Is There an Elite NBA Point Guard in the 2014 NBA Draft?
Today's NBA features a captivating crop of elite point guards. Studs like Chris Paul and Tony Parker are like symphony conductors, and youngsters such as Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard are quickly taking over the league.
Will the 2014 draft produce any cream-of-the-crop floor generals?
This year's group of point guard prospects who could potentially enter the draft is a promising one, but it takes a potent blend of skills and physical tools to dominate the position in the NBA.
Here we break down the top five point guards who could enter the 2014 draft to find out if any will be elite.
Statistics gathered from Sports-Reference.com, accurate as of Jan. 31, 2014.
5. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (5'10" Sophomore)
2013-14 Stats: 18.9 PPG, 4.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, 45% FG, 42% 3-PT, 1.3 A/TO
NBA Comparison: Nate Robinson/Isaiah Thomas hybrid
Strengths: Arizona State's Jahii Carson can hit a gear few ballers on the planet can reach. He can accelerate with the ball and blow by anyone, whether it's in a half-court set or on the fast break.
The Sun Devil's ability to change speeds and change direction enables him to slice through defenses and make plays. Once he gets past his man, he can find open teammates, knock down floaters or burn help defenders for buckets.
His blistering quickness isn't useful without his dextrous dribbling skills and knack for fitting creative passes in tight spaces. Carson has also substantially upgraded his outside shooting, and he's drilled some NBA-range triples this season.
Weaknesses: Carson has a few weaknesses, including defensive versatility and shooting consistency, but the one that affects his point guard play the most is turnovers.
With 3.6 giveaways per game and an unimpressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.3, Carson has plenty of room to improve as he prepares for the NBA. He needs to work on the timing and placement of his passes, and he must maintain better control off the bounce.
Will he be an elite PG? No. He's an electrifying weapon, but he lacks the top-tier passing skills required to thrive in the NBA. Carson will likely serve as an adrenaline-boost reserve.
4. Vasilije Micic, Serbia (6'5")
2013-14 Adriatic League: 11.3 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 47% FG, 31% 3-PT, 1.8 A/TO
NBA Comparison: Poor-man's Jose Calderon
Strengths: Serbian star Vasilije Micic was born to dish the rock.
The timing, pace and accuracy of his passes indicates that he'll hold his own in the NBA as a distributor. In fact, NBADraft.net scout Eric Guilleminault suggests his facilitating skills are on par with the best point guards in the league:
Micic's passing ability is among the elite at the NBA level...Micic is a pass first and pass second type of guard with uncanny and sometimes spectacular court vision... In the half court set he has a very strong understanding of angles in his game. A crafty player, easily finds cracks in the defense with a bounce pass or creating angles with momentum to quickly get to the hole.
His passing proficiency and playmaking skills are quite similar to Jose Calderon. Both know the finer points of table-setting, and they each find ways to score without exploding past opponents.
Weaknesses: Just as Micic's primary strength is a no-brainer, so is his weakness.
It's foot speed. He doesn't have enough of it to penetrate against prolific guards, and certainly not enough to stay in front of them defensively.
Will he be an elite PG? No. He probably won't be much more than a rock-solid setup guy. Even if he slings seven or eight assists per game, he won't earn the "elite" label if he can't score or defend at a high level.
3. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse (6'2" Freshman)
2013-14 Stats: 12.3 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.5 SPG, 43% FG, 40% 3-PT, 3.9 A/TO
NBA Comparison: Poor-man's Tony Parker/Andre Miller hybrid
Strengths: From day one, Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis has displayed the poise and mettle normally found in upperclassmen. His balance and ability to see the floor allows him to attack defenses as a scorer and facilitator. Those dual-threat skills will translate well to the NBA.
He can drive and finish smoothly with either hand, and for the most part he takes great care of the ball. When defenses give him room, he connects from distance with a fluid jumper.
Most importantly, Ennis shows a great feel for finding the best opportunities for his team. He has the patience and discretion to make the right play, and it's reflected in his 3.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Weaknesses: The only thing that may prevent Ennis from standing out at the next level is his athleticism. It's not that he's unathletic; he just lacks the turbo speed and above-the-rim finishing that most elite point guards possess.
Defensively, he won't be outstanding, because it takes loads of lateral quickness and length to excel on that end.
Will he be an elite PG? Not likely. Although we see aspects of Tony Parker in his game, he doesn't have the explosiveness to match up with competitors at the top of the point guard food chain.
2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (6'4" Sophomore)
2013-14 Stats: 17.3 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.5 SPG, 43% FG, 31% 3-PT, 1.7 A/TO
NBA Comparison: James Harden
Strengths: Marcus Smart's best asset as a college guard and pro prospect is his versatility. He leads Oklahoma State's offense with a blend of playmaking and scoring, and he spearheads the defense by hindering opposing quarterbacks.
His intense commitment on both ends of the floor will make it tough for NBA coaches to take him out. Smart not only exhibits great natural skills and instincts, you can tell he works hard to improve every aspect of his game.
While he may not be the kind of point guard who can drop a dozen-plus dimes in the Association, he will be the captain-like presence who fights to steer his team in the right direction.
Weaknesses: NBA scouts would love to see Smart demonstrate more consistent shooting and curb the turnovers, but there aren't any glaring weaknesses in his game.
There's no doubt his combo guard skills will find a place in the NBA, but exactly how effective can he be as a distributor?
Will he be an elite PG? Smart will surely be a great addition to the league, but he may not be enough of a pure point guard to be considered "elite." There's a chance he enters the conversation, but I'm not betting on it.
1. Dante Exum, Australia (6'6")
2013 U19 Worlds (9 games): 18.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.6 RPG, 45% FG, 33% 3-PT, 61% FT
NBA Comparison: Anfernee Hardaway/ Michael Carter-Williams hybrid
Strengths: Australian prodigy Dante Exum has all the qualities and potential of a dynamic NBA playmaker. His size and athleticism allow him to weave around and above opponents, as his sneaky quickness and superb body control generate loads of opportunities.
In the past few months, we've seen both his scoring aptitude (33 points vs. Spain in the 2013 Fiba Under-19 World Championship) and his ability to share the rock (15 assists in the Australian National High School Basketball Championships title game). Exum can use his ball-handling skills and agility to get all the way to the rim or dish to teammates.
His defensive upside is lofty as well. Exum's speed, instincts and wingspan could make him a matchup problem and a turnover-generating factory.
Weaknesses: Exum's jump-shooting consistency has been well-documented, as he's turned in some cold-shooting performances. The good news, however, is that his motion and delivery show potential for refinement.
The other weakness (if you can call it a "weakness") is his transition to the NBA from high school. Sure, he's played in high-level international tournaments and all-star games, but he's essentially going prep-to-pro. It might take him a bit of time to adapt.
Will he be an elite PG? He's got the best chance of any point guard in the 2014 class. Once he learns how to collaborate with NBA teammates and polishes his shooting, he could steadily climb into the elite point guard club.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR