This week, we're sizing up the talent at each position in the NBA. On Monday, we discussed the league's small forwards. Up next: Shooting guards.
1. Who's the best shooting guard in the NBA?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes Of Hell: James Harden. The position is in a period of transition. As the older generation of shooting guards -- Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili -- has begun to wear down, Harden has emerged as the most dynamic 2 in the game. His vision, playmaking and efficient shooting have propelled him to the top of his position.
Rahat Huq, Red 94: James Harden. With Kobe sidelined and Wade yet another year older, the best is now indisputably James Harden. Harden resoundingly proved last year he can be a No. 1 option and figures to be even more dangerous next year with Dwight Howard rolling to the rim. But he needs to bend his back on defense to really get the accolades as one of the game's true elites.
Dave McMenamin, ESPNLosAngeles.com: Kobe Bryant. Often imitated, yet never duplicated, Bryant has owned the distinction as the game's top gunner for a decade plus and will continue to own it unless his Achilles injury offers evidence to the contrary.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: James Harden. Harden finished just ahead of Bryant and Wade to lead all SGs in WARP last season, and given the ages of the three players -- plus Bryant's Achilles injury -- it's hard to see that changing next season. Harden could reign as the league's best shooting guard for years to come.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: James Harden. Not only is he a clutch long distance threat and a classic scorer, but Harden can also run the show breaking defenses down off the dribble and screens to find teammates. Bryant and Wade can stand next in line by mere seniority.
2. Who's the most underrated shooting guard in the NBA?
Gordian: Eric Gordon. Gordon is an explosive, physical player with a beautiful stroke. He runs the pick-and-roll excellently and is a bulldog defender. However, chronic injuries have caused many to forget what a significant impact he makes when he's on the court.
Huq: Dwyane Wade. Wade looked so bad throughout much of this past postseason that we forget he had possibly his most efficient season. Sure, having LeBron James do the heavy lifting has been much of the impetus, but Wade isn't exactly washed up as has been intimated.
McMenamin: Tony Allen. He's rarely given his proper due as a shooting guard because his herky-jerky jumper is so painful to watch when he does shoot it, but he's the best defensive 2-guard in the game and, despite the lack of aesthetics on his jump shot, he puts up respectable shooting numbers (47.5 percent from the field for his career, 74.1 percent from the line).
Pelton: Vince Carter. Would you believe that Carter finished fourth in WARP behind the aforementioned big three? There's a wide gap between them, certainly, but the comparison to what Carter used to be has overshadowed what he still contributes in Dallas. Though Monta Ellis will make nearly four times as much as Carter, there's a good chance VC is the most valuable shooting guard on the Mavericks next season.
Weidie: Kevin Martin. I'm having second thoughts about him, and the contract (4 years, $28 million) still doesn't make complete sense at his age (30), but Martin is an efficient guard with the ability to fill it up from anywhere, including the free throw line. He'll prove his worth by more easily earning trips to the line next season in Minnesota's system like his former self.
3. Who's the most overrated shooting guard in the NBA?
Gordian: Kobe Bryant. Kobe is still a terrific player and may be the second-best shooting guard of all time. However, his defense has declined significantly and, while still a volume scorer, he's never been as efficient a scorer as many would like to believe. Simply put, he's not a top 5 NBA player although many people would make that claim.
Huq: Kobe Bryant. Few have ever worked harder and maybe none have ever been more skilled. But despite his greatness, Bryant also is one of the most overrated players of all time. He chucks bad shots and isn't nearly as clutch as the narrative poses. He has pushed two future Hall of Famers out the door and hasn't won much when not flanked by elite "big" talent.
McMenamin: Eric Gordon. He still carries the reputation as the guy with the build to have guys bounce off him in the paint and the compact stroke to hit a 3 in the blink of an eye, but his 2012-13 season lands him in this spot. Gordon shot just 40.2 percent from the field last season and 32.4 percent from 3 while missing 40 games because of a chronic knee issue. Plus, would the Pelicans really spend $44 million on Tyreke Evans if they had complete faith that Gordon was their shooting guard of the future?
Pelton: Joe Johnson. Because Johnson was still effective beyond the arc and made some big shots last season, his dip in shooting percentage went largely unnoticed. A consistent 49 percent 2-point shooter in Atlanta, Johnson made just 45.2 percent of his shots inside the arc last season, per Hoopdata.com. Fluky poor finishing explains some of that, but Johnson also got fewer shots at the rim, a sign of declining athleticism at age 31.
Weidie: Klay Thompson. It's hard to blame the natural inflation via Golden State's run last season and fuel from rabid Warriors fans. The fact is that Thompson is kind of a liability on defense right now and can't really produce his own shot from close range. Thompson played in 38 more games than Eric Gordon last season but made only one more FG than Gordon from inside 12 feet. He's good, just not as good as some think.
4. Who's the most promising shooting guard in the NBA?
Gordian: Bradley Beal. Beal is not the next Ray Allen as many claimed. But he's still a good shooter with good athleticism who can finish at the rim. In addition, playing alongside John Wall will give him the opportunity to take the next step by simply making the quality looks Wall provides him with.
Huq: James Harden. This is selection by default because, unlike the point guard position, none of the young newcomers at this spot really possess the dynamic abilities to lend faith towards upward ascent. Perhaps Beal or Dion Waiters will take a leap but I'm not sure I'm ready to bank on either of those picks.
McMenamin: Klay Thompson. He's in a great situation to grow in Golden State and as long as the Warriors have Stephen Curry breaking down defenses, Thompson will continue to have field day after field day from downtown (41.4 percent from 3 as a rookie, 40.1 percent last season with twice as many attempts).
Pelton: Bradley Beal. For a 19-year-old, Beal had an impressive rookie season, and he and Wall make up one of the NBA's most promising young backcourts. The Wizards went 16-9 when both players were in the lineup, and Beal shot 46.6 percent from 3-point range after Wall's return. The only worry with Beal is the 26 games he missed due to a variety of ailments.
Weidie: Bradley Beal. He came into the league known for his toughness and rebounding ability, but was also said to be the best shooter of his 2012 draft class. It took him a couple months before he lived up to the long distance expectations, but he was as smooth as anyone when he did. If Beal can become a better pick-and-roll player and increase his already decent ability to get to the free throw line (and make them), then look out.
5. Who will be the best shooting guard in the NBA in five years?
Gordian: James Harden. Harden is only 23 years old. In five years he'll be 28. His athleticism will still be intact, and his feel for the game will be even more impressive than it already is. He's a terrific player now -- the best at his position -- but in five years he'll be even better.
Huq: James Harden. As Harden will still just be 28 in five years, I'll have to go with The Beard. That answer would be different if Paul George could create off the dribble. Having Dwight Howard will take some of the load off Harden and by then, the latter will likely have added some more variety to an arsenal heavy on layups and 3s.
McMenamin: James Harden. His line for the '12-13 season -- 25.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 43.8 percent shooting, 36.8 percent from 3 -- pretty much echoes Bryant's career averages -- 25.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.4 percent shooting, 33.6 percent from 3 -- meaning Harden is certainly doing something right. And while he already has four years of experience in the league, he doesn't turn 24 until later this month. Harden's prime is coming at a perfect time for him to take over the top position at shooting guard.
Pelton: James Harden. Harden's ascension is especially noteworthy at the league's thinnest position. Beal might be the only real alternative already in the league, and it's hard to project at this point that rookies Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore will ultimately become top-10 caliber players like Harden already is. Looking ahead, the player with the best chance to surpass Harden might be likely 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins -- if he lands at shooting guard and not small forward.
Weidie: James Harden. Could go with Beal again, but Harden is of age and still has plenty of prime left. Otherwise, with Kobe, D-Wade, and Manu Ginobili fading, there aren't a lot of young 2s ready to challenge Harden. George, traditionally a forward, could be close. Otherwise, don't expect the likes of Gordon, Thompson, Tyreke Evans, J.R. Smith, Lou Williams, O.J. Mayo or Monta Ellis to challenge Harden any time soon.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Pelton covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Dave McMenamin covers the NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Graydon Gordian, Rahat Huq and Kyle Weidie are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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