If you've followed our work over the past few years, chances are you already know that we like to place a premium on point guards here at ESPN. Mock drafting with our panel of columnists is almost comical, as the top point guards fly off the board early and often. I blame Matthew Berry, whose "Point Guards/Power Forwards" philosophy has not only influenced many of us, but has remained a successful strategy for the better part of a decade.
The good news for us columnists is that the scramble for points early in the draft might be a little easier this year. I can't remember a time when there were more talented point guards in the league at the same time. Even better, most of the best point guards are young, exciting and incredibly athletic. In my personal rankings, four of the top 10 fantasy players and seven of the top 20 are point-guard eligible. The position is as deep as it's ever been, with quality players to be found all the way down in tiers five and six.
McKitish's point guard tiers
If not for the fact that he finished third on our Player Rater, most would have labeled 2010-11 a down season for Chris Paul. Although his averages of 15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 0.9 3-pointers were significantly lower than what we've come to expect from CP3, he still finished the year as the top-ranked point guard in the league thanks to his statistical diversity and phenomenal percentages. If that is Paul's downside, fantasy owners should feel pretty darn confident come draft day. Other than Kevin Love, no player improved his fantasy stock more than Derrick Rose did last season. Already a dynamic talent with otherworldly athleticism, Rose matured substantially last season, but really took his game to new levels by adding an outside shot (1.6 3-pointers per game) in his third professional season. It's hard to find any negatives in his game, and at just 23 years of age, it's downright scary to think that he's still improving. He may not be as flashy as the other elite point guards, but Deron Williams is just as dominant. Though his 2010-11 season was derailed by a wrist injury, Williams still posted his fourth consecutive season of at least 18.0 points, 10.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 3-pointers per game. That's consistency, folks. And don't let last season's injury fool you; D-Will has been quite durable, with an average of 75 games per season during his six-year career. After averaging 21.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 84.2 percent from the line, the only negative I can find in Russell Westbrook's fantasy game is his lack of 3-point shooting. Fantasy owners should note, however, that Westbrook shot 33.0 percent from downtown last season, which by the way, was only slightly lower than Derrick Rose's 33.2 percent.
We got next
For a guy that averaged a versatile 17.5 points, 4.5 boards, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.0 3-pointers and finished 10th on our Player Rater, Stephen Curry sure did receive a lot of unfair criticism from the fantasy community in 2010-11. After being drafted in the first round in most fantasy leagues, a lingering ankle injury may have frustrated Curry's owners, but by the time the season was finished he had played in 74 games and nearly duplicated his impressive rookie-season totals. Fantasy owners would be wise not to sleep on the 23-year-old. It's not exactly going out on a limb to suggest that John Wall is on the brink of fantasy stardom. As a rookie, the 21-year-old displayed elite athleticism and quickness while posting 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He could still use some work in improving his percentages and 3-point shooting, and when he does he'll be a dominant fantasy player mentioned in the same breath as Rose, Williams and Westbrook. Will Wall show a Derrick Rose-like improvement in his second season? Perhaps not yet, but the talent is there and I don't bet against players with Wall's skill set. The old fantasy adage "never pay for a career year" typically holds true, but was Kyle Lowry's breakout in Houston a flash in the pan or was it only the beginning? One thing is for sure, Lowry made the best of his opportunity with 16.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.5 3-pointers after the All-Star break in 2010-11. And while Lowry may have burst onto the fantasy scene out of the blue, his per-minute numbers were not entirely out of line with his career production. Remember, Lowry was highly productive in limited time off the bench behind Mike Conley and Aaron Brooks in Memphis and Houston, respectively, before getting his first real shot at extended playing time last season. Jrue Holiday may not have had the breakout season that many predicted in 2010-11, but he did show modest improvement in all areas of his game. At just 21 years of age and still maturing, Holiday just might be poised for a year-after-the-hype breakout in 2011-12. There's a lot to like in Jrue's fantasy game, including his ability to produce in a variety of categories, including points, rebounds, assists, steals, 3-pointers and the percentages. I'm not sure if the fantasy community truly appreciates Holiday's skills just yet, which could make him a diamond in the rough in this year's fantasy drafts if he progresses the way that I think he will.
Oldies but goodies
Steve Nash (37 years old) and Jason Kidd (38) finally started to show some signs of slowing down last season, but they still finished the season ranked 18th and 38th, respectively, on our Player Rater. With increased back-to-back games on the docket due to the shortened schedule, fantasy owners should be aware that both Nash and Kidd could be rested more during the regular season. Still, both are crafty enough to contribute in the fantasy game despite their ages. Chauncey Billups (34) is not as old as Nash and Kidd, but he's starting to get to that age where he's no longer an "exciting" pick in fantasy leagues. Exciting or not, Billups can be a big-time contributor in 3-pointers and assists in a fast-paced New York offense. After averaging 17.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.0 3-pointers in 21 games with the Knicks despite battling nagging injuries, Billups is still a fantastic selection for fantasy owners, provided he can stay healthy.
The one point guard I'll be targeting after all the big names fly off the board will be Denver's Ty Lawson. I'm sure I won't be the only one looking to scoop Lawson up, particularly after he posted 14.4 points, 6.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 3-pointers in 25 games after the All-Star break, despite being stuck in a time-share with Raymond Felton. With Felton out and aging veteran Andre Miller in, Lawson will have an opportunity to earn even more minutes in the Denver offense. Given his incredible per-minute numbers, Lawson could be one of the best mid-round finds in fantasy this season. A big offseason winner when he was traded to the Trail Blazers, Felton will get another shot at a starting point guard job in Portland this season. Felton was a fantasy monster as a starter in New York last season, and while the Blazers aren't as fantasy-friendly as the Knicks, he will still have considerable value with scorers like LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews at his disposal. After spending a few seasons overseas, the Ricky Rubio hype train has slowed down a bit, but I'm starting to get the feeling that Rubio fever has captivated the NBA world once again at the start of the 2011-12 season. With scorers like Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams around him, the Wolves are suddenly an intriguing team to follow given Rubio's slick passing skills. He'll be given the keys to the offense from day one and we should expect him to earn plenty of minutes, making him an asset in assists and steals right from the start.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.