Metrics 101: Greatest Shooting Guard Seasons in Modern NBA History

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2017

Metrics 101: Greatest Shooting Guard Seasons in Modern NBA History

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    NBA Photos/Getty Images

    Get ready for some scoring champions. 

    Since 1973-74our cutoff for the modern era, since that's when statistical tracking expandedplenty of high-scoring shooting guards have lined up in the NBA. From Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and James Harden to Dwyane Wade, Sidney Moncrief and Alvin Robertson, every decade has featured multiple players at the position who have given defenses fits. 

    Of course, those who also play high-level defense will move higher up the leaderboards. 

    Just as was the case in our point guard rankings, we're turning to NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric, which weighs both per-possession efficiency and volume to show how much value a player added during a season. The calculation here is rather simple: Add together the regular-season and postseason scores so that both the first 82 games and the all-important playoffs are taken into account. 

    Each shooting guard is eligible just once, so we're taking only their best scores to determine the modern-era hierarchy. 

15. Brent Barry, 2001-02, Seattle SuperSonics: 327.48

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 326.95

    Postseason TPA: 0.53

    Per-Game Stats: 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Awards: None

        

    Brent Barry didn't earn any awards for his 2001-02 work with the Seattle SuperSonics. He didn't help propel the team to any playoff success, either. With him, Gary Payton and Rashard Lewis leading the charge, the 45-win Sonics dropped a decisive Game 5 to the San Antonio Spurs, who would lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the next round. 

    It's therefore at least somewhat understandable that Barry's offensive heroics were overlooked. Few realized—and this likely works in the present tense as well—that the 2-guard had put together one of the greatest shooting seasons of all time. 

    Good luck finding a zone in which Barry didn't have success. He knocked down 66.3 percent of his shots from inside three feet, 49.4 percent of his attempts between three and 10 feet, 53.8 percent of his 10- to 16-foot jumpers, 55.3 percent of his twos beyond 16 feet and 42.4 percent of his triples. 

    Everyone of those numbers is elite, to the point that Barry led the league in two-point percentage while trailing only 13 players qualified from beyond the arc. That is an exceedingly rare feat, since 6'6" shooting guards aren't supposed to be more efficient from two-point territory than the behemoths operating on the interior. 

    In fact, Barry is the only backcourt player in NBA history to pace the league for percentage inside the rainbow. 

        

    Honorable Mentions: Ron Harper (1998-99), Brandon Roy (2008-09), Vince Carter (2005-06), Eddie Jones (1999-00), Jimmy Butler (2014-15)  

14. Dan Majerle, 1992-93, Phoenix Suns: 334.39

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 266.05

    Postseason TPA: 68.34

    Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-Defensive Second Team

        

    From a per-minute standpoint, Dan Majerle was slightly superior in 1991-92, when he came off the Phoenix Suns' bench and still earned All-Star recognition. But playing in all 82 contests for the second consecutive season, he started each and every game in 1992-93 while logging a whopping 39 minutes per outing. 

    In spite of the increased action and the typical tradeoff between volume and efficiency, finding a weakness is impossible.

    "Thunder Dan" didn't post particularly gaudy statistics. His per-game tallies are impressive, but they won't make your jaw drop. Although his slash line of 46.4/38.1/77.8 is impressive, it doesn't come anywhere close to the 50/40/90 club. But pair those solid numbers with legitimate disdain for turnovers and consistently stellar defense on the perimeter, and you have the makings of an incredibly valuable asset. 

    Majerle also helped his case by continuing to thrive throughout Phoenix's playoff run, which took it past the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle SuperSonics before running into the Michael Jordan buzzsaw during the 1993 NBA Finals. 

    During the deep postseason adventure, only Charles Barkley was more useful to the desert-based organization.

13. Jeff Hornacek, 1991-92, Phoenix Suns: 347.85

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    Brian Drake/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 325.07

    Postseason TPA: 22.78

    Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Awards: All-Star

        

    Majerle only emerged because Jeff Hornacek left the Suns prior to his replacement's best season.

    Following the premier go-round of Hornacek's career, the Suns traded him along with Andrew Lang and Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley. That should speak volumes about how stellar Hornacek's 1991-92 efforts were, since he was able to serve as a centerpiece in a deal for a future Hall of Famer. 

    While this was the only All-Star season of his NBA tenure, it was a memorable one. Not only did he score upwards of 20 points more often than not while involving himself in so many other areas, but he was a beneficial defensive presence who never played inefficient offense.

    Hornacek shot 51.2 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from three-point range and 88.6 percent at the stripe. Had he made just five more of his 315 free-throw attempts, he'd have become one of 10 members in the 50/40/90 club. Better still, he'd have joined Stephen Curry, Larry Bird, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki as the only players to do so while averaging at least 20 points. 

    Yes, this was an aberration. But that doesn't matter here, since we're looking only at single seasons rather than the entire extent of a career.  

12. Sidney Moncrief, 1983-94, Milwaukee Bucks: 362.73

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 297.98

    Postseason TPA: 64.75

    Per-Game Stats: 20.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Defensive First Team, All-NBA Second Team

        

    Some players thrive on offense. Some specialize as stoppers. 

    During his best years, Sidney Moncrief did both. 

    Winning Defensive Player of the Year out of the backcourt is no easy feat, but Moncrief earned that accolade in spite of middling steal and block numbers. He instead earned a point-preventing reputation by locking down a different star every night. He bodied up against bigger players while using his quickness to stay between faster ones and the basket. 

    That type of work should've significantly diminished his energy. Instead, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar chipped in plenty offensively, too. During the 19883-84 season, he was one of only eight qualified players to average at least 20 points and four assists, joining Mark Aguirre, Larry Bird, Alex English, Julius Erving, Marques Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Andrew Toney.

    All he was missing was a perimeter jumper.

    Had Moncrief been able to space out the floor and keep opponents from sagging off him in the half-court set, he would've been a lock for a top-10 finish in these rankings.  

11. Allen Iverson, 2000-01, Philadelphia 76ers: 365.79

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    William Sallaz/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 275.53

    Postseason TPA: 90.26

    Per-Game Stats: 31.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, MVP, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion

        

    Seeing Allen Iverson outside the top 10 might shock you, especially because he won MVP with the Philadelphia 76ers during the campaign in question. But the Hall of Famer has never been a favorite of retroactive and objective analyses. 

    Subjectively, Iverson may be under-ranked. We can't take into account the uniqueness of the system Philadelphia employed, which asked him to take so many low-percentage shots because his teammates weren't capable of doing much heavy lifting. Iverson somehow led these Sixers into the NBA Finals, where the loaded Los Angeles Lakers finally toppled them. 

    But we have to remain objective, and the numbers indicate Iverson wasn't efficient enough to justify his immense workload. This is impossible to prove without the luxury of a time machine, but Philadelphia might have been even more successful if it had distributed its possessions more advantageously. 

    It isn't like the metrics think Iverson was a terrible offensive player. He still finished in great shape with decisively positive numbers on the scoring end and above-average marks as a defender, in large part because of his league-leading steals figure. 

    The perception of his game is somewhat overstated, so his ranking just outside the top 10 should not be considered embarrassing.

10. Manu Ginobili, 2004-05, San Antonio Spurs: 406.49

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 284.34

    Postseason TPA: 122.15

    Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, NBA Champion

        

    Manu Ginobili was great during the 2004-05 season, but he was otherworldly throughout the playoffs. 

    Helping the San Antonio Spurs win one of their five championships, the Argentine 2-guard averaged 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks while shooting 50.7 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from downtown and 79.5 percent at the stripe. Those numbers should bruise your jaw from when it drops so far it hits the floor. 

    Take your pick of advanced metrics, and Ginobili was that much better than he was during the first 82 games of the year. 

    His player efficiency rating jumped from 22.3 to 24.8. His true shooting percentage swelled from 60.9 to 65.2. His win shares per 48 minutes rose from 0.24 to 0.26. His box plus-minus soared from 7.0 to 8.7, improving astronomically on the offensive end to more than mitigate a small defensive decline. 

    This is all in spite of facing stiffer competition and more intensity from the opposition.

    And yet, unlikely as this may seem, Ginobili still isn't even the top finisher at the position in his own franchise's history. 

9. Alvin Robertson, 1985-86, San Antonio Spurs: 406.86

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    Brian Drake/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 410.78

    Postseason TPA: minus-3.92

    Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 3.7 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Defensive Second Team, All-NBA Second Team

        

    Alvin Robertson's offensive work was praiseworthy during his sophomore season with the San Antonio Spurs, in spite of his limited shooting range. Constantly attacking the basket and probing for lanes from which he could pull up for a creative finish, he averaged an efficient 17 points per game while keeping his teammates involved and his turnovers in check. 

    But defense is how he truly stood out. 

    Though he inexplicably finished on the All-Defensive second team while Maurice Cheeks and Sidney Moncrief populated the first-team backcourt, Robertson won Defensive Player of the Year behind his tremendous thievery. Averaging 3.7 steals is such an impressive feat that no other qualified contributor in NBA history has ever topped the mark. 

    Diving deeper into the numbers produces similarly sterling showings. Robertson's steal percentage that year (4.8 percent) ranks behind only 1993-94 Nate McMillan (5.8) and 1977-78 Ron Lee (5.0) on the all-time leaderboard

    Roughly once every 20 or 21 possessions by the opposition, the Spurs could count on Robertson to swipe the ball away and lead a charge in the other direction. And that's a luxury that inspires envy from just about every team ever. 

8. Ray Allen, 2000-01, Milwaukee Bucks: 435.13

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 336.22

    Postseason TPA: 98.91

    Per-Game Stats: 22.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Third Team

    Ray Allen was by no means a three-point specialist during his early years. 

    As a 25-year-old for the Milwaukee Bucks, he excelled in so many different areas, whether he was setting up his running mates with on-target feeds or buckling down on the defensive end. He could thrive as a cutter with enough hops to finish in thunderous fashion around the hoop, and his 6'5" frame allowed him to switch onto plenty of different people defensively. 

    Oh, and he shot 43.3 percent from downtown while taking 5.7 attempts per game. Up to that point in NBA history, only Mitch Richmond had ever matched or exceeded both of those marks, and the Sacramento Kings guard did so with a shortened three-point arc in 1995-96. 

    As a shooter, Allen was in a class of his own, even during a portion of his career when he was so much more than a spot-up marksman. 

    Also aiding his score was the Bucks' competitiveness in 2000-01. Teaming up with Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson, Allen helped lead them past the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets before they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals. 

7. Fat Lever, 1987-88, Denver Nuggets: 444.8

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 410.4

    Postseason TPA: 34.4

    Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 2.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-Defensive Second Team

    Fat Lever's second-best season (1986-87) left him as an honorable mention among point guards. One year later, he qualified as a 2-guard and ascended to the position's upper echelon while again coming close to a year-long triple-double.

    Can we just accept that he's one of the most underrated players in league history?  

    The Denver Nuggets traded for Michael Adams before the start of the 1987-88 campaign, and he replaced T.R. Dunn in the starting lineup, thus pushing Lever to the backcourt's other primary role. The change worked perfectly for No. 12, allowing him to focus his efforts on all-around play while Adams' deadly jumper helped space the floor. 

    Lever remained a primary ball-handler, but replacing some three-point attempts with drives to the hoop played out rather nicely, allowing him to make his first All-Star squad and focus on shutting down the opposing backcourt's deadliest offensive player. While his own offense stagnated, he grew into a legitimate All-Defensive contributor by making the most of his remarkable athleticism. 

    And had the Nuggets been a more competitive squad, he may even have worked his way into the top half-dozen players in this set of rankings. He accumulated 34.4 TPA in just two rounds of the playoffs before Denver was eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks. 

6. Kobe Bryant, 2007-08, Los Angeles Lakers: 456.64

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    MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 343.28

    Postseason TPA: 113.36

    Per-Game Stats: 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, MVP, All-Defensive First Team, All-NBA First Team

        

    As was the case with Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant's shot-happy ways weren't rewarded quite as much as some might expect. The legendary Los Angeles Lakers 2-guard was phenomenal while winning MVP and thriving on both ends of the floor, but shooting splits of 45.9/36.1/84.0 weren't enough to propel him into the top five. 

    Those are by no means reprehensible numbers. Many players work their butts off to come close to them with so much less volume. But they also gave Bryant a true shooting percentage (57.6) that ranks No. 51 among the 131 qualified seasons in which a player scored at least 28 points per game. 

    Impressive? Yes. Otherworldly? Not exactly. 

    Don't take this as hating on Bryant. That's probably inevitable, but it shouldn't be, because what the indomitable Black Mamba did during both the regular season and playoffs deserves much praise. 

    He remains a surefire Hall of Famer who's among the 12 best players in the sport's lengthy history. But his all-time placement stems more from his ability to remain near the top for such a long time than one ridiculous peak that trumped all others at his position.

5. James Harden, 2014-15, Houston Rockets: 604.29

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 503.41

    Postseason TPA: 100.88

    Per-Game Stats: 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team

        

    James Harden's work as a point guard in 2016-17 was monumentally impressive, carrying him to the brink of an MVP and placing him No. 3 at the position in the modern era. He never submitted such a lofty score while playing the 2, but his work in 2014-15 wasn't far off. 

    Truthfully, only the name of his role was different. He still served as the Houston Rockets' primary ball-handler and hid on defense, relying on Patrick Beverley and the team's wing defenders to cover up for his porosity. 

    But why this season? Why not his 2015-16 campaign, in which he averaged more points, rebounds and assists? 

    Harden was more careful with the ball in 2014-15 while still asserting himself as an unquestioned superstar, and he shot the ball a bit more accurately from downtown. Couple that with a willingness to play (somewhat) quality on-ball defense before he got burned away from the primary action, and he graded out slightly higher. 

    Finally, Houston lost in the opening round to the Golden State Warriors two seasons ago; three seasons prior, it advanced to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the same foe. 

    But to be fair, both of his two pre-point guard seasons were phenomenal. While this one ranks No. 53 regardless of position, his work in 2015-16 checked in at No. 124. And that score still would've fallen behind only Kobe Bryant in this countdown. 

4. Clyde Drexler, 1991-92, Portland Trail Blazers: 606.05

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 470.94

    Postseason TPA: 135.11

    Per-Game Stats: 25.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team

        

    Throughout his career, Clyde Drexler showcased plenty of different skills. 

    He emerged as one of the greatest rebounding guards of his generation. He was able to complete drive-and-kick sets better than most point guards, and he never hesitated to pass up a good shot to find a better one for a teammate. He wasn't a defensive stalwart, but he could at least put up respectable showings on the less glamorous end. And, of course, he was an incredibly gifted scorer. 

    But he never put all the skills together at once quite like he did in 1991-92. 

    Let's start from the top and begin paring down. 

    Drexler averaged 25 points with a 56 percent true shooting percentage—a feat accomplished by 194 qualified players throughout NBA history. Factor in at least six rebounds and six assists per contest, and the list already dwindles to just 28 seasons from seven different players: Larry Bird, Drexler, James Harden, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. 

    We're not done. 

    Only Bird, James and Jordan did so while posting a defensive box plus-minus that at least matched Drexler's 1.7 in 1991-92. That company isn't too shabby.

3. Tracy McGrady, 2002-03, Orlando Magic: 608.93

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 555.81

    Postseason TPA: 53.12

    Per-Game Stats: 32.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion

        

    As Fran Blinebury wrote for NBA.com to celebrate Tracy McGrady's induction into the Hall of Fame, this high-scoring wing was one of the most talented players who's ever graced the hardwood:

    "T-Mac, at his peak, had more tools in his belt and more raw talent from which to draw than few who played the game. He was a walking highlight film—the resounding spike dunk over 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, the 62 points dropped on the heads of the Wizards. He scored 36 points in 27 minutes at the 2006 All-Star Game in Houston, yet wasn’t named MVP."

    The tools all came together in 2002-03 when McGrady led the league in scoring while putting up one of the greatest offensive seasons ever witnessed. 

    Players who drop a mind-numbing 32.1 points per game aren't supposed to dish out over five dimes each contest. Career 33.8 percent shooters from beyond the arc aren't supposed to be capable of knocking down their six attempts per game at a 38.6 percent clip. Players this involved offensively aren't supposed to turn the ball over just 2.6 times per contest or find a way to play passable defense. 

    McGrady did all those things. 

    This was easily the best campaign of his career, to the point that it's probably a significant outlier. And yet, it could've been even better if he'd avoided building up the list of postseason failures that's forever intertwined with his overall legacy. 

2. Dwyane Wade, 2008-09, Miami Heat: 644.18

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 610.86

    Postseason TPA: 33.32

    Per-Game Stats: 30.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.3 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-Defensive Second Team, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion

             

    Focusing on Dwyane Wade's offense would be too easy. 

    This was, after all, the season in which he led the league in scoring while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 76.5 percent from the stripe on a jarring 9.8 attempts per game. As if that weren't enough, he also posted 7.5 assists per contest to complete one of the greatest offensive performances in league history. 

    Instead, let's highlight the defense that earned him an All-Defensive second-team nod and allowed him to become the complete package out of the backcourt. 

    During these peak athletic years, Wade didn't just watch the primary action away from the ball, as he's done in recent seasons. He was an absolute terror in the half-court set, either locking down his assignment or straying away to record a block or steal. Opponents were forced to operate with fears that he'd come out of nowhere to impact the proceedings in a way that benefited the Miami Heat. 

    Wade may well be the greatest shot-blocking guard in NBA history, and he proved as much while averaging 1.3 rejections in 2008-09. Only 15 players racked up more swats per game, and they were all big men. 

    Add in the thievery—Chris Paul was the lone player averaging more steals (2.8)—and "Flash" rises even higher. Throughout the entire record book of the Association, Wade is one of just seven to post at least 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest. Joining him are Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Michael Jordan (twice), Hakeem Olajuwon (twice) and David Robinson. 

1. Michael Jordan, 1988-89, Chicago Bulls: 998.08

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    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Regular-Season TPA: 822.25

    Postseason TPA: 175.83

    Per-Game Stats: 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.9 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Awards: All-Star, All-Defensive First Team, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion

            

    I know; I know.

    You're shocked. No one could possibly have expected Michael Jordan to post a season greater than any other shooting guard in the modern era. This is just dumbfounding. 

    It gets better, though. This year from Jordan isn't just the top finisher among 2-guards but rather the record-holder at any position, edging Russell Westbrook's 2016-17 to rest atop the pile. Oh, and Jordan also had three more seasons within the overall top 10 as well as five more in the top 20. 

    But what made this one so special? Jordan didn't win MVP—that honor went to Magic Johnson, who narrowly beat the G.O.A.T. He didn't win a championship—falling to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    Despite the relative lack of accolades, he put up the most sensational numbers of his career, contributing across the board in a way that's almost unfathomable. He might not have averaged a triple-double, but he came remarkably close while leading the league in scoring and making the All-Defensive first team. 

    With the lone exception of three-point shooting, there was nothing he couldn't do while serving as the Chicago Bulls' unquestioned fulcrum. Scottie Pippen eventually grew into a superstar and ate into some of Jordan's individual production, but not at this point of their respective careers. 

                

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com.