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Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: October 29, 10:12 AM ET
Positional preview: Shooting guard

By Seth Landman
Special to ESPN.com

The greatest basketball player of all time was a shooting guard (in spite of LeBron James' NBA Finals performance, Michael Jordan's spot on the throne hasn't been usurped just yet), but in today's NBA, the position is suffering a bit in the quality department. You don't have to go very far down the rankings to start finding players with major question marks.

Your run-of-the-mill shooting guard generates value in fantasy by doing two important things well: knocking down 3s and grabbing steals. Branching out from that base, the great ones add another skill or two to the mix, preferably making a high percentage of free throws in bunches and generating lots of assists. If your shooting guard doesn't do these things, he'd better be doing something else well, say rebounding or blocking shots.

Any list of point guards is going to end up making some odd comparisons. Consider that among players listed at shooting guard who might prove useful in fantasy leagues, you've got players ranging in height from Nate Robinson at 5-foot-9 to Gordon Hayward at 6-foot-8. These are not exactly similar players. They do not necessarily play similar roles. Bearing that in mind, here is a look at the shooting guard situation in fantasy basketball.

The elite

James Harden
James Harden was the top shooting guard on the Player Rater last year despite not even starting. Will that happen again this season?

The current state of the position is such that it's a reach to call anyone "elite." Last season's best fantasy shooting guard was James Harden, who didn't even start on his own team. A remarkably efficient scorer, Harden does all the little things as well. He kicks in just enough rebounds, steals and assists, and only Kobe Bryant gets you more value from the line. He's expected to do even more after his trade to the Rockets, where he'll actually start. … Right behind Harden is a slew of options from which you can take your pick. Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson and Andre Iguodala are durable, tested options, but each is entering an unfamiliar situation. … Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili are better players than Harden on a night-by-night basis, but don't match his durability, and Ginobili, in particular, just doesn't play enough minutes. Minutes might start to be a problem for Paul Pierce, as well, now that Jeff Green is back in the Boston Celtics' rotation; even so, he was a top-15 overall fantasy player last season. … Paul George and Ty Lawson are young players on the verge of stardom, and either of them could absolutely end the season at the top of the shooting guard rankings. At this point, however, Harden is the one I'd pick first.

Risk/reward

Monta Ellis has been a very good fantasy option for a long time, but he saw his production fall off a cliff after being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks last season. If he's not scoring more than 20 points per game, it's going to get awfully hard to justify having used a high draft pick on him. I'm pessimistic on him, but he's got the talent to prove me wrong. … His old backcourt mate, Stephen Curry, when healthy, should be a first-round pick in fantasy leagues, and since he's unlikely to get drafted that early this season, he'll end up making or breaking a lot of fantasy teams based on his ability to stay on the floor. If he slides into the third round, I'd be inclined to pick him up. … George Hill isn't a flashy player, but he's got the point guard job locked up pretty tightly in Indiana, and if his minutes climb from the mid-20s to the mid-30s, he's going to be a major steal in fantasy drafts. I'd rather have him than guys such as Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo, who will probably go ahead of Hill in most leagues.

Opportunity knocks

Brandon Knight isn't getting much attention these days, but his rookie season in Detroit was a little more promising than you might think. Only three rookies have ever hit more 3s per game while averaging as many as the 3.8 assists per game Knight put up last season: Curry, Damon Stoudamire and Kirk Hinrich. Knight's rookie season wasn't as impressive as that of those guys, but he's also younger than they were. He has a chance to be an elite shooter and should easily outplay his draft position. … Kyle Korver should see more minutes this year as the possible starter at small forward in Atlanta, and that means he's got a chance to average more than two assists and two 3s per game; only seven players did that last season, so it's rarer than you might imagine. Whatever Korver does, he'll do it without hurting your percentages, too. … J.J. Redick was an elite player in two categories last season, providing major value in both 3s and free throw percentage. Given his improving point guard skills, he might just be able to carve out enough minutes and opportunities to help fantasy teams. He finished 91st on the Player Rater last season, but he's got a decent chance of being available in the last round of your fantasy draft. … Wesley Johnson, currently the favorite to start at shooting guard this year for the Phoenix Suns, has done very little in his short career to make me think that he's going to all of a sudden become a fantasy stud. On the other hand, he's probably going to get plenty of minutes this season, and could wind up being the sort of player who averages a steal, a block and a 3-pointer per game. Those guys are rare, and when you consider the fact that he was a great rebounder in college, he starts looking like a guy who might be worth a late-round flier.