Last year, the only players who scored more than Dwyane Wade (22.1 PPG) at a better shooting percentage than his 50.6 effective FG percentage were Kevin Durant (28.0 PPG, 54.7 EFG%) and LeBron James (27.1 PPG, 55.4 EFG%). It may not be a coincidence that those two—along with a healthy Derrick Rose and perhaps Russell Westbrook—are probably also the only more dynamic players in the league with the ball in their hands.
Wade has certainly lost some of the wild abandon to ambush the paint that, in his younger days, quickly established him as one of the best guards of all time. And the constant pressure he once applied to the opponents' entire defensive system has been toned down due to the fact that the ball now spends so much time in the hands of LeBron.
Anyone with eyes can see: Dwyane is not the athletic specimen he once was and his inability to make threes consistently means he can't be the type of deadly spot-up shooter coaches have traditionally coveted from an off guard.But he still unleashes similar fury often enough to keep the defense on its heels and remains among the handful of most unstoppable, dangerous players in transition.
He has also made up for his relatively waning athleticism in other ways, notably by becoming one of the best cutters in the league. By adapting to play off the ball more, he has turned LeBron's historically great passing skills into an even greater advantage for Miami, often slicing into the lane to be in position for a short jumper, blitzing the baseline for a layup or maintaining enough spacing for himself and James to seemingly turn even a half-court set into a finish like something you would see on a two-on-one break.
Let's also not forget how difficult he is to stop with the ball in his hands. His step-back, mid-range game remains among the best in the league, and he hasn't lost that much explosiveness driving to the rim—a place that he still shot from 6.7 times per season last year.
Kobe Bryant, at his best, remains the single deadliest scoring guard in the league. When he locks in and attacks relentlessly, there may not be a better player in the NBA at any possession. His arsenal of moves—on the perimeter, in the mid-range, on the block—and his footwork is unmatched.
But as he has aged, he has increasingly settled for longer shots, with his attempts per game taken at the rim dropping from 4.9 two years ago to 3.5 last season. Over the same time frame, the number he takes outside of sixteen feet has ballooned from 10.1 to 12.6, according to HoopData.com.
If we just look at this season, James Harden looks like he may be entering the class of the elite 2. The kid may be better than even Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey thought.
But we have the next decade to figure out just how good he will be. So let's hold off on anointing a guy who just had a stunningly bad NBA Finals as better than a guy, in Wade, who not only averaged 22.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.2 APG in that same series, but also broke the back of the Pacers in a close-out Game 6 performance for the ages. Let's also not forget him chipping in with 9 points in the fourth quarter of a Game 7 matchup against Boston. The fact that these performances happened in a postseason—which most consider mediocre—from Dwyane, just lends further credence to how high his greatness has set our expectations.
And with apologies to Manu Ginobili, nobody else belongs in this discussion. Along those lines, perhaps Wade is only holding on to this title because so few elite shooting guards have emerged in recent years. If you look at ESPN Rank, an attempt to rank every player in the league by compiling the votes of more than 100 journalists and NBA bloggers, the only 2-guards to make the top 50 were Wade (eighth), Kobe (ninth), Manu (25th), Harden (26th), Joe Johnson (33rd), Eric Gordon (38th) and Monta Ellis (46th).
Harden would be much higher, I assume, if this vote was taken again today, but he and Kobe are Wade's only reasonable competition. But unless you're living in the past or the future, it's hard to choose anyone other than Dwyane.