Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and the 10 Greatest Shooting Guards of All Time
For a position that holds the names of some of the greatest players of all time, composing a list of ten of the greatest shooting guards proved to be difficult. Undoubtedly, there will be some left off the list that fans will find inexcusable. Let us kick off the list, then, with this:
Jerry West: In a previous piece, I chose to put "The Logo" as one of my top point guards of all time. West played in an era where you were simply a "guard," positions were not broken down into point and shooting guard until later. I knew this would inspire criticism no matter what guard position I chose to put "Mr. Clutch." Due to his build and high assist numbers, especially during his championship year, I chose to categorize him as a point guard.
Julius Erving: Dr. J could go as either a shooting guard or small forward. One of the most important players in NBA history, I chose to put the transcendent Erving as a small forward.
Bernard King: See above.
Earl Monroe: In the most difficult omission of the list, "Black Jesus" was beaten out by the slimmest of margins by the players who made the rank. Readers over 45 may want to have me bound and tortured. A relatively short career and an even shorter peak were determining factors.
10) Reggie Miller
The Essentials: Second all-time in three pointers made in a career; first all-time in three pointers made in the playoffs; played 80-plus games ten times; career averages of 18/3/3.
Reggie was one of the most popular players of his generation, and due to his playoff heroics, was one of the most fun to watch. His battles with the Knicks in the mid-90s were such the stuff of NBA lore ESPN made a documentary out of it. Still, Miller blew his best chance at a championship against those very Knicks, when the Pacers held a three to two game lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, and could not close it out.
His Pacers also could not close out a game seven against the Bulls, in one of the great heart-and-soul games no one talks about, as an aging Michael and Scottie simply would not allow the Bulls to lose to a younger, hungry Pacers’ squad. Indiana did finally make the Finals in 2000, but lost in an uninspiring six games to the Lakers.
9) Ray Allen
The Essentials: NBA Champion; first all-time in three pointers made; Career averages of 20/4/4.
Allen’s teams found little playoff success with him as their best player. They got close once or twice with the Bucks, but that’s it. However, Allen has been a great teammate and complementary starter with the Celtics. He sacrificed the end of his scoring peak for winning, and has had some huge games and clutch threes along the way.
Not noted as a great defender, Allen has played some of the best defense I have seen against Kobe Bryant. In both of their Finals match-ups, Kobe shot just 40 percent, five points below his career average.
8) George Gervin
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
The Essentials: Four-time scoring leader; one of six players ever to obtain three straight scoring titles; NBA MVP Runner-up; eighth all-time points per game.
It is difficult to place a man with a career scoring average of 26 points per game this low on the list. My defense:
Gervin never won a championship. That in itself is not damning, but he repeatedly came up empty in big moments, and his teams rarely found any playoff success. In his best chance to reach the Finals, his team blew a three to one game lead in the Conference Finals. In game seven, the Spurs blew a six-point lead in the final three minutes. "Ice" scored zero points and bricked his lone field goal attempt in those three minutes.
Ice played absolutely zero defense. He was a one-way player, whereas everyone ranked higher on this list was somewhere between competent and dominant defensively.
By all accounts Gervin was also a terrible teammate. He often skipped or was extremely late to practices without an excuse. He talked about himself in the third person, made excuses and blamed teammates.
The Iceman was one of the great and most innovative scorers of all time. His finger roll lives on as the stuff of legend today. At 6'8",185, we will probably never see another player like him. Still, there is no justification for putting a one-way player ahead of the men in front of him.
7) Sam Jones
The Essentials: 10-time NBA Champ; five-year playoff peak 25-3-5; career averages of 18-5.
Jones’ career really is one of the most difficult to define. Due to a combined six years of college and military service, plus four years of sitting behind a hall-of-famer, (Bill Sharman) Jones did not become a starter until he was 28-years-old. He certainly would not have had 10 rings in any era but the Celtics’ dynasty, but at the same time was an integral part of those teams, and they assuredly would have missed out on a couple without him (we will get to that later).
Jones may not have had the statistics of an all-time great, they certainly pale in comparison to Gervin, but a player like Jones can’t be measured in stats. He was the prototype for today’s shooting guards. An athletic and long-armed 6'4", Jones had no holes in his game. He was completely comfortable playing second fiddle to Bill Russell, and had no interest in being The Man.
Still, when it was time for a clutch basket at the end of the game, it was Jones the Celtics often went to. He had multiple game-winners at the buzzer and monster performances in decisive games. The highlights? Outscoring Oscar Robertson 47-43 of a game seven in 1963, 37 points in game seven against Philadelphia in ’65, a buzzer-beating jumper in game four of the ’69 Finals and the game-winning jumper with two seconds left in the seventh game of the ’62 Finals. That is a winner I would want to play with in any era.
6) Clyde Drexler
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
The Essentials: NBA Champion; NBA MVP runner-up; four-year playoff peak 25-7-6; career averages of 20-6-6.
With the exception of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, there may not be any two NBA players whose destinies were so entwined than Clyde “the Glide” Drexler and Michael Jordan. Starting in 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers passed on Michael because they believed they had the athletic scoring perimeter player they needed in Drexler. When they met in the Finals seven years later, the event was billed as “Clyde vs. Michael.”
Michael won easily, and Drexler’s confidence was never the same, as his scoring went down five, then six points per game the next two seasons. His shooting percentage dropped from 47 to 43 percent, and he never had another season averaging 25 points per game.
Drexler would have been better off being the number two to a superstar, like Scottie Pippen or James Worthy, and when that finally happened with the Rockets near the end of his peak, he won a title with Hakeem Olajuwon.
Even still, it was during Michael’s baseball sabbatical, and Drexler’s ring is not enough to escape Jordan’s shadow. Drexler was one of the greats, he just had the misfortune of playing in the same era and position as the Greatest of All Time.
5) Allen Iverson
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
The Essentials: NBA MVP; sixth all time career in points per game; four-time season scoring leader; three-time season steals leader; five seasons averaging more than 30 points per game.
Iverson’s career will become more and more difficult to define as the years pass, and he is the type of player history may forget. Arguably the most exciting player of his generation, he was a six-foot-tall shooting guard who played with a reckless abandon that saw him repeatedly slay the giants on his drives to the basket finishing over or around players a foot taller than him.
He played with a style that only worked if he was the best player on his team, and yet that is why he never won a championship. Even when he was traded to play with Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets, he could not make it work. Coach George Karl was thrilled to a get a "real point guard" when Iverson was swapped for Chauncey Billups. Still close to his prime (he averaged 25 and seven in his two seasons there) the Nuggets saw little playoff success in Iverson's two seasons.
"The Answer's" run with the 76ers to the 2001 NBA Finals was magnificent, but his team really did not stand a chance and the Lakers won four games to one in spite of Iverson averaging 35.6 points per game.
Critics will point to Iverson’s low field goal percentage as reason why he doest not belong with the all time greats. With the exception of his three point shooting (terrible, be he kept chucking them up anyway), this is a false criticism, as the low numbers were a result of his play. He would drive, get fouled and miss the shot, but knock down both free throws.
Still, if not with a player like Carmelo, who could have AI teamed up with for a championship? The only answer has to be a player like Kevin Garnett, an unselfish player that can get you points efficiently, and dominate defensively. Regardless of where he ranks historically, fans will miss AI.
4) Walt Frazier
Harry How/Getty Images
The Essentials: Two-time NBA Champ; first team all-defense seven times; career playoff averages of 20-6-7; career averages of 19-6-6.
He is one of the best defensive guards, and one of the best big-game players of all time. Frazier’s stats, while still impressive, don’t tell his whole story. He was a winner with a flare for the dramatic. He was a great rebounder, a terrific playmaker and just a great all-around player.
He holds one of the greatest games of all time to his credit when he went off for 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds and five steals in game seven of the NBA Finals to out clutch Mr. Clutch, Jerry West, and win the Championship. If LeBron James or another one of today's greats had such a performance in a Finals game seven, ESPN's collective heads may explode while gushing over him, and a 30 for 30 would be on its way before the end of the game.
3) Dwyane Wade
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The essentials: NBA Champion; Finals MVP; tenth career scoring points per game; averaged 37/8/4 in ’06 Finals; career averages of 25.5/6.5/5.
D-Wade’s ’06 Finals run was one of the greats. Granted there will always be (legitimate) griping about the officiating, game five in particular, but you play to the referee, and Wade simply dominated the series. He nearly did it again in the past Finals, averaging 26.5/5/7 as he was forced to carry the Heat in the last few games due to the mysterious disappearance of LeBron James. If he had pulled it off for a second time, we would be forced to talk about Wade as one of the greatest players of all time, regardless of position.
Wade’s 2009 season has to rank as one of the best all-around seasons in history. He is the only season scoring leader to finish in the top sixteen in assists, steals and blocks as well. Before LeBron came to town and messed everything up, (I do believe the two will really learn to play together, and when that happens watch out) Wade encompassed the perfect mix you want to see from a great player. He kept his teammates involved, but still knew when to dominate and win the game. If the Heat get their act together and win a slew of titles, Kobe vs. Wade will be one of the great NBA debating points for decades.
2) Kobe Bryant
Harry How/Getty Images
The Essentials: Five-time NBA Champion; MVP; two-time Finals MVP; first-team All-Defense; two-time scoring leader; sixth all-time leading scorer; second most points in one game (81).
If Michael Jordan is the perfect ten for a shooting guard, then Kobe is a 9.5. The pathological competitiveness is there. The labels from the cynics in Kobe/Jordan’s younger days (selfish, gunner, ball hog) were the same, and the style of play is shockingly similar. Kobe simply does everything nearly as well as Jordan did it.
The major differences? A Michael Jordan team never would have been blown out by 29 points in a decisive playoff game, let alone the decisive Finals game as Kobe’s Lakers were in 2008. Michael would have never gone six for 24 in a game seven, as Kobe did in the 2010 NBA Finals, relying on a Ron Artest three to seal the game.
Kobe is one of the great scorers in history and an amazing defender and competitor. He tries to have a flare for the moment, but comes up empty more often than Jordan, and at times disheartens his team whereas Jordan inspired them. In short, if Kobe retires with his current total of five rings, one behind Jordan, it will perfectly sum up his career. Damn near Jordan, but not quite.
1) Michael Jordan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Essentials: First all time points per game; third in total points; second in total steals; five NBA MVPs; first-team all defense nine times; Defensive Player of the Year, 1988.
Records: Most scoring titles (10); most consecutive scoring titles (seven); most Finals MVPs (6); highest point per game, Finals (41.0 in ’93); most playoff points; most points in a playoff game (63).
What is there to say about the Greatest of All Time that hasn’t already been said? His first “Jordan moment,” the jumper over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs. His first Championship, a victory over a Magic Johnson-led Lakers squad. The Flu Game.
The most telling, and when people really started to realize the implications of Jordan’s greatness, were the 1992 Finals. Drexler averaged 25/7/7 for the regular season and the playoffs. The thinking was if Drexler could cancel out Jordan, the Blazers had a deeper team and could knock off the defending champs.
In Game One Jordan scored 35 points in the first half and set the playoff record for threes in a half. Game over. Series over. Any question as to who was the best player in the league? Yeah, that was over, too.