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15. Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks
Murray doesn’t have a stranglehold on the San Antonio Spurs’ starting job, even after pushing Tony Parker off the roster and in a new role with the Charlotte Hornets, because of his ability to replicate the French floor general’s skill set. He’s not a devastating offensive presence who can use his speed to create open mid-range looks, and he is the latest in the line of San Antonio 1-guards who don’t contribute much from beyond the arc.
No, he has the gig—and, more importantly, a spot within the top 15 of our positional rankings—because of his defense.
With his long arms, hounding mentality and intelligence on the preventing end, he helped drop the Spurs’ defensive rating by a rotation-best 7.8 points per 100 possessions last year, earned a berth with the All-Defensive Second Team and submitted the league’s No. 1 score among point guards in defensive real plus/minus with room to spare.
14. Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.6 blocks
Bledsoe already looked like a quality fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, taking on more of an off-ball role that allowed him to focus on playing pesky perimeter defense and thriving as a cutter (84th percentile for points per cutting possession). And he should be more comfortable in 2018-19. Rather than joining the Milwaukee Bucks as a midseason addition, he’ll have the luxury of continuity.
But Bledsoe needs to work on a few notable flaws before he can climb into the top 10 point guards.
Most importantly, he has to find a way to rekindle his scoring efficiency, either by getting to the line more frequently or learning to hit triples at better than a 34.7 percent clip. His free-throw rate was the lowest it’s been since his days with the Los Angeles Clippers, though a jump could be hard to come by when he’s ceding possessions to Antetokounmpo and other ball-handling teammates.
13. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
Ball was already a valuable presence for the Los Angeles Lakers, thriving as a wizardous facilitator and defensive ace who showcased a preternatural feel for positioning while using his quick hands to disrupt plenty of plays. Even bereft of any consistency from the perimeter while struggling at the stripe far more than he did during his brief UCLA tenure, he was a boon to the Purple and Gold.
What happens if he remembers how to shoot? What happens if he grows under the supervision of LeBron James? Even if he stagnates and remains healthy, he’ll be a sneakily valuable floor general. And it’s not like the 20-year-old with monumental upside is just going to tread water, especially when his shooting slashes can’t reasonably fall any lower.
12. Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks
Ricky Rubio has clearly landed in an ideal spot with the Utah Jazz.
Surrounded by a stifling defense with perimeter stoppers galore and a top-tier anchor in Rudy Gobert, he’s free to gamble incessantly on the perimeter, playing with and maximizing the style he’s always sought in previous stops. His passing chops pay off in the pick-and-roll game when feeding Donovan Mitchell, and his developing catch-and-shoot comfort could reap major rewards in 2018-19.
Slowly but surely, Rubio’s reputation as a dismal marksman could begin shifting. He knocked down 41.0 percent of his deep looks while taking 3.5 per game during the 2018 portion of the calendar, benefitting tremendously from the opposition’s unwillingness to cover him (2.5 of those attempts per contest came without a defender within six feet).
If adversaries are forced to respect his stroke, his numbers might decline while simultaneously creating heretofore unseen openings for his teammates.
11. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
Don’t lend much credence to the numbers you see above because Mike Conley clearly wasn’t operating at 100 percent even before injuries officially shortened his season to a meager 12 appearances. He’s a far better shooter than his 38.1/31.2/80.3 slash line would indicate, especially while we’re not too far removed from a 2016-17 season in which he experienced an offensive breakthrough that never seemed too unsustainable.
On the flip side, Conley will celebrate his 31st birthday in early October. His days of peak athleticism may be firmly rooted in the past, and his status as the unquestioned linchpin of the Memphis Grizzlies offense could be changing in an expeditious fashion. He’s better than his 2017-18 efforts might indicate, but expecting a full return to 2016-17 glory could be overly optimistic.