NBA’s Best Playmakers (True Most Valuable Players Part 2)

February 28th, 2011 by Simon Cherin-Gordon Leave a reply »

In a five-part series, I will be breaking down the top five players in the league in five major categories: scoring, playmaking, rebounding, defending and clutchness.

However, I won’t be putting the top five scorers in the league up. I will be doing each list with one PG, one SG, one SF, one PF and one C. And as a result, the definition of “playmaking” or “defending” and all five of the categories can and will change.

For a PG, playmaking is the ability to dribble-penetrate, distribute the ball, and read passing lanes. For a PF, it’s the ability to pass out of the post and block shots.

For a SG, defending is the ability to keep his man in front of him and force him to either give up the ball or take a contested jumper. For a C, it’s the ability to keep the other C as far from the tin as possible, to alter lay-ups, and to avoid fouling penetrating guards.

I hope to come up with five lists that are different from the typical names that come up in these discussions, in an effort to better understand the value of a basketball player.

Here is a link to Pt. 1 (scorers):

In Pt. 2, I will be looking at playmaking.


NBA’s Top Five Playmakers

PG: Chris Paul, NOH—In my article on scorers, my choice of Carmelo Anthony at SF stirred up debate, and rightfully so: the top three scorers in the NBA are all SF’s. Similarly, the top playmakers in the NBA are PG’s. And while the NBA’s elite PG’s keep getting younger and better, the guys who started this trend, Chris Paul and Deron WIlliams, are getting older and better.

What’s amazing is that Chris Paul is only 25, but plays the PG position with the maturity of Steve Nash or Jason Kidd. Paul, however, is still in his physical prime, and even though he puts up nearly three less assists than Rajon Rondo, his assist to turnover ratio is matched by only Jose Calderon.

But when watching Paul play, he truly has no peers as a facilitator and playmaker. His dribble penetration is so deadly that defenses simply must collapse; he finishes too often and is too good from the line for a team to let him go inside. Most players who have some passing ability will kick it out to the corner for three’s when the wings collapse. Paul, however, is so under control when dribbling and driving that he can asses the situation, stop, change directions, and find even higher percentage looks for his teammates. Because of his ability to find any open man anywhere, defenses must account for everyone, which leaves them unable to stop the ball, box out, and avoid fouling.

Defensively, Paul stands alone as a playmaking PG once again, as he leads the NBA in steals, as he usually does. His ability to play the passing lanes and create transition opportunities coupled with his incredibly precise, creative, multidimensional half-court offensive game makes Chris Paul truly unstoppable.


SG: Dwayne Wade, MIA—When thinking about the total package of a playmaker, there are five major boxes to check off: ball handling, dribble penetration, passing, stealing, and shot blocking. Dwayne Wade is one of two “five-tool” playmakers in the NBA.

With LeBron James in Miami, Wade’s assists have dropped drastically. But he has proven throughout his career to be an elite facilitating two-guard, averaging 6.4 APG. Wade’s ability to dribble penetrate is unmatched at his position, and because of all the damage he can cause once he gets down low, he routinely ranks at the top of the league in FT attempts. While other SG’s such as Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili have better assist/turnover ratios while putting up their fair share of APG, both of these guys play with solid PG’s, whereas Wade is a do-it-all SG, and the only guy in the league that can really do this effectively.

Where Wade really makes his bones as a playmaker is on D. A great straight up defender, Wade doesn’t only read passing lanes well, but is one of the league’s best at coming up with strips and poke-aways. Wade can afford to gamble, not only because of his shutdown ability when it’s called for, but because of his exceptional ability to recover. Wade may be fooled when going for a strip, but this can work out in his favor; he is incredibly good at recovering and stripping the ball from behind, as well as swatting away the shot attempts of offensive players who think they’re home free. His career BPG numbers (1.1) are unmatched for a guard.


SF: LeBron James, MIA—While there are valid questions regarding the clashing ego’s of LeBron and D-Wade, there is no valid reason to question their playing styles and say they are “redundant” or that they take away from each other. It’s not like Steph Curry and Monta Ellis, or Melo and Amare. These guys are both as good at making plays that help others score as they are at scoring. LeBron, however, is on a whole different plane.

LeBron’s assist numbers are unreal. All great scorers can get four or five APG as long as they’re unselfish, just because of the double teams they draw. But even triple teams don’t begin to explain LBJ’s 7.0 APG for his career. His passing ability is, although not quite judicious enough to be a great PG, is better than any other non-PG in the league. His inhuman combination of size and speed allow him to be not only a drive-and-kick passer; he gets into the lane and establish low position, and is also among the game’s best low-post passing big men types.

LeBron isn’t a league leader in steals, but his 1.7 per game is far too many when you consider that he annually leads the NBA in transition points despite many others finishing ahead of him steals. And just as lethal as he is in transition, he is unquestionably the games best transition defender, using his crazy speed, leaping ability, and timing to swat away breakaway layups in what has become his signature play. While there are others in the NBA who’s playmaking ability on offense completely dictates that end of the floor, LeBron stands alone in his ability to rattle an offense and make them scared to be themselves.


PF: Josh Smith, ATL—This was a difficult decision. Although Smith is far and away the best playmaking PF in the pure sense of the word, he plays so differently than most other PF’s. He essentially is the same type of player as LeBron James, put at PF out of necessity rather than ideal skill set. But this gives the most athletic 6’9 guy since Magic Johnson a chance to add elements to his game, and so far this year, he’s succeeding to say the least.

Josh Smith has established himself as a more legitimate low-post presence this year, putting up career highs in RPG while limiting his fouls. His low post passing has improved dramatically, and he is now among the game’s elite in this category. He also has become a very good screen-setter for Joe Johnson, and is called upon to do this more than Al Horford now. Given that, he is still doing what he does best: block shots, steal the ball, and jam. 

Smith has become a more physical defender, and while his shot-blocking is considerably down (1.7 BPG is low by his standards), this is misleading. As a PF now, he is fronting big, strong low post scorers. Instead of getting beat by size, Smith is using his quickness and leaping ability to give PF’s all kinds of problems. His quick hands lead him to a ton of strips and correct guesses on passes into the post, and his less agile counterparts can’t do anything about it. Smith has also begun blocking shots not only from the weakside help position, but going straight up against the big man he is guarding.

For all of his strides as a PF, he is still best as a two-way transition beast, a la LeBron James.


C: Marcus Camby, POR—The 6’11, injury battered, 14 year vet is one of the NBA’s best playmakers? 

His 1.8 BPG is down from his career average of 2.5, but that’s only because he was blocking 3+ shots during his prime. Camby still swats away opposing players among the best of them. and unlike a lot of young, athletic leapers who play for the block, Camby is a shutdown defender, that gets the majority of his blocks as the result of forcing a bad shot. Although this may make him less of a playmaker and more of a good defender, it also allows him to control his swats better than almost anyone else, leading to more effective turnovers and transition opportunities.

When he creates these changes of possession (whether with a block or a rebound), Camby is among the best outlet passers in the NBA and very rarely turns the ball over. His assist to turnover ratio is very impressive for such a weak ball handler, and it’s because he’s a precise and judicious passer.

Camby isn’t much of a low post scorer, but giving him the ball down low isn’t a bad idea. While he can’t necessarily put it on the floor and kick it out slickly for an open three, he works with his other big men like no other, feeding them the ball in tight spaces and setting excellent screens in the lane.

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