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Building The Perfect NBA Shooting Guard: James Harden's Basketball IQ, Klay Thompson's Shooting

Building The Perfect NBA Shooting Guard: James Harden's Basketball IQ, Klay Thompson's Shooting

There are many roles that a shooting guard has to play on the basketball court. Usually, a shooting guard is a team’s primary scoring option or, at the very least, someone who has to get his hands on the ball nearly every possession. Guys like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Jerry West are the best examples of this. Scoring is a shooting guard’s main objective, but there is much more to it.

Scoring is important, of course. Shooting guards have to be able to create their shot, be at least decent perimeter shooters, and overall just be a three-level scoring threat. They also have to be able to be aggressive enough offensively to force their way to the free-throw line and take advantage of those opportunities. To be able to do all of these things, a shooting guard needs to be able to handle the ball with care and have the awareness to know when he is stopped and needs to pass it off. Making an impact defensively is also a plus as some of the best shooting guards of all time have been pretty good in that department.

As we use shooting guards from the 2021-2022 season, we have chosen the very best players to fulfill each one of these roles perfectly. We present to you the perfect shooting guard.

Rule: We can use only players who have played in the 2021-22 NBA season

Basketball IQ - James Harden

James Harden

Even though the consensus is that James Harden took a step back in his production in 2021-22, one thing that no one can say regressed was his IQ on the court. He struggled early in the season due to the new rule change that called for tougher foul calls and also his clear want out of Brooklyn. By season’s end, however, Harden’s IQ was on full display for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Harden seemed to have the proverbial weight lifted off of his shoulders once he arrived in Philadelphia, and it showed on the floor. He was back to the same old Harden, picking apart defenses by gauging reactions from defenders and acting accordingly. He knew when the game was not his to be had and was able to hand over the reins to Joel Embiid as it progressed. He showed he was back to knowing when to be a score-first player or when he had to just be a good enough playmaker to help the Sixers to victory. James Harden is simply still one of the smartest players at his position, commanding the control of a game in slightly different ways than before. Heck, he was even right about his decision to get out of Brooklyn.

Scoring - Devin Booker

Devin Booker

Over the past few seasons, Devin Booker has become one of the most legitimate three-level scoring threats in the NBA. In 2021-22, he led all shooting guards in scoring with 26.8 PPG, which ranked 1st among shooting guards and 8th in the entire league. It was a career-high in PPG for Booker, who also matched his career-high in three-point percentage shooting 38.3% from beyond the arc. The perimeter is not the only place he improved his offensive game. He also became one of the top mid-range shooters in the league while being able to take the ball to the rim and either finish or force himself to the foul line.

Devin Booker took most of his shots from the 10-16 foot range on the floor. 22.4% of his attempts came from that range, and he connected on 46.9% of them. He shot the same percentage between 16 feet and three-point range as well. He finished on 69.4% of his attempts at the rim while shooting the 3rd best free-throw percentage of his career at 86.8%. Suns point guard Chris Paul missed 11 key games after the All-Star break, and Devin Booker sped up big time, propelling the Suns to the league’s best record. In the 11 games without Paul, Booker averaged 28.2 PPG and shot 52.1% from the field overall and 40.3% from three.

Shooting - Klay Thompson

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Klay Thompson played just 32 games in 2022, shot a career-low from beyond the arc, and I will still take Klay Thompson’s shooting over any other two-guard in the NBA. First of all, Klay Thompson’s career-low of 38.5% from three is still considered a very good season for most. Second, he was coming off of not one but two major lower leg injuries and still found a way to be effective enough on the Warriors' run to an NBA championship.

Klay kept his 38.5% three-point shooting going for the playoffs but shot slightly better overall at 42.9%. From 10+ feet from the basket, Klay shot over 40.0% from the field, which proved critical even though 51% of his total attempts came from three-point land. Not for nothing but the fact that the year he came back from these injuries and found a way to be still effective shooting the ball, which led to a Warriors title, speaks volumes. Some shooting guards may have had a better statistical season shooting the ball, but it's safe to say that none are better shooters.

Passing - James Harden

James Harden

To nobody’s surprise, our shooting guard will take the passing of the smartest one as well, James Harden. Somehow, Harden developed a stigma of being a ball hog-type player, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2022, Harden dished out a total of 667 assists which was by far the most by a shooting guard on the season. The 2nd closest to him was Kevin Porter Jr., with 376 total assists. His 10.3 APG was good for 2nd in the NBA, trailing only Chris Paul by 0.5 assists.

Believe it or not, Harden’s assists numbers are not a new endeavor for him. He led the league back in 2017 and, since the beginning of 2021, has averaged double-digit assists for 3 different teams. Harden benefited from having guys like Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid at his disposal in 2022, but he also had a lot to do with their success. As he has proved across his entire career, Harden is a dangerous passer from the pick and roll, and just any time, he has the ball in his hands. Running a pick and roll with the likes of Durant and Embiid is bounds to be a recipe for success, especially when you consider that both of those guys have no issue creating their shot. Shooting guards are supposed to be primary scorers, but Harden is a hybrid, doubling as both score-first and pass-first whenever a team needs him to be.

Handles - Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell

There is no other shooting guard with handles like Donovan Mitchell in the NBA. Mitchell operates like he has the basketball on a string, using an array of moves to set up himself or his teammate for buckets. Mitchell loves to operate out of the pick and roll, whereas the primary ball-handler, he creates his shot or for others with ease. Aside from Jordan Clarkson off of the bench and veteran Mike Conley alongside him in the starting lineup, Mitchell is far and away the Jazz’s best ball handler and shot creator. Mitchell’s creation off of the dribble opens up the entire offense under which Utah operates, whether Mitchell is the beneficiary or not. Either way, it is a given that the offense runs through Mitchell with the ball in his hands.

Defense - Matisse Thybulle

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Over the past 3 seasons, Matisse Thybulle has not only been the 76ers best defender but one of the very best in the NBA as well. The 2021-22 season was certainly no different. With a slow development in his offensive game, Thybulle can keep a large role in the Sixers lineup with his defensive impact. Any given night, Thybulle draws the matchup of a team’s best offensive weapon and steps up to the challenge in a major way.

The numbers and accolades determine this all to be true. Thybulle was selected to the NBA All-Defensive second team for the 2nd time in his young career. On the season, he finished 8th in steals with 115 and 3rd in Defensive Box Plus/Minus with 3.3. His steal percentage was the best in the league, while his block percentage was 15th. Thybulle is a true triple-threat on defense with his ability to shut down a team’s best perimeter player even when all by his lonesome, be a disruptor in passing lanes with deflections, and quick feet to be an impactful help defender. The argument can be made for small forwards like Mikal Bridges or point guards like Jrue Holiday as better defenders, but at his position, Matisse Thybulle is above the rest.

Athleticism - Zach LaVine

Who other than Zach LaVine would you want your shooting guard’s athleticism to be like than Chicago’s Zach LaVine? Nobody. LaVine is one of the most explosive players in the league, with a burst coming down the lane that is second to none. Over 40.0% of LaVine’s shot attempts came from three-point range, where he connected on 38.9% of his attempts. This is a crime when you consider his percentages at the rim. 26.4% of his attempts came at the basket, where he finished a career-high 70.0% of the time, mostly on dunks. LaVine’s athleticism isn’t solely about his ability to jump and finish either. He displayed a quick first step off the dribble and quick lateral movement with the ball, both of which can be attributed to his athleticism.

Finishing - Donovan Mitchell

Among shooting guards, no player loves to attack the basket more than Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell gets to the hoop in a variety of ways, and it usually ends up having the same conclusion, an emphatic slam or an acrobatic finish. Mitchell finished shots at the rim a mesmerizing 70.8% of the time on 15.2 drives per game. Mitchell also ranked 3rd amongst guards and wings with a 53.9% success rate on his drives.

We talked earlier about Mitchell’s handles, and that is a part of the way he is so efficient on his drives. With his ability to blow defenders off of the dribble combined with his speed, it’s no wonder he is so inclined to go to the rack. When help defense arrives, he doesn’t force it either. He has the awareness to find his shooters on the perimeter. When Mitchell makes his way to the hoop, make sure you have your cameras ready because something electric is bound to happen.

Hustle - Jaylen Brown

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One thing is for certain whenever you tune in to watch the Boston Celtics play basketball, and that is Jaylen Brown is going to run and give it 100% every second he is on the floor. More times than not, the Celtics fed off of Brown’s energy on both sides of the basketball to propel themselves to the NBA Finals in 2022. Brown’s energy on the defensive side was specifically evident this season. Many times it was Brown’s chase down steals or passing land disruption that turned the tide for Boston on any given night. He was a major part of Boston’s success and their No.1 ranked defense. It all started with his motor and effort every single night.

Mentality - Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson

This one should be obvious for more than one reason. After missing 2 years with two major lower-leg injuries, Klay Thompson reminded the whole world what he brings to the table. Upon his return, the Warriors lineup had energy injected into it that had been missing for far too long. Klay brought back the championship swag and pedigree. He brought the fire that seemed to only fully ignite within the team when Klay stepped back on the floor for the first time. He excited an entire city and inspired a generation with his epic comeback story. The Warriors rode the wave to their 4th championship in 8 years, and per usual, Klay was right there showing in big moments in big games the entire way.

Clutch - Devin Booker

Without a shadow of a doubt, Devin Booker is the NBA’s most clutch shooting guard, and it isn't particularly close. Among players with at least 50 clutch shooting attempts, Booker ranked 1st by a longshot in FG% at 56.9%. He also shot 40.9% from three-point range on 22 attempts in the clutch. It wasn’t just his clutch scoring and shooting that set him apart, though. He also recorded 13 assists to just 4 turnovers in clutch situations.

Booker was the main reason why the Suns finished an incredible 26-6 in 32 games that came down to the wire. What made his clutch dominance so special in 2022 was his ability and success at getting to his most efficient spots late in games. He shot a ridiculous 75% from the mid-range in the clutch this season, his favorite spot on the floor. Not only should Devin Booker be considered the most clutch shooting guard in the league, but he needs to be at the top of the conversation for the most clutch player in the NBA, period.

Is This The Best Shooting Guard In NBA History?

To be the best shooting guard in NBA history, this player would have to be a better overall basketball player than the G.O.A.T himself, Michael Jordan. This makes the short answer to the question above a resounding no, but there is a chance our player would give MJ a run for his money. Offensively, our built shooting guard would take the advantage with the passing of James Harden and the shooting of Klay Thompson. That is no knock on Jordan, but Thompson is one of the greatest shooters in history, and Harden is asked to be a passer much more than Jordan was.

Jordan would take advantage is most other categories. Scoring is easily MJ as many consider him the greatest scorer in NBA history, as they should. Hustle, Mentality, Athleticism, and Finishing would have to go to Michael in a big way. To be honest, it’s a little unfair of me to stack this player up against Jordan. As far as today’s game, this could very well be the best player in basketball and easily the best shooting guard. That is a given when you combine so many stars’ best attributes. The stat line of this superstar would be right around 39.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 12.0 APG with 1.5 SPG on defense. Those stats would easily enter him in the MVP conversation on an annual basis.


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