By Chris Le
The choice for number one on this list was one of the easiest picks I’ve made so far. Kobe Bryant is so undeniably far ahead of every other two-guard (and everyone else regardless of position, by the way) in the league skill-wise, it’s almost comical. But it’s not due to a lack of talent. In fact, looking at the list I just compiled, the collection of athletic freaks with their particular skill sets is impressive, possibly more so than any other position. I can’t help thinking, though, how few true game-changers there are. Sure, every single one of them can put up 45-50 on any given night, but how many are key cogs on championship teams? I’m thinking shooting guard is the position in which a team can have a weakness and still succeed.
But I digress. This is supposed to be about who the best shooting guards in the league are, not the most valuable player. And even though Kobe was an easy pick at number one, the rest of the list was surprisingly difficult to assemble. Joe Johnson is rarely seen–and discussed–since he plays for the Hawks. And who knows how Ray Allen and Jason Richardson will perform in their new surroundings. There was a lot to take into account. But without further delay, my list:
Kobe Bryant – There’s not much to say that you don’t already know. He’s the game’s most complete player with a matching insatiable will to win. However, to truly reach the level of Michael Jordan, the standard-bearer for every player, Kobe must devote himself to defense as much as he does to offense. Until then, he’ll have to settle for the title of game’s best shooting guard. Unfortunately, that’s about the only title he’ll have for a few years.
- Dwayne Wade – D-Wade should be back to his havoc-wrecking form after a shoulder injury limited the Miami Heat superstar to only 51 games in 2007. With dangerous slashing ability and a developing defensive game, Wade is (aside from Kobe) the most well-rounded guard in the league. The only thing he lacks in his arsenal is a long-range game—and even that is coming along nicely. He should put up MVP-type numbers this upcoming season.
- Vince Carter – I don’t think Vinsanity can ever be the featured player on a team, but he’s still one helluva dynamic player (25.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.2 apg). He, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson are a lethal combination and a poster waiting to happen. The New Jersey Nets faithful are hoping this trio will be enough to reach the Finals. (I don’t think it is.)
- Richard Hamilton –The more I watch Rip play, the more I appreciate him. Others may be flashier and more physically gifted, but it’s impossible to find more than a handful that work harder. He is the NBA’s version of the Energizer Bunny, running all over the court and around and through screens for nearly 37 minutes a game. Also, if someone has a better mid-range game, I haven’t seen him.
- Michael Redd – He may be streaky, but I’ll take him on my team any day. Because when he’s hot, few people on the planet can find the bottom of the net quicker than the Milwaukee shooting guard. He has increased his scoring every successive year he’s been in the league and averaged a career-high 26.7 ppg in 2007. Watch out in 2008.
- Joe Johnson – I hope being the centerpiece of an offense and a lucrative contract was worth playing for the Atlanta Hawks. He may not be winning, but he’s put up huge numbers (25.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.4 apg) thus far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend—the Hawks losing and Johnson going crazy statistically—continue.
- Ray Allen – I wonder who’s happiest to be playing in Boston with their new teammates: Ray Ray, Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce? Whoever it is, I’m sure they’ll all be smiling in 2008, especially Allen who will be open all day, with KG drawing double-teams down low and Pierce garnering attention on the other wing. That sweet stroke of his is going to be dangerous in Beantown.
- Manu Ginobili – When his game is on-point, his impact is significantly greater than his ranking indicates (just look at the 2005 NBA Finals). He’s always the X-factor, the game breaker that could decide a game or series. But the thing is, he’s just not consistently at his best. He disappeared at times in last season’s postseason and had more of an impact coming off the bench. Still, he has the capability to explode on opponents at any moment.
- Jason Richardson – Like many in the Bay Area, I was severely disappointed that Golden State let J-Rich go. For a while, he was the face of the franchise and played a vital role in what was the Warriors’ playoff method of madness. I thought there’d be some loyalty. I guess not. But that aside, the Bobcats are hoping he can ignite the same fire witnessed in the Warriors in Charlotte. I’m not sure if Richardson alone can do that, but I can guarantee he’ll improve upon his modest 2007 numbers (16.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.4 asp)
- Ben Gordon – More comfortable with his shot than with his driving game, he’s somewhat of a one-dimensional scorer. But it’s one damn good dimension. Like most streaky shooters, when he’s on his game, he can make it rain.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Martin, Brandon Roy