By Cole Zwicker and Jason Glover
What we have here is the unofficial Top 5 list for the NBA’s shooting guard position. These rankings are not for life time achievement and they certainly are not a prediction of the future, rather we are ranking the top five shooting guards in the NBA based on the here and now. Instead of Mr. Zwicker and me each listing our top 5 lists separately we decided to simplify matters by combining our efforts. We will alternate back and forth our choices with me going first and then Cole. We are each allowed a rebuttal/comment on the other writers pick. So let us not waste anymore time, here are the top five Shooting guards in the NBA today.
1. Dwyane Wade. (Jason’s Pick)- To be honest, I am not a huge Wade fan. Odd when you consider I live just outside Chicago, but something about him rubs me wrong and I cannot put my finger on it. Maybe it was his bad mouthing of the Bulls organization, or perhaps it was the way he toyed with Bulls fans last summer when he talked about signing with the Bulls. But I must put aside my feeling and look at him as a basketball player. He is now clearly the number one shooting guard in the league. Kobe took a step back last season and I am afraid the days of Kobe lighting it up for 40+ in back to back games is about over. I am a fan of Kobe, mainly because he reminds me so much of growing up watching Jordan. Sure he is not as good, but he was quite close. Wade is a different breed. Not a great shooter really, but he can penetrate with the best of them and is a very good defender. Only his own health stands in his way of holding this top spot for the next few years.
(Cole’s Pick and Rebuttal)- Dwyane Wade. Wade is the premier player at the position today by virtually any statistical measure. He’s a better passer, shot-maker and defender than Kobe. Sure he doesn’t shoot a high percentage from the perimeter, but last year he took 55% of shots inside 9 feet, thus he overcompensates but converting at a high efficiency inside. D-Wade’s euro two step esque in and out split the defense side to side ect move is easily one of the most effective moves in the game and his ability to get in the lane consistently makes him special. Throw in a backbone and the ability to rise to big moments (unlike his partner in crime) and you really have the total package outside of occasional defensive lapses. Plus he’s the only NBA player I can remember that made GQ’s “swagger” list. That has to count for something.
2. Kobe Bryant. (Cole’s Pick)-As much as it pains me to say it Kobe’s days of being the undisputed #1 shooting guard in basketball have come to an end (a moment of silence please). That SOB father time has finally caught up to the Mamba in the form of a ridiculous amount of miles on his legs, especially recently with 3 straight trips to the finals prior to this past seasons sweep and via numerous amounts of injuries. As a result Kobe is far from the 06 version of Kobe, i.e. the most dominant scorer in the post MJ era. The explosiveness just isn’t there anymore, and even for a player whose game is predicated more so on skill that still adds up.
That all being said this certainly isn’t and shouldn’t be viewed as a farewell ode to Kobe as he rides into the sunset. He’s still a very effective player largely due to how cerebral he is. Kobe foresaw his decline physically and instead of succumbing to age he refined his game to maximize his effectiveness when he hit the physical barrier. In other words he developed a hell of a midrange post game (did you hear that LeBron) with a wide arsenal of moves that could create the necessary space to get his shot off. Case in point Kobe led all shooting guards in shots between 3-15 feet last season and shot an incredible 50% (highest on this list). He’s developed a niche that is relatively timeless that will allow him to remain effective past his prime for the next 3-4 years.
As mentioned previously Kobe isn’t without his faults. He uses too many possessions (league high usage rate last season) and shoots too much, specifically long jumpers, for what he is as a player now. He most plaguing weakness still persists in his predictability (seriously there has never been a more predictable superstar?) He’s either in passing mode, shooting mode or defensive mode (see Olympics Dobermamba). He’s excellent when given a singular task, but in terms of just making the best available play in a more holistic sense I’m not sure he’ll ever put together. Despite his finite amount of weaknesses he’s still in the top 4 in terms of players you want taking the last shot in a close game (along with Dirk, Wade and Melo) due simply to the fact he’ll always generate a makeable look.
Overall Kobe’s midrange effectiveness due to his GOAT footwork at the position, high skill level, competitiveness and indomitable thirst/will to prepare/be the best keeps him entrenched at #2, but his physical limitations knock him off the greatest at the position pantheon
(Jason’s Pick and Rebuttal)- Kobe Bryant. Again me and Cole are on the same page. Kobe might still be the best shooting guard with the ball in his hand in the final minutes of the game, but his explosiveness is gone. What saves him is the fact that his shot has been solid as he has aged and he will be effective for a few more seasons based on that alone. As his body continues to fade, so will his ability to penetrate and defend, but he will still be able to score and get other players involved. Just look at Grant Hill. He has played some of his better basketball in the past few seasons. I see Kobe being a great player for perhaps 2 or 3 more seasons and then he will be a solid contributor for a few more if he stays in the game.
3. Monta Ellis. (Jason’s Pick)-Things drop off a bit after Kobe and I had a hard time making this pick, but in the end I went with Monte. He reminds me a bit of Derrick Rose, if Rose were a shooting guard. He is quick and explosive and can score at will. Basically, he does what you want a SG to do, score. He also has good hands and can make great plays in the fast break and can also get into the passing lanes for steals. His flaw is that he gives up the ball a bit much for an off guard, but to be fair he does handle the ball quite a bit. He also seems to lack that leadership quality that the Warriors could really use. I see him getting traded at some point and perhaps if he can be a 2nd option somewhere he could really shine. Maybe the Knicks somehow?
(Cole’s Pick and Rebuttal)- Manu Ginobili. Manu’s PER ranking among shooting guards over the past 3 seasons: 3rd, 2nd and 4th. He’s simply one of the most consistent guards in the league. His overall numbers are tempered by Pop’s reluctance to play him large minutes, but his efficiency is always there. He’s without question the best player on the Spurs and a tremendous competitor on the level of Kobe. His quirkiness in getting into the lane via debatable travels is still elite and there aren’t 5 players I’d rather have with the ball in there hands and the game on the line than him. I don’t see a significant decline in his production and until I do he’s a better all around producer on both sides of the court than Monte (who uses far more possessions to generate his numbers).
4. Eric Gordon (Cole’s Pick)- Too early for EG? I think not.. Gordon reminds me of a shooting guard version of Deron Williams. Outside of rebounding he’s the total package without a significant weakness. He’s an excellent finisher due to his bowling ball build, he gets to the line, and he’s a sniper from deep. His shooting ability is definitely his greatest strength as evidenced by his #1 ranking of all elite SG’s in eFG%, but his abilities extend much further than just the scoring department. Gordon is actually a dynamic playmaker and can man the point guard spot when needed (as seen last year when Baron Davis suffered his annual injury). He has the handles and court vision to create not only his own shot but shots for others, an ability that separates him from the Kevin Martin’s of the world. Simply put offensively he’s just a versatile assassin..
Gordon is also quietly a beast defensively. To build upon the D-Will comparison his build/strength gives him a competitive advantage at the position that overcompensates for his lack of height. He has the strength to guard any guard in the post despite often times matching up against taller opposition, while still possessing the speed and quickness to stop penetration.
At just 22 Gordon is already the total package. He flies under the radar playing for Clippers but to those who watch a significant amount of Clippers bball he’s the real deal. The scary thing is there is still a tremendous amount of untapped potential there. In 4-5 years you could be looking at EG as the best SG in the game. Start buying stock now.
(Jason’s Pick and Rebuttal)- Eric Gordon. I too am wearing the EG glasses. The kid proved last year that he is the real deal and it is only a matter of time and he could be the best shooting guard in the game. Wade and Kobe will fade, and Monte and Manu are not getting any younger either. I see no other shooting guard in the league that has the upside that Gordon has. With Brandon Roy done forever and Joe Johnson not getting any better the field is wide open for EG. The Clippers finally do have a bright future with both EG and Blake Griffin on the floor.
I am a fan of Manu and I still think he is a top 5 shooting guard, but no one can deny that the guy is fading a bit. Much like Kobe, his better seasons are behind him. My only real issue with Ginobili is the fact that I do not think his numbers are as good as the guys ahead of him on this list. Sure he is a winner and a champion, but he is still not a very good defender and his shot can be streaky. Overall he is a consistent player and you know you are going to get 15 points, 3 assists, and a couple of rebounds every night out of him and every once and awhile he will light it up and take over a game. In my opinion, he was at his best when he came off the bench for Bowen back in the day. That was when he was most effective. I would never consider any of the other players on this list as being better coming off the bench and that is why they are ahead of him.
(Cole’s Pick and Rebuttal)- Monta Ellis. Monte does remind me a lot of Derrick Rose as well in both style of play and circumstance. Since the former has already been touched on I’ll focus on the latter. Like Rose Ellis’ “situation” over the course of his career makes him difficult to fully evaluate. He’s never had anyone respectable in the post to draw defensive attention, rendering him essentially a chucker responsible for creating literally every play/shot in the Warrior’s offense over the majority of his career (and by offense I mean a total lackthereof). He’s never had any structure or presence to reign him in and fully exploit his talents. I’ve seen flashes of “elite” play, mainly how he competes defensively when guarding the likes of Kobe (who he surprisingly plays well against), but you have to think the rigors of playing for the Warriors “entertainment is success” mantra is sucking the life out of him. I think the talent and intangibles are there, but he hasn’t demonstrated it in full force. Right now he remains an athletic and highly inconsistent volume shooter, which is why he’s bested by Manu and Gordon.