NBA All-Time Player Rankings: Top 10 Shooting Guards
Who's the greatest shooting guard of all time?
In contrast with the discussion on point guards, there isn't a lot of suspense regarding this question. After all, Michael Jordan's closest competitor in the GOAT debate is a forward by the name of LeBron James.
That doesn't mean a list of the NBA's 10 best shooting guards of all time doesn't offer plenty of intrigue, though.
There are legitimate arguments for three different players to snag the No. 2 spot. And this particular exercise caused serious consternation over who would be No. 10. Some omissions were analytically painful.
The criteria here will be the same as that used to determine the top 10 point guards. It's largely subjective but influenced by the advanced numbers available for a given player's era.
Catch-all metrics like box plus/minus (available from the 1973-74 season on) and win shares per 48 minutes came into play. And you'll see pace- and playing-time-adjusted numbers (in the form of "per 75 possessions"). But intangibles have to be factored into these conversations as well.
One final housekeeping note: We'll consider Basketball Reference the arbiter of positional determinations for this piece and subsequent top 10s for small forwards, power forwards and centers.
And with that out of the way, let's do this...
10. Tracy McGrady
Per Game: 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 threes, 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks
Per 75 Possessions: 23.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.4 threes, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Relative True Shooting Percentage: -1.1
Net Rating Swing: +6.0
Box Plus/Minus: +4.6
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .152
Tracy McGrady had a seven-year run in which he was one of the NBA's best players.
From 2000-01 to 2006-07, T-Mac averaged 26.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 threes, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. In that stretch, his 6.5 box plus/minus trailed only those of Kevin Garnett (7.7), LeBron James (6.8) and Tim Duncan (6.6).
In the heart of that run, McGrady had a season for the ages. His 2002-03 box plus/minus of 9.7 ranks 30th all-time among individual campaigns. His 9.8 offensive box plus/minus from that season is seventh all-time. He averaged 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a league-leading 32.1 points per game.
That season, on top of the passing and work on the glass, McGrady grew into a star.
"Besides his scoring, McGrady has drawn raves for his overall usefulness, adding significant rebounds, assists and an assiduous defense to his game," Ira Berkow wrote for the New York Times in 2003. "But of primary importance has been his increasing sense of leadership."
He led the league in scoring the next season, as well. Then, he was off to lead the Houston Rockets. Over his first four years there, Houston was fifth in the NBA in simple rating system (a metric that combines point differential and strength of schedule).
Injuries eventually derailed McGrady's Hall of Fame career, but that peak stacks up favorably against those of most NBA wings.
9. George Gervin
Per Game: 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks
Per 75 Possessions: 26.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +4.0
Net Rating Swing: N/A
Box Plus/Minus: +1.5
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .159
Before we dive into George Gervin's resume, it should be noted that his numbers come exclusively from his NBA seasons: 1976-77 to 1985-86.
His ABA numbers across four seasons were great, especially on the boards, but this is an NBA list. Even with his first four professional campaigns omitted, the Iceman did enough to get into the top 10. And his transition—along with those of his ABA contemporaries—to the NBA helped energize the league.
"It was the best thing that could happen to us when we made that merger," Gervin told The Post Game's Jeff Eisenband. "The NBA needed a shock. I think the ABA merger really helped the foundation. They always say Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird saved them. I think the ABA did. It gave them the youth, talent.
Gervin may have been more of a lightning bolt than a shock to his new league.
During his 10-year NBA run, Gervin's 26.2 points per game trailed only Adrian Dantley's 26.5. And he won four scoring titles, topping out at 33.1 points in 1979-80.
In the final game of his 1977-78 campaign, Gervin dropped 63 points to wrap up his first scoring crown.
David Thompson, who finished second that season, recounted his experience with Gervin's 63-point game after scoring 73 earlier in the day (h/t NBA.com):
"When I finally made it home, I scanned the dial on the radio and attempted to pick up the San Antonio versus New Orleans broadcast. If it had been any player other than 'The Iceman,' I wouldn't have even bothered. But George was ultra-competitive, and he already knew what I had done earlier in the day. He needed 58 points to win the scoring title, and I knew that was not far from his reach. George could fill up the bucket so fast you would swear it was raining basketballs.
"I caught the game early into the second quarter, and by halftime Gervin had fired in 53 points. I knew then that my 73 had been in vain. George scored 63 points on 23 of 49 shots from the floor and ended up winning the scoring title in the closest race in NBA history, 27.22 to 27.15.
"George's 63 points that night in New Orleans meant that I had only held the scoring lead for about seven hours..."
8. Ray Allen
Per Game: 18.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 threes, 1.1 steals
Per 75 Possessions: 21.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.6 threes, 1.2 steals
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +4.9
Net Rating Swing: +4.9
Box Plus/Minus: +3.0
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .150
When you think of the prettiest shooting forms in NBA history, Ray Allen's almost always comes up. That's a big plus for a shooting guard.
A person of meticulous habit, Allen once told the Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan that he felt insulted when people referred to his jump shot as a God-given gift.
"God could care less whether I can shoot a jump shot," Allen said.
His picturesque form came from countless hours of repetition—thousands of jumpers both in front of crowds and in empty gyms.
And it was that career-long dedication to his craft that made Allen one of the greatest shooters in the game's history.
In the wake of the recent three-point revolution, players are likely to pass Allen's total for career threes. But for now, his 2,973 still have him at No. 1.
Allen was more than a shooter, though. Sure, it's the foundation of his all-time legacy, but he also had five seasons in which he averaged at least four dimes. And he even competed in the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest.
He was also a critical component of two title-winning teams. In 2008, he trailed only Kevin Garnett among Boston Celtics in playoff win shares. He made 2.1 threes per game that postseason and shot 39.6 percent from deep.
Then, five years later, he hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history as a member of the Miami Heat. With time winding down in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and the San Antonio Spurs' trophy literally being wheeled onto the floor, Allen hit a game-tying three that preserved Miami's hopes and gave the team a chance at a Game 7. Of course, the Heat went on to win the title.
"I honestly can say I gave myself a great opportunity, a great chance to make that shot," Allen said of his legendary moment, per SB Nation's Paul Flannery. "And it wasn't unfamiliar to me positionally. When it went in, I was ecstatic. But at the same time I was expecting to make it."
7. Reggie Miller
Per Game: 18.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 threes, 1.1 steals
Per 75 Possessions: 20.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.1 threes, 1.2 steals
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +8.5
Net Rating Swing: N/A
Box Plus/Minus: +3.3
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .176
During his 2018 Hall of Fame speech, Allen praised his sharpshooting predecessor, Reggie Miller:
"As I stand here on the stage today before you, I know a lot has been said about me being a great shooter. Being one of the best. But what I know is this person who is presenting me tonight, Reggie Miller, is the best shooter that I've ever seen in my life.
"Reggie has had a profound effect on my early years in the NBA. I would come out to the floor thinking I was early, and he was already out there, and Reggie had a Superman shirt. And when you see somebody, your opponent, wearing a Superman shirt, you have to ask yourself 'how do I beat Superman tonight?'
"It was impossible to guard you, Reggie. Reggie would grab my arms and he would throw me in one direction, then go in the other. And then the coach would get mad at me! And I said 'Coach Calhoun didn't teach me that in college.'"
On top of his combination of competitiveness and craftiness, Miller was an absurdly efficient scorer.
He had 13 seasons with 500-plus minutes, a double-digit scoring average and a 60-plus true shooting percentage. His closest competition on that front consists of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve Nash and John Stockton, each of whom had 11 such seasons.
If you up the points-per-game qualifier to 15, Miller still holds a 12-11 lead over Kareem.
On top of the numbers, Miller, who is second all-time in threes made, had a killer instinct that made him one of the league's top scorers for well over a decade.
And that was never more evident than when Miller scored eight points in nine seconds during the 1995 playoffs.
Sports Illustrated recounted the legendary performance:
"Miller's theatrics Sunday were witnessed by millions of people, most of whom no doubt are still trying to figure out what they saw. Miller made two three-pointers in the span of 3.1 seconds (the second trey after he intercepted an inbounds pass) to tie the score at 105-105. After the Knicks' John Starks missed two free throws, Miller won the game by hitting two foul shots with 7.5 seconds remaining. And he did it all while yapping at Knick court jester Spike Lee and gloating in the faces of the stunned New York players."
Like Allen, Miller was more than just a shooter. He could leverage his shooting ability into results that devastated opponents.
6. Manu Ginobili
Per Game: 13.3 points, 3.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 threes, 1.3 steals
Per 75 Possessions: 20.6 points, 5.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 threes, 2.0 steals
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +4.4
Net Rating Swing: +6.5
Box Plus/Minus: +4.9
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .190
It's probably not a fair comparison. Kobe played a significantly different and more demanding role than Manu. There's a reason Ginobili's on the list now, while Kobe will show up later.
But those per-75-possession numbers from Manu's 10-year peak are plenty impressive; 22.1 points, 5.9 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.1 steals, with a 59.1 true shooting percentage.
Now, the obvious reaction to that is: Well, Manu only had to play against backups. And while there's some truth to that, it's probably overblown.
According to PBP Stats, Ginobili logged over 10,000 minutes alongside longtime Spurs starters Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. And in those 10,000-plus minutes, San Antonio scored 112.8 points per 100 possessions, while allowing just 100.8, for a plus-12.0 net rating.
The trio logged an additional 3,000-plus minutes in the playoffs with a plus-7.2 net rating.
To attempt to discredit Ginobili for coming off the bench is to ignore one of the 21st century's most impactful basketball players.
On top of his four NBA titles, two All-Star appearances, two top-10 MVP finishes, two All-NBA selections and 2008 Sixth Man of the Year, Manu has one of the game's most impressive international resumes.
"To San Antonio fans, he is the most loved Spurs player ever," FIBA.com noted. "To Argentina, he is a national hero. To the world, he is the person who made Team USA beatable and forced the United States to reassess how it approached international basketball."
Long before Team USA's recent misstep at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Argentina pulled off a shocking upset of basketball's juggernaut at the 2004 Olympics.
The Associated Press (via ESPN) reported after the game that changed international basketball:
"Manu Ginobili scored 29 points to lead his nation to another victory over the country that used to dominate the sport, an 89-81 win in the Olympic semifinals Friday night.
"For the first time since 1988, the gold medal will not go to the Americans.
"And for the first time since pro players were added for the original Dream Team in 1992, the United States will not be the Olympic champion."
"Even though I ended up appreciating a lot—many—of my teammates in the States, it was more of a professional achievement," Ginobili said of the difference between his NBA titles and his 2004 gold medal, per the Olympic Channel. "The other one is just pure emotion."
Manu deserves his spot on this list even with his NBA numbers being the only criteria. But discussing his legendary career without mentioning what he did on the world stage would be a disservice.
5. Clyde Drexler
Per Game: 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.8 threes, 0.7 blocks
Per 75 Possessions: 21.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.8 threes, 0.7 blocks
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +1.1
Net Rating Swing: N/A
Box Plus/Minus: +6.0
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .173
Like plenty of individual players of the era, Clyde Drexler had the misfortune of hitting his peak while MJ was in the league. It's similar to the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers of the last five years having to battle the dynastic Golden State Warriors.
Just imagine this five-year run in about any other era: 24.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game, with a plus-2.4 relative true shooting percentage.
Unfortunately, Drexler was often compared to Jordan over those five years. And the run ended in 1992, when MJ had his famous "shrug game" against Drexler's Portland Trail Blazers.
"But of course, it was intensely personal for [Jordan], the perfect challenge for a man who always wanted and always need challenges, and he used all the comparisons with Drexler, all those nonbelievers who thought Drexler as good as he was, to motivate himself," David Halberstam wrote of the Jordan-Drexler matchup (h/t USA Today). "He set out to do nothing less than destroy, not just Portland, but Drexler as well…"
Jordan may have gotten the better of Drexler during the 1992 Finals, but the two went on to win a gold medal together as part of that summer's Dream Team.
And Drexler gracefully transitioned into lesser roles with the Blazers and Rockets over the final six seasons of his career, eventually winning a title with Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston in 1995.
4. James Harden
Per Game: 24.3 points, 6.2 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 threes, 1.6 steals
Per 75 Possessions: 26.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 threes, 1.7 steals
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +6.5
Net Rating Swing: +4.7
Box Plus/Minus: +7.1
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .224
Remember that mention of an argument for "three different players to snag the No. 2 spot" mentioned in the intro? We've arrived at that argument.
Yes, at least according to one metric, Harden is in the middle of a run that's comparable to one of the game's greatest players.
And given the way he's scored lately, especially in 2018-19, that shouldn't be all that surprising.
In a video for Thinking Basketball, Ben Taylor adjusted for pace and efficiency across all eras to level the playing field between players like Harden and Wilt Chamberlain.
At the time of the video's posting (March 22, 2019), Harden was averaging 36.5 points per game. His adjusted scoring average of 36.0 was the highest of all time. And for the sake of context, Wilt's 1961-62 campaign, when he averaged 50.4 points per game, was adjusted to 33.9, good for fifth place.
What Harden is doing is unreal. And the way he's doing it may be even more difficult to fathom.
This season alone, Harden hit 342 pull-up threes (which includes his step-backs), according to NBA.com. That total nearly doubled second-place Kemba Walker's 175. Even more bonkers, the second-place team, the Trail Blazers, hit 325 pull-up threes.
And, as if his already unique form of dominance weren't enough, Harden is apparently adding another shot to his repertoire: a one-legged, fadeaway three.
Most of the gripes about his volume of free-throw attempts are probably fair. That aspect of his attack isn't the most aesthetically pleasing. But there's a chance we're taking Harden's historic scoring ability for granted.
And we haven't even mentioned the rebounding and passing yet. Combining his 31.9 points over the last three seasons with 9.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game makes the line borderline unbelievable.
Now, for the downside.
These discussions never happen without some mention of titles. And Harden doesn't have one. Some of the analysis of his playoff performances is overblown. He's 13th in career playoff box plus/minus. But when things are as close as they are between Nos. 2 through 4 on this list, the number of championships is a fair differentiation.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that Harden just turned 30. He has a few years left of his prime to add to his resume. By the time he's done, he could rise as high as second. I'll leave it to you to decide whether Jordan's spot is in play.
3. Dwyane Wade
Per Game: 22.0 points, 5.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
Per 75 Possessions: 25.5 points, 6.3 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +1.4
Net Rating Swing: +5.0
Box Plus/Minus: +4.5
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .162
If this list were based on nothing but career numbers, it would be difficult to keep Harden behind Dwyane Wade. The former is the physical embodiment of Morey-Ball, and his numbers show it.
If we confine the Harden/Wade comparison to stats put up through their age-29 seasons (Harden just wrapped his up), though, things get eerily close:
- Harden through 29: 26.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, plus-6.5 relative true shooting percentage, plus-7.1 box plus/minus
- Wade through 29: 27.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.1 blocks, plus-3.0 relative true shooting percentage, plus-6.6 box plus/minus
The obvious distinction between the two is Wade's 2006 championship run to cap off his age-24 campaign. That year, Wade led the Heat in playoff points (28.4), assists (5.7) and steals (2.2) per game. He also had over three times as many playoff wins over replacement player as any Miami player.
For Wade, the two titles he later won with LeBron James could be considered legacy gravy. But even that helps in debates like these.
Wade's willingness to accept a secondary role on one of the most talented teams ever is another feather in his cap. Plenty of superstars across history didn't display the same kind of humility for the sake of team success.
"It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to, in a sense, take a step back," Wade told ESPN's Israel Gutierrez in 2012. "A lot of people don't understand. They'll say, 'Why would you do that?' To me, I want more success from winning. I don't want another scoring title. I'm just trying to win."
And win he did. Together, LeBron and Wade won back-to-back titles for the Heat in 2012 and 2013.
And by the end of his career, Wade was a 13-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA selection, three-time champion, three-time All-Defensive selection, one-time Finals MVP and one-time scoring champ.
2. Kobe Bryant
Per Game: 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 threes, 1.4 steals
Per 75 Possessions: 26.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 threes, 1.6 steals
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +1.8
Net Rating Swing: +5.6
Box Plus/Minus: +3.9
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .170
At the heart of Kobe Bryant's legacy is an unrelenting competitiveness. But it's his longevity that pushed him up to No. 2 on this list.
Kobe had a whopping 17 seasons in which he played 500-plus minutes, had a usage percentage of at least 25 and posted an above-average box plus/minus.
Karl Malone is the only other player in NBA history with 17 such seasons. Tim Duncan and LeBron James had 16. Shaquille O'Neal had 15. And then we get to the other shooting guards. Jordan and Wade had 14.
"There's a certain commitment, a lot of sacrifice and attention to detail that goes into trying to play at a high level for a long long time," Bryant said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. "To me, it's worth it."
If you take off the first and last season of Kobe's career, he averaged 26.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 threes in 18 years. Eighteen years of 26.4 points per game.
Narrow that to a 10-year peak, and you get 28.5 points. Here are the 10-year scoring peaks of a handful of other legendary scorers:
- Michael Jordan: 32.7
- Allen Iverson: 28.9
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 28.6
- LeBron James: 28.2
- Kevin Durant: 28.0
- Karl Malone: 27.7
- George Gervin: 26.9
- Larry Bird: 25.3
- Pete Maravich: 24.2
You can't compare Kobe's 26.4 over 18 years to many others. Most of the players on the list above didn't even get to 18 seasons total. Malone's 18-year scoring peak was 25.4 points. Kareem's was 25.9.
How many people reading this story aren't even 18 years old?
Scoring at that level for that long is ridiculous. And it doesn't hurt his case that he won five championships, was named an All-Star 18 times (topped only by Kareem's 19), made 15 All-NBA teams and made 12 All-Defensive teams. He had two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and two scoring titles.
We could spend more time on specifics with Kobe. The 81-point game. His 35.4 points in 2005-06. The no-flinch video with Matt Barnes. The way he led the 2008 Redeem Team to gold. And on and on.
But that his drive to dominate lasted as long as it did sets Kobe apart. And it was behind any other story or anecdote you may read about him.
1. Michael Jordan
Per Game: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.8 blocks
Per 75 Possessions: 30.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.8 blocks
Relative True Shooting Percentage: +3.7
Net Rating Swing: N/A
Box Plus/Minus: +8.1
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: .250
In baseball, there's a simple analytical concept known as Black Ink. MLB.com's Joe Posnanski explained:
"...Black Ink simply refers to the times when a player leads the league in a category (you know how they will show that number in bold letters in the stats...that's Black Ink).
"Bill James came up with Black Ink but it's one of his less involved, more fun inventions. He thought it would be a cool way to predict Hall of Fame chances. He'd give players four points for every time they led the league in something people thought was hugely important, like batting average, homers or RBIs. He'd give three points for something a little bit less regarded like runs scored or hits, two points for stuff like doubles or stolen bases, and one point for the baseline stuff like games played."
Let's talk about Jordan's Black Ink for a moment, shall we?
He led the NBA in points per game 10 times; steals per game three times; minutes per game twice; box plus/minus five times; wins over replacement player seven times; win shares per 48 minutes eight times; and win shares nine times.
Head on over to MJ's Basketball Reference page and you'll see loads of Black Ink (boldface type in our fancy digital age).
For much of the 1980s and '90s, he dominated the sport in a way no one had since Wilt.
He had six seasons in which he averaged at least 30 points and five assists, tied with Oscar Robertson for the all-time lead. After those two, no one else had more than three such seasons.
And of course, Jordan somehow found another level for the playoffs.
On top of his 6-0 record in Finals series, MJ averaged 33.4 points per game in the postseason and led the NBA in playoff points per game in 10 of the 13 years in which he participated.
In the Finals alone, he averaged 33.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three.
Jordan isn't just the greatest shooting guard of all time; he's still the GOAT to most.
Business Insider pollsters recently surveyed a group of people on the debate. A whopping 66 percent of respondents tabbed Jordan as the best player ever. LeBron finished second with 10.4 percent of the vote.
Plenty of numbers favor LeBron, but absent a few more titles, he may never catch Jordan in the eyes of the average fan.