A shooting guard’s primary assignment is to score the bulk of a team‘s perimeter points.
Since most two guards are naturally accomplished scorers, the ability to score in traffic, make plays for others, defend, and transcend an opponent’s solid defensive efforts are what separate the good from the great.
This list does not take into account a player’s future prospects or past salad days. The criterion is simple: Which NBA shooting guard would be best suited to winning a championship with a random collection of starting-level talent?
For example, if Andrew Bynum, Luis Scola, Al Thornton, and Beno Udrih are your teammates, who would you want as your shooting guard?
Due to the way some NBA lineups are presently constructed, a handful of potential shooting guards will be asked to play different positions this year. For that reason, Gilbert Arenas and Monta Ellis are listed as point guards.
No rookies made the list, as neither you nor I have seen them play in meaningful games against meaningful competition to know where they should be ranked.
With that out of the way, on to the list itself.
1) Kobe Bryant—Los Angeles Lakers
Until LeBron James develops a midrange game, Kobe will be the best player in the league.
What can Kobe do? For starters, Kobe has the most diverse offensive skillset of any player in the NBA. He can post, he can shoot, he can drive. He can use either hand. He can attack from either side of the court. He can finish in the paint. Every spot on the court is a hotspot for Kobe.
Kobe also plays with good, though not great, court vision and is a terrific passer. His defense runs hot and cold as he takes far too many plays off, but late in games there’s no better stopper around.
While Kobe still takes a small handful of bad shot attempts a game, he’s developed the wisdom to know when to be an all-world scorer and when to be an all-world distributor, trusting his teammates more, and in turn, having his teammates all improve considerably over the last two seasons.
Kobe’s form on his jump shot is flawless, and he’s one of the most fundamentally sound players around.
Most importantly, while there are players who can certainly match Kobe’s competitive fire, nobody exceeds it, and nobody does more to will his team to victory than Kobe.
He’s one of the best ever, and number one on the list.
2) Dwyane Wade—Miami Heat
A not-too-distant runner-up to Kobe, Wade is the rare superstar who excels in nearly every aspect of the game. Incredibly athletic and resoundingly fearless, Wade dominates both with his speed and with his power.
Wade attacks the paint the way a running back attacks the hole, and since he’s so strong and creative, he’s one of the best finishers in the game. He can also post, pass, and has very good court vision, though he doesn’t exceed Bryant’s talents in any of those areas.
Where Wade does exceed Bryant is his quarter-to-quarter defense, which is one of the best in the business. And though Wade will take chances defensively, his incredible instincts and quickness into passing lanes make passing the ball into his vicinity a nightmare.
If there’s any place where Wade significantly trails Kobe, it’s in the shooting department, where Wade has always been just an average perimeter shooter.
Still, if Wade isn’t quite the talent Kobe is, he’s every bit the winner and every bit the champion with a special collection of spectacular talent and an indomitable will.
3) Brandon Roy—Portland Trail Blazers
Roy’s the third shooting guard on the list who can completely take over a contest. He’s not as fantastically athletic as Kobe and Wade, but he’s well-rounded in every facet in the game. He’s a clever finisher, he can shoot, he can pull-and-pop, he can use either hand, and he’s a good defender.
What separates Roy from his peers is his tremendous court awareness and basketball IQ. He rarely forces his offense and gets a high rate of efficient shots for himself and his teammates simply by seeing the floor and understanding situations.
Plus, Roy is fundamentally sound across the board. And when Roy has to take over a game, his silken jump shot, flowing crossover, and ability to live in the paint dominates fourth quarters.
The best testament to Roy’s talent is the fact that in only three years, he’s led the Blazers to home court advantage in the murderous Western Conference. Simply making the playoffs isn’t the extent of Roy’s pedigree. He can be a Finals MVP-caliber player.
4) Joe Johnson—Atlanta Hawks
Though Johnson is a prodigious scorer and playmaker who can also defend, he’s a notch below the transcendent superstars above him because he’s a touch easier to guard, plays too nonchalant at times, and has difficulty elevating his game on the road in the playoffs.
5) Manu Ginobili—San Antonio Spurs
Ginobili is the player who stirs the Spurs’ drink. He has a terrific first step, is creative with the ball, is a great shooter, an adequate defender, and an underrated finisher at the basket.
What separates Ginobili from scorers below him is his moxie in making huge shots in huge moments. I considered placing him above Johnson, but with Ginobili’s injury questions, he’s relegated to fifth.
6) Shane Battier—Houston Rockets
A special defender, Battier has a habit of eliminating elite scorers—or at least turning them into contested jump shooters and minimizing their harm. He’s also a capable shot blocker and a remarkable team defender.
On offense, Battier’s a reliable three-point shooter who uses the baseline well and can occasionally score from the post. He’s a good passer who knows what a defense is trying to do and how to beat it.
Battier also possesses tremendous leadership skills and elevates the play of his teammates on both ends.
He’s the rare non-scoring difference maker.
7) Andre Iguodala—Philadelphia 76ers
Iguodala’s jump shot is still iffy and he’s neither a prime scoring option nor a lockdown defender, but he has value by being very good on both sides of the ball.
Iguodala is a high-flyer who runs the court with abandon and has a strong upper body to ward off defenders and finish. Plus, he can rebound and pass.
On the opposite end, Iguodala uses his athleticism to hang with most quick defenders and is strong enough to match up with power scorers. Very good offense plus very good defense in this case equals a very good player.
8) Ray Allen—Boston Celtics
Allen’s simply been one of the game’s best clutch shooters this millennium. He’s underrated as a driver, finisher, and defender, though his stock-in-trade is clearly shooting the ball. He’s not a terrific playmaker and if an opponent gameplans to take away his jumper, he becomes ordinary. Those two knocks keep him out of the top five.
9) John Salmons—Chicago Bulls
Salmons has steadily improved his game to the point where he’s now a reliable scorer who can put up points with his jumper, his ability to get to the rim, and his ability to finish. He’s a good rebounder for a guard, a good defensive player, and will take over Ben Gordon’s role as Chicago’s go-to scorer.
10) J.R. Smith—Denver Nuggets
Smith has volcanic talent, the kind that erupts and takes over games with a bombardment of scores.
In the past, Smith didn’t try on defense and couldn‘t help himself jacking up awful shot after awful shot. However, he’s gradually improved his defense and shot selection to respectable levels.
At times, Smith has even shown that he can be an exceptional defensive player.
However, old habits are hard to break and Smith still has a wild side rich with gambling defense, drives into multiple defenders, and step-back 20-foot fadeaways with 20 seconds still on the shot clock.
As Smith harnesses his wondrous natural gifts, his game will get better and better.
11) Richard Hamilton—Detroit Pistons
Hamilton may be the best player since Reggie Miller at utilizing screens. His endless motion creates the separation needed to fire an automatic midrange jump shot. Hamilton also has the size to score near the basket and the wingspan to be a good defender.
He doesn’t have great range and isn’t a master of creating his own shot, which keeps him out of the top 10.
12) Delonte West—Cleveland Cavaliers
The consummate overachiever, the more responsibility West gets, the better he plays.
He’s a gritty finisher who can run an offense, shoot, and post up near seven-footers (as he did against Hedo Turkoglu repeatedly during last year’s Conference Finals).
He’s a tenacious defender with quick feet and a low center of gravity who knows how to be an effective help defender. His guts and moxie make him a very good and very underrated performer.
13) Vince Carter—Orlando Magic
A volume scorer without a killer instinct, Carter’s lackadaisical play results in his teams never meeting high expectations.
He can do nearly anything, but instead of going hard at the rim, he avoids contact; instead of working to get good shots, he uncorks needless 28-footers; and instead of using his prodigious athletic traits to be a good defender, he consistently makes mistakes at that end of the court. Carter’s more style than substance.
14) Jason Richardson—Phoenix Suns
J-Rich can score from inside, from outside, from the middle, in the halfcourt, or on the break. He’s also a respectable passer and a good rebounder. Though his defense is degenerate and he’s a volume scorer, he’s prolific enough to make the upper half of the list.
15) Jason Terry—Dallas Mavericks
Nicknamed “Jet,” Terry is airline fuel for a team’s offense. Have a scoring drought? Hook Terry up to the fuselage and watch the points take off.
Terry can also play point guard in a pinch and is decent enough at intercepting balls in the passing lane.
He’s not a good finisher, positional defender, or reliable clutch player, though, to top the players above him.
16) Ben Gordon—Detroit Pistons
Gordon is a volume scorer who isn’t scared to make big shots in big moments. When Gordon’s running hot, he can roast the nets with his ability to shoot, and he’s quick enough to consistently beat his man off the dribble and get into the paint.
While Gordon does have the guts to perform under the spotlight, he lacks the guts to play acceptable defense and to finish at the hoop. Gordon also becomes too focused on his own shooting at times, neglecting to share the basketball or work to find a more efficient shot. This is the reason that while Gordon is an explosive player, he’s not reliable as a team’s go-to option.
17) Josh Howard—Dallas Mavericks
Howard is an athletic scorer and plus defender who starts games off with a bang.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, he usually ends games with a whimper. Focus has always been a problem for Howard, but he’s one of the most talented two-way players in the league when he’s aggressive and involved.
18) O.J. Mayo—Memphis Grizzlies
Mayo’s a powerful young scorer with an NBA body and NBA talent. He even occasionally plays effective defense, a surprise for a young player on such a moribund franchise.
He sometimes dominates the ball, and he’s still very rough around the edges, but as he matures, he’ll grow into a star.
19) Rudy Fernandez—Portland Trail Blazers
Both explosive and clever, Fernandez is a high-flying finisher, a dead-eye shooter, and a terrific playmaker.
His defense isn’t great and he could stand to build more muscle, but Fernandez is an athletic and smart offensive player.
20) Kevin Martin—Sacramento Kings
Martin is a talented left-handed scorer who is too skinny and lacks the court vision to be anything more than a talented scorer. He still needs to get stronger to have more of an impact on the court.
21) Michael Redd—Milwaukee Bucks
Redd was playing some of the best basketball of his career last season before rupturing both his ACL and MCL.
His best attribute is his ability to shoot jumpers with one of the fastest releases in basketball.
He has a tricky left-handed dribble which helps compensate for average athleticism, and played earnest, hard-nosed defense for Scott Skiles last season—a surprise because Redd was never a good defender before Skiles' arrival.
Redd’s a good player, but because of his serious injuries, he may never be the prolific scorer he was before blowing out his ligaments.
22) Raja Bell—Charlotte Bobcats
Bell is still a gritty individual defender and underrated offensive player.
His toughness and intelligence were welcome additions to Charlotte—and never replaced by Phoenix last season. He’s a premier three-point shooter with good court vision and defensive awareness, and he rarely makes mistakes.
23) Ronnie Brewer—Utah Jazz
Brewer’s one of the best off-the-ball offensive players in the league as his freakish athleticism on the break and willingness to run the baseline in the halfcourt generate a steady stream of layups and dunks.
Defensively, he’s long and rangy, though he isn’t particularly strong.
His downside is his inability to handle the ball consistently and an unreliable chicken wing jump shot. Nonetheless, Brewer’s a very good role player.
24) Tracy McGrady—Houston Rockets
Brittle—both physically and mentally—defenseless, and unable to operate an offense without massaging the ball, McGrady’s injury last season released a burden off the Rockets and allowed them to take flight into the postseason.
McGrady’s never been as good as meets the eye—he’s spectacularly talented, but he’s also aloof, uncaring, habitually scared of contact, and when he’s not sufficiently aroused, his defense is among the worst in the league.
He’s one of the most overrated players of the decade.
25) Anthony Parker—Cleveland Cavaliers
Parker does a number of things well, but doesn’t stand out in any area.
He’s a decent shooter and decent off the bounce, but nothing special. He’s a pretty good defender, though overrated as a stopper.
He passes well, cuts well, plays with good awareness, and has good athleticism. He’s versatile enough to earn a spot on the list.
26) Allen Iverson—Memphis Grizzlies
Iverson’s penchant for reckless defense, overhandling, abhorrent shot selection, being undisciplined, having no clue how to do anything without the ball, and failing to sacrifice for the good of a team caught up with him last season.
More concerning than all those flaws is that Iverson has lost a step. For a player who solely relies on pure athleticism, losing a step is basketball menopause.
Since Iverson doesn’t have the basketball IQ to compensate for his diminishing talent, his journey into NBA old age won’t be a graceful one.
27) Mike Dunleavy—Indiana Pacers
Dunleavy is a talented shooter and playmaker with the ball in his hands. He has good size and vision, which allow him to be the initiator of an offense, whether looking to score or to pass.
However, Dunleavy is frail by NBA standards and is one of the softest players in the league.
He’s a poor defender and is recovering from a knee injury which limited him to only 18 games last season. If he overcomes his injuries, his playmaking abilities justify him as a top 20 shooting guard.
28) Courtney Lee—New Jersey Nets
Lee is a bright, young player with nice athleticism and a willingness to defend. He’s already a good shooter and he has the talent to create points off the dribble.
At 6’5” he’s a touch undersized, and while he’s talented, he’s not an electric scorer. Still, Lee’s a good enough player to earn a place on the list.
29) Eric Gordon—Los Angeles Clippers
Gordon is a strong, stocky shooting guard who has the potential to be a 20-point scorer. His defense is shaky and he’s essentially just an isolation player, but the upside is there for Gordon to be a difference maker as a point producer.
30) Ronald Murray—Charlotte Bobcats
An offensive mercenary, Charlotte will be Murray’s seventh home in eight NBA seasons. He’s a hired scorer who can create points for himself from anywhere on the court—spot up threes, drives into the paint, and pull-ups anywhere in between.
Murray has little impact in any non-scoring aspect of the game, but he’s good at what he’s paid to do.
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