Over the next few days leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft, I will take a look at the five players at each position I feel represent the best of their peers. The first group I will examine is the point guard crop. The point guard position is a loaded position in the NBA. The league has had an influx of talented point guards from Kyrie Irving to Derrick Rose. It is a position with growing importance for teams, but one that has not necessarily led to a championship. The 2014 NBA Draft does not have a deep group of point guards, but it does have great talent on the top. Marcus Smart and Dante Exum are the top point guards in the draft and they have quite a distance between the next point guards on the list. Let’s take a look at my top five point guards in the 2014 NBA Draft!
1) Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart is one of the most athletic point guards in the 2014 NBA Draft. At the NBA Draft Combine, the 6-foot-3-inch, 227-pound Smart measured 33 inches in the standing vertical leap, which was in the top ten of all the players there. He also benched 185 pounds 19 times at the combine. These tests show his raw athleticism and strength. He is excellent at getting to the basket and finishing through contact. The Oklahoma State product is a score-first point guard, but he can make plays for his teammates because of his court vision. He is an outstanding defender because of his athleticism and quick hands. He causes a lot of turnovers because of these defensive skills, averaging 2.9 steals per game last season. He also is a good rebounder for a point guard.
He is a team leader with a lot of passion to play the game. This passion, though, can lead to him losing his cool and causing technical fouls and decline in play. ESPN’s Chad Ford says, “Smart can bend the game to his will on occasions, and for teams looking for a true leader, he has all the makings of a great one.” The other weakness for him is his shooting ability. He is not a great shooter, shooting only 42% from the field and 29.9% from three. Smart must improve his shooting ability to be more versatile on the offensive end. He is my number one point guard because of his ability to defend and get to the basket at will along with his great leadership and athleticism. The offense should come with time.
Oh, and watch this:
2) Dante Exum, Australia
Australia’s Dante Exum is a physical specimen at 6-feet-6-inches and 196 pounds. He is one of biggest guards in the draft with a 6-foot-9-inch wingspan. Even with his spectacular length, he is extremely quick including placing in the top ten of all the players at the NBA Draft Combine in the lane agility, shuttle run, and the ¾ court sprint drills. Because of his great quickness, he is very good at getting past defenders to get to the basket. He also is very good at finishing using his athleticism to go around the contact. He is one of the quickest guards with the ball in his hand. Exum can quickly push the ball up court and be very dangerous in the fastbreak. Kris Habbas of NBA Draft Insider says, “Exum is built in the mold of the newer breed of lead guards who have great size, can score, and still lead the offense.”
Exum has one of the highest upsides of any player in the draft and could very well go within the top five overall. He has the potential to be a shutdown defender for both guard positions because of his length and athleticism. He also has the potential to improve as a shooter. He is very inconsistent in shooting, but he has good form that could enable him to be a solid shooter. His biggest weaknesses are his shooting ability, strength, and level of competition. He struggles with stronger players and can sometimes struggle going through the contact. He also played at a lower level overseas meaning he could show his skills off easier because of the lack of talented competition.
3) Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis might be the best pure point guard in the draft. The 6-foot-2-inch, 182-pound guard is one of the quicker players in the draft with the third fastest shuttle of any player at the NBA Draft Combine. He is the best pure point guard in terms of facilitating for his teammates, scoring, and not turning the ball over. Ennis is a clutch player, who makes big plays late in the game for his team—see below. He can use his quickness to get past defenders and cause others to help over resulting in an open quick out to a teammate. Ennis is unselfish in getting his teammates involved and not hogging the ball. He makes the good decisions on the court resulting in an excellent assist to turnover ratio of 3.22.
His quickness makes him dangerous in the open court. He is a great decision maker in the open court either to pass it to a teammate or go up for a shot. He is a solid shooter, who will make the defense honest and cause the defender to play up on him. His is not a great three-point shooter. He must get stronger especially for finishing on his takes to the basket. He is not super athletic and so he struggles a little in man-to-man defense. He played in a zone defense during college, so he does not have lot of experience in one-on-one. He is still a very young player who can get better with more time. ESPN’s Chad Ford says, “He’s got unreal poise for a point guard his age. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he’s as steady as they come.”
4) Elfrid Payton, Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with a 6-foot-8-inch wingspan. He is a long, athletic point guard with a lot of potential to be an All-Star in the NBA. He is a very good defender because of his length and athleticism. Payton averaged 2.3 steals a game last season. He could defend either guard position because of his great length. He is a good rebounder for a point guard and a strong and willing passer. He is also a leader on and off the court making him someone his teammates can follow.
Payton is excellent at getting to the basket. He can drive past defenders with quickness and use this advantage to dish the ball out to an open shooter. The only thing is he sometimes struggles finishing through contact because of a lack of strength. Payton is prone to turnovers, averaging 3.6 turnovers a game last season. He also needs to improve his shooting from the perimeter, shooting only 25.9% from three last season. ESPN’s Jay Bilas says, “Payton reminds me a bit of Rajon Rondo, an excellent defender who doesn’t really shoot it well. If Payton can tighten up that jump shot, improve consistency and fluidity, he can be a really good player in the NBA.” He is a little raw, but he has the ability to be a complete point guard on both offense and defense.
5) Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier was one of the best college players last season, leading his team to a championship. He put up impressive numbers last season including 18 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game. He is a leader on and off the court with a strong passion to compete as hard as possible. Napier is considered one of the best scoring point guards in the draft because of his ability to score in many different ways. He is a very good three-point shooter, shooting 40.5% last season. He also is proficient at mid range shots and driving to the basket, averaging 42.9% from the field. Napier is quick to get around defenders and drive to the basket. He uses his quickness and intelligence to put up shots over bigger defenders. He is a clutch shooter, who made many big shots this season, especially in the NCAA tournament. He is a dangerous scorer, who knows how to put the ball in the basket.
Napier is a good defender with quickness to stay in front of most point guards. He is very good with hands on defense, averaging of 1.8 steals per game. He may struggle with bigger guards in the NBA because of his small frame of 6-feet-1-inches and 175 pounds. He is not a great athlete and he has average height for a point guard. Napier also is prone to dominating the ball and not passing to his teammates. He needs to use his driving ability more to help create more open shots for his teammates. But overall, he should be productive in the NBA because of his scoring ability and clutch playing style. Jeremy Woo of SI.com says, “Napier is a proven winner and intense competitor who looks as NBA-ready as any point in the crop.”
(Photo by: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)