One thing that has drastically changed throughout the NBA's 75 year history is the value of point guards. They've evolved from being solely valued as passed-first guys, to score-first players who must have a solid three point game. While this year's MVP candidates such as Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are not point guards, the position is still more valuable than ever.
When you look at most of the contenders, they all have stellar point guard play. For example, the Phoenix Suns have the last version of a pure point guard in Chris Paul, otherwise known as the Point God. Paul might be averaging a career low 14.7 points, but he still has the ability to bring out the best in his teammates, which is a big reason why Phoenix has won a franchise record 64 games.
Other teams who will have home court advantage in the West can thank their point guards, who have elevated their teams sooner than anyone could've expected. In Memphis, Ja Morant has enjoyed a breakout season, As a result, Memphis has tied their franchise record for single season wins. Even when he hasn't been on the court, Memphis is 20-4, which says a lot about his impact on the team.
Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks has enjoyed his winningest season in his young career, helping the team earn home court advantage for the first time in his three years in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, Dallas has two other reliable point guards in Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie. The three of them have all contributed to the Mavericks' second half success this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks have Jrue Holiday who has always been a scrappy defender and a dependable scorer. He will conclude this season shooting a career high 41% from three which is going to make him tough to defend considering his ability to create while driving to the basket. He can also set up Antetokounmpo and Kris Middleton rather than one of them bringing the ball up.
Stephen Curry has been the only consistent player for the Golden State Warriors this season. In a campaign that has seen them win 12 games after being 41-13, Curry is the reason why they haven't fallen further in the standings even with a streaky supporting cast.
In general, having a competent point guard is beneficial when a team is neck and neck in a close game. According to NBA.com's clutch stats - based on whether a game is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or any overtime period - four of the five teams I mentioned are in the top ten: Milwaukee, Dallas, Phoenix, and Memphis. All teams have the luxury of a point guard who can successfully calm everyone down.
As for some of the teams I didn't mentioned, their regular season success might not be sustainable in the playoffs because of their suspect performance at the point guard position. For example, the Bulls and Nuggets are two teams who have had solid regular seasons, but will be skinny at point guard entering this year's playoffs.
Denver lost Jamal Murray to a torn ACL last season, and while they could get him back during the postseason, they need to win more than a few playoff games for that to happen. Especially if they want to match up against teams such as Phoenix after getting swept by them last year.
The Bulls on the other hand will suffer in the playoffs without Lonzo Ball who hasn't played since January. Without him, the Bulls have a .511 winning percentage which is far below their .628 winning percentage with a healthy Ball.
Of all the playoff teams who lack a real point guard, the Boston Celtics could be hit the hardest. They are a legitimate contender in the East with their suffocating defense, but the lack of a true point guard will come back to bite them at some point. Remember how I listed some teams who were in the top 10 for clutch stats? Well, Boston has the second worst record in that category. Marcus Smart has always had the reputation of laying his body on the line but his ability to run an offense is not exactly superb.
Let me also state that one reason why we're not even talking about underachieving teams such as the Knicks and Lakers is because their point guard play was extremely disappointing.
So when you're watching playoffs, and wondering who will go the distance, analyze their point guard. Whether he can run an offense or not will determine their fate.