Ranking the Greatest NBA Shooting Guards Since 2000

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJune 24, 2019

Ranking the Greatest NBA Shooting Guards Since 2000

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    Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant
    Dwyane Wade and Kobe BryantMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Some of the best NBA players of all time were shooting guards in the past two decades. Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are just two of the recent legends bound for the Basketball Hall of Fame one day.

    To rank the best 2-guards since 2000, we considered individual production and accolades, contributions to team success and advanced metrics such as win shares (WS), value over replacement player (VORP) and player efficiency rating (PER).

    Only a player's production since the beginning of the 2000-01 season factored in here. Contributions before then will be mentioned in career highlights but were not measured.

    Positions were determined by Basketball Reference. If a player played at least 65 percent of his career minutes at one position, that's the position for which he was eligible to be ranked. In the case of players with close to a 50/50 split, David Kenyon and I made mutual judgment calls.

    For instance, we decided Allen Iverson (PG/SG) and Jimmy Butler (SG/SF) count as shooting guards and that Vince Carter (SG/SF) is a small forward. Also, Stephen Curry is a point guard, even though he's perhaps the greatest shooter ever. So, save your rage when he isn't ranked No. 1 here.

Honorable Mentions

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    Brandon Roy
    Brandon RoyAnonymous/Associated Press

    Brandon Roy

    Roy was outstanding for his first four years in the league until a degenerative knee condition forced him to retire at the age of 28. Had he played for a decade or more, he was clearly talented enough to become one of the best shooting guards of this era. Alas, we're left to wonder what could have been.

             

    Michael Redd

    Speaking of knee injuries, Redd was one of the best scorers from 2004-05 through 2007-08, averaging 24.3 points per game during that four-year stretch. Only Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki fared better over that time. But Redd tore his ACL and MCL midway through the 2008-09 season and was never anything close to the same. It doesn't help his case that the Bucks failed to finish .500 or better in any of his peak years.

              

    Jason Terry

    The Jet was a great shooter, draining 2,282 triples at a 38.0 percent clip over the course of his career. He was also a solid point guard early in his career, averaging 7.4 assists per game in 2002-03. But he was never an All Star and wasn't even a starter for most of his career.

              

    Richard Hamilton

    Rip averaged at least 17 points per game in 10 consecutive seasons and made a trio of All-Star Game appearances. He finished with more than 15,000 career points. All of that is noteworthy, but it wasn't quite enough for him to crack the top 10.

             

    Kyle Korver/JJ Redick

    Only four players in NBA history have made at least 1,700 three-pointers while shooting at least 41 percent: The Splash Brothers from Golden State, Korver and Redick. These are two of the best, most pure shooters of all time. But that doesn't make them two of the greatest shooting guards of the past two decades.

              

    Reggie Miller/Michael Jordan

    These two Hall of Fame shooting guards were clearly in the denouement of their respective careers by the time 2000 rolled around. Neither of them were seriously considered because of that, but we'll note both of them here anyway.

10. Joe Johnson

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Career Marks (2001-18): 7-time All Star, 2009-10 All-NBA, 16.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 37.1% 3PT, 15.4 PER, .090 WS/48

    "Iso Joe" Johnson will forever be remembered as the recipient of one of the most preposterous contracts in NBA history. Back when it was possible to sign players to contracts lasting long than five seasons, he inked a six-year, $123.7 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks during the 2010 offseason, making him the highest-paid player in the league at the time.

    Even LeBron James only got a six-year, $110-million contract that summer following his infamous "Decision."

    Johnson got that kind of paper because he had averaged at least 20 points per game in each of the previous five seasons with Atlanta. He never led the league in scoring, but he was one of eight players to rack up at least 8,000 points during that five-year stretch.

    Moreover, Johnson turned Atlanta into a factor in the Eastern Conference for the first time in a decade. The Hawks went 13-69 and had the worst record in the NBA by a five-game margin the year before they acquired Johnson in a sign-and-trade. They proceeded to improve in each of the next five years and finished 53-29 the season before they gave him a king's ransom to stick around.

    Johnson averaged fewer than 19 points in each subsequent season, but he finished his career with 20,405 points, good for a spot in the top 50 on the NBA's all-time leaderboard. Every other player to score at least that many points is either already in the Basketball Hall of Fame or is a near-lock to be a first-ballot selection once eligible.

9. Jimmy Butler

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Career Marks (2011-Present): 4-time All Star, 4-time All-Defensive team, 2-time All-NBA, 16.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 34.1% 3PT, 20.0 PER, .184 WS/48

    As far as stats, advanced metrics and defensive accolades are concerned, Jimmy Butler probably belongs at least two spots higher in these rankings. He has averaged 21.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals over the past five seasons, which is one of the best stat-sheet-stuffing lines among players not named Russell Westbrook or James Harden.

    However, Butler has yet to play in so much as a conference finals game, while Manu Ginobili and Klay Thompson have combined for more championship rings than Tom Brady. That whole "contributions to team success" note in the intro made a significant impact here.

    Butler is one of the only still-active players in our top 10, so he still has plenty of time to change that narrative and leapfrog some of the guys currently ahead of him.

    For now, though, Butler is a poor man's Tracy McGrady.

    That isn't a slight to either player. McGrady is in the Hall of Fame, and he's in our top five here. At his seven-year peak, he was one of the most gifted scorers in NBA history. However, he never won a championship, and he only made it out of the first round once. He was simply a world-class talent who—aside from his early days with Vince Carter in Toronto—never had much help around him.

    Such was Butler's fate until landing in Philadelphia this past season and falling shy of the Eastern Conference Finals by the margin of one four-bounce Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater. Perhaps Butler will finally climb into the upper echelon of recent 2-guards with a deep postseason run in 2019-20.

8. Manu Ginobili

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Career Marks (2002-18): 2-time All Star, 2-time All-NBA, 4-time NBA champ, 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year, 13.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.5 RPG, 36.9% 3PT, 20.2 PER, .190 WS/48

    Along with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili was one-third of one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.

    Sure, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had a great four-year run with Miami, and the Golden State Warriors were a force of nature over the past five years. But those three San Antonio Spurs spent 14 seasons together, winning four championships and at least 50 games every yearincluding the 66-game, strike-shortened 2011-12 season.

    Most of the credit for that unbelievable run tends to go to Duncan, Parker or head coach Gregg Popovich, but where would the Spurs have been without their sixth-man extraordinaire? Ginobili is the franchise leader in both steals (1,392) and three-pointers (1,495), with a cushion of more than 500 in the latter category.

    From 2004-05 through 2011-12, Ginobili was one of four players to log at least 10,000 minutes with a PER of 22 or higher and a WS/48 of greater than .220. The others were LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki. You rarely see Ginobili mentioned in the same breath as those legends, but that's a testament to how efficient and valuable he was.

    During the 2004-05 postseason—following one of the few seasons in which he was in the starting lineup more often than not—Ginobili averaged 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists and shot 43.8 percent from three-point range, pacing the Spurs to one of their aforementioned titles. 

7. Klay Thompson

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Career Marks (2011-Present): 5-time All Star, 2-time All-NBA, 3-time NBA champ, 2018-19 All-Defensive team, 19.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 41.9% 3PT, 16.4 PER, .110 WS/48

    Klay Thompson constantly gets overshadowed by his Golden State Warriors teammates, but he is one of the deadliest snipers ever to step foot on a basketball court.

    Both Thompson and Stephen Curry have made at least 210 three-pointers while shooting 40 percent or better from deep in each of the last seven seasons. No other player in NBA history has had more than two such seasons, and players not named Thompson or Curry have only done so 16 times.

    In the past decade, only Paul George, Buddy Hield, Kyle Korver and Bradley Beal have hit both of those marks in a single season, and each managed to do so only once.

    Thompson has also shot at least 51 percent from inside the arc in each of the past four seasons and is a career 84.8 percent free-throw shooter. He has averaged two or more assists per game in all eight of his NBA seasons and has become one of the league's better lockdown defenders, too.

    Whereas JJ Redick and Korver were left out of our top 10 because they're one-trick ponies, Thompson is a well-rounded three-and-D wing who has been an indispensable cog in the Warriors machine.

    Strangely, the advanced metrics don't reflect that. His career PER (16.4) and VORP (11.3) are only marginally above average and nowhere close to Curry's23.8 and 51.1, respectively. Then again, those statistics have never come close to reflecting Draymond Green's value, either.

    It's probably best to assume the Warriors have broken the data models.

6. Ray Allen

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Career Marks (1996-2014): 10-time All Star, 2-time All-NBA, 2-time NBA champ, 18.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 40.0% 3PT, 18.6 PER, .150 WS/48, 2018 Hall of Fame Inductee

    For at least a few more years, Ray Allen is the NBA's all-time leader in career three-pointers. Over the course of his 18-year career, he made 2,973 triples, finishing 413 ahead of Reggie Miller's previous-best 2,560.

    It's only a matter of time before Stephen Curry (2,483) leaves Allen in the dust, but that won't change how incredible Allen was. Had he played in the current era, he likely would have drained 4,000-plus threes.

    Allen led the league in three-pointers in 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2005-06, and he had a 10-year streak (1999-20 through 2008-09) where he hit at least 148 triples each season while shooting 37 percent or better from deep. Those are modest numbers by today's standards, but that was unrivaled greatness a decade ago.

    Allen also shot at least 87 percent from the free-throw line every year after his rookie season.

    Aside from his final two seasons with the floundering then-Seattle Supersonics in the mid-2000s, Allen was never quite the unstoppable scoring force that our top five shooting guards were. But he was arguably the purest shooter ever.

5. Tracy McGrady

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Career Marks (1997-2012): 7-time All Star, 7-time All-NBA, 2-time scoring champ, 19.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.4 APG, 33.8% 3PT, 22.1 PER, .152 WS/48, 2017 Hall of Fame Inductee

    For the first seven years of this century, it was anyone's guess whether Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady would cement himself as the greatest shooting guard of the era.

    Iverson led the league in points per game in 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2004-05. McGrady did so in 2002-03 and 2003-04 while Bryant took the crown in 2005-06 and 2006-07. They averaged 29.6, 26.9 and 29.1 points per game, respectively, over the course of those seven seasons. No other player during that window logged at least 400 games with 25 or more points per night.

    But while Iverson and Bryant continued to dominate well into their 30s, knee, shoulder and back injuries turned McGrady into a shell of his former self before he even turned 30. As a result, one of the game's most prolific scorers isn't even in the top 50 on the all-time scoring leaderboard.

    McGrady's lack of postseason success didn't help his ranking, either. T-Mac played in only 50 playoff games throughout his career. (LeBron James is already at 239, for comparison's sake.) From 2001-08, McGrady did average 29.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists across six trips to the playoffs, but it didn't do the Orlando Magic or the Houston Rockets any good, as they lost in the first round each time.

    However, the seven peak years of ringless McGrady were so sensational that anything less than a top-five ranking would be unjust. His 32.1 PPG mark in 2002-03 was the fourth-best since the turn of the century, trailing only three of the four players ahead of him here.

4. Dwyane Wade

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Career Marks (2003-19): 13-time All Star, 8-time All-NBA, 3-time NBA champ, 3-time All-Defensive team, 2008-09 scoring champ, 22.0 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 29.3% 3PT, 23.5 PER, .162 WS/48

    Dwyane Wade became one of the best shooting guards of this generation despite being a mediocre shooter.

    At a time in the NBA's history where even most centers are expected to hit the occasional perimeter jumper, Wade thrived without one. Not only was he a sub-30 percent three-point shooter for his career, but he averaged a mere 0.5 triples per game. Joel Embiid makes more than twice that many.

    But why shoot from 24 feet away when you're one of the best slashers and finishers of all time?

    Wade mastered the art of getting into the lane to score, draw contact or both. Because of that elite ability, he made 5,708 free throws and scored 23,165 career points, both of which rank among the top 35 of all time. Wade even led the league in scoring at 30.2 points per game during the 2008-09 season, the most impressive of his seven consecutive seasons in which he averaged at least 24 points per game.

    All of that slashing took a toll on Wade's body in the form of minor injuries and frequent nights off, but it didn't impact his approach to the game until his final seasonthe only year in which he shot better than 32 percent from three-point range (33.0) or took at least 17 percent of his field-goal attempts from downtown (27.2). For 15 years, he routinely challenged men nearly a foot taller than him with reckless abandon.

    Wade was an excellent defender, too. He's one of only five players in NBA history with at least 20,000 points, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 800 blocks. The others are Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett.

    But he never won an MVP, which leaves him behind our top three players. In fact, the 30.2 PPG season was the only time Wade received at least 10 percent of possible MVP votes, and he still finished in third place well behind LeBron that year.

3. James Harden

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Career Marks (2009-Present): 2017-18 MVP, 7-time All Star, 6-time All-NBA, 2-time scoring champ, 2016-17 assist champ, 24.3 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.2 RPG, 36.5% 3PT, 24.4 PER, .224 WS/48

    If James Harden has five more years left at anything close to the level at which he has been playing for the past seven, he will likely leapfrog both Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant for the top spot on this list. 

    The Beard has averaged 29.0 points, 7.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game since the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him to the Houston Rockets, and he has only gotten better with age.

    In 2016-17, Harden racked up a league-high 11.2 assists per game while tallying 22 triple-doubles. This past season, he averaged an outlandish 36.1 points per game with a 32-game streak of 30-point games. In doing so, he became only the second player in the past half-century to average at least 35.5 points per game across a full season, joining Michael Jordan (37.1 PPG in 1986-87).

    Dwyane Wade was great at getting to the free-throw line throughout his career, but Harden makes Wade look like an amateur in that department. Since the start of 2012-13, Harden has made 4,809 free throws during the regular season. No other player has even attempted 4,000 during that time. The closest player is Russell Westbrook (3,952), who is still 233 attempts per season behind Harden.

    Harden has also made more three-pointers (1,705) over the past seven seasons than all players not named Stephen Curry (2,111). Factor in his ability to finish in traffic and his willingness to frequently find the open man, and Harden is easily one of the most unguardable guards in NBA history.

    For now, we're keeping him behind Iverson and Bryant because those two excelled for well over a decade. If Harden stays healthy into his mid-30s and wins a championship or two, Rockets fans may start trying to argue that he's better than Jordan.

2. Allen Iverson

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Career Marks (1996-2010): 2000-01 MVP, 11-time All Star, 7-time All-NBA, 4-time scoring champ, 3-time steals champ, 1996-07 ROY, 26.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 31.3% 3PT, 20.9 PER, .126 WS/48, 2016 Hall of Fame Inductee

    Allen Iverson's career was an experience unlike any other. From the Michael Jordan crossover to the Tyronn Lue step-over to the "Practice" rant, it was just one memorable moment after another. It's like he was built in a laboratory to help turn the NBA into the round-the-clock obsession that it is today.

    Technically, the first few years of AI's career don't count for this "since 2000" debate. But all of his All-Star Game appearances and his most mind-boggling stats came in 2000 or later, so "The Answer" still qualifies for the No. 2 spot.

    From 2000-01 through 2005-06, Iverson averaged 30.1 points per game, including a high-water mark of 33.0 in the last of those six seasons. And the 6'0", 165-pound guard did almost all of his damage in the paint, as he was not a great three-point shooter. He did make more than 1,000 triples in his career, but those only accounted for 13 percent of his points.

    During his best seasons in Philadelphia, Iverson averaged at least 21 two-point attempts per game. That has been done only eight times in the past two decades, and Iverson was responsible for half of them. Even Shaquille O'Nealarguably the most unstoppable big man in NBA history aside from Wilt Chamberlainnever attempted as many two-pointers per game as some of Iverson's most assertive years.

    That style of play meant Iverson got to the free-throw line often, where he made 6,375 freebies in his career. James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will probably eclipse that mark before they retire, but AI is currently No. 13 on the career leaderboard in that department. He's also No. 9 in career steals per game, No. 7 in career points per game and trails only Jordan for the top spot in career postseason points per game (29.7).

1. Kobe Bryant

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Career Marks (1996-2016): 2007-08 MVP, 18-time All Star, 15-time All-NBA, 5-time NBA champ, 12-time All-Defensive team, 2-time scoring champ, 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 32.9% 3PT, 22.9 PER, .170 WS/48

    The 15 All-NBA Team selections alone cement Kobe Bryant as the clear No. 1 here. He is tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James and Tim Duncan for the most career All-NBA selections. Bryant was also a first-team selection 11 times, trailing only James (12) for the top spot on that list.

    Here's an equally outrageous factoid: While Bryant was named MVP of the league only once, he finished among the top five in the MVP vote 11 times. That's more than a decade in which there was at least an argument to be made that he was the NBA's best player.

    LeBron figures to move ahead of him next year, but Bryant is currently No. 3 on the career scoring leaderboard with 33,643 points. Only Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) managed to score more, and they each played in at least 130 more games than Bryant did.

    Bryant was an elite defender, too, as exhibited by his 12 selections to the All-Defensive team. Only Duncan (15) received that honor more times than Bryant, and nobody has had more first-team All-Defensive selections than Bryant's nine. (Michael Jordan, Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett matched that total, though.)

    Is that enough comparisons to all-time greats to drive the point home?

    Both with and without Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant had an unrivaled 20-season run with the Lakers. Maybe he isn't as good as Jordan or LeBron, but as far as shooting guards of the past 20 years go, he's the no-brainer choice for the top of the list.

                     

    Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.