By Matt Flynn | Staff Writer
This article is the second in a series of five articles ranking the best NBA players at each position. As I stated in my point guard rankings earlier, the proposition is based on a hypothetical team heading into a playoff run right now.
For that reason, things like ability to play both offense and defense, as well as ability to fit into a competent scheme with other players, are valued more than just traditional counting statistics. There will be emphasis placed on advanced metrics and efficiency to arrive at the final rankings.
As I said last time, although it’s less prevalent with shooting guards, the analysis is about the player comparisons rather than a spat about what position I’ve included them in. For instance, there are probably some players here where it is debatable whether they are a shooting guard or a small forward.
I based my decision on where to include them on what position they play for their team, what position they would play for a majority of teams, and their height and weight as listed on Basketball Reference.
Here is a glossary of what the abbreviations next to the statistics mean:
- ppg=points per game
- apg=assists per game
- rpg=rebounds per game
- spg=steals per game
- bpg=blocks per game
- fg=field goal percentage
- 3p= three-point percentage
- ts=true shooting percentage (an all-sizes fits all metric for how efficiently a player shoots from various levels on the floor)
- usg=usage rate (an estimate of a percentage of team possessions “used” by that player)
- o/o= on/off rating (how much better a player fairs in pts per 100 possessions when he is subbed into a game)
- nrtg= net rating (offensive rating and defensive rating in pts per 100 possessions subtracted from each other) was also used in putting this together.
Tier #1A: Superstar Quality
#1- James Harden (Hou)
34.4ppg-7.4apg-6.4rpg-1.7spg, 62%ts-36%usg, +6.4o/o, +6nrtg
Tier #1B: Star Quality
#2- Devin Booker (Phx)
26.1ppg-6.6apg-4.2rpg-36%3p, 62%ts-30%usg, +6.1o/o, +1nrtg
#3- Bradley Beal (Was)
30.5ppg-6.1apg-4.2rpg-35%3p, 58%ts-34%usg, -2.3o/o, -5nrtg
#4- Klay Thompson (GSW)
Did not play in 2019-20 because of injury (ACL)
I listed Harden in a tier by himself because he has consistently demonstrated an ability to drive an efficient offense all the way to a decent seed in the Western Conference playoff picture by himself. Sure, there are playoff concerns in how his historically high usage impacts a team at the highest levels, so he probably wouldn’t be my choice superstar to start a team with as compared to a Kawhi or LeBron, but there is just no one on this list who even comes close to Harden’s offensive output.
I struggled with this next group because Klay Thompson is probably a more valuable player than both Booker and Beal when healthy. That being said, Thompson’s most underrated attribute was how he could guard three or four positions effectively, and we do not know how this ACL tear will impact that moving forward.
Picking between Beal and Booker was difficult, and I initially had Beal higher before digging into more of the stats. Booker’s team was a positive when he was on the floor this year, and the Phoenix Suns’ poor record may be more because of guys getting injured than a lack of talent on the roster.
Booker’s ability to play on-and-off the ball offensively mixed with a deadly high true shooting percentage has made him one of the best players in the NBA. Beal took on a much similar role this year and played less defense and was less efficient than Booker.
Beal can really fill it up and has proven he can be a valuable asset to a good team, however.
Tier #2: Fringe Stars
#5- Donovan Mitchell (Uta)
24.2ppg-4.2apg-4.4rpg-1.0spg, 56%ts-31%usg, -4.1o/o, +3nrtg
#6- Jrue Holiday (NOP)
19.6ppg-6.9apg-4.9rpg-1.7spg, 54%ts-25%usg, +5.0o/o, +1nrtg
#7- Jaylen Brown (Bos)
20.4ppg-6.4rpg-1.1spg-38%3p, 59%ts-25%usg, -1.3o/o, +7nrtg
#8- C.J. McCollum (Por)
22.5ppg-4.3apg-4.1rpg-38%3p, 54%ts-27%usg, +7.1o/o, +1nrtg
This group of players are solid second options for successful teams offensively and also flash some good two-way ability. Mitchell has been part of a consistently great defense as a complimentary piece, and although his offensive game has had moments where it sags in terms of efficiency, Mitchell remains one of the best players at this position and is still developing.
I have Holiday second because he is probably in the top tier of defenders on this list, can guard three positions, and also can double as a solid distributor. He has worked well in systems as a primary point guard and also has really done well as an off-ball shooting guard.
The true shooting percentage is only low because of a slow start, his three-point shooting started ticking back up.
Jaylen Brown often gets overshadowed in the Boston system, but he’s a capable defender who can shoot and who has explosion getting to the rim. He can play either wing position, fit into a switchable defense, and is only refining his craft year by year.
I have C.J. McCollum last on this list, and although he has the most limited upside in terms of deep-playoff effectiveness in this section, he still is a competent shooter who can create his own shot. Not many other players on this list have efficiently been a second scoring option on a good team.
Tier #3: Solid Starters
#9- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)
19.3ppg-3.3apg-6.1rpg-1.1spg, 57%ts-24%usg, +2.4o/o, +4nrtg
#10- Josh Richardson (Phi)
13.8ppg-3.1apg-3.4rpg-0.9spg, 53%ts-21%usg, +2.2o/o, +4nrtg
#11- Norman Powell (Tor)
16.4ppg-1.3spg-40%3p, 63%ts-22%usg, +0.5o/o, +7nrtg
#12- Marcus Smart (Bos)
13.5ppg-4.8apg-1.6spg, 52%ts-19%usg, +1.0o/o, +7nrtg
#13- Evan Fournier (Orl)
18.8ppg-3.2apg-1.1spg-41%3p, 60%ts-24%usg, -5.1o/o, -3nrtg
#14- Buddy Hield (Sac)
19.8ppg-3.1apg-4.8rpg-40%3p, 57%ts-27%usg, +0.8o/o, -2nrtg
#15- Will Barton (Den)
15.1ppg-3.7apg-6.3rpg-38%3p, 55%ts-20%usg, +7.2o/o, +6nrtg
#16- J.J. Redick (NOP)
14.9ppg-2.0apg-45%3p, 64%ts-20%usg, +1.0o/o, 0nrtg
#17- Duncan Robinson (Mia)
13.3ppg-1.4apg-3.3rpg-45%3p, 68%ts-16%usg, +11.0o/o, +8nrtg
This collection of players is a mix of defense-first two guards with some offensive upside and solid three-point shooters that can do more than just be a specialist. SGA is first in this group because he has immense defensive upside and has already begun branching out as a scorer.
His shooting is not necessarily high volume, but it’s respectable, not to mention some of his shot-creating ability. Josh Richardson is next because he’s proven the ability of being go-to option on good teams, I think he’s been miscast in his role in Philly.
The defense is there and the offense has been better in basically every other season he’s had as a pro.
Next, Norman Powell may be a little high, but his offensive game has just exploded this year for Toronto. He’s been such a reliable option that they do play better with him on the floor, and he’s competent defensively. Marcus Smart is an easy Top 15 inclusion because he may be the best perimeter defender in the whole league.
There really isn’t much more to say, you can live with some of his bad shots. If he can bring that usage down to more of 15% usage rate, the shooting will likely stabilize and he’ll be flirting with Top 10 on this list.
Evan Fournier, Buddy Hield, and Will Barton all fit close to the same mold. Fournier is the most consistent defensively while the other two suffer a little bit, but his shooting has waxed and waned over the course of his career when Hield’s really hasn’t.
Barton had moments where he was the second-best player on the Nuggets this year. Lastly, J.J. Redick may not play crunch-time in a deep playoff series because of his defensive struggles, but he’s attentive, has a high basketball IQ, and is probably (sans Steph Curry) the best off-screen three-point shooter in the league.
Duncan Robinson was very tough to place, because the advanced stats really love him. He’s extremely efficient in a low usage role, his on/off numbers would make you believe he’s a superstar, and his net rating is top tier.
He is definitely a dangerous shooter, and the only reason I don’t have him right next to J.J. Redick is just a lack of overall games to prove it. The defense doesn’t pass the eye test, and it’s possible he really is a solid above-average starter who fits a particular role, I just need a little more time.
Tier #4: Would Be Upper-Tier Starters if Consistent
#18- Tim Hardaway Jr. (Dal)
15.8ppg-2.0apg-3.1rpg-41%3p, 58%ts-22%usg, +4.4o/o, +8nrtg
#19- Caris LeVert (Brk)
17.7ppg-4.1apg-4.1rpg-38%3p, 51%ts-29%usg, +0.7o/o, 0nrtg
#20- Victor Oladipo (Ind)
2019-20 stats omitted because of injury (Quad)
#21- Bogdan Bogdanovic (Sac)
14.5ppg-3.2apg-36%3p, 56%ts-22%usg, -0.8o/o, -2nrtg
#22- Dillon Brooks (Mem)
15.7ppg-2.0apg-0.9spg-37%3p, 51%ts-25%usg, -0.8o/o, 0nrtg
#23- Gary Harris (Den)
10.4ppg-2.1apg-2.9rpg-1.4spg, 52%ts-15%usg, +1.6o/o, +3nrtg
#24- Zach LaVine (Chi)
25.5ppg-4.2apg-1.5spg-38%3p, 57%ts-32%usg, -5.0o/o, -4nrtg
#25- Malik Beasley (Min)
11.2ppg-1.4apg-2.7rpg-39%3p, 55%ts-22%usg, -1.4o/o, -2nrtg
#26- Coby White (Chi)
13.2ppg-2.7apg-3.5rpg, 51%ts-24%usg, -2.6o/o, -4nrtg
This group is mash-up of guys where I did not really know where to rank them. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Caris LeVert have both had long stretches of their careers where they are destructive, inefficient players.
Yet, LeVert is capable of scoring fifty in a game and has stretches where he is all-star quality. Hardaway was excellent all year after being written off as a high-usage, low-efficiency role player.
As for Bogdan Bogdanović, there just really isn’t any evidence he actually contributes to winning basketball despite decent numbers and a big role on an average team. I need to see more from him to determine what an effective role for him would be.
I also put Oladipo here because I didn’t know where to put him. He did not look that good coming back from his quad injury and he just needs time to get back in the swing of things.
A healthy Oladipo flirted with being second on this same list just a few years ago.
Dillon Brooks shoots the ball well and is a smart defender, but he also launches bad shots like it’s no one’s business. He is a little bit of maturing away from being an above-average two-way starter.
The same goes for Gary Harris, who is a team-minded, low-usage player with good defense and good instincts. However, the jump-shot that looked so smooth coming out of college has abandoned him for two seasons now.
When you look at LaVine’s counting stats, you’d think he’d be much higher, but the diet of bad shots and miserable defensive lapses makes his upside that of a sixth man rather than a solid starter. Sure, he can fill it up, but he really only produces at league average efficiency with high usage.
League average offense and miserable defense is not a good combination, even though the talent is totally there to turn into something much greater.
The final two are more projecting forward as positive assets. Malik Beasley had his moments as an upper-tier backup in Denver, and now he has a chance to fill out a starting role on a young team.
He has all the tools, let’s see if he can make that jump into being a good shooter who gives his team upper-teens in points pushes the pace. Same for Coby White, who was quite destructive as a rookie for the first few months, but the last ten games or so before the shut down leads me to believe White can be a really good player.
Tier #5: Lower-End Starters and Higher-Tier Backups
#27- Luke Kennard (Det)
15.8ppg-4.1apg-3.5rpg-40%3p, 59%ts-20%usg, +1.8o/o, -2nrtg
#28- Jeremy Lamb (Ind)
12.5ppg-2.1apg-4.3rpg-1.2spg, 55%ts-20%usg, -4.3o/o, -1nrtg
#29- Avery Bradley (LAL)
8.6ppg-1.3apg-2.3rpg-0.9spg, 54%ts-16%usg, +0/1o/o, +7nrtg
#30- Seth Curry (Dal)
12.6ppg-2.0apg-45%3p, 65%ts-19%usg, -1.7o/o, +5nrtg
#31- Landry Shamet (LAC)
9.7ppg-1.9apg-39%3p, 60%ts-13%usg, -2.5o/o, +5nrtg
#32- Tyler Herro (Mia)
12.9ppg-4.0rpg-39%3p, 53%ts-22%usg, -8.5o/o, -2nrtg
#33- Kevin Huerter (Atl)
12.2ppg-3.8apg-4.1rpg-38%3p, 54%ts-17%usg, +2.3o/o, -6nrtg
#34- Terence Davis (Tor)
7.7ppg-3.4apg-40%3p, 60%ts-19%usg, +5.7o/o, +10nrtg
#35- Jordan Clarkson (Uta)
15.1ppg-2.0apg-37%3p, 58%ts-26%usg, +3.8o/o, 0nrtg
#36- Donte DiVincenzo (Mil)
9.4ppg-2.3apg-1.4spg, 57%ts-17%usg, +6.2o/o, +16nrtg
#37- Wesley Matthews (Mil)
7.5ppg-1.5apg-2.6rpg-37%3p, 55%ts-13%usg, +3.6o/o, +12nrtg
#38- De’Anthony Melton (Mem)
8.1ppg-3.0apg-1.3spg, 53%ts-20%usg, +10.5o/o, +6nrtg
Luke Kennard has really the same rationale to be a quality starter as Redick and Robinson to fit into a quality team, he just missed large portions this year with injury.
Jeremy Lamb is a perfectly decent starter at his position. He can plug-and-play as a backup or a fringe-quality starter. He doesn’t do anything particularly badly.
Avery Bradley is the same in terms of being able to fit and be fairly competent in multiple areas. After that, the next few players in Curry, Shamet, Herro, and Huerter all fit into good rotations as quality shooters.
Curry is probably the best of that group as a pure specialist shooter, but the group of players are all passable enough and athletic enough to shoot and not be fatal to a defense. Admittedly, I have Terence Davis pretty high on this list, but the advanced metrics are just off the charts.
As for Jordan Clarkson, he has traditionally been a pretty destructive player because of minimum efficiency and high usage, but he had an excellent resurgence this year once getting traded to Utah and became one of the league’s best backups. I have DiVincenzo and Wes Matthews next with DiVincenzo emerging as a quality rotation piece who can handle the ball and Wes Matthews as a legitimate role player.
Matthews can shoot and is probably slowing down a little on the defensive side of the ball, but he has the proven upside of being a solid player over the entire course of his career. Lastly, Melton has emerged from being a second-round pick to being a worthwhile rotation piece and fits into Memphis’s young core.
Tier #6: Wildcards
#39- Josh Okogie (Min)
8.6ppg-4.3rpg-1.1spg, 55%ts-15%usg, -0.6o/o, -5nrtg
#40- Bryn Forbes (SAS)
11.2ppg-1.7apg-2.0rpg-39%3p, 57%ts-19%usg, -10.6o/o, -7nrtg
#41- Terrence Ross (Orl)
14.8ppg-1.1spg-36%3p, 55%ts-23%usg, -4.1o/o, -3nrtg
#42- E’Twaun Moore (NOP)
8.6ppg-1.4apg-38%3p, 51%ts-20%usg, -1.3o/o, -2nrtg
#43- Reggie Bullock (NYK)
8.1ppg-1.4apg-0.9spg, 50%ts-16%usg, +1.2o/o, -6nrtg
#44- Ben McLemore (Hou)
9.8ppg-2.2rpg-40%3p, 62%ts-16%usg, +5.9o/o, +7nrtg
#45- Shake Milton (Phi)
9.5ppg-2.2apg-45%3p, 63%ts-20%usg, -1.2o/o, +1nrtg
#46- Austin Rivers (Hou)
8.5ppg-1.6apg-2.4rpg, 54%ts-15%usg, +1.0o/o, +4nrtg
#47- Furkan Korkmaz (Phi)
9.7ppg-40%3p, 57%ts-19%usg, +0.5o/o, +3nrtg
#48- Alex Caruso (LAL)
5.4ppg-1.8apg-1.0spg, 54%ts-14%usg, +5.7o/o, +10nrtg
#49- Delon Wright (Dal)
7.3ppg-3.4apg-1.2spg, 56%ts-15%usg, -6.4o/o, +2nrtg
#50- Garrett Temple (Brk)
10.3ppg-2.6apg-3.5rpg, 51%ts-17%usg, -2.0o/o, -2nrtg
This final group is essentially players who either are lower-end rotation guys or guys who may project to be solid rotation players as we move forward. Okogie fits the latter category where he has defensive upside and shows flashes of competence offensively, while players like Bryn Forbes and Terrence Ross are really only valuable if they have a very good season shooting the ball.
Forbes struggles on the defensive end and so he is only really valuable when he hits in the 40% range on threes, while Ross was really good last year but was pretty high usage and destructive this year in a bench role for Orlando. Moore, Bullock, and McLemore all have shooting plus a different aspect to their game, where Moore can play a few different positions, McLemore has nice length, and Bullock has proven to be a workable two-way player in a good rotation but struggled with injury this year.
I have Shake Milton up here pretty high from the Sixers just based on potential and flashes during playing time alone, he finally emerged with a role on a Sixers team that went through a lot this year, same with Korkmaz. And, Austin Rivers and Garrett Temple tend to have ups and downs in terms of efficiency. Finally, Alex Caruso looked good on advanced metrics, he just needs to prove it, and Delon Wright has been productive in the past but was a weaker link on Dallas this season.
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