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October 17, 2007

The return of the pass-first point guards

Cast your vote: Who is the nation's best point guard?

It's a throwback season for point guards.

While the position has evolved beyond the pass-first player to a place where point guards often are the first offensive option, this year the list of the top 10 point guards is heavily populated by setup guys.

They can score, too, but most of these players get their chances to put the ball in the basket within the framework of the offense. They're more likely to create an opportunity for a teammate by bursting into the lane and drawing opposing defenders than they are to pull up for a 3-pointer.

Looking for other common traits? How about speed to burn. Some track coaches would be interested in forming a relay team, given the way some of these guys can go from end to end.

There's only one senior on the list. While big men often take more time to develop, coaches seem willing to put the ball into the hands of younger players. It worked last season with Mike Conley Jr. and Javaris Crittenton, two highly ranked freshmen who made the jump to the NBA and were first-round picks.

With that in mind, our list includes Rivals.com's No. 1 point guard in the class of 2007. It also includes the No. 2 from the 2006 class because No. 1 (Crittenton) and No. 3 (Conley) are gone.

Here is the list of Rivals.com's top 10 point guards entering the 2007-08 season:

Rivals.com Top 10 Point Guards
1. Jamont Gordon, Jr., Mississippi State, 6-4, 230
The Bulldogs have a do-it-all type in Gordon. He's a strong, physical point guard who can break people down off the dribble or post up against smaller guards. He considered an early jump to the NBA, but he's back in Starkville for another go. Gordon led the Bulldogs in scoring (16.0 points per game), rebounding (7.1), assists (5.3) and steals (1.3). The only thing holding him back is a propensity for trying to make the spectacular play, which can lead to turnovers (3.5 per game) and ill-advised shots. He shot 36.6 percent in the final six games of the regular season. But when he's on, the numbers can be staggering, such as his triple-double (15 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, two turnovers) in a victory over Sweet 16 team Vanderbilt.
2. Darren Collison, Jr., UCLA, 6-1, 165
Collison inherited the starting role last season and made the most of it. His minutes increased by about 14 per game, to 33, and he more than doubled his scoring average (12.7 points per games) and assist average (5.7; second in the Pac-10). He led the Pac-10 in steals (2.2) and in 3-point field-goal percentage (44.7 percent). That he shoots it so well from outside makes Collison so tough to handle because he's one of the nation's fastest players with the ball in hands. Defenders have to play him to drive, which gives him plenty of room to step back and shoot. He also stresses the opposition because he's a great decision-maker (second in the Pac-10 with a 1.95-1 assist-to-turnover ratio).
3. D.J. Augustin, So., Texas, 6-0,180
Riding shotgun with Kevin Durant had its perks. Augustin averaged 6.7 assists per game, which led the Big 12 and ranked fourth nationally. He also proved he's more than just a setup guy. Augustin averaged 14.4 points per game, 15th in the Big 12. He shot the ball extremely well, both from the floor (44.9 percent) and the free-throw line (83.8 percent). A great penetrator, Augustin creates havoc by getting in the lane and getting to the line or dropping the ball off to open teammates. He also has a knack for knowing who to get the ball to and when to get it to them (2.0-1 assist-to-turnover ratio).
4. Ty Lawson, So., North Carolina, 5-11, 195
Lawson is another compact point guard with speed to burn. He's a jet from end to end with the ball in his hands. He blows by opposing defenders to create easy opportunities for himself and his teammates. He led the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.57-1) and was third in assists per game (5.7). He also averaged a respectable 10.2 points (fourth on the team) and shot a remarkable 50 percent from the floor because he's a great finisher in the lane. Lawson seemingly is at his best in big games, too: His three highest-scoring games came against North Carolina State (21 points), Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament (20) and Arizona (18).
5. Dominic James, Jr., Marquette, 5-11,185
James strongly considered a jump to the NBA, but the feedback from the league made him stay in Milwaukee another season. He said NBA people want him to make better decisions and display a steadier hand. They don't argue that he's explosive with the ball and can get into the lane seemingly whenever he desires. He averaged 14.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He also shot just 38.4 percent from the floor, 27.2 percent from 3-point range and 65.1 percent from the free-throw line. He has the potential to be better in all of those categories, and if he is, the NBA Draft is sure to follow.
6. Sean Singletary, Sr., Virginia 6-0, 185
Like James, Singletary mulled the NBA, but the two-time All-ACC first-team selection is back for his final season with the Cavaliers. With J.R. Reynolds gone, he probably will carry more of the scoring load. He averaged 19 points, 4.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. He ranked third in the ACC in scoring and second in 3-pointers made (2.47 per game) and free-throw percentage (.872, 190-of-218). Singletary is a streaky shooter (40 percent) who can create space to get off his outside shot, but he takes too many ill-advised shots. He'll need to keep everyone involved with a young team this season.
7. Eric Maynor, Jr., VCU, 6-2, 175
If you're not familiar with the mid-major star, Duke fans can help you bone up. Maynor hit the 15-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left that gave the Rams a 79-77 win over the Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It capped a 22-point, eight-assist performance that served notice VCU is a program to be taken seriously. For the season, Maynor averaged 13.9 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds, and his 3.07-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was one of the best in the nation. He followed it up by making the U.S. team for the Pan Am Games, but was limited to only two games because of a hip injury. His decision-making and defensive prowess are as good as you'll find.
8. Derrick Rose, Fr., Memphis 6-4, 195
The five-star prospect out of Chicago arrives with much fanfare at a program hungry for the Final Four, if not more. Is Rose the missing piece? He's the second-biggest point guard on the list, but he doesn't lack for speed. His veteran teammates already are saying he's the fastest player they've seen with the ball, and he continues to wow them in practice on a daily basis. His body control and dribble game are NBA-ready. He also can rebound and defend. Rose will have to fit in on a loaded roster, but he always has been about winning. He'll be a setup guy when necessary, and he can score, too.
9. Tyrese Rice, Jr., Boston College, 6-1, 190
Rice is the Eagles' Mr. Reliable. After not making a single start his freshman season, he started all 33 games last season and averaged nearly 37 minutes per game. He shot 46.8 percent from the field and averaged 17.6 points, second on the team to ACC Player of the Year Jared Dudley. He also averaged 5.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds. Rice is particularly adept at getting to the foul line (190 attempts), and that's just fine with coach Al Skinner because Rice is one of the ACC's best at the stripe (sixth at 79.5 percent). He probably took too many 3-pointers last season (183) given his success rate (32.2 percent), and it will be interesting to see how he copes without Dudley - an NBA first-round pick.
10. Greg Paulus, Jr., Duke, 6-1, 185
Paulus is the kind of gritty floor leader who has come to define the Blue Devils, in the tradition of Bobby Hurley and Steve Wojciechowski. He averaged 11.8 points, 3.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds last season. He also proved to be Duke's best outside shooter, knocking down 45 percent from 3-point range (68-of-151). Paulus emerged as a major scoring threat late last season, averaging 17.9 points over the Blue Devils' final 11 games. He had a career-high 25 in the season-ending loss to VCU in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mike Krzyzewski would hope not to have to rely on Paulus' scoring, but it's nice to know the potential is there.

Cast your vote: Who is the nation's best point guard?

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