This year continues the trend — there are a couple of potentially very good point guards at the top of the 2014 NBA draft, but they are more in the shoot first category. Think more Derrick Rose in style than Mike Conley. They are guys that will have to adapt their game some to the NBA. You have to go down the list for game managers. What you have to like as a fan (or a coach or a GM) is that this is a good defensive group.
You will not see Dante Exum on this list — Isaacson believes Exum’s future in the NBA is as a two guard who can create shots, not as a point. It’s a bit of a blurred distinction, but frankly traditional positional play in the NBA is fading anyway.
Here are our Top 10:
1. Marcus Smart, Sophomore, Oklahoma State, 6’3, 227
Smart’s return for his sophomore season solidified him as the top point guard in this draft class. Carrying a big scoring load for the Cowboys hid a lot of his distributing ability, but he is very good at finding open teammates, especially when he gets into the defense. Speaking of defense, Smart is arguably the best defender in this draft, capable of guarding multiple positions and forcing opponents into mistakes. Perimeter shooting issues have been overblown as he just needs to learn to take better shots.
2. Elfrid Payton, Junior, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6’4,185
Payton is as strong as Smart in many areas, including his ability to break down defenders off the dribble and get into the lane, where he is very good at hitting open teammates or drawing fouls. He is also a very good defender, though he doesn’t have Smart’s physical strength and relies more on quick hands and feet. Payton also has some perimeter shooting woes, but he needs to put work in on his form to get them fixed to keep defenders honest.
3. Tyler Ennis, Freshman, Syracuse, 6’2 1/2, 181
Ennis established himself as one of the top point guards in this class based on his tremendous control of the floor and composure for his age. People may have bolstered his abilities in their mind a bit much because of some buzzer beating shots, but Ennis still has a bright future ahead of him. The major question is whether he can be a real playmaker at the NBA level.
4. Shabazz Napier, Senior, Connecticut, 6’1, 175
A two-time NCAA champion with the Huskies, Napier has the skill and leadership ability to step in right away as a high-level backup for almost any NBA team. He is capable of scoring at the basket or from the perimeter, can distribute the ball and plays tough defense. Napier doesn’t shrink from big moments, and he is as strong a leader as there is in this draft class. His size isn’t ideal, but he will be fine heading a second unit.
5. Jordan Clarkson, Junior, Missouri, 6’5, 186
Clarkson is one of a couple of bigger guards who would be capable of playing in either guard spot but thrives when he has the ball in his hands. He is at his best in the open floor, but in the half-court, he uses long strides to get into the lane and to the basket. His distributing skills still need some work, and he usually will defer to looking for his own shot instead of finding a teammate, but his size could provide him opportunities to find teammates. Clarkson has the athletic ability to guard multiple positions but needs to put in more work on that end to be ready for the NBA.
6. Russ Smith, Senior, Louisville, 6’1, 160
Smith made strong strides as a senior, showing that he can be much more than the wild scorer who earned the “Russdiculous” moniker. Smith has incredible speed, and he uses it well, especially turning opponents’ mistakes into easy baskets on the other end. He is much better at finding his own shot, but he has shown that he can create for teammates in the half-court with the attention he draws. Teams can use him on and off the ball, and his versatility combined with his defensive ability will make him a valuable role player.
7. Vasilije Micic, 20 years old, Serbia, 6’6, 202
Micic has very good size for the point guard position, and he has a natural ability to find his teammates in both the open floor and transition. He uses his size well to get into the lane and to the basket, but he isn’t as reliable a perimeter shooter as he will need to be. Micic will be at his best in a pick-and-roll heavy offense, and his ability to make quick decisions will help him. His lack of athleticism could hurt him on the defensive end as he tries to cover quicker guards. Micic could be a good option as a third point guard for many teams.
8. Deonte Burton, Senior, Nevada, 6’1, 193
Burton is another small, quick guard in this class, with a strong ability to get to the basket and to find open teammates off of penetration. He has a great first step, and he had to carry a heavy scoring load for Nevada, which often hid his playmaking abilities. Burton’s defensive ability is above-average, though his effort can be inconsistent. His biggest challenge will be tailoring his strengths to be maximized in shorter minutes.
9. Jahii Carson, Sophomore, Arizona State, 5’11, 180
One of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball the past two years, Carson uses his speed well to create opportunities on both ends of the floor. He is at his best when attacking the basket, though he did make strong improvements as a perimeter shooter this past season. His size can be a hindrance, but he has good body control and a nice ability to create space when he needs it.
10. Aaron Craft, Senior, Ohio State, 6’2, 192
Craft is not going to wow people when he is playing, but he leaves everything out on the floor and is as good a leader as you will find in this class. His strength is on the defensive end, where he knows exactly how to force his opponent away from his strengths. However, Craft’s offensive limitations may be what keeps him off the floor.