20. KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The fact Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a career-best 38.3 percent of his triples last year is probably at least part of the reason why the Lakers wanted to keep him around to play with their new superstar acquisition in 2018-19. To go with his newfound health three-point stroke, Caldwell-Pope also put up 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals per contest – decent all-around averages for a player in his age-24 campaign.
He still has to grow into a more dependable offensive option (some of his mental lapses are absolutely infuriating to behold), but Caldwell-Pope’s defense – particularly how he uses his agility to get through screens and attached to ball-handlers – sets him apart from other youngish shooting guards who still haven’t arrived at their primes.
If Caldwell-Pope’s above-average three-point shooting proves to be sustainable, he could be a great weapon for the Lakers if and when they get back to the playoffs.
19. AVERY BRADLEY, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
A league-average three-point shooter with above-average defensive tenacity, Avery Bradley is going to have to prove he’s fully healthy again before he can be considered among the Association’s top 2-guards once more.
The last time he was at least semi-fit, in 2016-17, the Texas product had the best year of his career, averaging 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.0 three-pointers per contest while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 39.0 percent from deep.
The year following, Bradley required season-ending abdominal surgery, which ended his campaign midway through February. What’s more, before going down, he was averaging just 14.3 points nightly on 41.4 percent shooting, without playing his usual brand of hard-nosed defense. How he recovers from going under the knife will decide whether the Los Angeles Clippers pick up his option for 2019-20; if they choose not to, he’ll enter 2019 free agency coming off two bad seasons in a row and approaching his age-29 season. It’s not a spot he’ll want to be in, so hopefully he can regain his pre-injury form and go back to being one of the best two-way shooting guards in the NBA.
18. ZACH LAVINE, CHICAGO BULLS
Despite Zach LaVine’s vast potential, there are a few questions about his game that have yet to be answered (which makes the Chicago Bulls agreeing to pay him $80 million over the next four years all the more befuddling).
For one, no team LaVine has ever been on has boasted a positive net rating during his time on the floor. The best net rating LaVine has had in his four-year career came in 2016-17, when the Minnesota Timberwolves were merely 4.3 points per 100 possessions worse with the high-flying shooting guard in the game. To be fair, it’s at least a little hard to figure out why that’s the case, considering LaVine has boasted above-average shooting marks multiple times since reaching the NBA. Then again, maybe it isn’t, since LaVine’s play-making is severely lacking, and his defensive effort, most usually absent entirely. The UCLA product will have to improve across the board in order to live up to that massive contract.
Nevertheless, that coming to fruition can’t be totally ruled out since LaVine’s still just 23, and the overall package he brings – size, length, athleticism and shooting stroke – is nearly impossible to find in most shooting guards. He just has to find a way to put it all together.
17. WILL BARTON, DENVER NUGGETS
Per all of the advanced metrics, Will Barton had the top season of his career in 2017-18. His averages – 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest – showed an improved all-around player, and thanks to those betterments, Barton landed himself a four-year, $54 million deal from the Denver Nuggets this offseason.
Barton used to be purely a one-on-one scorer, but now, thanks to advancements in his vision and distribution skills, he’s become a more versatile threat with the ball in his hands. His defense is still nothing to write home about, but he’s such a potent weapon off the bench as a point-producer that it doesn’t matter. Plus, with the departure of Wilson Chandler to the Sixers, it’s possible, if not likely, Barton snags himself a starting job for Denver in 2018-19.
16. MARCUS SMART, BOSTON CELTICS
Marcus Smart labored his way through an injury-riddled 2017-18 campaign, finishing the year having participated in just 54 out of 82 regular-season game. He didn’t show much improvement as far as efficiency goes either, averaging 10.2 points and 4.8 assists nightly on ugly 36.7/30.1/72.9 shooting splits.
And yet, for the third year in a row, the Boston Celtics were still – statistically – a better team with him on the floor.
It’s not hard to figure out why: Smart makes winning plays, often laying his body out on the line simply to get his team an extra possession, and to go with that all-out effort, he’s also arguably the best defensive guard in the league, period.
The Celtics appreciate Smart’s contributions so much that they re-signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract this summer, which will keep the Oklahoma State product in Boston until the 2022 offseason. If he can become at least a league-average three-point shooter, Smart’s impact would get even more ridiculous.
15. NICOLAS BATUM, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
His numbers were pretty weak – by his standard, at least – last season, mostly due to lingering elbow troubles, among other things. But when healthy, Nicolas Batum is one of the better 2-guards the Association has to offer.
Last season, Batum, playing through various injuries, still averaged 11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per contest on 41.5/33.6/83.1 shooting splits. He’s a great play-maker for an off-ball guard, and if his shot-making accuracy can get back to his normal career marks, he could be due for a nice bounce-back season for the Charlotte Hornets next year.
14. TYREKE EVANS, INDIANA PACERS
Tyreke Evans had such an impressive career resurgence in 2017-18 that it feels like we may even be underrating him by placing him No. 14 on this list. Last season, Evans averaged 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per contest while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor, and 39.9 percent from three. The only other players to likewise put up a 19/5/5 season in 2017-18 with at least 39-percent three-point accuracy were Durant and Stephen Curry. Not bad company to be in for the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year.
Now a member of the Indiana Pacers, it’ll be interesting to see how Evans acclimates to playing with another ball-dominant shooting guard in Victor Oladipo. There’s a chance Evans earns the starting small forward gig for Indiana, but don’t count out him coming off the bench and putting together a Sixth Man of the Year-type campaign, either. Evans would have more leeway to take over the primary play-making duties if his minutes with Oladipo are staggered, less so if they’re starting next to each other and have their playing time overlapping.
If he’s used in the former manner, expect another strong year for the Memphis product.
13. ERIC GORDON, HOUSTON ROCKETS
The once-removed Sixth Man of the Year, Eric Gordon posted another strong campaign for the Houston Rockets in 2017-18. The Indiana product averaged 18.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.2 triples per outing last season, on 42.8/35.9/80.9 shooting splits. Among guys with fewer than 2,200 minutes played last year, only Wayne Ellington, who just missed the cut for our ranking, had more total three-pointers than Gordon’s 218 makes.
The main thing that hurts Gordon’s production is the fact he comes off the bench behind the reigning league MVP, who plays the same position that he does. However, next season, due to the departures of two rotational wings in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza, head coach Mike D’Antoni may have to resort to playing Gordon more minutes alongside the team’s superstar backcourt. So don’t be surprised if Gordon has an even better season in 2018-19 thanks to a potentially expanded role.
12. LOU WILLIAMS, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The actual reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Louis Williams went from potential mid-year trade candidate to recipient of a three-year, $21 million extension from the Clippers throughout the course of last season. Although it may be debatable as to why a rebuilding L.A. team would give a player entering his age-32 season an extension of any sort, there’s no questioning whether or not Williams’ play merited a commitment of that size. Because if anything, he probably deserved even more guaranteed money.
Williams is coming off a year in which he averaged 22.6 points, 5.3 assists and 2.4 three-pointers per game on 43.5/35.9/88.0 shooting splits. He gets to the free-throw line at an absurd rate, makes his freebies at an elite clip once he does get there and he can score on the most able defenders the league has to offer, even despite his physical limitations. According to NBA Math’s Offensive Points Added metric, only eight men who played as many minutes as Williams had a better point-producing score last season than his total of 202.3.
If he played even a modicum of defense, there’s no doubt Williams would have ranked even higher on this list.
11. GARY HARRIS, DENVER NUGGETS
Barton isn’t the only top-notch shooting guard on the Nuggets’ roster. Gary Harris is also quite the low-key stud, coming off a career-best campaign where he put up 17.5 points, 1.8 steals and 2.3 three-pointers per outing while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor, and 39.6 percent from three. He’s a decent defender, but, more importantly, the perfect off-ball weapon in an offensive scheme predicated around a strong frontcourt, featuring Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap.
Harris ranks in the 81st percentile as a spot-up shooter and the 83rd percentile as a cutter (per Synergy), making him an absolutely deadly secondary option on head coach Michael Malone’s squad – and one of the most efficient players in the league. If he continues on the trajectory he’s currently on, Harris will certainly crack the Top 10 of this list sooner rather than later.
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