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You can space the floor, and you can scheme. You can preach unselfishness and hone shot selection to optimize the expected value of each attempt.
But unless you’ve got a creator in your offense, it won’t matter.
Creators originate points. They break down the defense with individual skill and either get their own looks or create chances for teammates. The very best players of this sort can actually facilitate scoring opportunities for others even when they don’t have the ball—by drawing attention away from other threats.
Forget the classic “creator” label. We’re not interested in old-school, pass-first point guards who aren’t serious about scoring. Those players are still valuable, but the absolute best point producers generate offense in several different ways.
Nowadays, creation isn’t confined to just points, anyway. Offense can come from anywhere.
These players are the best offense producers—via the pass, shot or mere presence on the floor—you’ll see at their respective positions in 2018-19.
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Not a conventional point guard by old-timey standards, Stephen Curry remains the most dangerous offensive weapon in basketball.
When he has the ball, a defender must be within a finger’s breadth, lest Curry fling off a back-breaking 30-footer. Sometimes, the opponent’s proximity doesn’t even matter; Curry can create enough space to fire with a simple feint or shoulder shimmy.
He didn’t shoot a ton of them, but it’s telling that Curry hit 41.7 percent of his threes last year when a defender was in “very tight” coverage, which means within two feet.
Nobody forces schematic changes that subvert normal defensive paradigms like Curry. It wasn’t so long ago that the territory three steps beyond the arc was a barren wasteland. Now, it’s real estate that must be defended when Curry’s around. His ability to inspire panic, to plunge rotating defenses into chaos, only intensifies when he’s darting around without the rock.
Lose track of him, or relax for a split second after he gives the ball up, and it’s curtains. Usually, because he disappears and re-materializes behind the arc without a defender nearby.
It’s a no-win situation in which defenses are hosed if Curry has the ball…and doubly hosed if he doesn’t.
Just look at what Curry’s gravity creates for others. With him on the floor in 2017-18, the Golden State Warriors scored 120.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sat, that figure was just 106.1, right in line with the Portland Trail Blazers’ overall figure, which ranked 16th in the league.
You get the idea. Golden State’s offense, frequently butting up against historical greatness over the last several years, is pedestrian when Curry is on the bench.
Nobody at the point creates like Curry.
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We’re cherry-picking with positional designations a bit, but only in the interest of getting James Harden onto this list.
In 2016-17, Basketball Reference’s positional breakdown had Harden playing 98 percent of his minutes at the 1. Last year, that figure dipped to just 19 percent, which helps justify slotting him in as a shooting guard. Oddly, though, Cleaning the Glass logged Harden as having played about 1,300 more possessions at the 1 than the 2 in 2017-18. So it’s not an exact science.
Certainly, Harden’s size is that of a shooting guard. And for most of his pre-Mike D’Antoni career, that’s where he played. It feels fair to call him a hybrid guard now, especially since Houston starts Chris Paul at the point.
Having already burned too many calories justifying Harden’s position, it’s a good thing we don’t have to work very hard to make his case as the best creator at shooting guard.
There’s no better one-on-one weapon in the league, as Harden led all players with 720 isolation plays last season. In addition to dominating in volume (LeBron James placed second with only 529 isolation plays), Harden also crushed the field in efficiency, averaging 1.22 points per iso attempt.
What’s more, Harden became the first player in history to average at least 10 three-point and free-throw attempts per game. He also tossed out 8.8 assists per game.
Partly because Harden is such a slick passer, and partly because Houston’s offense is designed to create deep looks, Harden’s assists frequently produced three-point shots, making his facilitation even more valuable. Only five players set up more than Harden’s average of 3.4 made triples per game last year.
Harden also led the league in assists that produced dunks in 2017-18, with an average of 2.38 per game.
So in addition to averaging a league-high 30.4 points per game, Harden also averaged a total of 5.78 assists that produced either made threes or made dunks.
If you need a high-percentage look, Harden will get a three or layup himself or, failing that, create one for a teammate. It’s efficient offense on steroids. The Houston Rockets will be a top-th