Unheralded point guards take charge with surprising play

Only two players chosen in 2016 Draft rank among Top 5 point guards in our first position-by-position list of 2016-17

Where are they coming from? Everywhere. Russia, Malcolm Delaney’s basketball home in 2015-16. Iowa, HQ for Andrew Harrison last season in the D-League. China, for Jonathan Gibson. There is even the oddity of a couple direct from the NCAA ranks, Kris Dunn and Wade Baldwin IV.

When are they coming from? Every time. Semaj Christon from the 2014 draft, Delaney from 2011 without being selected and Patrick McCaw from 2016. Yogi Ferrell is from 2016 as well, only not from the 2016 draft. He didn’t get picked.

The point guards among the rookie class of 2016-17 are a strange mix, emphasis on “mix.” They are the position that would have been impossible to see coming among the first-year players, and yet also the spot that has had as prominent a contribution as any position through the opening quarter of the season.

Delaney with the Hawks, Harrison with the Grizzlies, Ferrell with the Nets, second-round pick McCaw actually getting off the bench in Golden State – the first of the quarterly position-by-position rookie rankings comes with the surprise that a projected weak class at the position has, as it turns out, been prominent. Not the way most would have expected in the aftermath of a draft in which only Dunn (No. 5) and Baldwin (No. 17) were the only true point guards taken in the top 20, but strangely, unexpectedly accurate.

And that’s without counting players who have had the ball in their hand while primarily playing other positions (Malcolm Brogdon, Jamal Murray, Tomas Satoransky) or the rookie who hasn’t had the ball in his hands at all. Ben Simmons, officially a power forward or not, will be as good as any first-year passer once he returns from a foot injury, with the 76ers aiming for a January debut.

For now:

Point guard

Malcolm Delaney, Atlanta Hawks

Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies

Jonathan Gibson, Dallas Mavericks

Tyler Ulis, Phoenix Suns

Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets

Not one first-round pick in the group and just two representatives, Ulis and Whitehead, from the 2016 Draft. The two from the top picks 20 in the 2016 Draft, Kris Dunn and Wade Baldwin IV, had encouraging early moments, but both are threatening to fall below 30 percent shooting, a gruesome number even in a season when a lot of rookies are grinding gears on their shot. Both could easily climb into the top five before long, of course.

As could Simmons, though while needing more time. The No. 1 pick may be back from a foot injury in time for the next rankings and immediately playing a lot more point guard than coach Brett Brown originally projected. The plan has moved from Simmons handling the ball as a power forward while developing into a full-time point guard to Simmons possibly getting a lot of time in the backcourt right away.

Shooting guard

Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Rodney McGruder, Miami Heat

Troy Williams, Memphis Grizzlies

Tomas Satoransky, Washington Wizards

Murray is charging — 45.9 percent from the field the last six games, including 48.5 behind the arc — and on the verge of passing Brogdon, and not just among shooting guards. Brogdon is third in the latest Kia Rookie Ladder and Murray is fourth. Murray winning Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference was particularly noteworthy for the guy with the roughest start to NBA life among 2016 lottery picks.

Williams also has a chance for a big move, now that he is getting starts at shooting guard for Memphis. He won’t put up flashy scoring numbers on a team with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley when his back injury heals. Still, if he is making 40.9 percent of his shots then it should ensure he gets minutes in Memphis.

Small forward

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks

Davis Bertans, San Antonio Spurs

Dorian Finney-Smith, Dallas Mavericks

It’s Ingram and then a really big drop. The Lakers are saying he had a better start in some areas than expected, especially defense, which is saying something considering the expectations that go along with being the No. 2 pick. But Ingram has played multiple positions, handled the ball as a point forward, rebounded in stretches, ranks first in fourth-quarter minutes, and had a few good moments shooting despite his 35.6 field goal percentage.

Prince’s defense keeps him among the challengers. Bertans is the one to watch coming from the outside. His minutes have increased slightly as he contributes dependable shooting off the bench for one of the NBA’s top teams. If Bertans’ minutes continue to climb, so does he.

Power forward

Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City Thunder

Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

Juan Hernangomez, Denver Nuggets

Power forward has become the deepest position in the class, with four of the top five having spent time on the Rookie Ladder. Only Saric, at No. 2, has had standout moments, and those are becoming less frequent.

Siakam and Sabonis have been in the opening lineup all season for winning teams. Chriss has started the last three weeks, dealing with occasional, and predictable, foul trouble while also reminding that his unique combination of soft shooting touch and power play gives him the potential to break out at any time.


Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors

A.J. Hammons, Dallas Mavericks

5. Ivica Zubac, Los Angeles Lakers

It should be Joel Embiid one through five, actually. Last season at least had Nikola Jokic, Jahlil Okafor and some Willie Cauley-Stein while Karl-Anthony Towns turned the position and Rookie of the Year as a whole into a runaway. This time, Hernangomez is second while averaging 13.5 minutes. That has been enough time to rank among the better rookies — third in rebounding, first in shooting, 12th in blocks, third in PER — but Embiid is also lapping the field while logging just 22.8 minutes per game. The position depth is so weak that Zubac makes the list with all of three appearances. At least Hernangomez, brother of No. 5 power forward Juan, and Poeltl have the look of solid seasons.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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