Other than a dominant center, having a superstar shooting guard has always been a recipe for a championship run. No better example of this is the 1990′s Chicago Bulls, who rode the greatest shooting guard and player ever, Michael Jordan, to six NBA championships.
While its possible that nobody will ever be able to match Jordan’s productivity and success, there are still a number of great shooting guards lighting up the box score. Here, in my opinion, are the top 10 in the league today.
10. Tracy McGrady (HOU)
McGrady has been struggling to such an extent this year that I considered dropping him from this lost all together, especially with the play of OJ Mayo early this season. McGrady still has the ability to dominate any game with his explosiveness and jump shot, and its hard to ignore his two scoring titles. He has become the second or even sometimes third option in Houston behind Yao Ming and Ron Artest, and his scoring is down to 15.6 PPG. He still has a great combination of size and athleticism, however, and even though he is on the decline, is still one of the better all around players in the league.
9. Kevin Durant (OKC)
At 6-9, Durant has the height of a forward, but he plays as a guard in the Thunder’s system. With Durant’s incredible gifts on the basketball court his play so far could be considered disappointing, but he still has become one of the better scorers in the league. With a great size advantage over must of the defenders assigned to him, Durant has shown an ability to hit contested jumpers from almost anywhere. His shot selection and accuracy have been questioned, but this year he is shooting 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from three, both large improvements over last year. Throw in his ability to utilize his wingspan for rebounding and defense, and Durant is on his way to being an All Star in the Western Conference.
8. Vince Carter (NJN)
Carter was the most difficult player to rank on this list. On some nights he can be the one of the best players in the league, and on others he can look absolutely terrible. He comes in at number eight because of his team’s lack of success and his sometimes lackluster effort, but no matter what you think of him, you have to acknowledge the skills that Carter possesses. Vince, who has a career average of 23.8 PPG, is one of the most athletic and creative finishers in the league. Whether he throws down one of his jaw-dropping dunks or spins in a wild lay-up, there’s almost no stopping Carter driving the lane. He tends to settle for too many jumpers, but when he’s hitting them he is capable of dominating any game.
7. Joe Johnson (ATL)
Slightly too one-dimensional to rank any higher, but he certainly has shown to be pretty good at what he does. Johnson can shoot and score the ball as well as anyone in the league. Since coming to Atlanta from Phoenix, Johnson has stepped his game up to a new level, scoring over 20 points per game every year and leading Atlanta to the playoffs last season. Johnson is a great three point shooter, and has added a great midrange game over the past few years. Johnson is able to get rebounds and assists in the Hawk’s system, but won’t move up on this list until he takes them on his back and leads them past the first round.
6. Richard Hamilton (DET)
Hamilton is a perfect fit in the Pistons system, where his constant movement on the offensive end and ability to hit jumpers coming off screens is unparalleled. “Rip” might not put up the statistics that some of the other players on this list do, but he has scored 17.8 PPG for his career, and more importantly has won championships at both the collegiate and NBA level. Hamilton has greatly improved his three point percentage, is an outstanding free throw shooter (career 85 percent), and always seems to hit a big shot in the fourth quarter.
5. Brandon Roy (POR)
Some people might say that Roy doesn’t belong here because he doesn’t have the sustained or team success yet, but if you watch him play you know that he’s on the way to being an absolute superstar. Roy is physical, can handle the ball, is a very good passer, and a great scorer. He also has shown early in his career that at crunch time, he wants the ball in his hands and more often than not will come through. The Rookie of the Year from 2006 is scoring 20.9 PPG, dishing out 5.3 assists, and needs to start getting some recognition as the best player on a very good Portland team.
4. Ray Allen (LAL)
In the same mold as Hamilton, Allen does his best work without the ball. He has seen his scoring take a dip since arriving in Boston, but his true value came through in helping the Celtics to the championship last season. Allen has a career three point percentage of 40%, as well as shooting 89 percent from the free throw stripe. Ray topped out at 26.4 PPG two years ago in Seattle, but has scored at least 17 PPG every year since 1997, and has established himself as potentially the best pure shooter over that time. A great shooting guard, and now, a champion.
3. Allen Iverson (DET)
Although he is currently playing the point in Detroit, AI has spent the bulk of his career as a shooting guard and should be judged as one. Iverson is a truly remarkable player, ranking third all-time with 27.6. PPG despite standing at a diminutive 6-0 feet. Iverson is a superb ball handler, is as quick as anyone in the NBA, and manages to finish at the basket over men a foot taller. The biggest knocks on “The Answer” have always been his shoot first mentality and his inability to win a championship, but Iverson has averaged 6.3 assists per game for his career and always plays his best ball during the playoffs.
2. Dwyane Wade (MIA)
There have always been skeptics of Wade, who say that he’s injury prone and his jump-shot is too inconsistent. While he has struggled to stay on the court at times and is only a 26 percent shooter for his career, Dwyane understands his strengths and is once again displaying him for the world this year. At 6-4, Wade has a ridiculous ability to knife through the defense and finish, no matter how hard he’s fouled. He also attacks the ball on both ends of the court, averaging 2.5 steals, 4.9 rebounds, and amazingly 1.5 blocks per game this season. Nobody will ever forget Wade’s dominance in the 2006 NBA Finals, where he took home the Finals MVP Award, but at only 26 his best days may be ahead of him.
1. Kobe Bryant (LAL)
Who did you think it was going to be, Jamal Crawford? Kobe is head and shoulders above the rest of this group, and may just be the best player in the league. Despite his scoring and playing time dipping this year, Bryant may be more valuable to his team now than ever before. His career has progressed in three stages: playing Robin to Shaq’s Batman as the pair led the Lakers to three straight championships, losing all of his support and becoming the primary and secondary scoring options for LA, where he showed his scoring ability by scoring 35.4 PPG one year, and finally his role now as the smarter, veteran superstar who passes more and is keeping his legs rested as the Lakers roll towards the Western Conference top seed. Kobe’s strength as a basketball player comes not only from his shooting and athletic ability, which are unmatched, but also from his competitiveness and intensity. He isn’t and will never be Jordan, but he certainly is as close as we have to MJ in the NBA today.