The NBA has seen many of its greatest players play shooting guard. From Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade, shooting guards have accumulated some of the best highlights, performances and careers in league history.
The modern shooting guard isn’t as prominent as it once was. The league has traded off-guards who slash and score for more playmakers and ball-handlers at the position. This allows the top shooting guards of today to have the ball in their hands more, but it also takes away some off-ball movement that made players like Clyde Drexler successful.
No matter if you like the old school or the new school shooting guards, basketball still has plenty of good ones. The position may not be as stacked as it was last decade, but many of the players below are vitally important to their teams. Let’s rank the top-25, placing them into tiers ranging from top-end role players to superstars.
Tier 5: Role Players
Dillon Brooks, Seth Curry, Eric Gordon
There are many more shooting guards worthy of inclusion in this tier, but there’s only room for 25 players here, and these are the only true role players of the group. All three play very differently and are at various points in their careers, yet they each bring something to the game that elevates their teams most of the time.
They each can drop 20-plus points on a given night, but consistency holds them back from taking the next step. Brooks and Curry are steadily improving and could be in the next highest tier by next season. Gordon, however, is nearly 32 years old and appears past his prime, as evidenced by his 36.9% shooting from the floor and just 14.4 points per game this season, according to basketball-reference.
Tier 4: Solid
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Evan Fournier, Tim Hardaway Jr., Luke Kennard, Norman Powell
These five define the “solid” shooting guard in today’s NBA. They all can shoot, score off the dribble and occasionally play-make, but what separates them is their ability to get hot and carry their team’s offense for stretches.
Hardaway Jr., Kennard, and Powell in particular have shown they can carry their regular-season proficiency into the playoffs, which makes them infinitely more valuable to a contending team in need of more scoring. They may not be flashy or average gaudy statistics, but when you watch them play, you usually leave thinking they’re underrated.
Still, defense holds this group back. Powell is probably the best defender of the bunch, yet none of these guys is a major difference-maker on that end. That side of the floor should be these five’s focus this offseason, and if they can improve in that area, many teams will want them.
Tier 3: Good
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Spencer Dinwiddie, Buddy Hield, Jrue Holiday, Caris LeVert, Victor Oladipo, Marcus Smart, Lou Williams, Fred VanVleet
The gap between tier 2 and tier 3 is pretty significant for most guys. The “Good” group represents shooting guards who are pivotal pieces for their teams. These guys are tasked with either being the primary scorer, passer, defender or shooting on their squads, and most of the time they deliver.
Holiday and Smart are two of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander, Dinwiddie, LeVert, and VanVleet are dynamic ball-handlers. Williams, Oladipo, and Hield can score at will and blow a team off the floor when locked-in. It’s truly entertaining to watch these guys work.
This group, however, lacks the ability to take over a game on a consistent basis. To be an All-Star caliber player at shooting guard, a player usually has to be able to help their team win no matter the opponent or situation. These players simply don’t have that extra gear they can reach on a consistent basis.
Hopefully, Gilgeous-Alexander turns into that kind of player. He’s already really good with just two seasons under his belt, so with the help of teammates Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder, he’ll likely continue improving.
Tier 2: Stars
Jaylen Brown, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, CJ McCollum, Donovan Mitchell, Klay Thompson
The “Star” group highlights most of the game’s top two-guards. These guys can score in almost every way, from every spot and play with almost any roster. Their skills are transferable and consistent, and depending on the night, they can be the best players on the floor.
Thompson, being a three-time champion, is the only validated member of this group. The other six have proven themselves as elite-level players but failed to win at the highest level. Playoff success, as well as individual accolades, are often the separators between All-Stars and superstars, and most of these guys are still getting to that point.
Beal, Brown, McCollum, and Mitchell have proven to at least maintain their level of play in the postseason. LaVine and Booker haven’t had the chance to do so just yet, but their time is coming since they’re still in their mid-20s.
The main issue with this group is if any of these players can be the No.1 option on a championship team. Today’s NBA features so many dynamic athletes with well-rounded skill sets. Not all of these guys are overly large, athletic or great leaders, so it remains to be seen if any of them will ever be crowned a top-10 player in the league one day.
Tier 1: Superstars
A lot has been said about Harden of late. His Rockets, once again, flamed out of the playoffs with him looking tired and overmatched. His playoffs woes are legitimate and it’s starting to look like he’ll never win a ring as his team’s best player, but don’t let that reality diminish Harden’s status as a top-10 shooting guard ever.
He’s led the league in scoring for three straight seasons, has an MVP, is a seven-time All-NBA selection and one of the best isolation players in history. He’s dynamic with the ball and capable of carrying an offense all by himself, as evidenced by him being the only player ever with a 60-point triple-double.
Harden’s stepback is perhaps the most lethal move of his era and he can get to the free-throw line seemingly at will. With so much in his bag, why is it that he always falls short of expectations?
The main reasons, aside from simply facing great teams, are that he lacks killer-instinct and the way the Rockets’ offense is constructed leaves him on an island. Harden isn’t the type of player who inspires his teammates. He’s got otherworldly talent and skill, but that doesn’t make someone a championship-level leader. But you also can’t place all the blame on him.
Harden appears willing to do whatever his team needs to help them win, but his organization has failed him. Houston, knowing he’s an all-time great isolation scorer, pushed him to isolate almost the entirety of every game. The franchise also made his team play an overly-analytical style of play that takes the rhythm — and, honestly, the fun — out of basketball, which comes to a head in the playoffs.
Maybe Harden can either find a new team or the Rockets develop a new strategy that gives him a better chance at a ring before his prime concludes. But no matter how his career unfolds, don’t forget that all the slander he’s received likely would not be if Chris Paul doesn’t get hurt in 2018.