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January 19, 2012
Head to Head
Ranking the Point Guards

by Neil Paine

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When it comes to player rankings, no position in basketball fuels as much debate as the point guard spot. Is Chris Paul truly No. 1? Well, what about Derrick Rose, the reigning MVP, or Steve Nash? And where do you put Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook? We're never going to definitively settle the argument, but here are a few more logs to throw onto the fire ...

To rank point guards, I gathered every NBA boxscore over the past 365 days--through Tuesday's games--and determined the starting point guard in each game (most were obvious, some were judgment calls). I then calculated Alternate Win Score, the best linear-weights metric, for both point guards in a matchup, tracking how often each point guard outproduced their counterpart.

Including playoffs, here were the "winningest" point guards over the past calendar year:

Point Guard       GP   W   L  T  WPCT
Derrick Rose      70  50  19  1  .721
Rajon Rondo       59  45  13  1  .771
Russell Westbrook 72  44  28  0  .611
Jrue Holiday      60  36  23  1  .608
Chris Paul        46  35  10  1  .772
-------------------------------------
Steve Nash        50  33  17  0  .660
Mike Conley       62  33  29  0  .532
Ty Lawson         44  31  13  0  .705
Kyle Lowry        49  30  18  1  .622
Tony Parker       54  30  24  0  .556
-------------------------------------
Brandon Jennings  49  29  20  0  .592
Stephen Curry     47  27  20  0  .574
Jameer Nelson     58  27  31  0  .466
Chauncey Billups  46  26  20  0  .565
Darren Collison   61  26  35  0  .426
-------------------------------------
Jason Kidd        44  25  19  0  .568
Andre Miller      47  24  23  0  .511
D.J. Augustin     55  24  30  1  .445
Jose Calderon     47  23  24  0  .489
Mario Chalmers    41  20  21  0  .488
-------------------------------------
John Wall         55  20  35  0  .364
Derek Fisher      64  20  44  0  .313
Devin Harris      45  19  26  0  .422
Luke Ridnour      44  17  27  0  .386
Deron Williams    33  16  17  0  .485
-------------------------------------
Mike Bibby        47  14  33  0  .298
Rodney Stuckey    25  13  12  0  .520
Beno Udrih        33  12  20  1  .379
Ramon Sessions    29  11  18  0  .379
Jeff Teague       25  10  15  0  .400
-------------------------------------
Toney Douglas     17   9   8  0  .529
Raymond Felton    27   9  18  0  .333
Kirk Hinrich      27   9  18  0  .333
Jarrett Jack      14   8   6  0  .571
Baron Davis       21   8  13  0  .381
-------------------------------------
Jerryd Bayless     8   6   2  0  .750
Kyrie Irving      12   6   6  0  .500
Jordan Farmar     13   6   7  0  .462
Mo Williams       21   6  15  0  .286
Goran Dragic       5   5   0  0 1.000
-------------------------------------
Keyon Dooling      9   5   3  1  .611
Tyreke Evans      18   5  13  0  .278
Rodrigue Beaubois 24   5  19  0  .208
Ben Gordon         9   4   5  0  .444
Randy Foye        11   4   7  0  .364
-------------------------------------
Aaron Brooks       5   3   2  0  .600
Earl Watson       13   3  10  0  .231
George Hill        3   2   1  0  .667
Gary Neal          4   2   2  0  .500
Jose Barea         5   2   3  0  .400
-------------------------------------
Iman Shumpert      5   2   3  0  .400
Will Bynum         5   2   3  0  .400
Delonte West       6   2   4  0  .333
Richard Hamilton   7   2   5  0  .286
Brandon Knight     8   2   6  0  .250
-------------------------------------
Greivis Vasquez    1   1   0  0 1.000
Ishmael Smith      1   1   0  0 1.000
Tracy McGrady      1   1   0  0 1.000
Ricky Rubio        1   1   0  0 1.000
C.J. Watson        1   1   0  0 1.000
-------------------------------------
Jordan Crawford    1   1   0  0 1.000
John Lucas         2   1   1  0  .500
Kemba Walker       3   1   2  0  .333
Daniel Gibson      3   1   2  0  .333
Jeremy Pargo       3   1   2  0  .333
-------------------------------------
Sundiata Gaines    5   1   4  0  .200
Charles Jenkins    7   1   6  0  .143
Jonny Flynn        8   1   7  0  .125
Eric Bledsoe       1   0   1  0  .000
Marco Belinelli    1   0   1  0  .000
-------------------------------------
Chris Duhon        1   0   1  0  .000
Marcus Thornton    3   0   3  0  .000
Gilbert Arenas     1   0   1  0  .000
Carlos Arroyo      2   0   2  0  .000
Jimmer Fredette    3   0   3  0  .000
-------------------------------------
Ronnie Price       1   0   1  0  .000

Of course, not every point guard played against the same level of competition in their matchups, so to adjust for strength of schedule I used a technique called Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE). MLE essentially uses the principles of logistic regression to find the set of ratings most likely to explain past binary outcomes (which is why the four ties in the dataset were discarded). Also, to eliminate the problem of small sample sizes, players with five or fewer games were lumped into a group of "reference players".

Here were the MLE ratings from the past calendar year:

Point Guard        G   W   L  WPct  MLE   p(w)  Best_Win  Worst_Loss
Jerryd Bayless     8   6   2  .750 1.353  .795  Rose      Billups
Rajon Rondo       58  45  13  .776 1.316  .788  Paul      Bibby
Chris Paul        45  35  10  .778 1.279  .782  Lawson    Harris
Ty Lawson         44  31  13  .705  .943  .720  Rondo     M.Williams
Derrick Rose      69  50  19  .725  .910  .713  Rondo     Evans
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Steve Nash        50  33  17  .660  .823  .695  Rondo     Ridnour
Russell Westbrook 72  44  28  .611  .582  .642  Rondo     Ridnour
Stephen Curry     47  27  20  .574  .483  .619  Paul      Wall
Brandon Jennings  49  29  20  .592  .428  .605  Bayless   Hinrich
Jarrett Jack      14   8   6  .571  .408  .601  Rondo     Evans
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Kyle Lowry        48  30  18  .625  .399  .598  Rondo     Watson
Jrue Holiday      59  36  23  .610  .363  .590  Rose      Hinrich
Chauncey Billups  46  26  20  .565  .322  .580  Bayless   Felton
Tony Parker       54  30  24  .556  .320  .579  Lawson    Ridnour
Mike Conley       62  33  29  .532  .288  .571  Paul      Flynn
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Jason Kidd        44  25  19  .568  .201  .550  Paul      Fisher
Deron Williams    33  16  17  .485  .164  .541  Rondo     Fisher
Keyon Dooling      8   5   3  .625  .132  .533  Conley    Bibby
Toney Douglas     17   9   8  .529  .128  .532  Paul      Wall
Rodney Stuckey    25  13  12  .520  .093  .523  Jennings  Bibby
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Andre Miller      47  24  23  .511 -.025  .494  Paul      Beaubois
Jeff Teague       25  10  15  .400 -.058  .486  Rose      Wall
Mario Chalmers    41  20  21  .488 -.086  .479  Rose      Hinrich
Jose Calderon     47  23  24  .489 -.096  .476  Paul      M.Williams
Kyrie Irving      12   6   6  .500 -.126  .469  Stuckey   Fisher
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Ben Gordon         9   4   5  .444 -.198  .451  Jennings  Sessions
Darren Collison   61  26  35  .426 -.206  .449  Rondo     Ridnour
Devin Harris      45  19  26  .422 -.213  .447  Paul      Fisher
Jordan Farmar     13   6   7  .462 -.243  .440  Rose      Hinrich
Jameer Nelson     58  27  31  .466 -.256  .436  Lawson    Evans
--------------------------------------------------------------------
REF PLYR          67  29  38  .433 -.320  .421  Rondo     Knight
Beno Udrih        32  12  20  .375 -.362  .411  Nash      Sessions
D.J. Augustin     54  24  30  .444 -.368  .409  Curry     Knight
Randy Foye        11   4   7  .364 -.374  .408  Kidd      Wall
Baron Davis       21   8  13  .381 -.449  .390  Rose      Bibby
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Luke Ridnour      44  17  27  .386 -.570  .361  Nash      Watson
John Wall         55  20  35  .364 -.587  .357  Curry     Felton
Ramon Sessions    29  11  18  .379 -.599  .354  Lowry     Hinrich
Mike Bibby        47  14  33  .298 -.688  .334  Rondo     Hamilton
Raymond Felton    27   9  18  .333 -.745  .322  Holiday   Fisher
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Delonte West       6   2   4  .333 -.814  .307  Jack      Wall
Kirk Hinrich      27   9  18  .333 -.833  .303  Rose      Fisher
Derek Fisher      64  20  44  .313 -.876  .294  Lowry     Watson
Tyreke Evans      18   5  13  .278 -1.067 .256  Rose      Fisher
Richard Hamilton   7   2   5  .286 -1.244 .224  Calderon  Hinrich
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Mo Williams       21   6  15  .286 -1.261 .221  Lawson    Fisher
Brandon Knight     8   2   6  .250 -1.499 .183  REF PLYR  Jenkins
Rodrigue Beaubois 24   5  19  .208 -1.686 .156  Miller    M.Williams
Jonny Flynn        8   1   7  .125 -1.744 .149  Conley    Collison
Earl Watson       13   3  10  .231 -1.815 .140  Lowry     Beaubois
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Charles Jenkins    7   1   6  .143 -2.317 .090  Knight    Fisher
HCA          .248      

P(W) is the player's expected win probability against an average opponent on a neutral court, implied by their MLE using the formula:

P(W) = exp(MLE - oppMLE) / (1 + exp(MLE - oppMLE))

The MLE method is a good way of tracking which point guard is likely to win their individual matchup, but it doesn't say anything for how well a player dominates his counterpart--it treats a narrow victory the same as a resounding one. To account for margin of victory, one must turn to another ranking methodology: the Simple Rating System (SRS).

In the SRS, every point guard is a variable in a linear regression that attempts to best predict the margin of victory in a given matchup. When Derrick Rose faces Chris Paul in Chicago, Rose's MOV is predicted by:

MOV_DR = HCA + SRS_DR - SRS_CP

Find the set of Simple Ratings that minimize the sum of squared prediction errors across all games, and you have a way to rank PGs that takes into account how much they dominate their matchups:

Point Guard    Games  SRS
Chris Paul        46  4.0
Ty Lawson         44  3.3
Derrick Rose      70  3.1
Rajon Rondo       59  2.5
Kyle Lowry        49  2.3
-------------------------
Stephen Curry     47  2.2
Jerryd Bayless     8  1.9
Steve Nash        50  1.6
Jordan Farmar     13  1.6
Chauncey Billups  46  1.6
-------------------------
Russell Westbrook 72  1.4
Mike Conley       62  1.3
Jason Kidd        44  1.1
Brandon Jennings  49  1.0
Tony Parker       54   .9
-------------------------
Jrue Holiday      60   .8
Jarrett Jack      14   .4
Andre Miller      47   .3
Delonte West       6   .1
Keyon Dooling      9   .0
-------------------------
Deron Williams    33   .0
Jeff Teague       25  -.1
Jose Calderon     47  -.1
Mario Chalmers    41  -.2
Darren Collison   61  -.4
-------------------------
Kyrie Irving      12  -.5
Devin Harris      45  -.6
Rodney Stuckey    25  -.8
Randy Foye        11  -.9
Beno Udrih        33 -1.0
-------------------------
Jameer Nelson     58 -1.2
Ramon Sessions    29 -1.3
D.J. Augustin     55 -1.3
Toney Douglas     17 -1.5
John Wall         55 -1.5
-------------------------
Raymond Felton    27 -1.6
REF PLYR          67 -1.8
Luke Ridnour      44 -2.2
Mike Bibby        47 -2.4
Derek Fisher      64 -2.6
-------------------------
Kirk Hinrich      27 -2.7
Tyreke Evans      18 -2.7
Ben Gordon         9 -2.8
Brandon Knight     8 -3.1
Richard Hamilton   7 -3.1
-------------------------
Earl Watson       13 -3.1
Baron Davis       21 -3.2
Mo Williams       21 -3.6
Charles Jenkins    7 -3.6
Rodrigue Beaubois 24 -3.9
-------------------------
Jonny Flynn        8 -4.9
HCA                    .9

Ultimately, the process of ranking point guards is more art than science, with the best answer depending on what the team needs most--the Bulls, for instance, need Rose's pure scoring ability, while Paul's passing is a better fit for the Clippers. But if you're looking for a point guard with the ability to outproduce his counterpart in a head-to-head statistical battle, the two lists above are a good place to start when building your own personal point guard rankings.

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Neil Paine is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Neil by clicking here or click here to see Neil's other articles.

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