Over the past 10 years, point guard has become the deepest and highest-end position in the league. Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley and that's just a glimpse off the very top of my head.
But who are the players who could come out of the shadows and make a real name for themselves with the basketball-watching-public? Here's a brief list of candidates for point guards to have breakout years. Bear in mind that "breakout" means different thing for different players.
John Wall, age 23, Washington Wizards: Wall entered the league as the super-athlete mix of Derrick Rose's speed with Tyreke Evans' freakish athleticism. But instead, Wall fell off the map. He was too fast for his skillset, and could never find chemistry with anyone to raise his teammates.
But after a strong second half of last season once he got healthy, Wall showed out, to the point where the Wizards looked like a playoff-caliber team that ran out of time to make a run. Now with a better set of weapons around him and more time in the offense, Wall has the potential to become more than "that guy who was good a Kentucky." There are a lot of those guys.
Kyrie Irving, 21, Cleveland Cavaliers: Hear me out on this one. No. 1 overall pick, Rookie of the Year, expansive commercial series with Pepsi, how can Kyrie Irving be a breakout star? He has never seen the playoffs, and has had his seasons compromised by injuries both to himself and his teammates. Irving can have the year with this Cavs team, though. He has weapons, health, and the potential to go forward with his skillset. Irving in the playoffs is something we need to see happen.
Eric Bledsoe, 23, Phoenix Suns: Bledsoe is a divisive figure in NBA circles. Explosive, super-athletic, a difference maker at both ends, Bledsoe has shown the ability to impact the game off the bench for a playoff team in Los Angeles. Now he's on a rebuilding team, battling for the starting spot with veteran Goran Dragic. Can he run an offense well enough to execute as a starter? Can he improve his shooting enough to stretch defenses and clear space for him to penetrate and create inside?
The Suns have some fun talent, and Bledsoe's likely to get ample opportunities to show out. He's in a competitive environment with Dragic, and knows the franchise wants to invest in him for the future. It's going to be hard to make a name for himself in a tanking year for Phoenix, but he can build the foundation for a reputation as an impact point guard with a strong season.
Kemba Walker, 23, Charlotte Bobcats: Walker quietly had a solid season for the woeful Bobcats. He proved he has a place in the league, and ticked up his shooting percentages slightly. His assist percentage stayed the same and he still features below-average percentages, but if Brandon Jennings is going to be hyped as much as he is, Walker deserves some credit for how he's grown his game.
This year, the Bobcats aren't dramatically better, but should at least have the talent to be "not completely terrible." A lot of that will hinge on Walker. He needs to make a jump either in his field goal percentage or three-point percentage, and find more chemistry with his teammates. (A 35 percent assist percentage -- percentage of available assists made is a reasonable target.)
Reggie Jackson, 23, Oklahoma City Thunder: This is more by default than anything. With Russell Westbrook out 4-6 weeks of the regular season, Jackson is in an unenviable position of trying to replicate and improve on his performance from the playoffs. Jackson showed a lot last spring with Westbrook out, but accelerating him into a full-time starter role means a sharp learning curve.
Still, Jackson has good athleticism and can stretch the floor. He's going to have space with the attention drawn by Kevin Durant, but without Kevin Martin, the perimeter defense will target him more. He has to be decisive with his approach while also not being overly aggressive. An unenviable position, but Jackson's shown enough talent to warrant the confidence to include him on this list anyway.
Austin Rivers, age 20, New Orleans Pelicans: Rivers had one of the worst imaginable rookie years for a lottery pick. He couldn't shoot, made poor decisions, and generally looked lost. But New Orleans personnel were adamant that Rivers was showing the aggressiveness and confidence they wanted and that they were willing to be patient. After a good summer, Rivers has excelled early in preseason, and looked like a changed player.
It could be presesaon smoke and mirrors, but Rivers has the athletic talent and skillset to be a playmaker off the bench. He's surrounded by offensive weapons, and has good defensive principles. Rivers could be in line to shake the criticism he saw in his first year.
Isaiah Thomas, age 23, Sacramento Kings: The diminutive speedster had an excellent rookie year, but has suffered from the prototypical Kings problem. The team is so terrible and such a mess, it's hard to tell where the talent is. Thomas has Greivis Vasquez to push him at the point guard spot, and won't have ball-dominant Tyreke Evans splitting time at point with him. He has more of an array of shooters vs. ball handlers and players to stretch the floor.
Is Thomas just too small to win with as starting point guard? If the Kings go forward this year, it's assumed it'll be DeMarcus Cousins that leads them there. But Thomas has shown more in the way of toughness, competitiveness and production. If the Kings do wind up maturing to the point of success on any level, Thomas could both spur their progression and benefit from it.