If there's one type of player that fans love in pro basketball, it's a guard who can score 20-plus points a game. Be it driving to the basket for a layup or nailing a deep three-pointer, it is definitely guards that win the popularity contest on most NBA teams. This year's free agency class has a bevy of guards available, including Atlanta Hawks sixth man Jamal Crawford.
By this time next year, some of the top shooters in the NBA will have changed teams. In other cases, some will have stayed right where they are. Either way, it should make for a good offseason.
Even more interesting, some of these guards changing teams will improve a team's offense overnight. That being said, let's cut to the chase.
Here are the top 10 guards who will be on the market this summer along with the teams for which they might end up playing.
If you looked up the term "shooting guard" in the dictionary, you would probably find Michael Redd's picture. Throughout his career, he has been a pure, no-nonsense shooter. For his career, he has averaged 20.1 points over 10 seasons.
However, Redd has a giant red flag against him. For the past two seasons, he has battled severe knee injuries and didn't play in his first game of this season until a week ago. That being said, the odds of him having a contract for next season are very slim.
On top of his injury problems, Redd is not a particularly good athlete. Besides being able to score points, there isn't much more to his game. His defense is practically nonexistent and with his injury history, chances are that won't change any time soon.
At this point, my guess is that the best that Redd can hope for is a one-year contract as a bench player. He has a great outside shot and can score in double figures when healthy, but hasn't played a full season since 2005. Ultimately, wherever he ends up, Redd will be bought low on the market and probably will be one of the last ones to sign.
Potential suitors: Bucks, Suns
It seems that in each of his five years in the NBA, C.J. Miles has improved his game. He has only averaged 8.3 points a game for his career, but 2010 has been his breakout season, averaging 13.2 points and 25.3 minutes per game, both career highs. Over the past two months, he has averaged 14.2 points and has shown that he can crash the boards and grab a rebound when necessary as well.
Miles has good guard size at 6'6" and 232 pounds, but has spent a majority of his career playing small forward. Given his constantly improving shooting touch, however, I wouldn't be surprised to see him see some more time at the 2-guard position. He has already started in place of Raja Bell multiple times this season, so it may be time to give him a job in the starting lineup for good.
Given the money Utah will have available with Deron Williams out of the picture and Andrei Kirilenko's contract coming off of the books, don't be surprised to see Miles stay right where he is.
Potential suitors: Jazz, Hawks
Since being traded to the Denver Nuggets from the Detroit Pistons in 2009, Arron Afflalo has slowly but surely returned to the form we saw during his college days at UCLA. This season, despite subtle numbers, has been his breakout.
Afflalo has started each of the 68 games in which he has played and has put up great numbers to boot. He is only averaging 12.6 points per game, but his field goal percentage is an impeccable 49 percent. From downtown, he is averaging a very impressive 42 percent.
His shot selection is intelligent as evidenced by his field goal percentage and he is a player who comes to work not just to play, but to learn. This is the personality that coaches dream of.
With Carmelo Anthony in a new uniform and the Nuggets experiencing a rebirth with the new blood, I'd expect Afflalo to stay in Denver. He is a restricted free agent, so the Nuggets just need to match any other team's offer to retain his services. He will test the market, so don't expect him to make it easy for the Nuggets to keep him.
Potential suitors: Nuggets, Magic
At the end of this season, J.R. Smith will have played five seasons with the Denver Nuggets. He has never been a full-time starter, but has averaged 13.6 points per game in Denver as he has established himself as a dangerous sixth man.
Basically, Smith can do it all. He can shoot from long range, draw fouls and drive to the basket to throw down a dunk with authority. Sadly, with all the new talent the Nuggets have, Smith has gotten stuck in the background and thus will more than likely find a new team.
Overall, Smith is a shooter off the bench who plays minimal defense. Chances are, he will sign on with a team that needs help in the offense department coming off the bench. It may be too soon to call at this point, but my guess is that he'll go to a team with a run-and-gun approach.
Potential suitors: Suns, Bobcats, Knicks
All in all, this season has been a roller coaster for Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey. He and his teammates have clashed with head coach John Kuester all season, and he was benched during last night's game against the Boston Celtics for "disciplinary reasons." Given how this was the third time this has happened this season, plus Kuester's constant lineup shuffles and the team in the middle of an ownership change, I'm starting to think that Stuckey isn't the head case many of us think him to be.
As this season has basically been miserable for him, I'm going to put my money on Stuckey leaving the Motor City. He is a restricted free agent so the Pistons could technically hold onto him, but the future of the team's ownership plus his reputation with the coaching staff makes it certain that team management will let him walk.
Stuckey is more of a scoring point guard, averaging 14.7 points this season but only 4.8 assists. Yet, teams will welcome this as his 6'5", 205-pound frame gives him a physical advantage when driving to the basket against defenders. Look for him to end up on a team in the market for a point man who passes the ball, but can also take control of the game on both offense and defense.
Potential suitors: Rockets, Blazers, Timberwolves
During the first half of this season, Marcus Thornton was stuck on the bench on a New Orleans Hornets squad that was clogged at shooting guard. In a platoon role shared with Marco Belinelli and Willie Green, he only averaged 7.8 points in 16.2 minutes. He was declared the odd man out at the trading deadline and was shipped to the Sacramento Kings for Carl Landry. Since then, his free-agent stock has skyrocketed.
In 20 games with the Kings, Thornton has averaged 21.8 points per game with an impressive field goal percentage of 46 percent. He is a restricted free agent and is sure to receive many offers, but at the same time I wouldn't be surprised to see teams back off him out of fear that his second half stats are a fluke. That being said, it might be easier than one may think for the Kings to retain his services in spite of the team's uncertain future.
Yet, given how well Thornton plays in coach Paul Westphal's system, I don't see him leaving his new squad. He seems to really enjoy playing for them, and thus will consider a long-term stay.
Potential suitors: Kings/Future Anaheim team, Hawks, Jazz
Last season, Aaron Brooks had a breakout year for the Houston Rockets. He started all 82 games and averaged 19.6 points per game along with 5.3 assists. Yet, this season, Brooks regressed as he only averaged 11.6 points and played most of his minutes coming off the bench before being traded to the Phoenix Suns.
Brooks has not fared much better with the Suns in a backup role, averaging only 9.8 points while Steve Nash rests on the bench. He will be a restricted free agent and given his lack of production in Phoenix, I would not be surprised if the Suns let him go.
The upside for Brooks is that he is only 26, so the chances of him improving are great. He has the tools to be a great point guard. All he has to do is find the right team.
At this point, look for him to land a two-year contract with a team in the hunt for a point guard that can run an offense, but also provide effective scoring.
Potential suitors: Heat, Pistons, Mavericks
For most of his career, Jason Richardson has been a fine shooting guard. In a 10-year tenure in the NBA, he has averaged 18 points a game while shooting an average 37 percent from long range. On top of that, he uses his 6'6", 225-pound size to play effective defense when needed as well as drive hard to the basket.
Richardson started this season with the Phoenix Suns and averaged 19.3 points per game over 25 games, but was then traded to Orlando in the move that brought Vince Carter to Phoenix. He has only averaged 14 points per game since the trade, but has still been enough of a spark plug on offense that he should have plenty of suitors come the offseason.
The only factor working against Richardson could be age. He turned 30 this season and is not athletic enough to warrant a long-term deal worth a lot of money, yet would be valuable to any team in the hunt for someone who is not just a good shooter, but also a positive locker room presence. Regardless, he will find a job next year.
Potential suitors: Hawks, Pistons
Last season, Jamal Crawford averaged 18 points a game with a 45 percent field goal percentage, shooting 38 percent from downtown. Overall, I'd say those are amazing numbers. Why? Well, because he played in 79 games and didn't start one of them.
Those numbers were enough for Crawford to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, as his clutch baskets were integral in the Hawks' making the playoffs. The team was swept in the Conference Semifinals by Orlando, but there's no denying that they would not have gotten that far without Crawford.
The 6'5" guard's stats have slightly dropped this year, as he has only averaged 14.1 points, but there is still no denying that Crawford is a valuable asset to have coming off the bench. He is a one-tool player who is only good for offense, but he reads defenses well and never hesitates to put the team on his back when it's crunch time. Long story short, Crawford is the type of player who can change a game in a heartbeat.
He'll definitely find a job next year, most likely on a team that needs help in bench scoring.
Potential suitors: Suns, Nets
All in all, 2011 has been a good year for Ray Allen. He has helped the Boston Celtics clinch a playoff spot once again, and chances are the team will go far in the postseason.
On February 10, he surpassed Reggie Miller and became the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers made.
This offseason, Allen will turn 36. That's an age at which most NBA players start slowing down and aren't as effective. Such is not the case with this man.
This season alone, Allen has averaged a modest 16.8 points. Yet, he has shot 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from downtown. For a man of his age, that's simply incredible.
Allen has a player option for next season, but I wouldn't be surprised if he opted to test the market. In reality, I don't see him ending up anywhere else. He loves playing in Boston and is the silent and fearless leader of that team's "Big Three."
Regardless of what happens with the Celtics in the playoffs or the offseason, Allen and his career average of 20.3 points per game are sure to be in high demand.
Potential suitors: Celtics, unlikely retirement