The point guard position has become one of the most important positions in basketball with the defensive rule changes almost a year ago. We see more and more guards like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and others dominating the offensive end of the court thanks to defenders not being able to hand check them. The quicker guards up and down the league have started ruling the spaced out offenses and we're seeing more of these initiators having big impacts.
Let's take a look at the incoming point guards of this draft class and figure out where they rank amongst each other. We're going to break it down into tiers of point guards -- from the future stars of the league to role playing starters to prized backups to guys who may not have much of an impact at all. We'll be looking at how they project out based on skill set now and what we expect them to develop into in the future.
(The players in each category are in order of how good I think they'll be in the NBA. If you don't see a player in this position category, he's either not good enough to be mentioned or I think he'll play a different position in the NBA.)
Top 10 Point Guard Conversation
This doesn't mean that a player in this tier comes into the league and is immediately challenging 21 starting point guards in the NBA to prove he's better than them. But we do get a Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard type of point guard who comes in and shows he will have a big impact right away. Eventually, he'll be in the conversation of being a top 10 point guard in the NBA for many years to come. As of right now, he's going to make some fan base very excited he's joining their favorite team.
Dante Exum, Australia: Dante Exum is the only guy in this draft class for me who has this kind of likelihood for this level of success. It was difficult to keep Marcus Smart out of here, but I'll explain why in a bit. For Exum, it seems he's a guaranteed Top 5 pick in this draft and at worst we'll see a very good defensive player who can break down his man off the dribble. If he can be a natural leader and a solid shooter, he'll climb the point guard ranks quickly. The key for Exum is being able to run the pick-and-roll at the NBA level. We don't have a ton of evidence showing us what he is right now, but his ability to make quick decisions within the halfcourt will be the different between whether he's considered a great pick in eight years or whether you're keeping an eye out for an upgrade in free agency or the draft in 2022.
You're Very Happy He's a Starter on Your Team
I'm not saying these guys can't end up being star point guards in the draft. I just think they'll end up being a notch below depending on what kind of fit they find with a team in the NBA. If they end up in an organization with a strong developmental staff and track record, we'll see them flourish. If not, their overall talent will still make you very happy with having them on the floor.
Think of a player being anywhere from the good version of Jameer Nelson to what we thought of Mike Conley before this past season when he clearly made a leap.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: I think Marcus Smart has the talent to be a player in the tier above him but I'm not sure he'll be locked in as a team's starting point guard for a decade. I could see him going the route of Rodney Stuckey in terms of his role depending on the situation he finds himself in. He needs to prove he's a shooter at the NBA level. In catch-and-shoot situations last season, he was a very acceptable shooter when he was open. When he was defended on catch-and-shoot attempts, he was atrocious. It shows there's potential to massage his shot into the right direction. He can run a pick-and-roll with high efficiency, so you should see him with the ball in his hands quite a bit in the NBA.
Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: Elfrid Payton has been climbing up mock drafts with his workouts going so well, and for me he's going to be the third best point guard out of this draft class. He can't shoot and his shooting motion is a mess. Whichever team takes him in this draft will need to do a complete reconstruction of his shot, but everything else is good. He gets into the paint, he's a terror in transition, his ability to make passing decisions for his teammates is incredible, and he's going to be a plus-defender at the NBA level. An underrated part of his game could be his cutting off the ball. Once he gives it up in the half court, he'll still be a threat to finish at the basket.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis looked incredible in his one year at Syracuse. He led his team to being undefeated for the majority of the season and was incredibly efficient, effective, and successful in clutch siutations. He's a good floor general and did a great job of finding shots inside. His shooting is a bit of a concern and I'm not sure how much athletic and quick he'll be at the NBA level. He'll have to find a way to get separation for his shot. As of late, Syracuse players haven't exactly translated to the NBA that well, but Ennis is a solid enough point guard that you can probably start him for a decade and be fine. Just make sure you surround him with shooters.
You Can Trust Him Running the Second Unit for a Decade
These point guards can be starters in the right situation -- well, some of them can. But you're more likely to find success with them and maximize their careers by having them lead the second unit. There's nothing wrong with this either. There are only 30 starting jobs in the world and plenty of backup point guards are key components to championship runs.
Vasilije Micic, Serbia: Vasilije Micic has good size at just a hair under 6'6" but his 6'7" wingspan doesn't exactly scream defensive playmaker. Even still, Micic is a tall point guard who is an actual point guard. He's been fine as a shooter up until this point but he needs to improve in that respect. He's a big time passer and will be great setting up shooters around him. He's good getting into the lane, as well. I think he has the best chance of being a starter out of anybody in this group, but you probably would rather he's the first guard off the bench.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: I know Shabazz Napier just came off an amazing title run with UCONN and he's going somewhere in the first round in this draft. But his game screams elite backup point guard, much like what we saw with J.J. Barea during the title run of the Dallas Mavericks. He's phenomenal in the pick-and-roll, but I don't think his ability to score in one-on-one scenarios will translate to the NBA level. He built his 3-point accuracy every season at UCONN, but it will be interesting to see if that holds to the NBA. It probably will.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: He's not even six feet tall but he makes up for that with elite quickness and a 43-inch vertical leap. He's another scoring guard in a point guard role in terms of how he attacks, but you want that out of a backup point guard. He's willing to pass but he's an explosive little pest on both ends of the floor. He'll be a nuisance on defense, but I'm not sure that his size will allow him to be a good defender.
Russ Smith, Louisville: I think the playmaking instincts of Russ Smith are good, but I'm not convinced he won't be the same type of scoring point guard in the NBA that he was at Louisville. At least, I expect that to be the mentality he has at any level of comptetition. He shot the ball solidly from 3-point range his last season, but it was the only real successful shooting season from downtown he's had. Hard to know if that was the start of something good or an outlier for him.
He's a Likely Roster Filler
These point guards are probably too good to spend years back-and-forth in the D-League, but they might not be consistent enough to find a regular spot in an NBA rotation. You can carve out a nice career like this, and you'll have the opportunity to push your way into a rotation. However, you can't miss on that opportunity if you want to get on the court.
Deonte Burton, Nevada: Deonte Burton is only 6'1" but his 6'7" wingspan should excite you as much as his 39-inch vertical. He's not a shooter from outside, so he'll greatly need to develop that, but his explosive scoring nature could give you some big moments here and there. If that athleticism translates to the defensive end, he's likely to have the best chance out of the rest of these guys below him.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: I'd love to see DeAndre Kane translate to the NBA. He was a big time playmaker his last year at Marshall and his one year at Iowa State under Fred Hoiberg. He's a big guard at 6'4" and his 6'8" wingspan helps him as a defender and a rebounder. He was a triple-double threat in college and in the NBA, he could be a good all-around point guard if teams feel he can handle the ball at that level. The key for him, like many of these guys, is being able to hit shots at a respectable rate. He only did it his last season in college.
Semaj Christon, Xavier: I've been hoping Semaj Christon would be a backup point guard in the NBA because I've really enjoyed his game at Xavier. But he's not a shooter from outside and he can be too turnover prone to trust with the backup role. I still think he's too good not to be on an NBA roster, but he has quite a bit of work to do to consistently get on the court.
These point guards are more likely to have success in a career overseas in international play, but they could try to go the D-League route, shuttle back and forth between the D-League and the NBA, and hope they truly develop whatever deficiencies are currently keeping them from being a guaranteed second round pick.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: The biggest thing for Appling is developing an outside shot. He's just not much of a shooter and he didn't really take a lot of 3-point shots in his time at Michigan State. He is a solid point guard though, makes good decisions, and is long enough (6'5" wingspan on a 6'1" frame) to be a decent, disruptive defender.
Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Xavier Thames developed nicely during his four years at San Diego State, but he's not much of a passing point guard and I'm not sure he's enough of a scorer to be successful at the NBA level. He seems like he could have success in a European league.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Aaron Craft was a good defender and a good passer at the college level, but he has poor length and his size isn't anything to write to your local GM about. He also can't shoot the ball at all. However, he can be a professional basketball in some league. I just don't think it's happening in the NBA.
Joe Jackson, Memphis:Joe Jackson looked like a decent NBA prospect heading into his college career, but that dream is all but over. He could be a guy that grinds out a solid D-League career trying to get to the NBA or finds some success internationally.