A shooting guard’s primary assignment is to score and score often. Since they also occupy so much of a defense’s attention, possessing the ability to make plays for others is also worthwhile.
This list does not take into account a player’s future prospects, or past salad days. The criterion is simple—which NBA shooting guard is best suited to being an integral part of a championship team this year?
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, Brandon Roy is listed as a small forward, while Allen Iverson 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 NBA competition to know where they should be ranked.
Now, the list:
1) Kobe Bryant—Los Angeles Lakers
With his newfound attitude adjustment augmenting his considerable talents, not only is Kobe Bryant the best shooting guard, he’s the best player in the NBA.
Kobe possesses so much raw skill that he can simply will the Lakers to victories against overmatched opponents, and his creativity and pure desire can trump even the staunchest of defenses. He has a fantastic jump shot, range extending well beyond the three-point line, an advanced post-up game, terrific handles, and superb passing skills. And in the end game, he’s one of the finest perimeter defenders in the league.
Kobe has his flaws, but they’re minor compared to his shooting-guard brethren. While Kobe is a prodigious scorer and terrific playmaker, he still has trouble taking games over by both scoring and making plays, usually settling for one or the other. Also, Kobe doesn’t have otherworldly court vision, and ends up driving into help defenders without seeing open men—a factor the plays into his inability to dominate by both scoring and playmaking.
Defensively, Kobe has trouble navigating through screens, and takes too many plays off over the first three quarters. These characteristics serve to register Kobe as a basketball mortal, distancing him from gods such as Michael Jordan.
Still, in present-day NBA Olympus, the hierarchy starts with Kobe and works its way down—at least until LeBron develops a jump shot.
2) Dwyane Wade—Miami Heat
Wade combines tremendous explosion and physical strength with sheer heart, making him one of the most unstoppable players in the NBA. Not only is he strong enough to be a great scorer, but his toughness allows him to be a very physical defender, and a terrific rebounder for his size and position.
Injuries have held him out of the limelight the last few seasons—but make no mistake about it, Wade is a championship-level performer.
3) Manu Ginobili—San Antonio Spurs
Talented and clutch, Ginobili always comes up with key plays to spur San Antonio to victory, whether it be hitting a game-winning jumper, coming up with a key defensive stop, or grabbing an instrumental rebound. He’s a smart defender, an exceptional shooter, and a clever finisher at the rim.
Like Bryant and Wade above him, Ginobili brings his best in the biggest moments, a reason—why he has both a Gold Medal and NBA championship rings in his collection.
4) Tracy McGrady—Houston Rockets
McGrady’s a supreme scorer and playmaker—after he takes five seconds to survey the court before making a decision. He avoids contact, settles for too many jumpers, and gives defenses too much time to anticipate and react to his offensive moves.
T-Mac settles defensively by playing defense with his hands instead of his feet, and settles in critical moments for too-quick jumpers instead of attacking and getting to the rim.
Possibly more physically gifted than Wade, and probably more than Ginobili, McGrady will nevertheless have to settle for fourth on the list.
5) Joe Johnson—Atlanta Hawks
A dynamic playmaker who rebounds and defends a bit, Johnson consistently lights up scoreboards. He’s capable of creating his own shot against any defender, and is an exceptional catch-and-shoot player as well. With a better supporting cast, Johnson would explode offensively.
6) Ray Allen—Boston Celtics
Allen’s always been one of the premier shooters in the NBA, and his defensive performance against Kobe Bryant in last year’s Finals showed that he’ll find it within himself to be a lockdown defender if asked.
Unlike one-dimensional shooters, Allen is capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, and will box out bigger, stronger players for rebounds. Father Time is sapping away his athleticism, but Allen is still one of the most clutch shooters in the game.
7) Rip Hamilton—Detroit Pistons
Hamilton excels cutting and curling around baseline screens to unleash an automatic midrange jumper. Though it isn’t the best aspect of his game, Hamilton can also create his own shot, and at 6'7", is a long, talented defender.
Hamilton may only be the seventh-best shooting guard, but he’s the best off-the-ball player in the game.
8) Gilbert Arenas—Washington Wizards
For sure, Arenas’ hot shooting hand can steal wins out of certain losses, but his need to shoot derails any semblance of offensive harmony Eddie Jordan tries to establish. How many times will Arenas abandon the Princeton offense to fire away a jumper early in the shot clock?
Arenas can’t defend, he won’t play off the ball, and the only offense that can be built around him is an isolation offense where Arenas has the ball all the time and his teammates stand around watching. His love of the spotlight makes him one of the more exciting individual players in the game, but forces the teams he plays for to play stale, uninspired basketball.
9) Jason Richardson—Charlotte Bobcats
A strong, athletic scorer with range, J-Rich excels in the open court, where he’s fast enough to get to outrace opponents to the hoop, and physical enough to create space and finish when he gets there.
His defense is suspect, his handle is subpar, and his passing game is only average, but he’s one of the more prolific scorers in the game.
10) Kevin Martin—Sacramento Kings
Martin’s quick first step, accurate jumper, long wingspan, and left-handed nature make him a tricky cover for any defender. Rail-thin, Martin’s greatest flaw is a lack of strength, which prevents him from being a good defender or finisher. If he fills out, his game, and his spot on the list, should improve.
11) Mike Dunleavy—Indiana Pacers
After four-and-a-half middling years in Golden State, the switch flipped for Dunleavy last season. Always athletic, Dunleavy’s court vision radically improved, allowing him to make better decisions and be a more confident, versatile scorer.
Instead of being a mere athlete, Dunleavy is now a legit playmaker. While his rebounding is adequate, improving his defense is the next step for Dunleavy to grow.
12) Kevin Durant—Oklahoma City Thunder
An explosive phenom with a limitless ceiling, Durant is an elite athlete, with explosive speed, athleticism, and leaping ability. The form on his jump shot is flawless, and he’s generally unselfish on the court.
However, Durant is incredibly frail, rendering him a weak rebounder and a terrible finisher in traffic. His lack of experience often leaves him overwhelmed on the court—and overmatched on the defensive end.
Still, Durant improved steadily as the 2007-08 season progressed, and is no doubt destined for stardom. As he fills out his body and fills up his brain, he’ll evolve from being an unselfish jump shooter into a dynamic wing.
13) Stephen Jackson—Golden State Warriors
Jackson is a talented two-way player who takes too many plays off to be great at either end. On offense, he prefers to hold the ball and isolate, before unleashing tough contested jumpers. On defense, he goes through the motions on too many possessions to be a truly great wing defender.
Fans, teammates, and opponents only get glimpses of what Jackson could be, while instead witnessing the respectable, but unremarkable player he currently is.
14) Mike Miller—Minnesota Timberwolves
An exceptional shooter, and an efficient scorer, Miller also rebounds as well as—or better than—nearly any NBA guard. He’s not athletic enough to be a good defender, or a prolific point producer, but he’ll provide more efficient point totals than many of the high-volume scorers below him on the list.
15) Vince Carter—New Jersey Nets
In the past, Carter could get away with being soft, defenseless, and choke-filled, because he was simply so much more athletic than any opponent. But he current incarnation of Vinsanity no longer can blow by people at will, allowing defenses to bump and bang him off his hoopward forays.
Carter is all sizzle, no steak—a reason why the teams he plays for perennially underachieve.
16) Michael Redd—Milwaukee Bucks
Redd is a quick-triggered three-point marksman who sometimes can snake his left hand along the baseline against novice defenders. Redd doesn’t provide any skill other than shooting, and is often a liability since he jacks up too many ill-advised shots, and can’t defend at all.
17) Jamal Crawford—New York Knicks
Wildly talented, Crawford’s still too reckless to put it all together and reach his full potential. He’s too soft to be an efficient scorer, and often leaves himself out of position defensively by gambling for steals. Until his unkempt ways are tidied up, Crawford will always be too erratic to be consistently relied upon.
18) Jason Terry—Dallas Mavericks
A combo-guard forced over to shooting guard with Jason Kidd on board, Terry’s as quick as a jet, and lethal when driving and pulling to his right. He’s a decent passer, and a bulls-eye shooter—except in the clutch.
Unfortunately, he’s defenseless, faulty under pressure, undersized, and worthless when his shooting hand isn’t running hot.
19) Larry Hughes—Chicago Bulls
Hughes can slash and burn offensively, but his best aspects are his long wingspan and his quick hands, which allow him to play quality perimeter defense both on and off the ball. Hughes’ poor jumper, shot selection, and tendency to disappear if things aren’t going his way keep prevent him from being a special player.
20) Raja Bell—Phoenix Suns
A good defender who can plug the occasional three, Bell’s shooting range on offense and his physical strength on defense give him a leg up on other defenders like Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans, and Anthony Parker.
21) Ben Gordon—Chicago Bulls
A person who can’t understand his own limitations, Gordon’s public contract negotations, playing-time griping, and his tuning out of Scott Skiles ruined the Bulls’ season last year. He’s always had an explosive jumper, but he’s a poor passer, a puny rebounder, a horrible finisher, totally defenseless, selfish, and unable to come to grips that he’s a sixth man in a starter’s body, not a franchise carrier.
If he reverts to his 2006-07 form of sharing the ball and giving maximum effort, he’d be a better player, his teams would be better, and he’d be a few spots higher on the list.
22) Ronnie Brewer—Utah Jazz
A long defender with exceptional leaping ability, Brewer is a talented individual defender who can also alter shots with his incredible wingspan. On offense, he’s an astute backcutter who finds himself on the receiving end of many Deron Williams’ lob passes.
If he was more physical defensively, or if he had any offensive skill to hang his hat on, he’d be higher up on the list.
23) J.R. Smith—Denver Nuggets
Volatile and explosive are two adjectives that describe Smith’s ability to change the outcome of games offensively. His range is limitless, his energy is boundless, and if he doesn’t always make a correct decision, he’ll always make a big decision.
Most importantly, Smith is much more mature and coachable now, after spending his entire early career being a punk and a malcontent. If any solace can be taken out of last offseason’s tragic automobile accident which took the life of his friend, it’s that Smith now seems to know that actions have consequences—a fact that has made him a better basketball player, if not also a better person.
Consistency is a major issue with Smith—as is discipline, attention to detail, and playing acceptable defense. Unlike in the past, the new Smith might be committed to correcting his mistakes.
24) Leandro Barbosa—Phoenix Suns
A Brazilian blur, Barbosa is an excellent shooter who possesses awesome speed, quickness, and agility. However, Barbosa has no clue how to run an offense, and is too reckless and impulsive against good halfcourt defenses, not knowing that playing the game smarter is better than playing the game faster.
He’s proven himself incapable of being a point guard, and is actually an undersized, streak-shooting two-guard.
25) Morris Peterson—New Orleans Hornets
While he’s a capable shooter and scorer, Peterson’s primary role in New Orleans is to be a perimeter defender, a task he fills admirably. He’s tough, he’s steady, and he’s solid—but he’s getting older, and doesn’t have too many miles left before he’s permanently left in the garage.
26) Anthony Parker—Toronto Raptors
Not particularly quick, not particularly strong, Parker is the only player on the Raptors willing to mix it up with the opposition, and he’s also very accurate from deep. However, his lack of athleticism renders him a limited offensive player, and an unremarkable defender.
27) Keith Bogans—Orlando Magic
Very strong physically, Bogans can successfully defend any player he can catch up to. However, the most explosive guards and forwards give him trouble, and he doesn’t do enough offensively to make up for it.
28) Nate Robinson—New York Knicks
A shooting guard in a point guard’s body, Robinson’s athleticism is off-the-charts. He may have the highest vertical in the NBA, is a strong finisher, an explosive shooter, and a gifted playmaker.
However, Robinson still has trouble running an offense, and too often fails when trying to make a spectacular play when a simple one would suffice. He’s also reckless, stubborn, and mistake-prone. Plus, at 5'8", Robinson will always be a severe defensive liability.
29) Rashard McCants—Minnesota Timberwolves
McCants is quick, both with his feet and his temper—a limiting factor in his growth as a player. He’s still struggling to understand the importance of defense, the importance of good shot selection, and the importance of providing something to the court other than scoring. As little more than a 6'4" scorer, there are better options out there.
30) Cuttino Mobley—Los Angeles Clippers
Mobley can defend, shoot the three, and even post up, but age is starting to wear away at his game. Gone are the days when his quickness earned him the nickname Cat Mobley, and both his ability to create off the dribble and his ability to defend quicker players have eroded.
In the future, he’ll be replaced in the Clippers lineup, and this list, by Eric Gordon.