steph/Dame-type numbers in his prime. Back then, Pete Maravich was one of a kind. It was uncommon for guys to spend basically every day of their lives training to be a basketball player in those days. In today’s NBA, we see crazy stat lines like that seemingly every day. It’s a common feat (aside from the career 66% 3-ball). We’ve become so accustomed to great Guard play that it’s even a wonder how there’s still a few teams out there that don’t have a starting-caliber Point Guard (Phoenix, Orlando).
Running the Show
First, let’s stop and smell the roses. Going by Yahoo Fantasy positional eligibility, there are at least 12 Point Guards, age 24 and up, who would commonly be agreed upon as elite. Those top 12 (in no particular order) are Curry, Harden, Lillard, Paul, Westbrook, Oladipo, Walker, Irving, Holiday, Lowry, Wall, and Conley. Like all players, these guys may have their up’s and down’s throughout the fantasy season but we know what we have in them when it all boils down.
Other than those clear-cut elite players, we also have a plethora of starting-caliber PG talent in the NBA. I’m not going to torture you by naming every single one but guys like Bledsoe (who may actually be considered elite by some), Dragic (same for him but maybe to a lesser extent), Teague, Rubio, Beverley, you get the picture. Aside from only two of the dudes I just listed, all these players have one thing in common. They’re all 28 years of age or older. That’s a bit disconcerting in today’s game which we’ve become comfortable with. What’s going to happen to the Point Guard pool a handful of years down the road when all those elites are well into their 30’s and approaching their swan songs (if Father Time hasn’t forced retirement already)? That’s what we’re here to delve into.
What’s going to happen to the Point Guard pool a handful of years down the road when all those elites are well into their 30’s and approaching their swan songs (if Father Time hasn’t forced retirement already)?
Next, we’ll take a look at current young NBA ball-handlers who have shown enough promise to be considered the next men up. Then, we’ll wrap it up with some future 1st-round prospects who might just have the talent needed to keep the astounding number of stud PG’s at the level that it has been for a few years now.
Next Men Up
These guys are current young NBA Point Guards (according to Yahoo Fantasy eligibility) who I believe have decent odds to become the next elite (in fantasy and real life):
Ben Simmons – Age 22
Wouldn’t it be cool to see another player average a triple-double for a whole season? If we’re taking bets on the next guy to do so, my money is on the Fresh Prince (I’d also consider Jokic if I wanted to parlay my bet). Coming into the league with a high basketball IQ and salient court vision, Simmons’ rookie performance took the league by storm. He and The Process were, and still are, one of the most exciting tandems to feast your eyes on. He didn’t come without his faults though. Simmons shot a rancid 56% from the charity stripe throughout his freshman NBA campaign. Luckily, he’s shown an ability to improve that over the summer. While still almost a category-killer at this stage, Simmons has improved his Free Throw stroke to 62.7% through the first month of his second NBA season. While that’s nothing to write home about (unless you’re writing about punting FT’s), it’s a step in the right direction. That’s not Ben’s only flaw though. His other major weakness is his 3-point shooting, or shooting in general. He averaged a whopping ZERO 3PTM his rookie season. And this season? Unfortunately, it remains the same – zero. Who knows if he’ll ever work on that aspect of his game? Maybe my estimated ceiling of 0.4 3PTM is even a bit generous. But even if he never develops a reliable shot, Simmons is still a counting stat machine who will be a perennial 1st-round talent in fantasy for years to come.
Lonzo Ball – 21
It’s been a slow start to the 2018-19 campaign for the eldest Ball brother but he’s learning from two of the highest basketball IQ’s in the game. Unfortunately, those two guys are dominantly the ones to blame for Lonzo’s fall in the ranks this year. I think the cobwebs caused by offseason surgery will start to disappear and he’ll mesh with those ball-dominant guys on his team. He’s shown he’s capable of putting in the work and adapting. Just look at the jump he’s taken with his 3-ball this year compared to last.
De’Aaron Fox – 20 (will be 21 before 2019)
Currently ranked 63 (which jumps to 40 in a punt TO build), Fox has shown he’s capable of evolving in a short amount of time. His counting stat increases from rookie to sophomore season look like this – points: 11.6 ➡ 18.7, boards: 2.8 ➡ 4.4, dimes: 4.4 ➡ 7.1, steals: 1.0 ➡ 1.3, blocks: 0.3 ➡ 0.6. Even his percentages skyrocketed from .412 to .508 FG% and .307 to .442 3pt%. I expect his current .678 FT% to, at the very least, regress to the mean of .723 he put up as a rookie. ‘Swipa’ does have 0.8 more turnovers now than he had last season but that’s to be expected from a player taking such a long leap forward. Honestly, the fact that he’s not even averaging 1 more whole TO this season is impressive, too. Fox has just been an all-around cornerstone for the Kings this year, doing everything he can to keep them above .500.
Donovan Mitchell – 22
The first player to make the list who may not be officially labeled a ‘Point Guard’ by traditional basketball standards but has PG eligibility on most, if not all, fantasy platforms. Ignoring the efficiency issues which are expected from youngsters, Mitchell was a top 50 player as a rookie in punt FG% builds: and was just outside the top 50 in standard, no-punt scoring. While still not having taken that proverbial next step yet in his sophomore season, the Spider has now actually hopped into the top 40 in punt FG% scoring (he falls outside the top 70 in no-punt builds), currently slashing 20.4/2.8/4.3 with 1.6 steals and 1.9 3ptm per game on .414 FG% and .830 FT%. Look for those points, boards, and 3’s to get a small bump this season, and an extra large bump in his not-so-distant, superstar-esque future.
Jamal Murray – 21
Murray has improved his distributing over the offseason but it still isn’t showing so much on the box score (just 3.9 assists per game compared to 3.4 last year). But when you have a top 10 fantasy big man in the middle who possesses such great court vision and passing acumen, maybe your team needs the scoring more. The Nuggets are similar to the Celtics in that regard – where the starting Center might just be the best passer on the team. But Murray is not Kyrie Irving. Although, I do believe Murray’s role will become something somewhat similar. Yes, the Blue Arrow improved his formerly weak dime game but it still isn’t up to the level of a traditional elite floor general’s. Just the fact that he’s shown progress is a good sign. Hopefully, he can continue down that path. He has what it takes to attack the opposing defense, averaging 17.5 points this season, but he’ll need to add a little more to his tool chest to establish a consistent spot in the top 50 ranks of fantasy hoops.
Trae Young – 20
Young is the type of player who should have the ball in his hands except when he’s passing/lobbing to one of the few other talents on his team. He could certainly use the experience. Admittedly, he hasn’t fallen flat his rookie season like I expected, currently averaging 16.7 points and 8 assists as a rookie. That gives me even higher expectations for him. But what happens after Atlanta has been in the tank for multiple years and they start collecting more early lottery level talent? The hope should be that Young develops a better off-ball game. That’s a tall task for a young, confident player who has always felt the need to prove himself. The efficiency needs to go up but don’t be surprised if that never happens. He’s not a recommended play outside of punt TO/FG% builds (currently rank 88 in punt TO, and rank 55 in the dreaded TO+FG% double punt rankings).
Collin Sexton – 19 (will turn 20 in January)
I’ll admit it. I side with the half of the fantasy community who are somewhat pessimistic about Sexton’s chances of developing into anything more than a fringe starter or nice role player. That being said, I’m not an oracle. There are plenty of great players who started their careers off on the wrong foot before turning it around and proving the naysayers wrong – some of them even being mentioned above. It took Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe years before they would be considered good floor generals. Bledsoe spent three years trying to prove himself. It took Lowry twice as long. Lowry didn’t average double-digit points or more than 4.5 assists until his seventh year as a pro! Seems like an afterthought now. I’m not comparing Sexton to Lowry or Bledsoe. The point I’m trying to get across is that everyone develops at their own pace. But a player who averaged 25.6 points, 4.8 dimes, and 5 boards per-40 minutes as an 18-year old should at least be given the opportunity to become the score-first combo guard he was meant to be. Sexton’s real-life skill set includes relentless slashing and an alpha mentality but his ruthless, high-powered defense is what earned him lottery pick status. Well, defense doesn’t translate to fantasy if it doesn’t come in the form of steals and blocks. Sexton averaged less than 1 steal and virtually no blocks in college. Where his fantasy value will come from is still a mystery. At least he appears to have taken a nice step forward with his FT% (77.8% in college to 92.7% now), albeit on a small sample size. I wouldn’t be shocked if Sexton never cracks the top 75, but he should at least get the chance in Cleveland.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – 20
It’s readily apparent that the three 2018 draft lottery Point Guards are very different from one another. We just covered the potential fantasy futures of Young and Sexton. Now it’s time to discuss my favorite of the three PG’s who are unfortunately bound to be tied to each other for years to come. SGA is the most well-rounded Point Guard to come out of this lottery. I’m super high on this kid as a player who likely won’t hurt you anywhere – a future multi-cat stud (or every-cat stud if I put on my optimistic pants). I think the weakest aspect of SGA’s fantasy game is his lack of 3ptm but he’s shown enough promise to believe he can even blossom that part of his game too. It’s impressive that SGA has already earned a starting role in a Doc Rivers system that relies upon a collective team effort, rather than a first- and second-option, star-driven offense. Admittedly, it took an injury to the starting 2-guard for SGA to grab that spot, but there are rumblings that the job is SGA’s to lose now. A perennial top 40 future is in store for this dude.
Luka Doncic – 19
What can I say about Doncic that hasn’t already been said by seemingly every NBA fan already? I’ll keep this one relatively short (hooray!). At 19 years old, Luka is already slashing 19.1/6.4/4.2 with 2.4 three’s made and 0.9 steals on .468 FG%. He’s a career .801 FT% guy, so I also expect his current .750% FT% to regress to the mean. He’s just a fantasy phenom who will soon sail into the top 40 and drop anchor there.
Dennis Smith Jr – 20
DSJ’s freakish athleticism alone should account for some nice fantasy lines but he’s taken a tough hit to his counting stats this season compared to last. I can attribute that to a bit of a learning curve, now playing with a 19-year old bonafide star who came in playing a lot different than anyone Smith was used to. Last year, DSJ was Dallas’ prized possession. He was their future. Now, most would say there’s an even more intriguing young piece in the house that Cuban built. He and Doncic should eventually mesh things out and become a fearsome tandem. I do expect his numbers to climb back up to at least what they were last season, and if his improved percentages stick, maybe he can find himself in the top 100. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to picture DSJ as the best PG to come out of the 2017 draft, like I originally thought was a likely scenario. It’s not fair to compare him to De’Aaron Fox, whose seen a transformation that Kings fans should be excited about. But it happens when you play the same position and you’re drafted in the same lottery. To be sure, DSJ is still a clear hold in all Dynasty leagues and remains a breakout candidate at least through the 2019-20 season. I just won’t be surprised if he doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
Aaron Holiday – 22
I’m higher than most on the youngest Holiday brother. I believe he has a solid floor and will, at the least, become a reliable, Darren Collison-type Guard who can provide some firepower off the bench. But it’s my opinion on his ceiling that has people looking at me with furled brows and pity-filled eyes – the kind of look you give your kids when they tell you something completely wrong but they look so proud that you can’t bring yourself to correct them. To me, Holiday has Kemba Walker-lite upside with better shooting stats. He’ll be best at giving you points but can also deliver in a couple other categories. In his last year at UCLA, Holiday averaged 20.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 three’s made on a smooth 42.9% from 3. Next season, it’s possible that all three of Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, and Cory Joseph are wearing different jerseys. That would leave a glaring hole in ball-handler minutes that I think Aaron Holiday will be ready to fill. I may stand alone in this but when it comes to predicting Holiday’s level of value in comparison to his brothers, I lean more toward Jrue than Justin (although Justin has put together a fine start to this 2018-19 season).
He may be only 22 years old but D-Lo is in his fourth season already. Is this a case in a solid, but non-expanding talent? Are we already seeing Russell’s ceiling? Being that he’s still so young, the common answer is probably ‘no’ but he just hasn’t displayed an ability to grow yet for fantasy owners. I’m still a believer in Russell but the doubts are revealing themselves. That being said, even if we’re already seeing his max, Russell will still, at the very least, be a sixth man-type spark with top 100 fantasy upside.
Murray, 22, fits right into today’s game of non-traditional PG’s. Unfortunately, he might still be considered a bit of an unknown commodity as a starter (especially coming off an injury that’s forcing him to miss his entire third year), as he’ll go into his fourth year in the NBA having played only 119 games, and only started 56 of them. Murray hasn’t shown the greatest court vision and distribution skills but if Pop’s a believer, I’m a believer. Here’s to hoping he can return from a long, injury-riddled absence and become a top 100 fantasy talent like I think he can under Coach Pop.
Buried beneath a small handful of other Guards in Dallas, Brunson may be a bit of an enigma to casual fans. Let’s fix that. The Mavericks were lucky Brunson fell to them at pick 33 in the 2018 draft. A ready-made player who has earned several awards already in his young career, Brunson is a two-time NCAA Champion with Villanova, National College Player of the Year, Consensus first-team All-American, Big East Player of the Year, two-time first-team All-Big East, Bob Cousy Award-winner, I could go on… If the Mavs are competing, it may not be until next year that Brunson finds his NBA rhythm. But regardless, he will find it. I believe that.
Admittedly, the upcoming draft is limited on high-level Point Guard talent… or just talent in general. Yes, most would say it’s still too early in the season to gauge how exciting the 2019 NBA Draft will be. But one thing is for sure – there isn’t as much early season hype as in recent years past. In any case, it’s our job to sniff out some guys who can make a case to be called future elites. Here’s a handful:
Current NBA Player Comp – lesser John Wall
Temetrius “Ja” Morant has as good a chance as any to be considered this draft’s best sleeper. He came out of high school unranked and unknown. Unexpectedly, Morant opened some eyes almost as soon as his sneakers hit the hardwood his freshman year at Murray State. A great transition finisher above and below the rim with good straight-line speed, Ja is also an impressively quick playmaker, making it difficult to stop him on a fast break. His rookie averages looked like 12.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.5 boards, and 0.9 steals on a .459 FG%. Then, in his first game of the young 2018-19 NCAA season, Morant posted a nice Point Guard’s double-double of 26 points, 11 assists, 5 boards, 1 steal, and 1 block, shooting 58% from the field, but also adding an inefficient 7 turnovers and .333 3pt%. He’s not a bad shooter but he could stand to speed up his stroke, or else his FG% will dip to worse numbers in the NBA. With top 75 future fantasy potential, somehow Morant is still flying under the radar. I think he changes that soon.
Current NBA Player Comp – Zach Lavine
Another athletic PG who can get to the rim at will, Hands plays an explosive, exciting brand of ball that often gets the crowd hyped. The 6’3 PG is occasionally a victim of trying too hard for the big play and complicating things instead of opting for the simpler pass but he’s crafty enough with the ball to almost always find a way to blow by his defender. When Aaron Holiday was ahead of him at UCLA, Hands was more of a score-first Guard (his per-40 minute averages were 15.7 points, 4.1 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 steals to go with a .405 FG% and .374 3pt%) but now that Holiday is gone, there are hopes that we’ll see Jaylen’s dime game expand. He has top 100 future fantasy upside.
Current NBA Player Comp – Isaiah Thomas + defense
At 6’2, 175 pounds, Garland isn’t the strongest or most athletic Guard, but he’s a smart player who plays at his own pace and gets where he wants on the court with ease. He’s also a smart defender who knows the appropriate times to be aggressive, and when to play more conservative. All this is well and good but won’t necessarily translate to fantasy. On the more fantasy-relevant side of things, Garland is currently considered more of a small, scoring PG but shows the knowledge and ability to evolve into a good distributor who could average something in the realm of 20 points, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals as a potential top 100 future fantasy upside guy.
Current NBA Player Comp – Jimmy Butler
Okay, okay, so Barrett isn’t technically a PG. But can you blame a guy for wanting to spice things up with an actual highly-touted, potential #1 pick? So Barrett isn’t a true PG by title but the court vision and passing instincts he’s already displaying could easily earn him PG eligibility on all fantasy basketball platforms. We’re seeing some of that these days anyway with Doncic and Josh Richardson being the most notable non-PG’s to gain the classification. Through his first three games at Duke, Barrett is averaging 25.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2 three’s made. We could be looking at the next multi-cat stud with top 40 future fantasy upside.
There you have it. While it may be true that the majority of our elite Point Guards will be on the wrong side of 30 in a matter of a few seasons, hopefully, the issue will be addressed by the upcoming talent we’re seeing on our fantasy rosters now.