This story has been updated (Oct. 12) to reflect the news that Kyrie Irving will not play or practice for the Nets until he is available full-time and in compliance with local COVID-19 vaccine requirements. As a result, this list of projected starters has been modified since its original publication.
Will there be a changing of the guard in the NBA this season?
The point guard position has been run by the likes of Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and others over the last decade. We’re talking about future Hall of Famers who have not only enjoyed runs of sustained success, but also changed how we view what a point guard can be.
MORE: Ranking the best NBA players entering the 2021-22 season
But the next generation is coming — fast. Luka Doncic, De’Aaron Fox, Ja Morant, Trae Young and more have already put their talent on display early in their careers, and now they are looking to take over the NBA. That’s what makes this position group both incredibly intriguing and incredibly difficult to evaluate.
It’s also worth mentioning three big names that do NOT appear below: Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray.
For now, Irving is out of the picture in Brooklyn. The Nets determined that Irving cannot play or practice with the team until he’s fully available and in compliance with local COVID-19 vaccination requirements. Irving’s status could change by the minute, but for now, he is not included in this exercise.
Simmons likewise remains in limbo, albeit for an entirely different reason. Will he actually play for the 76ers? We’re taking his word for it that he’s played in Philly for the last time. Until that changes, we don’t know where or when Simmons suits up. For that reason, he’s not included.
Murray’s situation is more straightforward. The Nuggets star will miss most of the season, as he is still recovering from a torn ACL.
Phew. OK… now on to the fun stuff.
NBA point guard rankings 2021-22
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors
After playing only five games during a disastrous 2019-20 campaign, Curry returned to form last season, averaging a league-leading 32.0 points per game with 48.2/42.1/91.6 shooting splits (field goals/3-pointers/free throws). With Curry on the floor, the Warriors had an offensive rating of 114.2. When he sat, Golden State’s offensive rating dropped down to 101.8. That’s the difference between a top-10 offense and the worst offense in the NBA.
His shooting, on-ball creativity and off-ball movement make life easier for all of his teammates. Simply put, Curry is one of the most impressive offensive forces in the history of the game.
2. Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Despite being just 22 years old, Doncic is widely considered the favorite to win the 2021-22 NBA MVP award. The Slovenian superstar filled up the stat sheet last season (27.7 points, 8.6 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game), but he also managed to improve his shooting numbers in his third season (career-high 47.9 percent from the field and 35.0 percent on 3-pointers).
The next step for Doncic and the Mavericks is making real noise in the playoffs. Doncic has undoubtedly been spectacular in 13 career postseason games, but the Clippers have eliminated the Mavs in back-to-back first-round matchups.
3. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
You already know what time it is. As Allen Iverson put it, Lillard is a “certified killer.” He has consistently been one of the NBA’s most dangerous scorers, one capable of hitting shots from anywhere on the floor. He rises to the occasion when the game is on the line, as he led the league in clutch points last season while shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc in clutch time.
As long as Lillard is in Portland, the Trail Blazers will be worth watching. If they struggle to start the season, though, will Lillard be forced to re-evaluate his future with the only NBA franchise he has ever known?
MORE: Where does Lillard’s peak rank all-time?
4. Trae Young, Hawks
Young made a leap in Year 3, guiding the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals by posting 28.8 points and 9.5 assists in 16 playoff games. The 23-year-old has a crafty floater and finishing package, a quick trigger from the outside and elite court vision. He is the engine of Atlanta’s top-10 offense.
The scary part? Young can get much better, particularly on the defensive end. He may never be Gary Payton, but even becoming an average defender will make him a much more complete player.
5. Chris Paul, Suns
Of course “The Point God” belongs in this tier. Paul played an instrumental role in Phoenix’s unexpected run to the 2021 NBA Finals, averaging 19.2 points and 8.6 assists per game with 49.7/44.6/87.7 shooting splits in the playoffs. Not bad for a guy who was once considered untradeable because of his injury history and massive contract.
Paul’s impact goes beyond the numbers, though. His basketball IQ, communication skills and overall leadership are so important for a locker room full of youngsters. It’s no surprise that the Suns had re-signing Paul at the top of their offseason priority list.
6. Jrue Holiday, Bucks
That’s NBA champion Jrue Holiday to you. The veteran guard was spectacular in his first season with the Bucks as they captured their first title in 50 years. He averaged 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting a career-high 50.3 percent on field goals and 39.2 percent on 3-pointers during the regular season.
Holiday is not at the same level offensively as some of the other point guards in this group, but he is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA. Just ask Paul how much loved being hounded by Holiday.
7. Russell Westbrook, Lakers
Is Westbrook too low here? Possibly. The former NBA MVP averaged a triple-double (again) in his lone season with the Wizards, and he was a big reason why Washington reached the playoffs after a brutal start to the season. You never have to doubt his effort or commitment level.
And yet, Angeleno basketball fans must be at least a little bit worried that Westbrook hasn’t learned from his previous failures. He can’t be his usual ball-dominant self on a team featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If the Lakers get the same ol’ Russ, this experiment won’t work.
8. De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Fox jumped up to 25.2 points per game last season, a higher mark than LeBron James (25.0) and Kawhi Leonard (24.8). He was one of the best finishers around the basket, shooting over 76 percent on shots within three feet of the rim. The Kings’ speedy floor general also handed out 7.2 assists per game.
The 2021-22 campaign could be a turning point in Fox’s development. If he can become a more consistent 3-point shooter (32.6 perecent for his career) and defender, he would significantly raise his ceiling.
9. Kyle Lowry, Heat
The 35-year-old may no longer be at his athletic peak, but Lowry still does all of the little things to help his team win. He hits open shots off the catch or off the dribble. He pushes the pace and finds open teammates. He is annoyingly awesome at drawing charges.
Lowry and “Heat Culture.” It just makes too much sense.
10. Mike Conley, Jazz
Although Conley just turned 34, he’s showing little signs of slowing down. Health concerns aside — he did get banged up toward the end of the season — the longtime floor general is coming off a season in which he earned his first career All-Star nod and thus shed the moniker of “best player never to make an All-Star team.”
If the Jazz are going to similarly shed their “very good regular season team, but wake me up when they actually win something” label, they will need Conley to be humming on all cylinders in April, May and June.
11. Ja Morant, Grizzlies
12. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder
13. LaMelo Ball, Hornets
14. Malcolm Brogdon, Pacers
15. Fred VanVleet, Raptors
16. Lonzo Ball, Bulls
17. D’Angelo Russell, Timberwolves
18. Kemba Walker, Knicks
19. Spencer Dinwiddie, Wizards
20. Dejounte Murray
- Morant and Gilgeous-Alexander are rising in a hurry, but they aren’t quite ready to bump Conley down.
- LaMelo Ball’s terrific rookie campaign was cut short because of a wrist injury. Can he pick up right where he left off, or will he experience a slight sophomore slump? It seems safe to say he will continue to improve, but progression is not always linear.
- Speaking of “Big Ballers,” how will Lonzo Ball adjust to playing for his third team in five seasons? The refined shooting stroke he displayed in New Orleans should allow him to be an off-ball threat when DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine is running things.
- Russell, Walker and Dinwiddie all come into the 2021-22 season as “something to prove” guys. Walker in particular could be a difference maker for a Knicks offense that sputtered in the playoffs.
21. Patty Mills, Nets
22. Reggie Jackson, Clippers
23. Dennis Schroder, Celtics
24. Darius Garland, Cavaliers
25. Monte Morris, Nuggets
26. Devonte’ Graham, Pelicans
27. Jalen Suggs, Magic
28. Kevin Porter Jr., Rockets
29. Tyrese Maxey, 76ers
30. Killian Hayes, Pistons
- How good does that Mills signing look now? Already one of the best deals of the offseason, there’s a case to be made that Irving’s uncertain future makes Mills the single most important signing of the summer. Assuming he slots into the starting lineup, Mills offers championship pedigree and can even tap into a score-first mentality that’s made him a superstar with the Australia national team.
- Jackson’s explosion with the Clippers was one of the best stories of the playoffs. Can he maintain that level of production over a full season?
- It slid under the national radar because, well, he’s on the Cavs, but Garland averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range. Don’t sleep on him.
- Suggs figures to be a major part of the Rookie of the Year discussion. The Magic won’t be very good, but there will be some entertaining Suggs highlights.
- Hayes is the Pistons’ point guard on the depth chart, but Cade Cunningham will obviously be a huge part of the offense. Is the Hayes-Cunningham combination something that can work long-term?