How Far Has Kobe Bryant Climbed?: The Top 10 Shooting Guards Ever

Jay KingCorrespondent IJune 12, 2009

ATLANTA - FEBRUARY 9:  Michael Jordan (Washington Wizards) #23 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars talks with Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) #8 of the Western Conference All-Stars at the 2003 NBA All-Star Game on February 9, 2003 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images license agreement. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

As part of Celtics Town’s running series of the top NBA players in history, I am writing a list of the top 10 shooting guards of all time.

I think the top shooting guard should be pretty obvious (hint: it isn’t Sasha Vujacic), but the rest was very interesting to research and fill in. After the top three, there is a noticeable drop-off in talent, but even the guys at the end of the list and on the honorable mention list were great players.

Without further ado, check out Celtics Town’s top 10 shooting guards.

Honorable Mention

Reggie Miller, Pete Maravich, Earl Monroe, David Thompson, Dwyane Wade, Bill Sharman, Dave Bing, Dennis Johnson

The toughest guys to leave off were Miller, Pistol Pete, Monroe, and Thompson.

I left Miller off because he never won a championship and his statistics are not enough to otherwise merit inclusion.

Pistol Pete had great stats but was never known as a winner—dating all the way back to college—and his legend was greater than his performance.

Monroe was a good player, but his legend as “Earl the Pearl” exceeded his career accomplishments.

Thompson was brilliant during his time in the league, but drug problems limited his longevity.

Lastly, I fully expect Wade to crack this list someday. As long as he continues his current play and doesn’t get hurt, he will soon be among the top 10 shooting guards of all time.

10. Joe Dumars (1985-1999)

I was originally going to include Reggie Miller in this spot, but Reggie’s slight advantage in individual statistics was not enough to overcome Dumars’ winning pedigree.

One of the toughest shooting guards ever, Dumars was a defensive specialist capable of shutting down elite scorers. On the other side of the court, Dumars was a solid, dependable scorer and one of the Pistons’ leading scorers his whole career, topping out at a career-high 23.5 points per game in 1992-1993.

Dumars not only has more All-Star Game appearances than Miller, but he also has more championships and more All-Defensive teams, not to mention the 1989 Finals MVP.

Stats: 16.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists

Awards: Six All-Star Appearances, 1989 Finals MVP, five All-Defensive Teams, one All-NBA Second Team, two All-NBA Third Teams

9. Sam Jones (1957-1969)

A lot of you readers may shrug your shoulders and ask, “Why Sam Jones?” 

Well, I’ll tell you why.

First, he won more championships—nine—than any other player on this list. Now, you might say, “Yeah, but he rode Bill Russell’s coattails to all those championships.”

Well, I’m not going to argue that playing with Russell had a little something to do with the number of championships Jones won, but I will tell you that Jones played a big part of those championships, too.

During the last four championships, Jones led the Celtics in scoring every year, including a career-high 25.9 points in 1964-1965 (and for a team that prided itself on offensive balance, 25.9 points was a huge average). Those years, Jones was beating out John Havlicek, Tom Heinsohn, Bob Cousy, and Russell to lead the Celtics in scoring.

So keep saying Jones rode Russell to nine championships. I’ll say Jones is the most overlooked NBA star of all time.

Stats: 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists

Awards: Five All-Star appearances, three All-NBA Second Teams, nine championships

8. Hal Greer (1958-1973)

When I sat down to research for this feature, never in a million years did I envision including Hal Greer on my list. Hell, I barely even knew who he was.

When you look at his career, though, you really can’t leave him off. 

Greer was consistently good, appearing in 10 straight All-Star games and scoring at least 20 points per game in seven straight seasons. He was the second-leading scorer (to some guy named Wilt Chamberlain) on maybe the best team ever, the 1966-1967 Philadelphia 76ers that romped their way to a 44-4 start on their way to a 68-13 season and the NBA championship.

With that résumé, it’s hard to grasp why I had never heard more about Greer. He is truly one of the NBA’s forgotten stars.

Stats: 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists

Awards: 10 All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA Second Teams, 1968 All-Star Game MVP

7. Ray Allen (1996-present)

Ray Allen has been a tremendously productive player throughout his NBA career, consistently being one of the league’s greatest shooters. Allen has been the best player on bad teams, the best player on good teams, and now he is a supporting player on a championship contender.

Through all his different roles, Allen has been able to adapt to his team’s needs. In Milwaukee, where Allen was surrounded by many capable scorers, he consistently averaged around 22 points per game.

In Seattle, where Allen was needed to be a go-to scorer, he raised his play, averaging a career-high 26.4 points in 2006-2007. Now, with Boston, Allen has had to once again adjust, this time to become more of a role player. He’s done just that, while occasionally showing the ability to explode for huge numbers.

Allen is one of the smoothest players ever to play basketball, a guy who operates in an incredibly calm manner at all times. Setting him apart from other players, he won a championship ring and has long been one of the league’s top shooting guards.

Stats: 20.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists

Awards: Nine All-Star appearances, one All-NBA Second Team, one All-NBA Third Team

6. Allen Iverson (1996-present)

Because Iverson’s reputation has taken a hit lately with his inferior play for the Nuggets and Pistons, people forget how dominant AI was during his prime. I’ve even read stories claiming that Iverson’s 76ers teams would have been better if he hadn’t been on them.

Well, that’s the biggest bulls@#* I’ve heard in a long time.

Not only would those teams have gone nowhere without Iverson (their second-best player was probably Aaron McKie!), Iverson also carried one of those teams all the way to the finals. In that year, 2001, Iverson was unbelievable.

He put the Sixers on his back and almost singlehandedly took a bunch of role players to the NBA Finals (where they lost to the Lakers), earning an MVP trophy for his efforts. 

While his recent play has been poor, there is no denying that Iverson, in his prime, was one of the best players in the NBA.

Iverson is widely known for his “We're talking about practice” tirade, but he is a guy who worked his tail off every time he stepped on the court. He is a great warrior, a competitor with a lion’s heart in his miniature (at least by NBA standards) body.

Stats: 27.1 points, 6.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds

Awards: 2001 MVP, 10-time All-Star, 1997 Rookie of the Year, three All-NBA First Teams, three All-NBA Second Teams, one All-NBA Third Team, two All-Star Game MVPs

5. Clyde Drexler (1983-1998)

I had to pick Clyde Drexler over Iverson because of the one stat that matters most: championships. While Allen never won one, Drexler got his, winning in 1995 with the Houston Rockets.

One of the NBA’s best finishers, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler had the bad luck of playing in an era dominated by another shooting guard, a guy named Michael Jordan.

Drexler was a multi-dimensional player, someone who could fill up the stat sheet in a number of ways, averaging 7.9 rebounds one year and 8.0 assists another. He was super-quick off the dribble and was a tremendous finisher on the fast break due to his long strides and quick feet. 

If not for the presence of Jordan, Drexler would have been considered his era’s top shooting guard, and he caused fits to defenders trying to guard him.

His play was smooth and seemingly effortless, which along with playing in an NBA that featured Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Jordan is why he didn’t get as much credit for all his on-court production.

Stats: 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists

Awards: 10 All-Star appearances, one All-NBA First Team, two All-NBA Second Teams, two All-NBA Third Teams

4. George Gervin (1972-1986)

George “The Iceman” Gervin is best known for his swooping finger roll finishes, but what is sometimes lost amongst the finger rolls is just how good he was.

Gervin was a prolific scorer throughout his 10 seasons in the NBA and his four in the ABA. During his two best seasons, 1979-1980 and 1981-1982, he averaged 33.1 points and 32.3 points, respectively.

He could always put the ball in the hole, and his best years came while he was playing in the NBA. In fact, only Chamberlain and Jordan have won more NBA scoring titles than Gervin’s four.

One of Gervin’s scoring titles is an amazing story: Early on the last day of the season, David Thompson scored 73 points, and Gervin entered his game knowing he needed at least 58 points to win the scoring title. Well, he did just that, dropping 63 points and cementing his legacy as one of the NBA’s top scorers ever.

A little-known fact about the Iceman is that he actually played a year in Chicago with Jordan. However, Jordan only played in 17 games that year due to a broken foot. Just imagine what a fearsome tandem that would have been.

Stats (ABA and NBA): 25.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists

Stats (NBA): 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists

Awards: 12 All-Star appearances, five All-NBA First Teams, one All-NBA Second Team, two All-NBA Second Teams, 1980 All-Star Game MVP

3. Jerry West (1960-1974)

The No. 2 all-time shooting guard was the toughest decision I had to make. It was either Kobe Bryant or the man I ended up leaving No. 3, Jerry West. Though I didn’t end up putting West in front of Bryant, “The Logo” had a hell of a career.

Known for stepping up his game in the playoffs, West averaged more than 40 points for the 1965 postseason. That’s right—not just a game or a series, but the whole postseason.

Additionally, West was a great passer. Everyone knows about his ability to score the basketball, but few basketball fans realize how good a passer he was, averaging 9.7 assists per game during the 1971-1972 season.

He had a knack for making a huge play when his team needed it, earning him the nickname “Mr. Clutch.” What basketball fan doesn’t know about his incredible, game-winning, half-court buzzer-beater to win Game Three of the 1970 NBA Finals by a single point?

West’s stats are actually better than Bryant’s, except for the one that truly matters—championships. West won just a single title during his NBA career; granted, he played mostly during the Russell era, when the Celtics won nearly every title, but because the race was so close with Bryant, I had to hold his lack of championships against him. 

Nevertheless, West was certainly one of the top three shooting guards of all time and a true legend in every sense of the word. Ironically, he made the trade for the Lakers to acquire the man who has surpassed him, in my eyes, for the No. 2 spot.

Stats: 27.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.8 rebounds

Awards: 14 All-Star appearances, 10 All-NBA First Teams, two All-NBA Second Teams, five All-NBA Defensive Teams, 1969 Finals MVP (from the losing team!), 1972 All-Star Game MVP

2. Kobe Bryant (1996-present)

I have to admit, when I first did the rankings I had Kobe in third place behind West. After doing all the research, though, I decided that Kobe had to be second, just barely beating out West. The reasons?

Well, there are two huge reasons why Kobe gets the better of West. First, while their stats are very similar, Kobe has won three championships to West’s one. While winning might not be everything in determining a player’s greatness, when the race is so close it certainly has to be considered.

Also, Kobe has won an MVP trophy. While the MVP may not always tell who’s the best player in the NBA (Dirk Nowitzki comes to mind when thinking of an overrated MVP), it is a good indication of how dominant a player is.

Kobe has been considered the best player in the league, or at least one of the top two or three, for a 10-year span. He has been consistently great and is currently the most feared crunch-time assassin in the league.

Stats: 25.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists

Awards: 2008 MVP, 11 All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA First Teams, two All-NBA Second Teams, two All-NBA Third Teams, nine All-Defensive Teams, three All-Star Game MVPs

1. Michael Jordan (1984-1993, 1994-1998, 2001-2003)

This is as easy a choice as there is—it would be hard to find anyone to argue with me for picking Michael Jordan as the best shooting guard of all-time. Jordan completely transformed the game of basketball, starting the trend of super-athletic, multidimensional wingmen.

“His Airness” had the ability to singlehandedly take over a game at both ends of the floor and had an unbelievable killer instinct. An absolutely fierce competitor, Jordan scored a ton of points early in his career, but he didn’t start winning championships until he learned to share the ball and pick and choose when he should dominate individually.

There’s not much I have to say about Jordan, other than that I don’t think there is any debate that he is the best shooting guard ever, and he’s widely regarded as the best player, too.

Stats: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists

Awards: five MVPs, 1988 Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All-Star Game MVP, 14 All-Star appearances, 1985 Rookie of the Year, 10-time All-NBA First Team, one-time All-NBA second Team, six Finals MVPs

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