Shooting guards—they're supposedly a dime a dozen in the NBA.
Which, in a way, makes it that much more difficult for standouts at the position to distinguish themselves from one another. In today's NBA, wherein rules and demographic shifts have rendered guard play more important than ever before, those who can score off the ball and create their own shot with it have become key cogs in the league's biggest and best winning machines.
To be sure, point guards still get all the publicity, and how could they not? They're the ones who dominate possession and make the most efficient offenses run like clockwork. We also happen to be in the midst of a "Golden Age" of floor generals, in which nearly every team seems to have a quality player up top and any attempt to narrow down a "top five" usually ends in frustration.
But those assist totals wouldn't be nearly so glamorous without shooting guards to turn those pinpoint passes into points. And while the search for a new "best of all time" at the position may be futile in the post-Michael Jordan era, it can't hurt to see how the today's top off guards measure up against one another.
Here, then, are the top 10.
Marcus Thornton, it seems, was born to score. A second-round pick out of LSU in the 2009 NBA draft, Thornton burst onto the scene as a sweet-shooting sixth man with the New Orleans Hornets when he was a wee rookie and blossomed into a 20-point-per-game scorer when he was traded to the Sacramento Kings the very next season.
His emergence over the last campaign-and-a-half has pushed former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans even further out of position to small forward, and Thornton has given the Kings a dynamic young backcourt around which to build for the future with All-Rookie performer Isaiah Thomas at the point.
To be sure, Thornton doesn't rebound well for his position (3.7 boards per game, 5.8 percent rebound rate last season) and isn't prone to sharing (1.9 assists).
But who needs Thornton to do those things when he shoots 36.2 percent from three-point range for his career and is as good at putting the ball in the basket as he's been since he set foot in the NBA?
Okay, so maybe a better all-around game would help Thornton, but for now, his scoring numbers are good enough to land him in the top 10 at his position.
"Shooting" has never been Rodney Stuckey's forte—he's hit just 28.1 percent of his three-point attempts in the NBA—though that hardly disqualifies him as a quality wing.
If anything, the 26-year-old out of Eastern Washington might best be described as a poor man's Russell Westbrook with more off-the-ball tendencies. Which is to say, he's an athletic slasher who also creates for others on occasion. In fact, more than 40 percent of Stuckey's shots came at the rim last season, per HoopData.
And that was a low number for him.
What's great about Stuckey's game, though, is that it's become more efficient as the years have gone on. His per-36-minute scoring averages have held steady over the last three seasons, even as the frequency of his field-goal attempts has dropped.
Much of the credit belongs to the work he's done on his shooting stroke. His 31.7-percent rate on threes last season may not be particularly impressive for his position but represents a personal best and is indicative of a player who's always improving.
Stuckey will be expected to take the long-awaited step into near-All-Star territory next season as he enters his prime on a Detroit Pistons squad that sorely needs perimeter scoring.
Technically, Paul George isn't a shooting guard. At 6'8", the third-year player for the Indiana Pacers would appear to have outgrown the position.
But the Pacers already have Danny Granger entrenched on that wing, so the task falls to George to fill the other one.
Which, to this point, he's done quite well. Last season, his first as a full-time starter, George averaged 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range.
Those numbers figure to improve in 2012-13 as George continues to acclimate himself to the NBA. After all, the kid's only 22 and might already be the best player on a Pacers squad that should challenge for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs again.
Aside from his improved marksmanship, George remains a tremendous athlete whose length and lateral quickness make him a potential perimeter ace on defense. If George takes the step forward this season that everyone anticipates he will, it won't be long before he rockets right up this list.
One of these days, Monta Ellis will be an All-Star.
He has to be, doesn't he? How is it that a guy who's averaged better than 20 points per game over the last three seasons, with a high of 25.5 in 2009-10, go seven years without garnering recognition for his efforts?
Well, for one, as lethal a scorer as Ellis is, he's never done it for a contender, or rather hasn't since he was named the league's Most Improved Player with the "We Believe" Golden State Warriors in 2006-07. Neither does it help Monta's case that his defensive effort has long been—shall we say—questionable.
But the guy can flat-out score, with few equals in that regard. How the 26-year-old meshes with Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee this season may well determine the future trajectory of his career, be it upward, downward or otherwise.
Time hasn't been particularly kind to Manu Ginobili. Balding head aside, the 35-year-old Argentine has battled through injuries in recent years, most notably those in his ankle that derailed the San Antonio Spurs' playoff hopes in 2011 and left him on the sideline for 32 games in 2012.
But, when healthy, Manu still ranks among the most dangerous wings in the game. A return to the bench last season diminished the former Sixth Man of the Year's raw numbers somewhat, though the net result—career highs in field-goal shooting and three-point percentage—was a positive for the Spurs.
Ginobili may not be as quick or overpowering as he once was, though his smooth, crafty demeanor on the court and his ever-present Eurostep have helped him to remain one of the league's true joys to behold. If tethering Gino to the bench is the best way to keep him on his feet, then by all means, let him lead the Spurs' reserves from here to eternity.
As with Ginobili, health is a significant concern for Eric Gordon. He's missed no fewer than 20 games per season over the last three and sat out all but nine in 2011-12 on account of knee problems.
But when fit, EJ (as he's often called) is among the most dynamic scorers in the NBA, one who will be worthy of All-Star recognition before long. He averaged 22.3 points per game during his last season with the Los Angeles Clippers and chipped in 20.6 per contest the few times he was well enough to participate in his debut campaign with the New Orleans Hornets.
Gordon should garner more recognition in 2012-13 when he'll be called upon to carry much of the scoring burden for an exciting, young Hornets squad that now features Ryan Anderson and the rookie tandem of Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers.
Folks in New Orleans (and those with NBA League Pass) will finally get to marvel at Gordon's limitless range and the strength and athleticism with which he can attack the basket.
That is, if he can stay healthy.
James Harden has established himself as a top-five player at his position.
Or, in this case, a top-four player.
Harden made that much clear with a season in which he erupted for 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point land. For his efforts, Harden was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year while helping to lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 2012 NBA Finals.
Never mind what happened to him once they got there.
Few players at any position can measure up to Harden's blend of strength, speed, deceptive athleticism, scoring skill, ball-handling, shooting, facilitating and, of course, beard-growing.
Whether the Thunder can match his contract demands is another story. Harden will be a restricted free agent next summer and, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard, is seeking a max extension to stay in OKC before the Halloween deadline comes and goes.
A move to another team by Harden would be tragic for the Thunder's hopes of contending for years to come, but it would only help his league-wide stock if he ended up as the go-to guy elsewhere.
With all the flak he catches for pounding the rock and getting paid ungodly sums of money to do it, you'd think Joe Johnson were some scrub at shooting guard.
When in fact, he's one of the best in the game today. An Eastern Conference All-Star six years running, "Iso Joe" ranks among the most prolific and most consistent scorers in the NBA, particularly in one-on-one situations, and is somewhat underrated in operating the pick-and-roll.
Sorting out Johnson's future is no easy task, though. On the one hand, he's 31 and on the way out of his prime. On the other hand, he'll be spending the next few years with the Brooklyn Nets while paired with Deron Williams in what will arguably be the best backcourt in the league.
Whatever the future holds, Johnson can still consider himself (nearly) elite on the wing for the time being.
Dwyane Wade is no longer the No. 1 option on the Miami Heat but still checks in at No. 2 among the league's best shooting guards.
Not that taking a back seat to LeBron James is anything to snicker at. All it did was allow Wade to pick up a second title and solidify his eventual case for the Hall of Fame.
Injuries, particularly those to his knees, have sapped Wade of some of the vitality that once made him a one-man wrecking crew, at least on a nightly basis. But as D-Wade demonstrated in the 2012 playoffs, he can still muster up enough greatness in fits and spurts to be a championship-caliber companion.
And, frankly, it'll never get old seeing D-Wade slash his way to the basket in his typically smooth manner before throwing down a thunderous dunk, much to the chagrin/surprise of everyone watching.
He's still at the top even at the age of 34 after 16 years compiling a Hall of Fame resume that will land him among the game's all-time greats before long.
Past prizes aside, the Black Mamba is tops in the present in large part because of the way he's been able to adapt his game to both the condition of his own body and that of the league around him.
He's no longer the high-flying act and superb slasher he once was but has been prescient enough to make up for his physical losses by gaining wisdom, craftiness and perimeter shooting.
Those qualities, along with an unmatched grittiness when it comes to playing through injuries, helped Kobe lead the league in scoring for much of the 2011-12 season and nearly became the oldest scoring champ not named Michael Jordan in NBA history.
In an exclusive interview with Yahoo! Sports' Graham Bensinger, Bryant spoke candidly of his impending retirement. If he defers to Steve Nash in the years to come as some think he should, he may well go out on top with another title or two under his belt.
And if not, he'll still go down as the greatest to ever play for the Los Angeles Lakers.