The responsibilities of NBA guards have changed over time. No longer is the point guard always a true floor general solely tasked with setting up his teammates. Shooting guards can’t just be scoring assassins who operate out of the midrange like they did in the 90s — they need to be able to space the floor for teammates, take on tougher defensive assignments, and flesh out their own self-creation opportunities offensively based on team needs.
The point of this post is to rank the best guards in the NBA for how they will perform in the 2022-2023 season. This list does not include Paul George, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, or LeBron James, because I’m considering them wings. The honorable mentions on this list include Lonzo Ball (factoring in his injury), Tyler Herro, Malcolm Brogdon, Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons, Kyle Lowry, and Alex Caruso.
Here’s our list of the top-30 guards in the NBA right now.
30. Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors
It’s a remarkable achievement for Thompson to still be one of the better guards in the league after missing consecutive seasons with a torn ACL and Achilles. He’s not as dangerous as he used to be before the injuries, but Klay remains a high-volume and highly accurate three-point shooter who proved he can still compete at the point of attack defensively in the playoffs. Even if he’s not as dynamic as he once was, Thompson feels like he still has some good years left.
29. Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics
Smart is the heart-and-soul of the Boston Celtics, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s also so much more than just that. The 6’4 bulldog has turned himself into a competent three-point shooter on volume, and his defense can span the positional spectrum in a way most other guards could’t dream of. Smart’s impact will always be bigger than his box score numbers.
28. De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings
Fox will only be 24 years old to start the season, but it already feels like his career is at an early crossroads. His three-point shot abandoned him last year, and his playmaking numbers dipped too with more cramped halfcourt spacing in Sacramento. Fox is still one of the fastest players in the league with the ball in his hands, and should be a monster rim attacker as he continues to enter his prime. The Kings need him to regain his status as one of the league’s better young guards if their playoff dreams are ever going to become a reality.
27. Jalen Brunson – New York Knicks
Brunson parlayed a fourth-year leap with the Mavericks into a new $104 million deal to be the centerpiece of the Knicks. The word ‘crafty’ was made to describe Brunson’s game: he’s never had elite speed, isn’t really a volume three-point threat, and is typically one of the smallest players in the floor. Despite all that, Brunson is simply really good at picking his spots to find his own scoring, knows how to organize his team’s offense, and generally plays with high-IQ. The Mavs will miss him, and New York will be happy to have him.
26. C.J. McCollum – New Orleans Pelicans
C.J. McCollum has always been a walking bucket. The 6’3 guard made his name as a microwave scorer playing next to Damian Lillard in a pint-sized Portland backcourt, and he seemed to be rejuvenated after getting traded to the Pelicans at midseason. With a team of big, bad-ass enforcers around him, McCollum’s shot creation skills spiked for both himself and others. He’s never been the most efficient scorer, or a plus defender, but when your team needs a bucket, there are a lot of worse options than just giving CJ the ball.
25. Tyrese Haliburton – Indiana Pacers
Haliburton has a bit of an oddball skill set for a guard: he’s not great at attacking the rim, has never generated a significant number of free throws, and thrives with jump passes that are supposed to be looked down on by coaches. So why is he still so effective? Haliburton has great size, an outstanding feel for the game on both ends, and is a career 41 percent three-point shooter. Nearly all of NBA Twitter agreed the Kings were going to regret trading him, while the Pacers feel like they have a foundational piece to build around after acquiring him at midseason. Read the great work of Caitlin Cooper on Haliburton at Indy Cornrows below:
24. Jordan Poole – Golden State Warriors
The Warriors had three lottery picks in the years following Kevin Durant’s departure and Klay Thompson’s injury issues, but it was a draft pick at the very end of the first round that saw them find a future star in Poole. After a rough rookie season, Poole made strides in Year II and exploded in Year III as one of the league’s best microwave scorers. With deep shooting range and incredible shiftiness as a ball handler, Poole’s instant offense makes Golden State even tougher to defend. How good he can eventually become rests on his ability to improve his own defense.
23. Desmond Bane – Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are one of the league’s sharpest teams in the draft, and Bane may go down as their best pick ever. Selected with the last pick of the first round in 2020, Bane emerged as a knockdown shooter and feisty point of attack defender in his second season last year. Bane has also made real strides with his own self-creation, giving the Griz the secondary ball handler they always needed next to Ja Morant. That sound you hear is every team in the NBA kicking themselves for passing on this guy.
22. Tyrese Maxey – Philadelphia 76ers
When Maxey entered the 2020 NBA Draft, teams saw him as a guard who wasn’t a good enough facilitator to play the point, wasn’t big enough to play the two, and couldn’t shoot well enough to space the floor. How wrong they were. Maxey blossomed into one of the league’s breakout stars in his second season as a fast and shifty ball handler with remarkable scoring instincts around the basket. His three-point improvement — from 30 percent as a rookie to 42 percent last year — opened up the rest of his game, and allowed him to flourish. Daryl Morey’s best move in Philly so far has been nabbing Maxey with the No. 21 overall pick.
Tier 4: Can carry a team on the right night
21. Dejounte Murray – Atlanta Hawks
Murray was another late first round pick who first made his mark on the defensive end as a long and agile guard who thrived getting into the passing lanes. Just as his offense was starting to tick up, he tore his ACL and missed all of the 2018-19 season. Murray returned from the injury better than ever, and last season he averaged more than 20 points per game for the first time in his career while leading the league in steals. The Hawks gave the Spurs three first round picks to acquire him this offseason, where he joins Trae Young in one of the league’s scariest backcourts. How Murray looks in more of an off-ball role will be interesting to monitor, but there aren’t many better two-way guards on this list.
20. Cade Cunningham – Detroit Pistons
It was easy to see Cade Cunningham was going to be a stud from his high school days with Montverde. The Detroit Pistons tabbed him to be their new franchise star after winning the 2021 draft lottery, and he mostly lived up to the hype as a rookie. A big 6’6, 220 pound guard, Cunningham pressures opposing defenses with the ball in his hands with the threat of his scoring and his passing. He’s a better outside shooter than his rookie numbers (31 percent from three) indicate, and he’s already solid defensively. Expect even bigger things in Year II.
19. LaMelo Ball – Charlotte Hornets
There’s no one quite like LaMelo Ball. He’s arguably the best 6’8 ball handler in the world, throws passes no one else sees, and has improved to become a very good three-point shooter (39 percent on 7.5 attempts per game last year) despite his funky form. His creativity and improvisation skills make him one of the league’s most thrilling young players. If he improves his own halfcourt scoring, there’s no ceiling on how great the 21-year-old can become.
18. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder
When will we finally get to see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in meaningful games? Since being traded from the Clippers to the Thunder in the Paul George deal, SGA has been stuck on a team actively trying to tank. It’s a shame, because the 6’6 Canadian is one of the league’s very best young guards. SGA is so good at getting into the teeth of the defense and beating them with funky finishes and off-beat attacks. He averaged a career-high 24.5 points per game last year even while his three-point stroke dropped from 41 percent to 30 percent. Gilgeous-Alexander’s best ball is still in front of him, and his talent deserves to be seen on a bigger stage.
17. Anthony Edwards – Minnesota Timberwolves
Edwards is one of the league’s biggest athletic freaks. At 6’4, 225 pounds, the guard combines a blazing first step with powerful rim attacks and graceful agility around the basket. His three-point shot is already becoming a strength after hitting nearly 36 percent of his shots from behind the arc on high-volume (8.4 attempts per game) last season. Still only 21 years old, Edwards is the league’s most physically imposing guard, and is still just starting to tap into his enormous talent.
16. Fred VanVleet – Toronto Raptors
VanVleet’s decision to bet on himself in the draft would have been considered a huge success just by carving out a career as a rotation player. Instead, he’s morphed into an NBA champion, an All-Star, and now one of the leaders of a resurgent Raptors team after Kawhi Leonard’s departure. The 6’1 guard is a dangerous high-volume three-point shooter, a heady facilitator, and plays bigger than his size defensively. If the Raptors shoot up the East standings this year as some expect, VanVleet will be in the middle of the action.
Tier 3: Stars who aren’t superstars
15. Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray’s torn ACL just before the 2021 playoffs interrupted two potential title runs for the Denver Nuggets. As he finally returns to the court this year, it feels like Denver’s championship chances again hinge on how good he can be next to two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Murray has never been the best at generating paint touches or getting to the line, but his pull-up three-point shooting makes him a threat to score anytime he crosses halfcourt. The Nuggets have all the pieces in place this season if Murray can regain the form he showed pre-injury.
14. Darius Garland – Cleveland Cavaliers
A player as small as Garland has to be remarkably skilled to be an effective NBA player, and Cleveland’s 22-year-old floor general has proven he’s exactly that. Garland has gotten better and better in each of his first three NBA seasons, and earned his first All-Star nod last year. He’s one of the league’s quickest and shiftiest ball handlers, a dangerous pull-up shooter, and a gifted playmaker for his teammates. With Donovan Mitchell arriving next to him in the Cavs’ backcourt, Garland should be able to cut down his turnover issues and dial up the threat of his own scoring and passing that makes him so tough to defend.
13. Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine isn’t just known for dunking anymore. The 27-year-old guard enters his prime with a loaded bag of scoring tricks: he’s a speedy driver who can effortlessly get to the rim, he’s fleshed out his midrange scoring arsenal, and he can rip three-pointers whether he’s pulling up or spotting up. LaVine has put up big scoring numbers on impressive efficiency over the last few years, but it feels like he can’t climb any higher on this list without a standout showing in the playoffs. LaVine has the game to be a big star — he just needs to prove it on the biggest stages.
12. Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards
Beal had averaged 30+ points per game in consecutive seasons before seeing his production and efficiency drop off last year before injuries caught up with him. The Wizards signed him to a new $251 million extension that includes a rare no-trade clause anyway this offseason, establishing Beal as the franchise star for a team without any real dreams of contending. It’s a shame we can’t see Beal competing deep into the playoffs in a secondary role, but it’s impossible to be mad at him for cashing those checks.
11. Donovan Mitchell – Cleveland Cavaliers
Donovan Mitchell has had a couple great playoff runs in his career before seemingly quitting on the Jazz in the postseason last year. Cleveland sent a ton of assets to Utah to acquire him this offseason, where they hope Mitchell can be the final major piece of a team with dreams of legitimate Eastern Conference contention. A cunning downhill driver and terrifying three-point threat on pull-ups, Mitchell has all the moves to be an elite scorer. The next step is improving defensively as he begins his backcourt partnership with Garland, and figuring out how to become a better playmaker for his bigs in Cleveland than he was in Utah.
10. Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns
Remember the Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams arguments of the mid-00s? One of them is on the celebrity fighting circuit now, while the other was still good enough to power the Phoenix Suns to the most regular season wins in the NBA last season. CP is starting to slow down slightly at age-37, but he’s still a can’t-miss midrange scorer, a maestro as a facilitator, and the craftiest player in the league at drawing fouls. Paul doesn’t have a ring, but he’s done everything else a guard can do in this sport.
9. Jrue Holiday – Milwaukee Bucks
Holiday is perhaps the best defensive guard of his generation, and still talented enough to pop off for 20 points on any given night. His remarkable two-way contributions helped power the Bucks to the 2021 championship, and he only got better last year as an outside shooter and set-up man. Holiday isn’t the flashiest player on this list, but how many of these guys do you trust more in a big playoff game? He’s as battle-tested and reliable as any guard in the league this side of Stephen Curry.
Tier 2: These guys are superstars on offense, but not always complete players
8. Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets
Kyrie Irving’s talent is impossible. He’s one of the best ball handlers ever, he has limitless shooting range, and he might have the most ridiculous layup package of all-time. Irving has proven himself on the league’s biggest stages, but it feels like he has to do it all over again after sabotaging the Nets’ season by refusing to get the Covid vaccine last year. At this point, Irving is as famous for his off-court controversies as his spectacular skill. He’s still one of the league’s best guards, but he needs to be available enough to prove it this season.
7. James Harden – Philadelphia 76ers
It wasn’t long ago that Harden was easily a top-five overall player in the NBA. At this point, he needs to prove he still has the juice to even be a top-five guard. Harden definitely lost a bit of explosiveness as a driver and finisher last season, but he can still be effective even when he’s not in peak form. It’s easy to forget that Harden is one of the best volume outside shooters in league history, and he also remains a heady playmaker in the pick-and-roll. The Sixers can be a championship contender this year, but it will only happen if Harden reasserts himself as one of the league’s biggest stars.
6. Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker has been one of the league’s most reliable backcourt scorers for so many years, and he’s still only 25 years old. A throwback shooting guard who wins with tough shot-making and elite footwork, Booker continues to fine-tune his game year-over-year. After cutting back his turnovers and improving defensively last season, the Suns need Booker to continue to grow in the face of some decidedly bad vibes around the team. The good news for Phoenix is that Booker never lets them down.
5. Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant is the NBA’s modern day human highlight reel, a 6’3 guard capable of flying high above the rim for game-changing plays. Morant improved his game in almost every area last season, and the Grizzlies shot up the Western Conference standings along with him. It’s worth noting that Memphis still had a 20-5 record last season when Morant was out of the lineup with injuries, which speaks to both the organization’s depth and Morant’s own defensive issues. It’s hard to nitpick with a young star so thrilling, though. Everything Morant does will be must-see TV for the foreseeable future.
4. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard’s legacy is already secure. His multiple series-ending walk-off buzzer-beaters will be shown forever, and he’s probably already earned the title of the greatest Portland Trail Blazer ever. Now 32 years old, the question for Lillard is less about him and more about the franchise he’s synonymous with: can Portland build another contender before Dame Time cedes to Father Time? The Blazers gave Lillard an enormous contract extension to ensure he’s going to be around long-term — would another franchise even take on that financial commitment in a trade? — but it’s hard to see a path to real success in a loaded Western Conference. Lillard loves to say that he doesn’t run the grind, and that’s a good thing because the grind feels like it’s only going to get more difficult in the near future.
3. Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young launched into the stratosphere by leading his Atlanta Hawks on an improbable run to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks couldn’t live up to loftier expectations the following season, but Young had his strongest individual campaign yet, setting career-highs in points, assists, two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. The Hawks gave Young the backcourt mate he’s been looking for with their bold trade to acquire Dejounte Murray this summer, and now the pressure is on again to show that 2021 was no fluke. Young’s career will ultimately be judged by how he influences team success, the same bar every other superstar must clear, but for now the 24-year-old can say very few players in the league stress opposing defenses with their scoring and passing as much as he does.
Tier 1: A championship team can revolve around them
2. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic poses problems that simply don’t have an answer. A prodigious talent from his teenage years starring with Real Madrid, Doncic has already fully harnessed his powers in the NBA at age-23. At 6’7, 230 pounds, he combines ridiculous finishing touch with deep range on his jump shot and plays with a creative flair that can’t be matched. He’s just too big, too skilled, and too crafty for even the league’s biggest and most bad ass defenders. It’s a question of when, not if, Doncic wins an MVP, and the Mavs should already be feeling pressure to assemble a championship-level core around him. Dallas has a good-not-great roster around him right now, but Luka’s singular brilliance will still give them a chance to compete deep in the playoffs.
1. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry spent a few years wandering the NBA desert. Kevin Durant had left Golden State for Brooklyn in free agency, Klay Thompson missed consecutive seasons with two devastating injuries, and Curry himself played all of five games in 2019-2020 because of a broken hand. The Warriors vacillated from the worst team in the league to one just outside the playoffs in that time, all while Curry’s greatness bubbled before the surface
Finally last season, everything started to fall back in place. Thompson returned, one of their young draft picks popped with the emergence of Jordan Poole, and the front office did a better job of finding players who could mesh with Curry’s otherworldly talent. Steph took it from there, authoring another historic playoff run and mercifully winning the first Finals MVP of his career as he captured his fourth ring. His 43-point masterpiece in Game 4 against the Celtics changed the NBA Finals, and again asserted Curry’s place in history. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, and he’s still got a lot left in the tank at age-34.
Imitators will keep popping up, but there is only one Steph. Curry once said of himself that he has nothing to prove and a lot left to accomplish. The rest of the league remains on watch. Curry’s Warriors run the NBA until further notice.