When searching for elite players in the NBA, the shooting guard position would be a great place to begin your journey. There are an abundance of talented off-guards in the league and the top two square off tonight in Los Angeles.
Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are generally considered the best of a group that also includes Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson, Vince Carter, Ray Allen and Andre Iguadola.
All of the players named are great players and integral parts of their team, but Bryant and Wade are transcendent, on another level entirely, and arguments could be made that they are the game's most complete players.
No other position in basketball offers the same quality match-ups on a game to game basis than the shooting guard spot, and since it is a position dominated by scorers, contests often become shoot-outs.
Of the top 10 scorers in the league, four of them are shooting guards. Bryant is third overall and Wade is seventh.
The other six are small forwards, which is another position, it could be argued, that contains a high volume of elite players. The differences between the positions are minimal and it's not unusual to see shooting guards and small forwards defend each other.
Shooting guards in most cases share more of the ball-handling responsibilities and are often the point of attack on defense. Kobe and Wade fit that description, because both are the focal point of their respective teams.
Although they share superstar status, the make-up of their games and their approaches could not be more different.
Kobe is more of a finesse player and a superior strategist who probes his opponents for weaknesses before exposing them. Wade approaches the game with an attitude of selflessness and determination, willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the team.
Where Bryant's game is based on precision and timing, Wade's is based on hustle and grit, and they both display a passion that may be unrivaled in the game of basketball.
Both guards are exceptional defenders, with Bryant holding a slight edge in the man-to-man category. Wade is a little better at playing help defense.
Wade does have to exert more energy because he has nowhere near the same supporting cast as Bryant does. If Wade has a bad game, the Miami Heat would likely lose.
The fact that the Heat remain competitive at all is a sign of the will of Wade, who continues to compete until the final horn sounds.
Wade, like Bryant, is an NBA champion and a Finals MVP. They both play with the pride and the hearts of champions, plus they both won rings with Shaquille O'Neal.
Shaq could be the best person to question when asking which guard is better, but his opinion is known to shift according to whoever he is playing for at any particular time.
I believe that Bryant is the more complete player. He was able to rid himself of the stigma of not having won a ring without O'Neal. But if anyone can be compared to him, it's Wade.
Wade's best chance to compete for another title may not be with Miami, unless the organization makes a commitment to get him some much-needed help.
Wade and Bryant's meeting tonight should not be much of a contest because the Lakers are by far the superior team, but you can count on Wade keeping the game competitive.
Their individual match-up should be a treat to watch, but Bryant has a team that includes one of the top centers, power forwards and maybe the best individual defensive player in the game.
It will still be special because although you see great shooting guard match-ups on a nightly basis, you only get to see the two who may be the top players in the game twice a year.