Projected Shooting Guard Rankings: 2013/14

James Harden.  Project Ranking: First.  Current Ranking: Second.

On nights when Harden isn't getting it done, his beard simply takes over.

On nights when Harden isn’t getting it done, his beard simply takes over.

When ranking the top shooting guard in the league, it seems that almost everybody can agree on who belongs in the top three; what order those three go in is where the debate starts.  Many ranked James Harden as the best shooting guard this past season.  I still believe that Kobe Bryant was the best shooting guard in the league, but I wouldn’t argue with anybody who had Harden at the top of their list.  Considering his age and injury, it seems unlikely that Bryant will be able to continue to hold onto that title.  Looking at their per36 numbers, Kobe had Harden beat in rebounds, assists and scoring (all by very narrow margins) while getting fewer turnovers and a higher FG% (though Harden had a higher TS%).  Next season, I don’t expect it to be a question.  This was Harden’s first season as the primary option and he is a player that is continuing to improve.  If the Lakers are a lottery team next year, and Bryant can return to full health, I do expect the Lakers to run the offense through Kobe and think it very possible that he will lead the league in scoring.  However, the other aspects of the game which Harden narrowly conceded to Kobe this past year, will be improved upon by Harden.  Rebounds, assists, steal and blocks will likely all go to Harden, as well as shooting percentages.  Harden is continuously improving whilst Kobe, though still among the best players in the league, has seen his best years already.  It may still be a close race next season, but Harden seems to be a more willing play maker than Kobe, and naturally a better rebounder

Dwyane Wade.  Projected Ranking: Second.  Current Ranking: Third.

DWYANEWADELike Bryant, Wade is also a player who has seen his best years already.  Injuries have slowed Wade down, while the arrival of fellow All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh have greatly reduced his production.  Wade is much younger than Kobe though, and though his production has fallen off due to the fact that he is sharing the ball with James, his level of play is still very high.  He is still (as least as far as last season goes) the best play-making shooting guard (outside of perhaps Manu Ginobili), and his FG% is much higher than most other shooting guards (though his TS% is very close to where Kobe’s is).  I expect that should Kobe return to full health and that his averages will be much higher than Wade’s, but he will likely achieve these averages with high usage and low efficiency.  This will make it difficult to truly compare the two players, but given the severity of Kobe’s injury and his age, I’m going to assume that nature plays more of a role than personal drive and that Wade may edge Kobe out as the second best shooting guard in the league.  Kobe Bryant, though, will likely end up making me look like a fool for doing so.

Kobe Bryant.  Projected Ranking: Third.  Current Ranking: First.

Kobe-BryantRegardless of the fact that he will be 35 by the time the season ends, and regardless of the fact that he is coming off a major injury, I do expect Kobe Bryant to return to form.  I also expect that with the decline of Pau Gasol in recent years, as well as Nash and the departure of Dwight Howard, that the Lakers will desperately need Kobe to put up some big numbers just to stay competitive.  And I don’t think Kobe will shy away from this.  If healthy, Kobe will be logging 36+ minutes a game and he will be bringing the ball up.  His averages will remain head-and-shoulders above all other shooting guards in the league outside of those named Harden and Wade.  He has proven himself to be one of the best all-around players of his generation, one of the best play making shooting guards (yes, he does dominate the ball, but he does pass it as well) and a solid rebounder for his position.  His defensive reputation is likely higher than it should be, but he is a hard worker on defence and can be effective.  Unless his injury slows him down more than he’s been letting on, it is fair to expect Bryant to post some high averages this season. 

Kevin Martin. Projected Ranking: Fourth.  Current Ranking: Eighth.

Kevin-MartinAfter several years as the first option in Sacramento and Houston, Kevin Martin came off the bench for the Thunder last season.  As a result of playing on a team where defences had two other players to focus on, Martin’s percentages went up drastically (a great demonstration on how usage negatively impacts efficiency).  Now he has signed on with the Minnesota Timberwolves and will, for the third time on the third different team, be playing for coach Rick Adelman.  He will also be playing on a team where the main focus on offense will be Kevin Love.  With Love and Martin shooting as well as they do, defense will be spread thin when these two are on the court with a play-making guard like Ricky Rubio distributing, there is no reason not to expect these guys will get the rock when they are ready to shoot.  I had Martin ranks 8th at the end of the season (a ranking that was higher than most gave him), but I expect big things from the T-Wolves this season, and Martin will be a big reason for that.  There are better defenders than Martin at his position (namely Tony Allen), but Martin holds his own and manages over a steal a game.  There are better rebounders as well, but Martin gets a respectable number boards.  What there is not, is a better shooter at the shooting guard position, and since a pure shooting guard’s primary function is to shoot well, I’d say that gives Martin a distinct edge over a lot of other shooting guards.  There were fifteen players that hit more 3pt shots than Martin, but Martin’s percentage was so high that he didn’t even fall in the top twenty for 3pts attempted.  Though he finished 10th in the league in 3pt percentages, most of the players ahead of him were points guards or role players.  No shooting guard, save Danny Green, got nearly as much usage and finished with a higher percentage.  There will be better all-around shooting guards, but I expect Martin to have one of his finest seasons. 

Klay Thompson. Projected Ranking: Fifth.  Current Ranking: Tenth.

Klay Thompson (right) with backcourt mate Stephen Curry.

Klay Thompson (right) with backcourt mate Stephen Curry.

When it comes to 3pt shooting, Klay Thompson was right on Martin’s heels.  Statistically, Thompson reminds me very much of Martin.  He is a traditional shooting guard in that his skill set focuses primarily on his ability to shoot.  He gets a respectable amount of rebounders, but he is not the rebounder that a player like JR Smith is.  What he does best is shoot well and spread the floor.  Considering the Warriors success in the playoffs, and the addition of Andre Iguodala, I expect the Warriors to improve and even if Thompson’s minutes are reduce slightly due to the fact that Mark Jackson will likely try to get as many minutes as possible for Iggy, Thompson and Harrison Barnes, his impact will still be great.  Like Martin, there will be better all-around shooting guards, but like Martin I believe that Thompson’s skill set will help make his team a contender, whilst other guards, who are better all-around players (like Joe Johnson or JR Smith) will either have much smaller roles, or post stats in a far less efficient manner.  I wouldn’t argue with anybody who would suggest that Smith and Johnson are better all-around players than Thompson and Martin, but I would suggest that Martin and Thompson are better at what they do well.

JR Smith. Projected Ranking: Sixth.  Current Ranking: Fourth.

136215136JM046_Milwaukee_BuIt may be unfair to rank Smith this low.  He was an integral part to the Knicks success the last two seasons.  He is among the best rebounders at his position, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is better than several of the players I have ranked higher than him.  He is a solid one-on-one player and a respectable 3pt shooter.  He is not, however, a great 3pt shooter.  With percentages that are much lower than the likes of Martin and Thompson, Smith’s efficiency is sometimes lacking, even if his all-around game is better.  Things aren’t much better at the free throw line.  He has respectable numbers there as well, but other shooting guards are just much better, and his ability to get to the line doesn’t exceed a player like Martin by enough to compensate for the lower percentage.  There is also the low FG%.  Shooting around .422 when you are not even the primary focus of the defence is low, even for a wing player.  If Smith could improve his percentages, then he would place himself among the best shooting guards in the league, but it seems like his style of game is simply not conducive to that.  He is still a great talent and it is great fun to watch Smith play, but at the end of the day, he’s simply not in the conversation when it comes to pure shooters.  Coupled with that, the Knicks seem to have been surpassed by a couple teams in the offseason.  The Pacers have gotten better, the Bulls have Rose returning and it seems like the Nets will be making a push for the title, all while the Heat remain as dominant as they have been for the past three season.  Even if the Knicks perform as well as they did last season, it will be unlikely that they will see the same success as the competition has gotten better.

Joe Johnson.  Projected Ranking: Seventh.  Current Ranking: Ninth.

JJNETsJoe Johnson didn’t have a career year this past season.  I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to seeing the Nets’ starting lineup play to their max potential.  With a mid-season coaching change though, it is fair to expect some struggles from recently acquired players.  This upcoming season though, with the addition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrie Kirilenko, the Nets have bolstered their roster (even if it meant shortening their window of contention).  Joe Johnson will be playing against defences that simply cannot afford to double-team anybody.  I expect that Johnson’s percentages will increase greatly due to this, even if his personal stats take a bit of a dive (he likely won’t be handling the ball as much with Deron Williams, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce all capable of doing that as well, and so will likely get fewer assists).  Johnson’s impact will be similar to that of Manu Ginobili, I think, in that the team has gotten better and so will not rely on him as much, but his level of play will still surpass that of shooting guards whose averages are higher than his.

Ray Allen.  Projected Ranking: Eighth.  Current Ranking: Fifth.

Whether it was the Bucks, the Sonics, or the Celtics, Ray Allen just always looked better in green.

Whether it was the Bucks, the Sonics, or the Celtics, Ray Allen just always looked better in green.

There is perhaps no shooting guard in the league whose personal stats take more of a hit because of the talent he is playing with than Ray Allen.  He was among the best 3pt shooters in the league last year, a skill that earned the Heat an overtime period in game 6 of the NBA finals and allow the Heat to win their second consecutive NBA title.  Looking at his per36 minutes stats, Allen remains a better rebounder, even at 37, than many other guards in the league, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is also better than several of the players ranked higher than him.  Being a 4th option when on the floor has reduced the number of shots he gets, but despite his age, Allen’s level of play is as high as it has been for the past four seasons.  Eric Spolstra may want to take a page out of Phil Jackson’s play book and simply start Allen at ‘point guard’ much as Ron Harper did for Chicago’s second threepeat, but having him come off the bench serves a purpose too.  Allen is the consummate veteran player.  No stupid turnovers, no silly fouls, spreads the floor, hits open shots and never causes problems in the locker room.  There will no doubt be a number of shooting guards that will post higher averages than Allen, but few will be playing at the level that Allen is, even at the age of 38, which is how old Allen will be when the season is complete. 

Manu Ginobili.  Projected Ranking: Ninth.  Current Ranking: Sixth.

manu-ginobiliIt may seem unfair to some to rank players like Allen and Ginobili in the top ten when their minutes and averages are far below that of other players in the league.  Tyreke Evans, for example, will likely have far more impressive averages than either of these players, as I expect OJ Mayo, Monta Eillis and DeMar DeRozen will as well.  But I do not think any of these players will play at the level that Ginobili or Allen will be playing at.  Their percentages will be lower, their turnovers will be higher and their per36 minutes stats will, in most instances, be less impressive.  There is something to be said for efficiency.  A player is not simply better because the get more points or more rebounds.  Context must be considered.  DeMar DeRozen (with all respect) plays on a horrid team.  He is given more shots because his team simply does not have the kind of options that the Spurs of the Heat have.  In turn, he gets more minutes, more shots and more points than the likes of Manu or Allen, but is he playing at a higher level?  Who you are playing with impacts your production as much as how many minutes you are playing.  Ginobili and Allen are playing with multiple Hall of Fame players and so see a reduction of minutes and are given less time with the ball.  This does not mean they are playing at a lower level, so players like Allen and Ginobili rank higher than some guys with more impressive averages.  Of Ginobili, he has been playing in the league for eleven years. We know how good he is on defence (over 2 steals per36 last season); we know that he is easily the best play-making shooting guard of his generation, bar none; we know that there are few shooting guards who are better rebounders; and we know that there are fewer shooters who have been consistently better than him during his time in the league (Ray Allen may be the only shooting guard who can claim that). 

Tyreke Evans.  Projected Ranking: Tenth.  Current Ranking: Unranked. 

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Dallas MavericksI’m not sure what to do with Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans.  Evans can play both guard positions and small forward, and will likely spend minutes at all three, though he will likely be a combo guard that backs up Evans and Jrue Holiday.  I think Evans may actually be the better player, but Gordon will clearly be the starting shooting guard barring trade or injury (and when it comes to Gordon, I am willing to rule out neither).  Still, Evans will play a lot of minutes at the shooting guard spot.  He is a better rebounder, better play maker and better shooter than Gordon, so it seems obvious that Evans would get the nod over Gordon, even if Gordon is the one starting.  Gordon, for his part, has expressed displeasure with playing for the Hornets and wished to go to Phoenix when he became a restricted free agent last year.  The Hornets, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, could not trade him for a calendar year because they matched the Suns’ offer, but once the season starts, and Gordon proves himself healthy, he may soon be on the trading block.  Keeping him, however, would ensure the Hornets have one of the best backcourt rotations in the league.  Evans though, is the guy they want.  They chased after him and worked out a trade for the guard.  Evans’ all-around game is clearly better than Gordon’s, so even if he is coming off the bench, he still warrants a higher ranking.  Evans, though, is not as well received by some as he is by me.  The Kings seemed to have no interest in retaining the talented guard, and he has failed to rank in the top ten at shooting guard for most analysts.  I believe that with Holiday, Evans and Gordon, the Hornets will have a great back court that is complimented by a front court that features Ryan Anderson and the burgeoning Anthony Davis. The Hornets may not make the playoffs this year, but they will greatly improve and could conceivably make the post season.  If they don’t, their future remains bright and they do have some interesting trade pieces. 

Honourable Mention:

Danny Green and Tony Allen lock up under the basket.

Danny Green and Tony Allen lock up under the basket.

Danny Green: Among the young shooting guards in the league, few can shoot as well as Green.  He is a solid rebounder, and in playing with the Spurs, he has becomes a solid passing guard. Ginobili will likely get fewer minutes as he ages, and these are minutes Green will pick up.

Tony Allen: If this list were based solely on defence, Allen would be at the top of the list.  For that reason, there is no play that I regret leaving off the top-ten more. 

Jamal Crawford splitting the defense.

Jamal Crawford splitting the defense.

Jamal Crawford:  Crawford is a solid shooter and I think one of the more underrated players in the league.  The situations he’s been in have not allowed him to blossom and play as big a role as he is capable of taking on, but he has made the most of the opportunities he has been given.  He is a solid shooter, shares the ball, puts in the effort on defence and doesn’t have so much of an ego that he isn’t willing to come off the bench for the betterment of the team. The signing of JJ Redick may mean reduced minutes for Crawford, but it won’t mean a reduction in his level of play or effort.

Gerald Henderson, working hard to make the Bobcats respectable.

Gerald Henderson, working hard to make the Bobcats respectable.

Gerald Henderson:  In playing for the lowly Bobcats, Henderson seems to have flown under the radar.  But over the past several seasons he has developed into a respectable shooter who continues to improve and has strengthened his defence and play-making skills.  Continued improvement is to be expected, but Henderson will be competing for time with the ball with several other young players looking to make their mark.  A great developmental coach could help to bring Henderson’s potential to fruition, but I’m not sure the Bobcats have the kind of coaching staff that the Spurs do. 

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