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When scoping for shooting guards, we're typically looking for scorers who can hit the 3-pointer and create some steals. Think of a Jason Terry or a Ray Allen type. These are your prototypical shooting guards, but if you really want value out of your shooting guard spot, you'll need to get more statistical diversity than just points, steals and 3s.
To be an elite shooting guard candidate, you'll need to bring some "multicategoricalicity" (the ability to produce in multiple fantasy categories) to the table. These are players who can give you the points, 3s, steals and free throw percentage we typically covet in a shooting guard, but can add rebounds and/or assists.
It's this type of do-it-all guard and swingman we should be targeting early in our drafts. In the middle rounds, we can fill out our rosters with prototypes like Terry, Allen, Jamal Crawford, Marcus Thornton and James Harden, depending on need. Lucky for us, there are quite a few athletic shooting guards (many of whom also qualify at small forward) in the first three tiers who can contribute across the board.
Dwyane Wade stands alone in Tier 1 thanks mostly to statistical diversity, particularly his ability to block shots from the shooting guard position. After finishing eighth on our Player Rater in 2010-11, Wade is the perfect building block for any fantasy team, since he can put up huge numbers in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage while contributing modestly in 3-pointers and free throw percentage. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry barely miss Tier 1 status if only because of Monta's shaky injury history and Curry's so-called "down" season last year. Both have the ability to be top-10 talents in the fantasy game and are fantastic late first-round, early second-round selections. Many think that Kobe Bryant will be one of the players most affected by the shortened season with increased back-to-back games, but Kobe was at his best on the second night of a back-to-back set last season, posting 28.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 15 games with zero days' rest. Do not make the mistake of underrating him based on the schedule changes. Eric Gordon is the least accomplished of this group, but if it weren't for a right wrist injury, he would have finished in the top 20 on our Player Rater last season. A dynamic talent, Gordon is primed for a big-time breakout season in 2011-12.
Andre Iguodala is a prototypical do-it-all swingman with the ability to put up numbers in points, boards, assists, steals and 3-pointers. I'd love to see him return to the days of 17-19 points per game, but I'm not going to complain much if he continues to provide 6-plus assists per contest. At 34 years old, Paul Pierce may be on the downside of his career, but his crafty style of play should ensure that he remains a fantasy force for at least a few more seasons. Pierce can do a little bit of everything for fantasy owners, and is a great stabilizer for points, boards, steals, 3-pointers and percentages after the elite shooting guards come off the board. Joe Johnson may have had a terrible season (for his standards) in 2010-11, but he still managed to post a versatile 18.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.2 3-pointers while shooting 80.3 percent from the line. If he can regain his shooting stroke from downtown and bring his steals back up to his career average of 1.0 per game, JJ could be a nice value pick for fantasy owners this season.
One of my favorite targets in 2009-10 as a rookie, Tyreke Evans struggled through injuries and inconsistency as a sophomore. His regression was concerning, but it's also somewhat promising that Evans could still be valuable when not operating at 100 percent. If he's healthy and motivated, Evans could be a major steal in fantasy leagues. That said, there are plenty of risks here as well, including recent rumors questioning his conditioning coming off of the lockout. One of the ultimate risk/reward players in this year's drafts, Evans has the potential to either make or break a fantasy season in 2011-12. Remember, this is a guy who averaged 20/5/5 with 1.5 steals and 0.5 3-pointers as a rookie. Though Kevin Martin shocked everyone by playing in 80 games last season, his four-year average of games played still stands at 59.5. With such a long list of injuries in his past, it may be a bit premature to remove the injury-prone label after just one healthy season. With multiple back-to-back contests scheduled, Martin's health will be put under a microscope this season. When healthy, he's a borderline-elite shooting guard, just be sure you know the risks involved when making him a high pick. Manu Ginobili managed to stay healthy in 2010-11, but did so at the expense of his minutes, logging just 30.3 per game. Head coach Gregg Popovich has had no problem limiting Manu's playing time in an effort to keep him on the floor, and he'll likely continue to employ that strategy due to the shortened season. Luckily, Ginobili is one of the league's most productive players on a per-minute basis.
Anyone who watched the playoffs last season could tell that the Thunder were at their best when James Harden was on the court. Harden posted 13.0 points, 5.4 boards, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.4 3-pointers in 17 postseason games, and should get a major bump in minutes and production this season. Rumors continue to swirl that the Blazers will waive Brandon Roy using the amnesty clause, which is only good news for Wesley Matthews. Amnesty for Roy or not, fantasy owners have to like Matthews' chances this season, especially after he stepped up as a big-time scorer and 3-point shooter in Roy's absence last season. Give the 24-year-old a look in the middle rounds and enjoy his scoring, steals and 3-point shooting. DeMar DeRozan still has a long way to go before he's a well-rounded fantasy player, but he made incredible leaps as a scorer, increasing his average from 8.6 per game as a rookie to 17.2 per game as a sophomore. The Raptors have a vested interest in seeing their 2009 first-round pick succeed, and we should expect to see him on the court for 35-plus minutes per night, where he'll be an asset in points, steals and the percentages. Tony Allen made a name for himself as one of the league's toughest defenders during the Grizzlies' playoff push. Given how well Memphis played when Allen was on the court, it's going to be hard for the Grizzlies not to hand him the starting shooting guard spot at the start of the 2011-12 season. He still has some injury concerns, and he won't score as much if Rudy Gay is healthy, but Allen should be a top steals artist with his increased minutes this season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.