Top 10 NBA Shooting Guards
1. James Harden
Harden indisputably has the most complete offensive game on this list if not in the entire league. He can drop 15 assists or 40 points on any night depending on what mood he is in and what defenses are giving him. What makes Harden so special is that he mitigates the effect of strong defensive schemes since he gets to the line so frequently and converts at such a high rate. He is a master of baiting defenders into reaching in too close and drawing cheap shooting fouls as a result: James Harden Foul Baiting
Harden has used his plethora of foul-drawing techniques to get to the line at a historic rate. He has led the league in Free throw attempts per game in each of the last three seasons and makes them at an 85.4% clip for his career. Harden is a serious problem for teams such as Western Conference stalwarts like the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz, since Harden is able to rack up solid numbers against them by getting to the line and bypassing their solid defenses.
2. Jimmy Butler
It may seem a bit controversial to put Butler, a player who was just traded for an unproven second year PG coming off a disappointing rookie year, and a Shooting Guard whose effectiveness is extremely dependent on athleticism, coming off an ACL tear (Zach LaVine-here we go again Chicago fans) and a jump of nine spots in the draft, ahead of a player of Thompson’s caliber. However careful examination of the details reveals that there is a very solid argument for Butler being the more valuable player. For starters, (not to beat a dead horse) this was a terrible trade by the Chicago front office duo of Gar Forman and John Paxson, who are quickly becoming the new David Kahn or Geoff Petrie of this league. With the Kings, (who most ardent NBA fans have considered the worst run franchise in the league the past few seasons) having an actual solid, competent off-season this year, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that the Bulls are now the worst-run franchise in the league (You can obviously argue the Knicks).
There is a reason most writers who gave this trade a grade gave the Bulls an F and the Wolves an A+. The Bulls made the playoffs last year…just let that sink in for a second… This team is a shoe-in for a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft barring any lottery shenanigans, as Stephen Noh of the Atlantic correctly pointed out, “With Butler off the floor, they (the Bulls) played like a 20-win team last season.” As good as Thompson is, it’s hard to see him being worth twenty wins to any of the teams in the league, essentially proving that Butler would have added more value to every team he played on than Thompson. Butler had to carry a majority of the Bulls’ anemic offense while serving as the team’s best defender, all while playing 37 minutes a night, three more minutes than Klay Thompson’s 34 minutes per game.
3. Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson definitely has an argument for the number two spot on this list, but because he has consistently been the second or third option on a completely stacked team, we don’t know if he can be the primary scoring option and shot creator on a team like Jimmy Butler has. Objectively, Butler and Thompson are interchangeable at spots two and three on this list because both could be better fits on certain teams depending on the situation. For instance, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors would clearly benefit more from Klay Thompson on their rosters than Jimmy Butler since both teams already have dominant forwards or guards, but need more floor spacing, which is what Thompson excels at. Additionally, the defensive drop-off between Thompson and Butler is quite negligible, with Butler slightly edging out Thompson. However, the sheer volume of Butler’s contributions implies that if he had more energy and his usage was lowered by playing with better teammates, he would have out-produced Thompson drastically, especially on the defensive end where Butler’s prowess cannot be understated. As I stated earlier, the only teams that would really value Thompson over Butler would be the Warriors and the Cavaliers because their offensive schemes require maximum floor spacing and ball movement to be most effective. Here are some clips from last season showcasing Thompson’s importance to the Warriors’ success:Klay Thompson Offensive Highlights
CJ McCollum is underrated simply because of how efficient he is with his shots. McCollum shot 42.1 percent from three last year while attempting 7.7 three point attempts per game. McCollum shot an extremely efficient 48% from the field, especially when you factor in how many of his shots were three point attempts. McCollum attempted 18.6 shots per game last season, making 8.9 of them. McCollum’s high volume makes his productivity that much more impressive, since volume shooters tend to have terrible efficiency. McCollum’s true shooting percentage last season was an absurd 58.5 percent (the league average last season was 51.4 percent). The sheer volume of shots McCollum took and made last season is the reason why he sits at #4 on the list. The man is a total offensive dynamo, able to create his own shots in an isolation, while also spacing the floor superbly, opening up driving lanes for his teammates. While McCollum isn’t the best defender, his defensive liabilities are a bit overstated since he has to expend so much energy carrying the offense for his team. If we look at defensive win shares, McCollum was ranked 123rd in the league, with 0.029 defensive win shares, tied with Avery Bradley, a player who is often lauded for his defense. (In case you were wondering, the two best defenders in the league according to defensive win shares were Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert).
5. Bradley Beal
In a league where three point shooting is paramount, Brad arguably belongs in the top 5 three point shooters in the game when both efficiency and volume are considered. Beal was good for nearly three triples a game last year hitting 40.4% of the 7.2 he took. Having a shooter of Beal’s caliber is extremely valuable since beyond the nine points his makes provide, defenses have to be extremely careful about leaving Beal open. This makes it much harder for defenses to switch on pick and rolls and help in general. Beal’s spacing makes the entire offense more efficient, for example in his four seasons with the Wizards, center Marcin Gortat has shot 56.2% from the field while only shooting 54.6% for the rest of his career. The two percent difference may seem inconsequential, but in reality Gortat has taken ~3000 shots as a Wizard, so this small efficiency bump has netted the Wizards an additional 120 points. To be fair, not all of this can be attributed to Beal’s effect, but it is small details such as these that often go unnoticed and appreciated. Beal would be plenty valuable if he produced these numbers as a Korver-type who only could catch and shoot, but Beal is also a very good ball handler who can score from anywhere on the floor. This dangerous skill set makes Beal as valuable as Avery Bradley who is a beast.
6. Avery Bradley
Avery Bradley was the key to Boston’s success last year because he became a reliable shooter from outside. In previous seasons, Bradley was the player who coaches would single out to “let shoot” in their defensive game-plans. However, Bradley’s improvements as a shooter and offensive player made this strategy a complete non-starter. Bradley shot 39% from downtown last season on five attempts per game and finished the season with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3 percent. Additionally, Bradley was the Celtics’ best on ball defender and was tasked with guarding the opposing team’s most dangerous perimeter threat on any given night. Given the workload that was forced on Bradley from a defensive standpoint (it’s not easy to cover for a point guard who is 5’9”), it is amazing that Bradley had the kind of offensive production that he did, scoring 16.3 points per game in a relatively efficient manner (Bradley shot 46.3 percent from the field, league average was 45.7 percent). Bradley is also a great off-ball cutter and v-cutter, (v-cuts are when a player makes bodily contact with his defender after walking them a few feet inside the 3-point line and then explodes out to receive the ball, affording the defense very little time to react) which allows him to generate easy buckets for himself and his teammates. Bradley also has sneaky good handles even if he isn’t the flashiest.
Here is a game against the Warriors in late March when Bradley is tasked with defending Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all night:Avery Bradley vs. Warriors
In these videos you can see that Bradley is completely legit, and the man is only 26 years old! Bradley has shown marked improvement from season to season statistically in almost every category. Bradley is an explosive athlete who can drive to the rim and score the ball, shoot the 3, make plays without the ball in his hands, and last but not least, Bradley is an absolute bulldog of a defender. Here’s an informative video I found of how Bradley has mastered the art of strong perimeter basketball defense:Analysis of Avery Bradley’s Defense
7. DeMar DeRozan
It’s very likely that many fans are surprised to see Demar DeRozan so low on this list, and many would argue that he is worthy of a top five spot. But despite the fact that the Raptors are coughing up $30 million a year for his services, glaring limitations prevent Derozan from ascending any higher than #7. The most obvious of these deficiencies is that unlike many players on this list, DeRozan offers little threat from downtown. Last year, DeRozan shot an atrocious 26.6% from three on only 1.7 attempts per game. As a result of his struggles from deep, DeRozan’s effective field goal percentage sits at a paltry 47.7%, nearly 10 full percentage points lower than Klay Thompson’s and Bradley Beal’s.
In today’s NBA where floor spacing is at a premium, this is already a significant demerit against DeRozan. This may explain why other versatile, athletic wings who are also poor floor spacers such as DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, and Patrick Patterson who all can provide value above replacement level in the right systems are no longer in town. This would not be so damning, except that DeRozan is often a black hole on offense once the ball gets into his hands, it does not come out. DeRozan’s 4.6 isolation plays per game ranked 7th among all players last season helping explain why nearly one third (31%) of DeRozan’s shot attempts came from at least 16 feet from the basket but inside the three point line. It goes without saying that these shots are the worst ones to take regularly since they are more difficult than a short two point attempt and do not reward the player with an extra point like a three does. There is a reason that players of a similar mold such as Carmelo Anthony and DeRozan alike have never made deep runs in the playoffs.
8. Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton is a name that casual NBA fans probably aren’t too familiar with. Middleton bounced back from a gruesome hamstring injury and had a great half-season for the Milwaukee Bucks who were desperate for production from the Shooting Guard position because of Jabari Parker’s ACL injury. In 30.7 minutes per game last season, Middleton averaged 14.7 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc on 3.6 attempts per game. (For his career, Middleton has shot 40.4 percent from three in five NBA seasons) Middleton isn’t the flashiest player, but he does his job on offense and is solid on defense as well. For reference, Middleton had the highest net rating of any player on the Bucks’ roster last season, sporting an excellent +5.2 when he saw the floor. Middleton is also a physical freak at the Shooting Guard position. Middleton stands 6’8” and has a 6’11” wingspan allowing him to bully/post up opposing guards, while also getting his jumper off whenever he wants because his height doesn’t allow his opponents a clean contest (Middleton has the physique and play style of Kevin Durant). For more analysis on Middleton’s player profile, check out this article from The Ringer.
9. Nicolas Batum
Nic Batum is a 6’8” do-it-all shooting guard with the height of a forward, much like Khris Middleton. Batum isn’t quite as efficient as the other players on this list, but the workload and volume he has shouldered over the course of his career helps to explain his efficiency struggles. Last season, Batum played 34 minutes per game for the Charlotte Hornets and averaged 15.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 5.9 assists per game. Batum is adept at creating open shots for his teammates which is clearly seen in his assist numbers, but he can also score and rebound the ball providing a triple-threat option for his team.
Over the course of his career, Batum has shot a serviceable 35.7 percent from three on 4.6 attempts per game, allowing him to space the floor for his slashing teammates like Kemba Walker. While Batum isn’t the most efficient player, his workload and skillset places him at number nine on our list of the NBA’s best shooting guards. As I stated earlier, Nic Batum is a reliable second option for his dynamic point guard Kemba Walker, and he thrives in that role, which earns him the ranking of 9th-best shooting guard in the NBA. Using his creativity with the ball, Batum is able to quickly generate open looks for teammates. Additionally, Batum’s length and ball-handling skills allow him to pull up for open jumpers over shorter defenders, or get to the rim because of his quick first step and long limbs. Here’s a game in late March that showcases what Batum offers as a second scoring option, especially his abilities in the post as well as his skills as a ball handler playing the pick and roll: Nic Batum Highlights vs. Pelicans
10. Devin Booker
If we were ranking the top offensive shooting guards in the league Booker would likely crack the top five, but his porous defensive metrics force him to settle for a spot in the basement of this list. Defensive limitations aside, Booker is one of the most exciting young players in the league right now due to the variety of ways he can put the ball in the basket similar to the number one player on our list, James Harden. Booker’s elite explosiveness and quick release often bait defenders into reaching in and committing unnecessary fouls. Last season, Booker shot 5.7 FTA good for 25th in the entire league despite only shooting 3.4 in his rookie year. With more experience, it’s very easy to see this number ballooning to 8 or 9, allowing Booker to maintain respectable efficiency levels for such a high volume player. From the floor, Booker is simply a shot creator as he is a fantastic driver to the basket with efficient range extending to the three point line if defenders cheat and try to dip under Booker’s pick and rolls. Booker can post up on either block and finishes well at the rim.
Despite his scoring prowess, Booker could also easily find himself on a top ten list for worst defenders in the league. He often switches off on the defensive end, frequently blowing assignments coming out of timeouts. Even if he gave sufficient effort, he simply seems to struggle to stay in front of his man, and if trapped in pick and roll defense, it is lights out for Booker as he has yet to show any ability to fight through screens. Perhaps adding a few more pounds of muscle to his frame would help Booker on the defensive end as he has a slender frame despite his height. Even worse, Booker does not chip in on the glass nearly as much as a 6’6” shooting guard should, as he grabbed only 3.2 rebounds per game last year. Unless he improves on defense, there is a risk Booker quickly becomes overrated, putting up huge numbers while actually producing net minus production. Still, the 2017-2018 season will only be Booker’s third, so there is ample time to correct these flaws.