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.