Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant reigned over the NBA from the 1980s through the turn of the century as two of the most accomplished shooting guards in league history. Over the past decade, with Stephen Curry’s emergence as the most talented shooter of all time and, more recently, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, and Trae Young’s incredible playmaking ability, the point guard spot has become the most critical backcourt position in the NBA.
Still, top-tier shooting guards, players who can “shoot” and “guard,” are of vital importance. These are the players who can manufacture their own shot during stalled half-court possessions, spot up from deep, and add in a touch of playmaking. The most successful shooting guards also must be able to harass the opposing squad’s top perimeter scorer’s on the less glamorous end.
Here, we’ll rank the most effective shooting guards of the 2021-22 NBA season by category.
Scoring - Devin Booker (26.8 PPG)
Devin Booker, 20, became the youngest player in NBA history to record a 70-point game, dropping a 50-cent piece and two dimes on Boston as he hilariously dogged it on defense, probably giving up more points than he scored to Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics in a 130-120 loss. Fast forward five years to the 2021-22 season, and Book has transformed from an inefficient chucker, who consistently lost to one of the leading overall point producers in the league, and, more importantly, a winner.
Devin Booker has all the athleticism in the world, but at the prime age of 25, he opted for a more cerebral approach to the offense end during the regular season, attacking the lane and scoring within three feet of the basket on only 10.1% of his shot attempts. Book instead used his deadly mid-range game to lead all shooting guards with 26.8 PPG, hitting 46.9% from 10 to 16 feet and an identical 46.9% from 16 feet to the arc. Book’s deadly jumper was a boon for the Suns, helping them land the best overall record in the NBA this season.
Playmaking - James Harden (10.3 APG)
You might think of James Harden as a point guard. However, he played at the PG position only 29% of the time with the Nets and a mere 6% with the 76ers as the smaller Patty Mills, Kyrie Irving, Tyrese Maxey, and Shake Milton typically played the 1 alongside him.
James Harden was clearly the top playmaking shooting guard in the NBA. He was second in the league in assists with 10.3 per game, second in potential assists at 18.4 per game, and second in assist points created at 25.7 per game. And despite James Harden’s disturbing disappearance act during the Eastern Conference Second Round and all the fuss about his inability to still manufacture his own points in the half-court, he landed in the 86th percentile in isolation scoring during the 2021-22 regular season with a 46.0 EFG%.
Rebounding - James Harden (7.7 RPG)
James Harden was second among all shooting guards in rebounding at 7.7 per game, millimeters behind rookie Josh Giddey who averaged 7.8 boards per game. Because Harden has been an excellent rebounder for years and Giddey has only had a single season to prove himself, we picked The Beard as the league’s top rebounding shooting guard while admitting Oklahoma City’s outstanding rookie finished a strong second.
Harden routinely used his wide frame to jostle for position among the trees on the block for rebounds throughout the 2021-22 season. And when he got his hands on the rock, he used his expert vision to launch passes to his sprinting teammates for easy transition buckets.
Defense - Matisse Thybulle (3.3 DBPM)
Matisse Thybulle, fresh off his second All-Defensive Team selection, is the best defensive shooting guard in the league. The metrics love him:
Thybulle was first among all guards in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (3.3 DBPM)
Thybulle was second among all guards in Dunks and Threes Defensive Estimated Plus/Minus (3.2 D+/-).
Thybulle was fourth among all guards in deflections at 3.8 per game.
Matisse Thybulle is a rare triple-threat defender. He excels at locking down the opposing squad’s most dangerous perimeter option on an island with no help. At the same time, he’s a disruptor who jumps passing lanes, creating easy transition opportunities for his teammates. Thybulle is also a top-tier help defender, a player who launches out to open three-point shooters and routinely covers up his teammate’s defensive miscues.
Shooting - Desmond Bane (43.6 3P%)
Desmond Bane finished second in the league in three-point shooting during the regular season with a 43.6% clip off 6.9 attempts per game. Bane’s 2021-22 long distance precision wasn’t a one-off. He shot 43.2% from deep off 4.0 attempts the previous season. And while Desmond Bane was an excellent spot-up shooter, landing in the 92nd percentile across the NBA with 1.22 points per spot-up possession, he wasn’t merely a stand-still catch and shoot marksman.
Bane attempted 3.0 off-the-dribble three-pointers during the regular season with an excellent 43.1% conversation rate. All of which is to say, Desmond Bane is heading down the road toward becoming one of the all-time great long distance shooters.
Finishing - Donovan Mitchell (70.8% From 0-3 Feet)
Donovan Mitchell finished the 2021-22 regular season ranked 14th in the NBA in drives with 15.2 per game. When Mitchell got into the teeth of the defense, he was typically death, hitting 53.9% of his drive attempts, a mark that trailed only Luka Doncic and DeMar DeRozan among all guards and wings.
Donovan Mitchell combines his top-3 pick and roll machinations with an explosive first step and bewitching handles to get by his defender, and he has the strength and length to finish what he starts at the basket.
Athleticism - Zach LaVine
Zach LaVine took nearly half his shots from beyond the arc during the 2021-22 season, which is a shame for his team and a crime for NBA fans.
LaVine is an otherworldly athlete with NBA Jam hops, a deadly crossover, and a top-3 burst down the lane. Therefore, next season he should stop settling for off-the-dribble 31-footers and do what he does best, destroy the rim.
Clutch - Devin Booker (29-51 Crunch Time Shooting)
Devin Booker’s clutch statistics are absurd. He played in 32 clutch games during the regular season, leading his Phoenix Suns to a 26-6 record. Book shot 56.9% from the field during crunch time, easily the highest mark in the NBA among players with at least 50 clutch shot attempts. He also shot 40.9% from deep off 22 clutch attempts, and he had 13 clutch assists versus only four turnovers.
Do you remember when D’Angelo Russell would give himself a fake shot to the forearm, suggesting he had “ice in his veins” after hitting a big jumper for the 2015-16 Lakers? And how everybody used to roll their eyes and shake their heads at the absurdity of a player celebrating his clutchness during a 17-65 season? Well, Devin Booker might actually have ice in his veins. And if he were to take the D’Angelo Russell route, flashing a fake needle to the world every time he nailed a clutch shot, nobody would shake their heads at him. Book isn’t the overzealous celebrating type. He calmly destroyed opposing teams during 26 pressure-packed late-game situations throughout 2021-22, with no tightness, no emotion, and no flexing.
Efficiency - Donovan Mitchell (21.64 PER)
According to ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating, Donovan Mitchell was the most efficient shooting guard in the NBA during the regular season, a few decimal points above second-place Devin Booker. Donovan Mitchell didn’t exactly shoot the lights out of the building in 2021-22, connecting on 35.5% of his attempts from deep and 44.8% overall.
However, Mitchell had the sixth-highest usage rate in the league (32.9%) with a minuscule 11.7 turnover percentage, a mark that was much better than nearly all the top point guards in the association, including Chris Paul (15.6 TOV%), Luka Doncic (15.3 TOV%), and Trae Young (14.5 TOV%). Donovan Mitchell initiated nearly every half-court set for his teammates and held the ball like it was velcroed to his hand while leading Utah to the number one offense in the NBA as an expert no-mistake game manager.
Leadership - Klay Thompson
If we’re being honest here, this was a win by default for Klay Thompson.
Donovan Mitchell loafed on defense the entire season, clashed with Rudy Gobert, and reportedly could ask for a trade during the offseason.
After Kevin Durant was sidelined with an injury, instead of manning up and guiding his teammates to victory when they needed him most, James Harden led Brooklyn to a 10-game losing streak before seeking a trade to Philly.
Devin Booker scoffs at a leadership role, taking a backseat to Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, and even Mikal Bridges.
So, for lack of a genuine frontrunner, Klay Thompson is the most effective leader among all shooting guards this season.
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are certainly the vocal leaders of the Warriors, but by all accounts, Klay Thompson is genuinely loved by his teammates. Klay motivates every player on the Warriors roster with his work ethic on and off the court, his fashion sense, and his down-to-earth-ness.
Versatility - Devin Booker
Devin Booker comes out on top of our versatility section for how he took over the lead playmaking duties after Chris Paul injured his thumb prior to the All-Star game. Book led the Suns to an 11-6 record from February 24th through April 10th without Chris Paul in the lineup, averaging 6.0 assists versus only 2.4 turnovers during that span and showing his ability to not only reign death from the mid-range but also to work as Phoenix’s de facto point guard.
Handles - Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell has the most impressive handles of any shooting guard in the NBA, and it's not close. Heading into every Utah game, everyone in the building knows Mitchell will primarily work out of pick and roll sets, using a Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside screen as his attack point. Opposing head coaches plan for it, and opposing defenders are prepped for it. Still, nobody can stop Donovan Mitchell. Spida combines Yo-Yo dribbles, left and right spin moves, and pump fakes around his screener to create space to drive to the rim, hit one of his teammates with a beyond-the-arc dime, or occasionally to connect with Gobert on a lob at the basket.
Underrated - Jaylen Brown
Jayson Tatum was recently named to the All-NBA First Team.
Marcus Smart was recently named Defensive Player of the Year.
Robert Williams was recently named All-Defensive Second Team.
What about Jaylen Brown? The fifth-year veteran averaged 23.6 PPG, 6.1 RP, and 3.5 APG during the regular season, and he was 18th in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares (3.4), but he couldn’t even make the All-Star team, let alone get an All-NBA nod?
James Harden, Darius Garland, and Fred VanVleet made the 2022 All-Star team over Brown despite not coming close to making the type of two-way impact as the Celtics overlooked star. Jaylen Brown is a legitimate two-way terror, capable of shutting down the opposing squad’s leading perimeter scorer and creating his own looks during bogged-down half-court possessions.
Jaylen Brown is vastly underrated. Still, the Celtics are one win away from crashing into the Finals, and there’s nothing like playing for a banner in front of the world to raise up someone’s value.
Overrated - Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal averaged 23.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 6.6 APG while shooting an ugly 30.0% from deep and playing bottom-tier perimeter defense (-0.8 DBPM) across 40 games for the Wizards this season. The Wizards were 3.2 points worse with Beal on the court in 2021-22, and that wasn’t a one-season outlier.
The Wizards were 0.6 points worse with Beal on the court in 2020-21, 4.7 points worse with Beal on the court in 2019-20, and 2.4 points worse with him on the court in 2018-19. Beal has played in 45 postseason games throughout his nine-year career and never come close to advancing past the Second Round. Despite it all, Bradley Beal will get maxed out this summer by the Wizards. That is the definition of overrated.
Overall - Devin Booker
Devin Booker averaged 26.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 4.8 APG during the regular season as the undisputed top player on the most dominant team in the league. He finished the year fourth for the NBA MVP Award as a 25-year-old superstar who hasn’t entered his prime yet. So, yeah, he was not only the league's top overall shooting guard this year; he was the best non-center in the NBA.
2021-22 Was A Good Season For Shooting Guards
Devin Booker was the most effective overall shooting guard in the NBA during the 2021-22 NBA season, but he wasn’t the only excellent 2. James Harden proved he was the most valuable playmaker and rebounder among all shooting guards, while Desmond Bane was the leading shooter and Matisse Thybulle was the top defender.
Donovan Mitchell was a destructive force at the basket finishing better than any other shooting guard while he also proved to be the most efficient 2. At the same time, Jaylen Brown was the most underrated shooting guard in the league and Bradley Beal was the most overvalued.