In the midst of the NBA’s point guard revolution, the off guards have lived up to another moniker â€” cast to the side, buried underneath near endless highlight reels of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.
But even with positions as fluent as they’ve ever been, the shooting guard remains an all-important cog in the NBA lineup. Some of the league’s best players, old and young, occupy the position once defined by Michael Jordan, and a close look reveals a surprisingly deep crop of talent.
As part of Dime‘s 2012-13 season preview, just as we did last season, we’ll be going position by position this week, giving you the best players at each spot heading into the NBA’s regular season. Stay tuned for the SGs, SGs, PFs and Cs. Today, we break down the 20 best shooting guards in the league…
–The Top 20 Point Guards In The NBA Today
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20. BRADLEY BEAL, Washington Wizards
Putting rookies on this list is always perilous, because we really have no idea what we’re going to get. But the early returns on Beal during the preseason have been positive, and he’s talented enough that we feel pretty safe putting him here. And really, it’s reasonable to assume that by next year he’ll be much higher. Everything about his makeup screams “Eric Gordon without the injury problems.” For now, he’s narrowly bumping off DeMar DeRozan, an athletic volume shooter/scorer who doesn’t actually score that much (17 points per game last year) and contributes little else on the floor.
19. O.J. MAYO, Dallas Mavericks
Back in his North College Hill High School (and even as a senior at Huntington) days, it seemed much more likely that Mayo would be at the top of this list rather than scraping at the bottom. But the gap between his potential and tangible production remains significant, and a fresh start with the Mavericks might be the 6-4 guard’s last shot to prove his true worth. Despite a reputation as a top-notch shooter, Mayo has yet to break above 40 percent from beyond the mark for a full season. He’s no slouch either, though, and at the very least has proven that he will be a reliable contributor for years to come.
18. WESLEY MATTHEWS, Portland Trail Blazers
Matthews is pretty much the definition of a solid but thoroughly unspectacular player. At 26, he’s probably not going to improve much going forward, but he’ll still be an important piece for the Blazers as they try to reset the franchise’s direction. He can shoot from deep (steady in the 38-40 percent range throughout the first three years of his career), doesn’t turn the ball over often and is generally a strong defender. In all, the Blazers could do much worse than pairing Matthews with promising rookie Damian Lillard in the backcourt.
17. COURTNEY LEE, Boston Celtics
Lee hasn’t yet had what you would call a breakout season, but he’s always been solid. You can pretty much count on him to shoot around 40 percent from three, finish at the rim and play decent defense. Whether he ever eclipses that standing remains to be seen, but he’s still a valuable contributor right now.
16. ARRON AFFLALO, Orlando Magic
Like Mayo, Affalo has garnered a reputation that isn’t backed up by statistical data. Coming into the 2011-12 season, after signing a brand new $43 million contract with the Nuggets, Afflalo was widely thought to be one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. Yet in that abbreviated post-lockout season, mySynergySports.com showed him to be one of the league’s worst defenders. He ranked 218th (yes, you read that right) in isolation defense, and 344th when defending spot-up shooters, per Basketball Prospectus. Those numbers may level out this season, and Affalo remains a knockdown shooter. (He also has an entire verse dedicated to him on Kendrick Lamar‘s new album, which is awesome). But it may be time to rethink our perception of him as a Tony Allen-esque stopper.
15. KLAY THOMPSON, Golden State Warriors
Mychal Thompson‘s son had a quietly effective rookie campaign last year, proving to be a reliable long-range shooter right from the get-go (41 percent from three) and hitting 86.8 percent of his free throws. At 6-7, he can also get his shot up against basically anyone, and with continued improvement he should be a valuable piece next to Stephen Curry going forward.
14. TONY ALLEN, Memphis Grizzlies
We don’t need to overthink this one. Allen is, quite simply, one of the very best perimeter defenders in the league (even with his arms behind his back). Tireless and tenacious, it’s a joy to watch him match up with the league’s most talented scorers. His Twitter account is also world class.
13. JASON TERRY, Boston Celtics
Terry is the definition of a sixth man sparkplug, ready at any moment to come in and change the tenor of a game. He’s proven that on the biggest stage â€” the 2011 Finals triumph over Miami â€” and should be a welcome face in Boston this year after the controversial departure of one Ray Allen.
12. AVERY BRADLEY, Boston Celtics
Another guy in the Tony Allen mode as a defender, with the added bonus that he’s just 21 (compared to Allen’s 30) and managed to shoot 40 percent from three-point land last season (though in a limited sample size of just 54 attempts). If Bradley can keep his perimeter shooting even near that range, and his defense continues to improve, he’ll be a fine building block in the post Garnett/Pierce era.
11. KEVIN MARTIN, Houston Rockets
Before an injury-plagued down year in 2011-12, Kevin Martin had been a model of consistency, putting together six consecutive seasons at just around 20 points per game. He doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the table, but this season should mark a return to form (odd jumper and all), which will be a welcome relief for a Rockets team that is chalk full of unproven talent.
10. TYREKE EVANS, Sacramento Kings
At least the point guard experiment is over. Evans played most of his minutes at shooting guard last season while occupying just two percent of Sacramento’s point guard time, per 82games.com. Now that he’s at the right position, we can spend more energy dissecting his game itself. He’s an elite slasher and finisher at the rim, and to his credit 444 of his 898 total shots last season came under the basket, per HoopData. Evans basically can’t shoot effectively from any other spot on the floor, and in that sense he’s like a center trapped in the backcourt. Luckily, unlike most centers, he can dribble, and he’ll continue to be effective so long as he gets to the rim. He’s not the all-purpose, “Oscar Robertson 2.0″ player we thought he might be in his rookie year, but Evans is still an important piece for Sacramento.
9. MONTA ELLIS, Milwaukee Bucks
Like Evans, Ellis is a controversial player who has always been miscast as a point guard, mostly because of his size. At 6-3, he looks nothing like the traditional shooting guard, but it’s the position that best jives with his skillset. A high-volume scorer, Ellis is lights out shooting at the rim (between 63 and 65 percent with Golden State and Milwaukee last year according to HoopData), can get to the foul line and racks up steals (1.7 per game for his career). It remains to be seen how Ellis and Brandon Jennings will coalesce for a full season â€” Milwaukee’s most common lineup with Jennings and Ellis was outscored by a total of 21 points last year â€” but in a vacuum, Ellis has proven to be an effective and, at times, dominant offensive force. Don’t let him get hot.
8. ERIC GORDON, New Orleans Hornets
At some point, we have to wonder who the real Eric Gordon is. Will he be known as the guy who broke out in 2010-11, scoring 22.3 points per game and dazzling us with a vast offensive skillset? Or is he actually a talented but unreliable player who is rarely healthy and a bit of a mope? Because honestly, playing a total of nine games in 2011-12 and then complaining about your team matching a $58 million max contract is not a good look. And already, Gordon has missed preseason time this year with, you guessed it, injury troubles. He has a ton of game, and when healthy could easily crack the top five of this list. But let’s see him play a full season first.
7. RAY ALLEN, Miami Heat
So much drama in the South Beach kingdom these days. Ray Allen is openly displeased with how the Celtics treated him on his way out, and Kevin Garnett, predictably, deleted Allen’s cell phone number as soon as he left. That’s about as interesting as things get for Allen at this stage in his career, though, as we know exactly what to expect from year to year. His picture-perfect shooting stroke has been good for over 44 percent from three over the last two seasons, he basically doesn’t miss free throws, and the spacing created by LeBron James and co. will make Allen downright terrifying in his new uniform. Maybe Garnett is so upset because he realizes how important of a player the Celtics let go of.
6. PAUL GEORGE, Indiana Pacers
Paul George is a 6-10 shooting guard. That sentence, all by itself, is terrifying. He could literally sleepwalk on the court and still be intimidating, just for his size and athleticism alone. Yet what makes George truly scary is that he’s fast improving as a talent. Playing and starting in every game last season, he upped his three-point shooting from 29.7 percent as a rookie to a very respectable 38.5 percent. He also shot better than 60 percent at the rim, and according to Basketball Prospectus, George made Indiana’s defense stingier by 5.8 points per possession. At this point, so long as he continues to improve, it’s easy to imagine George making multiple All-Star teams and becoming one of the most versatile players in the league. Really, he already is.
5. JOE JOHNSON, Brooklyn Nets
Captain of the “All-Boring” team, Johnson is nonetheless one of the primary factors in the Nets’ Brooklyn resurgence. His scoring numbers dipped over the last two seasons, but he remains a reliable, if not elite shooter, a quality late-game target, and a good defender. The discerning feature of his game is that it has no discernible features (ditto his facial expression), but you can’t dock him based solely on style points. Playing with Deron Williams should also help Johnson, and it would be surprising if he didn’t jump back over the 20 points per game mark in 2012-13.
4. MANU GINOBILI, San Antonio Spurs
Ginobili, like the Spurs team he plays on, is a basketball purist’s dream. They usually save terms like “The Beautiful Game” for soccer, but if anyone in the NBA embodies that free-flowing spirit, it’s Ginobili. Everything he does is impossibly creative, yet also perfectly controlled, like a virtuosic guitar solo that’s clearly been practiced to perfection. Manu, in his heyday, was a basketball genius, and some of the old fire remains. Alas, he’s 35 now, and retirement can’t be far on the horizon. For now, he’s still around, and far from washed up. His 24.18 Player Efficiency Rating over 34 regular season games last season was higher than Kobe Bryant‘s (21.95), and he shot above 50 percent overall from the floor. The Spurs were at their rip-roaring best on offense with Ginobili on the floor, and we can only hope for a full season of the madness this time around. Enjoy it while you can, basketball fans.
3. JAMES HARDEN, Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden is a modern day combo guard in the best sense of the word. When he runs the point in Russell Westbrook‘s absence, Harden is a pick-and-roll force (mySynergySports.com ranked him 9th overall as a pick-and-roll ballhandler last year, as he scored nearly a point per possession on the play). Playing off the ball as a shooting guard, he’s just as effective; Harden shot 39 percent from deep in 2011-12, and mySynergySports.com had him tabbed as the league’s best scorer off of screens and hand-offs. He was also lethal on cuts, shooting 71 percent on those plays. No matter how you slice it, Harden is an incredible talent nearing his apex. He’ll be worth every penny he makes as a free agent, be it with the Thunder or another hungry squad. Like with Ginobili, if you don’t enjoy watching Harden, you’re not a true basketball fan. By this time next year, it’s not inconceivable that he’ll be at the top of this list.