Everyone loves player rankings, so let’s rank shooting guards, home of the most variety of player types in the NBA.
In order to remove bias from my own ranking, I have decided to put together a formula to generate a new ranking. The list below isn’t my personal opinion on who’s better than who. Rather, it shapes my opinion on who provided the most value last season. For example, I know that Devin Booker is better than Buddy Hield and Jeremy Lamb, but for a variety of reasons, Booker will rank lower than the latter two.
First, let me explain my logic and reasoning in crafting this list:
Methodology and Criteria
Going into the exercise, I knew I wanted to rank the most valuable players from last season, rather than the best players. I decided to rank the following six components of a shooting guard’s game to varying degrees:
- Scoring and facilitating, i.e. how effective the player was at generating points with the ball in hand.
- Number Production, i.e. how many points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks the player accumulated.
- Offensive Efficiency and Role, i.e. how frequently did a player score, and what level of volume did the player score with.
- Defensive efficiency and role, i.e. how frequently was the player tasked with defending opposing shot takers, and how frequently did they force a player to miss.
- Team Impact, i.e. how well did the team perform when the player was on and off the floor.
- Advanced Metrics, i.e. how effective do the advanced metrics say the player is in the moment and over the course of the season.
In order to turn each of these categories into a single number, I acquired per 100 possession data, point creation data, efficiency and usage data, defensive numbers, net ratings, and advanced numbers for all shooting guards to appear in 30 or more games. A giant thanks to Jacob Goldstein of The BBall Index, Adam Fromal of NBA Math, and Jeremias Engelmann of ESPN for their metric data.
The ranking is entirely statistical, but it doesn’t rely on just advanced metrics or basic points and assists numbers. It blends the above concepts into a composite ranking and adjusts for a player’s role and minutes played.
Let’s get into it.
- Zach LaVine, Terrence Ross, Iman Shumpert, Tony Allen, Rodney McGruder, and Ron Baker all had a chance to crack the top 50, but none of them met the 30 game minimum requirement.
- Last week, Jrue Holiday, Delon Wright, Marcus Smart, Jordan Clarkson, Malcolm Brogdon, Rajon Rondo, and George Hill were all ranked as point guards, so none of them will show up in the shooting guard section.
- Here’s the list of players I have as borderline small forwards rather than shooting guards: Khris Middleton, Josh Richardson, Andrew Wiggins, C.J. Miles, Dillon Brooks, Evan Turner, and Royce O’Neale.
- Will Barton will be ranked as a shooting guard because he spent the majority of his time last season at the position.
Just Missed the Cut:
- Dion Waiters continues to think higher of himself than the numbers suggest. He, Avery Bradley, Jamal Crawford, and Lance Stephenson all missed the cut. All four were inefficient on moderate to high volume, and there were no good defenders among this group, Bradley included.
- Former Golden State Warriors backups Nick Young and Ian Clark were both poor this year.
- Bryn Forbes and Damyean Dotson were two low minute reserves who just didn’t have enough floor time to crack the top 50.
- Two young players I enjoyed watching, Tyrone Wallace and Pat Connaughton, were right on the border, and they should crack the top 50 soon enough.
Average Backups (player - 2017-18 team)
50. Garrett Temple - Sacramento Kings
49. Wesley Matthews - Dallas Mavericks
47. Josh Hart - Los Angeles Lakers
46. Andrew Harrison - Memphis Grizzlies
45. Wayne Selden - Memphis Grizzlies
44. Langston Galloway - Detroit Pistons
43. Courtney Lee - New York Knicks
42. Danny Green - San Antonio Spurs
41. Nicolas Batum - Charlotte Hornets
This tier involves a variety of current NBA shooting guard talent, from scorers to facilitators to shooters to defensive talent. Garrett Temple will join Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden in the backcourt in Memphis this year. With Mike Conley returning, the Grizzlies have a decent backcourt rotation (I have Dillon Brooks at small forward). Selden is the best shooter of the three. Harrison is the best defender and facilitator. Temple is the most versatile. None are starter quality.
There are two younger guards here in Josh Hart and Rodney Hood. Hart will be extremely valuable going forward as a versatile playmaker, shooter, and defender. Hood is a solid scorer and produces points, but as one of the worst defenders on this list, he’s not a valuable player right now.
Lastly, there are a number of veterans with quality reputations that have fallen off a ton: Courtney Lee remains steady, but Wesley Matthews has struggled to remain efficient and competent defensively, Danny Green is too low volume offensively, and Batum, while an excellent playmaker, struggles everywhere else.
Above Average Backups
40. Justin Holiday - Chicago Bulls
39. Andre Roberson - Oklahoma City Thunder
38. Luke Kennard - Detroit Pistons
37. Bogdan Bogdanovic - Sacramento Kings
35t. Joe Harris - Brooklyn Nets
35t. Reggie Bullock - Detroit Pistons
34. Caris LeVert - Brooklyn Nets
33. Austin Rivers - Los Angeles Clippers
32. E’Twaun Moore - New Orleans Pelicans
31. Wayne Ellington - Miami Heat
29t. Allen Crabbe - Brooklyn Nets
28. Gerald Green - Houston Rockets
This tier of players is very large, but it goes to show just how many quality shooting guards there are that aren’t quite starter caliber. The most common player type here is the bench shooter. Justin Holiday: 35.9% from three. Luke Kennard: 41.5%. Bogdan Bogdanovic: 39.2%. Joe Harris: 41.9%. And so on.
The one non-shooter in this tier is Andre Roberson, and frankly, it’s amazing he came in so high. After playing only 39 games, Roberson achieved the ninth highest defensive score, defending the fifth most field goals per 36 minutes, accumulating the ninth most steals per 100 possessions, the second most blocks per 100, and the fifth most rebounds per 100. Ultimately though, the biggest factor was his second best Team Impact score, posting a +10.6 Net Rating when on the floor and a +9.9 Net Difference. That means when Roberson was off the floor, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a slightly above average basketball team. With him, they were a contender.
Below Average Starters
27. Manu Ginobili - San Antonio Spurs
26. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - Los Angeles Lakers
25. Tyler Johnson - Miami Heat
24. Dwyane Wade - Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat
23. Tomas Satoransky - Washington Wizards
22. Kyle Korver - Cleveland Cavaliers
21. Kent Bazemore - Atlanta Hawks
20. Evan Fournier - Orlando Magic
19. Tim Hardaway Jr. - New York Knicks
In this tier, starters and bench players alike performed at the level of a below average starter. This is an intriguing group. Most of the players can handle the ball, and a number of them combine those skills with good enough defense. Manu Ginobili, Tyler Johnson, Tomas Satoransky, and Dwyane Wade fit this player type, each with top 30 defensive scores and top 35 assist marks. Satoransky in particular is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He posted top 25 marks in every category except scoring, including the second best passing mark among SGs.
It’s always difficult to quantify the true effect of players. For Dwayne Wade and his stints in Cleveland and Miami, the efficiency certainly wasn’t there, and that was a big deal.
However, Wade did serve both teams well as a secondary (and sometimes primary) ball handler. His production as a passer helped both squads, both of which lacked creation for others (save for LeBron James of course). I don’t think Wade is accurately ranked though. His production made up for major flaws defensively, and the degree to which is passing production actually helped the offense is questionable.
Kyle Korver is basically the opposite of Wade. While both are veterans of the 2003 draft class, one plays with the ball in his hands, and other was one of the most efficient/effective shooters and had the advanced metrics of a solid starter. His minute count dragged him down, but playing with LeBron James helped prolong Korver’s career. We will see how effective he is without an elite facilitator.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kent Bazemore, Evan Fournier, and Tim Hardaway Jr. all started on bad teams but were productive in a variety of ways. By all advanced metrics, KCP deserves to be in this tier, possibly even the one above it; however, his relatively average impact across all other categories left something to be desired. Bazemore posted the third most steals and fifth most blocks per 100 while shooting 39.4% from three. Evan Fournier posted the 7th highest efficiency score based on his effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and usage rate combination. THJR simply had few weaknesses in his game, and while he will have a tough time justifying the contract the Knicks gave him last offseason, he can at least say he’s on the border of being a solid starter.
18. Devin Booker - Phoenix Suns
17. Will Barton - Denver Nuggets
16. Jeremy Lamb - Charlotte Hornets
15. Buddy Hield - Sacramento Kings
14. J.J. Redick - Philadelphia 76ers
13. Jaylen Brown - Boston Celtics
12. C.J. McCollum - Portland Trail Blazers
11. Eric Gordon - Houston Rockets
10. DeMar DeRozan - Toronto Raptors
9. Gary Harris - Denver Nuggets
Let’s be clear: Devin Booker isn’t the 18th best shooting guard in the NBA. He’s squarely in the top 10.
That’s not to say he was among the ten most valuable shooting guards in the NBA though. He played for a terrible Phoenix Suns team, which certainly hurt his advanced metrics. That being said, his team impact score should be higher than 61st where it stands after 2017-18, and it’s because there was no difference in Phoenix’s performance with Booker on the floor versus off.
That’s not encouraging. Generally, the best offensive player on the team elevates the teams offensive rating higher than a measly 1.3 points per 100 possessions. It could be because the Suns didn’t have a point guard, and that simply upgrading the roster around Booker will make him better. Still, that’s a thought for another time. Despite being the second most productive scorer, Booker’s efficiency profile was just “good” rather than elite. He’s elite for a 21-year-old season, but that’s a different conversation. He’s still a horrid defender. Hopefully starting next to Trevor Ariza and DeAndre Ayton will elevate him there.
As for the rest of the group, it’s primarily formed by the most valuable reserves and other rock solid starters. The bench group of Will Barton, Jeremy Lamb, Buddy Hield, and Eric Gordon is intriguing. Barton and Gordon were Sixth Man of the Year candidates last year, while Hield was quite possibly the best player on the Kings last year. Lamb went relatively unnoticed In Charlotte once again, but he was in Charlotte’s three best two-man lineups with each of Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and Dwight Howard. He deserves to be a starter there.
Then, there are five starting guards, all completely different: Redick, Brown, McCollum, DeRozan, and Harris. Redick and Harris were the most efficient shooters by far. Brown was the best defender. McCollum and DeRozan were the best volume scorers handling the ball.
It’s tough to differentiate by skill set, but this the clear break in the tier between solid and All-Star caliber. DeRozan gets a ton of hype for his scoring and creation prowess, and maybe that helps in the fourth quarter of a game more than Brown’s two-way contributions or Harris’ spacing and burgeoning offensive game. DeRozan’s stellar teammates also hurt his individual team impact score, simply because the team doesn’t miss a beat when he exits the game. He’s in a similar situation to Booker, except Booker’s team is awful regardless of whether he’s in or not.
8. Klay Thompson - Golden State Warriors
7. Lou Williams - Los Angeles Clippers
6. Donovan Mitchell - Utah Jazz
5. Tyreke Evans - Memphis Grizzlies
4. Bradley Beal - Washington Wizards
The All-Star caliber tier features five players, and only two of them made the All-Star teams last year, primarily because of the talent in the Western Conference. Two of the players primarily come off the bench, but don’t let that fool you: Lou Williams and Tyreke Evans were each amazing last year. Williams averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists on 35.9% from three. The eight players to match those numbers all made the All-Star game. Evans averaged 19 points, five rebounds, and five assists on just under 40% from three. Of the other seven players to accomplish that, six made the All-Star game, the lone exception being Blake Griffin.
Klay Thompson is in all likelihood the fourth or fifth best shooting guard in the NBA, but playing for the Golden State Warriors has altered his numbers. Not just his per game totals, but the team impact factor. As great of a defender as Thompson is, especially in playoff situations, he defended just an average number of shots per 36 minutes and stole the ball at an extremely low rate. Combined with his role in Golden State’s offense limiting his ability to facilitate for others, and it’s hard for Thompson to make up ground. He had the second efficiency mark though.
Donovan Mitchell and Bradley Beal are very similar players. Both can handle the basketball and facilitate for others. Mitchell still has much to learn and some extra efficiency to achieve, but as his offensive abilities continue to blossom, he has a chance of being the best shooting guard in the NBA throughout his prime. Beal, in my opinion, remains extremely underrated. John Wall isn’t the ideal point guard to play next to him, and it wouldn’t surprise me if those two separated some time soon. Surround Beal with better shooters and an elite rim runner (Dwight Howard is closer than Marcin Gortat, I guess) and he could be the best shooting guard in the NBA very shortly.
3. Jimmy Butler - Minnesota Timberwolves
2. Victor Oladipo - Indiana Pacers
1. James Harden - Houston Rockets
This is the cream of the crop, and order is sure to confuse some.
Butler missed some precious time this season. Playing 59 games compared to Victor Oladipo’s 75 already puts him behind the 8-ball. Let’s examine the facts though:
Harden’s abilities on offense completely separate him from the pack. He didn’t have as large of an individual impact on the Houston Rockets as Jimmy Butler had on the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that’s because the Rockets have Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon. His combination of effectiveness and volume just completely overwhelmed opponents, and it’s why he won MVP.
Butler faced off against Harden and the Rockets in the first round and were trounced. Unfortunately for the T’Wolves, that was an unfair fight. The Rockets did everything they could to get the ball out of Butler’s hands, and it caused Butler’s scoring to drop, even though his efficiency remained intact. He’s a willing passer, but it’s not the best part of his game in my opinion. Butler is best when he’s playing a primary scoring role off of a facilitating big man. He performed well with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. Maybe he performs well with Nikola Jokic in the future.
Surprisingly though, Butler isn’t the runaway second best shooting guard. Victor Oladipo was first team All-Defense for a reason, and his ability to be a pest on that end, picking up steals and blocks at a prolific rate, helped improve his productivity as well. Both were incredible on the offensive end, but Oladipo made a big difference for Indiana defensively, the 12th best defense that performed like the fourth best defense with Oladipo on the floor.
This level of impact cannot be understated. He shouldered the load on both ends, making the second best shooting guard conversation at least something worth discussing.
There’s my 2,700 words on shooting guards this year. Gary Harris comes in at 9. Will Barton, ranked as a shooting guard, comes in at 17. Both will be extremely vital to Denver’s upcoming season, so hopefully, they don’t overlap positions too much and can coexist with Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, and Jokic this year.
Here’s how I see the top 10 rankings playing out next season:
Harris is squarely in the top 10 here. Murray was in the top 10 last week among point guards. If both of those can occur, Denver will have an argument for top five backcourt in the NBA behind Paul/Harden and Curry/Thompson, with Wall/Beal, Teague/Butler, Irving/Brown, and Lillard/McCollum.
One must remember that these rankings are about total value, not total skill or highest potential. If there are any questions on the formulation, please comment below or start the conversation on Twitter (@NBABlackburn).
Small forwards next week.
Will Gary Harris ever be an elite shooting guard, or he destined to just be "really good"?
This poll is closed
No, this is his ceiling.
He can still improve, but he won’t be elite.
He will become an All-Star caliber player.
He will become an All-NBA caliber player.