CP3: 18.4 p, 9.8 a, 4.3 r, 2.4 stl, 47 fg%, 25.6 PER, 46.5 A%, 23.7 U%, 122 ORtg, 104 DRtg, .270 WS/48
RW0: 21.3 p, 7.3 a, 5.3 r, 1.7 stl, 43 fg%, 21.1 PER, 36.1 A%, 30.1 U%, 105 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .178 WS/48
TP9: 18.8 p, 6.6 a, 3.3 r, 1 stl, 49.5 fg%, 19.9 PER, 33 A%, 25.8 U%, 110 ORtg, 107 DRtg, .141 WS/48
DL0: 19.2 p, 5.8 a, 3.2 r, 0.8 stl, 42.7 fg%, 17.5 PER, 27 A%, 24.6 U%, 112 ORtg, 111 DRtg, .121 WS/48
–Career averages per 36 minutes (via basketball-references.com)
The four teams remaining in the Western Conference Playoffs feature the four of the top seven regular season offenses. Three of those teams were also among the top seven defenses (San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Supersonics and the Los Angeles Clippers). Each of those teams feature a Hall of Fame, or potential Hall of Fame forward. But for each team their success begins and ends at the hands of their point guards.
Their career splits are surprising similar, yet they are dramatically different players. In this sense, metrics are dangerous. It hides how each plays their position, as well as where they are in their careers. Both Paul and Parker are nine and 13 years into their careers, and have statistically, stylistically and, at least in Parker’s case, historically cemented their place in the NBA. For both Lillard and Westbrook their numbers will certainly change, skewing more efficient.
Pay attention. No four players shape the outcome of the West more so than Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard.
The Floor General
From the moment Chris Paul took an NBA court, fans and basketball wonks alike fell in love with Paul’s game. He is the truest of true point guards not named Steve Nash, and is unparalleled in managing his team’s offensive tempo. As this newest class of score-first point guards—led by Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Westbrook—continues to prosper, Paul remains a beacon for old school point guard play that thrived on setting your man up for the easy basket.
The extent to which Paul impacts the flow, the speed and the positioning of the players around him is almost unfathomable.
Paul scores high marks on the Thibodeau test. He is among a handful of players (Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and maybe Stephen Curry and Goran Dragic for the sheer relentlessness of their respective games) that a coach, in this case Tom Thibodeau, wouldn’t have to practice or draw an offensive play at all, ever for a whole season and still get an above average offense.
Only with the emergence of analytics have we begun to quantitatively grasp all that Paul does. As a floor general, Paul lives for his teammates and his fingerprints can be seen all over the assist world, consistently ranking in the top of every assist-related metric throughout his career. This playoffs has been an exemplar.
In this postseason, Paul’s offensive rating scores a stellar 115.2 with an unsurpassed 34.1 assist ratio (assists per 100 possessions). But more impressive, his play has elevated teammates J.J. Redick and Blake Griffin into the top five of that category (for players averaging more than 25 minutes/game).
Paul has led the playoffs in percentage of field goals assisted while on the floor with a 48.9 Assist % (via basketball-reference.com). Mike Conley is the only player with a higher assist to turnover ratio in the post-season—and only by a hair (3.67 to 3.55). Not coincidentally, Conley is perhaps the only other playoff point guard whose team absolutely relied on his offensive management.
Paul separates himself from Conley, however, with his scoring ability—by-products of his superior strength and shooting touch. Conley’s individual offense does not come so easily. If Paul took 20-23 shots a game (instead of his current 15), no one would bat an eye. In fact, it’s encouraged. But Paul’s game isn’t interested in that. Paul’s game does what his team needs, and if that means jacking up nine threes, hitting eight
If it means going H.A.M. on pick and rolls
If it means being selfless, putting on a show and energizing his team and the crowd—home or away
If it means showing the pick and rolls, being selfless, putting on a show and energizing his team and the crowd—home or away
So be it. Count him in.
There’s that weird 18 point differential between Paul’s offensive and defensive ratings, but that’s mostly due to his out of this world offensive impact. He’s always been a tenacious defender, may be the answer to the MVP and is the best defensive point guard his coach has “maybe ever” seen.
Pound for pound, Russell Westbrook is perhaps the most athletic basketball player in the NBA. The combination of speed, strength, quickness and leaping ability packaged in a 6’3”, 190 lb. point guard frame is a once in a generation phenomenon.
And we get to witness two of the top 10 NBA players develop together and explode all over the NBA in all their youthful glory
Now KD to RW
They’re also occasionally adorable
Westbrook scores more, rebounds more and has a better defensive rating, than the other point guards on this list. Still, more than CP3, Parker and Lillard, he suffers from a purely analytic view of his game.
Anyone who has seen RW0 play basketball cannot ignore the ferocity with which he goes about his business. His sheer relentlessness and undying predatory pathology elevates his strain of “give me that” to the highest of art forms.
Even after the whistle has blown
His tenacity and relentlessness has almost made him a caricature of himself
You hate guys like this. You love guys like this. If you’re playing him, you can’t stand the bravado. If he’s on your team, he’s the lifeblood.
I’m going to ignore the criticisms that he takes too many shots, that he should defer to Durant more.
Let Russell be Russell.
Whatever your view of him, his spirit is infectious. And despite his many physical talents, that is perhaps his greatest asset. He leaves no room for doubt as to what he’ll do to score this basket, to snag this loose ball, to win this game.
Anybody who has seen Kevin Durant play since his time at the University of Texas knows that he’s gotten nastier. It’s the only way he scores 32 points a game this year, snags the Bill Russell trophy and has a shot at a ring. He knows it too. And anybody who has seen his evolution alongside Westbrook’s knows in their heart of hearts that #0 is the reason KD is MVP.
As Kendrick Perkins has receded more and more into the background, Westbrook has become the emotional engine for this team. Unlike CP3, he doesn’t read his team’s needs and act according. Rather, like a benevolent ruler, he dictates the terms of this game, and this victory.
For Westbrook, moderation is a four-letter word to ignore—like quit.
Tony Parker has achieved nearly everything the other guys on this list hope to in their careers. In many ways, his career arc illustrates how a player—not born with God-given size and skill—develops into a probable Hall of Famer.
Parker has won three championships with the San Antonio Spurs, earning NBA Finals MVP honors in 2007. He has been voted to the All-Star game six times, made the All-NBA Second Team twice, the All-NBA Third Team once and is already the Spurs all-time leader in assists. And we haven’t even broached his storied international career.
Certainly Parker has benefitted from an ideal situation. He came into the league with uncanny quickness and exceptional ball handling skills. And together, with one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, probably the greatest power forward in NBA History and the greatest Argentinian basketball player in NBA history, learned to master the pick-and-roll-or-kick.
Statistically, Parker would seem to not excel at anything in particular–with the exception of a high field-goal percentage, but with as high a percentage, you’d expect a higher Player Efficiency Rating (PER)–this speaks to the system he’s had the had the good fortune of playing in and crafting.
Over the years, with the help of Chip Engelland he has developed a more-than-serviceable jump shot. His three-point shooting percentage has increased from a career worst 26% in 2008 to 37% this past season on the same number of shot attempts.
What has truly come to define TP9’s career is his extraordinary finishing ability. He has seemed to master every layup conceivable and in any given game, he’s prone to bust out more versions of a layup than you even knew existed.
Pretty much anywhere within 10-15 feet from the basket Parker seems to apparate at will, making magical plays
Also Parker has a Van Halen Lamborghini and a hyperbaric chamber. Probably because he’s made shots like this
The youngest of this group, Lillard’s ascension to the top tier of point guards has been surprisingly rapid, if not unlikely.
Lillard’s last two years reads something like a typical millenial’s resume—except, you know, talent.
A Technical Sales graduate from Weber State University in Utah, Lillard has gone from three consecutive first-team all-conference to NBA Rookie of the Year, to playoff hero in a city that hadn’t won a postseason series in like 300 years.
Let us supplicate for the sacrificial lamb that is and was Chandler Parson’s hair
Lest we forget, that’s not the only time he’s done it this year. Let us mourn for Alonzo Gee as well
At 6’3” with 6’8” wingspan, Lillard has a uncannily quick first step that splits the defense as good as anybody in the NBA—devastatingly so on a pick and roll. He makes oafs of slow footed bigs; when they (J.J. Hixon, below) come up to hedge on the screen, Lillards shoots the ball between his screener and away from the hedger the moment the big plops down flat-footed
At such an early point in his career, it’s incredible that Lillard has been able to put it together so quickly. Most likely, he’ll be exiting the playoffs tonight with a righteous Spurs sweep, but this is his first appearance in the NBA Playoffs. Ever. There’s no doubt he will return for years to come.
He has finishing ability
He has range
He has endeared himself to the hearts and minds of Rip City
He has found a groove