The NBA is a point guard driven league. Look at personnel on the top teams in the Association. With just a couple exceptions, the best teams in the league have stellar point guard play. After the point guard position, the power forward position is emerging as the deepest talent pool in the league.
What’s been lost in the NBA is great play from the shooting guard position. Having a great shooting guard isn’t a necessity anymore. Just look at the San Antonio Spurs for proof. Gregg Popovich used a platoon of players at the shooting guard position last year, and none of them are superstars anymore. Danny Green is an elite three-point shooter, Manu Ginobili is past his prime but still a crafty offensive weapon, and Marco Belinelli can shoot it with the best of them, but struggles in other facets of the game. None of those guys – at least at this point in their careers – could carry the offense alone.
[RELATED: The top 20 point guards in the NBA right now]
The top players in the league aren’t shooting guards, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a number of really talented players at the position. With that in mind, here are the top 20 shooting guards in the NBA heading into next season. This list is focused on what a player can bring to the table for the 2014-2015 season, not what they did in the past.
(For the record: Paul George, Gordon Hayward, and Kyle Korver would have been included on this list but are considered more small forwards than shooting guards)
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20. Nick Young – Los Angeles Lakers
Nick Young can score the basketball. No if, ands, or buts about it. He can’t do much else on the basketball court, but he’s an offensive threat the second he steps on the hardwood. Young averaged 17.9 points per game last year for the Lakers, earning him a multi-year contract this summer. Young’s shot selection is often questioned, but he shot a career high from the floor and from beyond the arc in 2013-2014, and his 44% shooting percentage really isn’t all that bad in comparison to some of the other high-volume shooters in the league last season. Even with Kobe Bryant back this year, the Lakers will still be looking to Young to play a major role in their offense.
19. Kevin Martin – Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Martin might very well be the best scorer in the NBA that nobody talks about. He’s averaged more than 20 points per game five times in his NBA career and averaged 19.1 points per game for Minnesota last year. Martin is deadly from beyond the arc, shooting 39% from downtown a year ago. But, he is a defensive liability, keeping him on the bottom rung of this list for the rest of his career. With Kevin Love out of the picture in Minnesota, look for Martin to lead the team in scoring and average more than 20 points per game in 2014-2015.
18. J.R. Smith – New York Knicks
Whether you love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the fact that J.R. Smith can flat out score the basketball. While his 2013-2014 season wasn’t as prolific as his 2012-2013 Sixth Man of the Year season, scoring 14.5 points per game and shooting 39% from beyond the arc is nothing to scoff at. Smith may not be the most cerebral player in the league, but he’s a really nice fit in Derek Fisher’s (
Phil Jackson’s… Tex Winters‘) triangle offense. With Carmelo patrolling the high post area and drawing the attention of defenders, Smith is going to get a ton of open looks from the corner. As the Knicks look to rebound from a disappointing 2013-2014 campaign, expect Smith’s numbers, and his efficiency, to rise as well. His defense will again be the result of how hard he works, but he seems to understand you have to try hard on both sides of the court.
17. Tony Allen – Memphis Grizzlies
Tony Allen was the only defender the in the NBA to contain Kevin Durant last year, and that should be more than enough to validate his spot on this list. Durant averaged 32 points per game during the regular season, but Allen held him to three points less than his regular season average and Durant’s field goal percentage dropped more than six points in their playoff series. Allen is one of the most versatile perimeter defenders in the league, and he’s a better offensive player than he gets credit for. Tony won’t light up the scoreboard, but he rarely plays outside himself. Allen averaged nine points per game last year, but shot nearly 50% from the floor. He finds a way to fit in with the rest of Memphis offense, even if they rarely run sets for him, and his lack of a three-point shot hampers their spacing on offense.
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16. Wesley Matthews – Portland Trail Blazers
Wesley Matthews didn’t get much of the credit for the Trail Blazers success last year, but he was a major contributor for them on both ends of the court. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge stole the headlines, but Matthews quietly chipped in 16.4 points per game while shooting 39% from downtown. That’s not too shabby for a player who went undrafted in 2009 and made his name in the league as a defensive stopper. Matthews’ bread and butter is still his defense, but his offensive game has come a long way in the last few years. It’s just wrong to talk about Portland’s 2013-2014 season without mentioning the really solid play of Wesley Matthews.
15. Dion Waiters – Cleveland Cavaliers
Dion Waiters wasted all of five minutes before making an impact in the NBA. The Cavaliers shooting guard was an instant fixture in the team’s offense as a rookie, and took an ever-bigger role in the team’s offense in his second season. Despite shouldering more of the scoring load, Waiters’ efficiency didn’t fall off. In fact, it increased, as his field goal percentage jumped from 41 to 43 and his three-point shooting percentage jumped from 31 to 37. His numbers are going to take a hit this season with LeBron, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavaliers offseason acquisitions taking away some of his shot opportunities, but his value to the team is about to increase. Waiters may start for the Cavs, but imagine being able to bring a player of his caliber off the bench and be the second unit’s go-to scorer? That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.
14. Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Butler was a big part of the Bulls’ offense last year in his third NBA season, but that doesn’t say much considering Chicago had the league’s worst offense. Butler can’t be a guy who is looked at to create his own scoring opportunities, but he has the skill to be a very valuable role player who can hold his own on both ends of the court. Butler averaged 13.2 points per game last year, but shot under 40% from the floor. He should benefit from playing alongside a healthy Derrick Rose and rejuvenated Pau Gasol, who will open up more offensive opportunities for him to attack his defender with limited help. Butler is a very good defender, and it can sometimes be the difference between a win and a loss. Combine that with his blossoming offensive game as a 3&D wing, and he’s in the top half of starting shooting guards in the NBA.
13. Arron Afflalo – Denver Nuggets
The Orlando Magic weren’t very good last year, but Arron Afflalo balled out, averaging 18.2 points per game while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. He played so well, in fact, that the Denver Nuggets, his former team, traded for him this summer. Afflalo isn’t a very flashy player, but he’s about as efficient as they come. On top of being a consistent scorer, Afflalo is an above average on-ball defender and a solid playmaker as well. Afflalo won’t wow anyone with his athletic abilities, but he consistently gets the job done on both ends of the court.
12. Eric Gordon – New Orleans Hornets
When he’s healthy, Eric Gordon is a threat to score the ball from his locker room seat. He can shoot the deep ball at a high rate, and his (often forgotten) athletic ability makes him a dangerous weapon while attacking the rim. In his six-year NBA career, Gordon has never averaged less than 15.4 points per game. The issue with Gordon is that he’s never healthy. He’s yet to play a full NBA season and he always seems to be dealing with some sort of nagging ailment. When he’s on the court though, Gordon is a player opposing defenses need to keep an eye on, and he’s strong enough to defend bigger guards, though injuries and time have limited his abilities on the defensive side of the ball.
11. Manu Ginobili – San Antonio Spurs
Ginobili is not the same player he used to be. He’s a few years past his prime, but he’s still a valuable offensive weapon for San Antonio. The 37-year-old Ginobili averaged 12.3 points per game during the regular season, and upped his scoring to 14.3 points per game in the postseason. When you take into consideration that he only plays about 22-25 minutes per game, those numbers look even more impressive. In fact, her per-36 minute numbers actually improved from 2013 to 2014. Ginobili will come off the bench again for San Antonio in 2014-2015, but he’ll still be a dangerous offensive threat in San Antonio’s high-octane offense, where the Argentinian plays roving troubadour in Pop’s sets.
10. Jamal Crawford – Los Angeles Clippers
The NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year can light up the scoreboard like very few other shooting guards in the league. If a defender gives Crawford an inch, he’s going to pull up and drain a three. If a defender tries to get up in Crawford’s face, he’ll use his insane set of dribble moves to take his man to the rim where he can finish with either hand. Crawford is a pure scorer. He can put up points from anywhere on the floor. He’s about as good as it gets in terms of being a pure scorer in this league. On the other side of the coin is Crawford’s defense. He’s gotten better under Doc Rivers in LA, but he’ll always be a defensive minus, despite his offensive exploits.
9. Joe Johnson – Brooklyn Nets
Joe Johnson hit a ton of clutch shots in the final minutes of a number of games last year, but, all in all, it was Johnson’s least productive offensive season since 2003-2004. Johnson, who is entering his 14th NBA season, just doesn’t have the same explosiveness he had when he put up 20-25 points per game on a nightly basis. Johnson’s ability to shoot the basketball (40 percent from beyond the arc) still makes him a valuable weapon in Brooklyn’s offense, but his days as a No. 1 scoring option are over. If Johnson is on the court, opposing defenses have to know where he is at all times. He’s still one of the few guys in the league who can always create his own shot, and he’s so much bigger than opposing shooting guards, he’s a threat on the boards and in the post. Defensively, his length allows him to match up against small forwards and every guard, but his mobility is likely to wane as he enters the twilight of his lucrative career.
8. Lance Stephenson – Charlotte Hornets
There might not be a more complete shooting guard in the league than Lance Stephenson. Lance isn’t the best scorer of the group, but he averaged more rebounds than any other shooting guard in the NBA last season, finished fifth in the league (for shooting guards) in assists, and is one of the better defenders at his position. Stephenson bolted Indiana for Charlotte this offseason where he should be their primary wing scorer alongside Kemba Walker at the point and Big Al Jefferson in the paint. Stephenson came into his own last year for Indiana, and he’s only getting better. He’s just 23 years old and now he’s in a position where he’ll get even more opportunities to attack on the offensive end of the court.
7. Monta Ellis – Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks gave the Spurs their toughest test in last year’s postseason, and they’ve only gotten better this offseason with the additions of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons. It won’t be the two-man offensive show of Dirk and Ellis anymore, but putting more shooters around Ellis only makes it harder to double him. Against one defender, Ellis is unguardable. He’s so quick that he can get to the paint at will, and his pull-up jumper is one of the best weapons in all of basketball. With Dirk and Parsons spreading the floor, opposing defenses are going to be spread out, leaving a ton of lanes available for Ellis to exploit. The Mavericks have the pieces now to compete with the top dogs in the Western Conference, and Ellis’ ability to score is a big reason for that. Ellis is a better playmaker than he’s given credit for, too. Averaged 5.7 assists per game from the shooting guard position, like he did last year, isn’t too shabby. Defensively, Rick Carlisle appears to have gotten Ellis buy in, but it’s not his strong suit (you could say that about a lot of guys who handle the primary offensive responsibilities on this list, including the No. 1 guy).
6. DeMar DeRozen – Toronto Raptors
The Raptors were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA last year and DeMar DeRozen’s 22.7 points per game helped them win the Atlantic Division title. DeRozen, who just turned 25, still has a lot of room to grow offensively. He’s gotten some great experience this summer by playing on Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, and that type of experience could help him take his game to the next level in 2014-2015. DeRozen is an athletic monster who can finish above the rim, around defenders, and he’s an improved jump shooter. If he can become even more consistent from outside, he’ll be nearly impossible to guard. With the up-tempo style the Raptors play, DeRozen will have plenty of opportunities to score. Don’t be surprised to see him finish in the top 10 in points per game this year.
5. Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal’s ceiling is really, really high. We’re talking Empire State Building high. The Wizards shooting guard had a really solid sophomore season last year and then burst onto the scene during Washington’s mini playoff run. Beal was the team’s No. 1 offensive option against the Bulls in the postseason, and he showed the ability to get up whatever shot he wanted, whenever he wanted. Beal is a knock-down shooter, but his ability to score in the paint is what really stood out. Beal showed a nice touch on his floater and even finished with his left hand around two big men on a drive to the lane. Oh yeah, and it’s even crazier to think about his potential when you realize he just turned 21. That’s right, Beal has only been able to legally order a beer since late June. He was torching NBA defenses as a 20-year-old, and he’s only continuing to get better. When this list is remade next year, Beal could very well be No. 1, even with a left wrist injury knocking him out for the first month of the season. Like a lot of players on this list, Beal’s defense can use some work, but a large part of that stems from his inexperience with defensive rotations. Coach Randy Wittman needs to make it clear defense is just as large a part of the game as a smooth stroke.
4. Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade had a really productive regular season last year, but his performance in the NBA Finals left a lot to be desired. Instead of being LeBron’s “Robin”, Wade froze up and played like a mid-level role player. Now that LeBron is gone, the Heat are again Wade’s team (though Chris Bosh might have something to say about that), and he’s as motivated as ever to prove his critics wrong. The biggest thing for Wade is keeping his body fresh, because when he’s on the court, he’s one of the best shooting guards ever. Even last year, Wade put up 19 points per game and shot 55% from the floor, which is just absurd for a perimeter player. Wade will come out with a vengeance this year and as long as he stays healthy – which for him is easier said than done – he should quiet all his doubters who say he’s washed up. There aren’t many shooting guards Wade’s size — 6-4, soaking wet — who get as many blocks as he has in his career, and he teamed with LeBron to be one of the deadlier defensive combos in the Association last season. But as time ticks on, Wade’s abilities on the defensive end will suffer as his body continues to fight the ravages of a thousand layup attempts in traffic.
3. Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
In his prime, Kobe Bryant is the second best shooting guard of all time, trailing only Michael Jordan. Kobe’s (physical) prime ended a few years ago, and two major injuries in the last two years has the rest of the NBA wondering how much The Black Mamba still has in his tank. All signs point to Bryant being healthy, and if that’s the case, he’ll be the Lakers No. 1 scoring option again this year. Look for Bryant to score between 18-20 points per game, which is a big step down from his 25.5 points per game career average, but still very impressive for a 36-year-old entering his 19th NBA season. If he’s healthy, Bryant will put up points for the Lakers, even if he’ll continue to struggle on the defensive end. Don’t sleep on Kobe this year, but be leery of a few highlight-level plays from opposing players who take advantage Father Time’s still-undefeated record.
2. Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson can shoot the deep ball with the best of them. He very well might be one of the top three pure shooters in the league along with teammate Steph Curry and Kyle Korver. But Thompson is much more than just a standstill jump-shooter. At 6-foot-7, 205 pounds, Thompson has the ability to attack the basket and finish at the rim. He’s not known for his dunking abilities, but he’ll throw down a Sportscenter Top 10 finish every once in a while. He’s also a very cerebral offensive player who knows how to get open. Those smarts gets taken for granted too often, but there’s a reason a deadeye shooter like him gets open even when the defense knows it can’t help off him. Everyone knows Thompson can score, but what gets overlooked a lot is his ability to defend. He’s a really good perimeter defender who can guard both point guards and wings. He consistently matches up with the opposing team’s top offensive players (allowing Steph to rest for the other end), and more often than not, he can contain them.
1. James Harden – Houston Rockets
When talking about the shooting guard position in the NBA, you don’t have to look any further than James Harden to find the best in the league. Harden is the only current superstar at the position and is a top-10 player in the NBA overall. The Beard is far from being a perfect player and he rarely puts forth an effort defensively, but he’s one of the best scorers the league has to offer. Harden is gong to put up 23-26 points per game every night, and he can score even if his jumper isn’t falling. With the exception of one, maybe two players, Harden does a better job of getting to the foul line than anyone else in the NBA. His 9.1 free throw attempts per game were second in the league only to Kevin Durant, and he knocked down an impressive 87% of his attempts at the charity strike. There’s a reason Jerry Coangelo called Harden the offensive leader of Team USA at the FIBA World Cup; he’s that good of an offensive player. He can shoot from beyond the arc, he can beat his man off the dribble, and he can absorb contact and still finish. His 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game also show he’s more than just a one-man shooting show. Of all the shooting guards in the NBA, James Harden is the top dog…for now.
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