Projecting the Top 30 shooting guards for 2018-19

Projecting the Top 30 shooting guards for 2018-19

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Projecting the Top 30 shooting guards for 2018-19

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10. JAYLEN BROWN, BOSTON CELTICS

Another exciting prospect at the 2-guard spot is the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown. The Cal product averaged 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 triples in his sophomore campaign, hitting a quite healthy 39.5 percent of his looks from deep along the way. Brown’s improvement as an outside shooter, which was considered a possible weakness of his at the time he was drafted, is what makes him so enthralling of a player.

To go with that respectable three-point stroke, Brown possesses fantastic size and length (he’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan) for a shooting guard – physical tools that should help him become a lock-down defender on the wing. Brown’s two-way ability, and the fact he put up 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds nightly in a surprisingly deep playoff run for Boston – in his age-21 postseason, no less – is what gave him the edge over Harris in our countdown.

As his offensive game continues to blossom, the sky could be the limit for the young Georgia native.

9. DEVIN BOOKER, PHOENIX SUNS

The knocks on Devin Booker’s game are oft-cited: He’s experienced zero team success since reaching the NBA, he’s a shoot-first gunner and he doesn’t (can’t?) defend. And while those arguments have some merit, as is often the case with almost all built-up narratives, they don’t tell the whole story.

Booker’s Phoenix Suns teams do have a brutal 27.6 win percentage since was drafted. His usage rate did hit a career-high of 31.7 percent last year. And because he’s not some uber-long athletic freak, his defense is subpar – at best.

Regardless, Booker’s overall offensive package (i.e. not just his scoring) helps set him apart from most of the other shooting guards in the league, especially when you consider how young he is. In his age-21 season, Booker up 24.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.7 three-pointers per contest, on 43.2/38.3/87.8 shooting splits. The only other players in NBA history to put up at least 24/4/4 as 21-year-olds? LeBron and Michael Jordan. So yeah, that’s decently impressive company for the young Booker.

As the Kentucky product’s play-making has started to develop (his assist rate has gone from 16.1 percent in his first two seasons to 24.2 percent in his third year), his overall efficiency has also started to rise with it:

Admittedly, we are going to have to start seeing even more improvement – both from the Suns as a team and from Booker on the less glamorous end of the floor – pretty soon, but after Phoenix’s strong offseason, in which they added Ariza and Deandre Ayton, we expect it to come in 2018-19. Not so coincidentally, we also think that’ll be the year Booker truly cements himself as an elite NBA shooting guard.

8. CJ MCCOLLUM, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Few players possess a scoring package as potent as the one belonging to the Portland Trail Blazers’ CJ McCollum.

Although his shooting marks took a bit of a dip last season, McCollum still put up 21.4 points per contest on 44.3/39.7/83.6 shooting splits. You know you’re dealing with a great scorer when 39.7 percent can be seen as a disappointing season from beyond the arc, but in his prior two years, McCollum had converted 41.9 percent of his three-point chances – the sixth-highest rate in the league over that time span.

Odds are, McCollum’s shooting percentages will normalize themselves in 2018-19, and he’ll get back to putting up crazy scoring performances on a nightly basis.

However, truth be told, it would be fascinating to see what the Lehigh product could do in an offense built around his strengths, one in which he didn’t share the backcourt with another ball-dominant (but beastly in his own right) guard in Damian Lillard. McCollum has the tools to be at least a 25-point-per-game player in a more expanded role.

7. BRADLEY BEAL, WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Bradley Beal earned the first All-Star bid of his career last season. Afterwards, the Florida product finished the year out 2017-18 averaging 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 46.0/37.5/79.3 shooting splits.

Like McCollum, for whatever reason, Beal saw his shooting marks take a bit of a dip last year; the season prior, he slashed much more impressive 48.2/40.4/82.5 shooting percentages.

Nevertheless, Beal was still a stud in 2017-18, becoming a much-improved playmaker (he posted a career-best 21.0 percent assist rate last season), along with getting tougher on the defensive end. But we’re going to have to see the Washington Wizards have more playoff success before we feel comfortable ranking Beal higher among the league’s top shooting guards. We also have to make sure the 6-foot-5 guard hasn’t stagnated in his development – a very real possibility considering he’ll be entering his seventh season in 2018-19, and the fact that his numbers didn’t get much better between his fifth and six league years.

6. DONOVAN MITCHELL, UTAH JAZZ

In basically any other season, Donovan Mitchell would have easily garnered the number of Rookie of the Year votes required to take the award home. Unfortunately, his first-year campaign came in the same season as Ben Simmons’, one of the most freakish talents to join the NBA in recent memory, so it wasn’t meant to be.

Matters not, as the motivation from the slight should only fuel Mitchell to get even better in his second campaign – a terrifying proposition for his contemporaries at the 2-guard spot. As a rookie, the Louisville product averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.4 three-pointers per contest, on 43.7/34.0/80.5 shooting splits. Mitchell’s numbers got even more ridiculous in the playoffs, when he put up 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per outing. Among men with 11 or fewer playoff games in their first years (in modern league history), only freaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (352) himself scored more points in their rookie-season playoffs than Mitchell (268).

The Utah Jazz stud has the whole package, which is why we project him to have a stronger 2018-19 than various more experienced shooting guards who have plenty of hardware to their name. Mitchell’s got insane athleticism and length (6-foot-10 wingspan), which doesn’t just flash on offense, but on defense as well:

The player many compared Mitchell to last year was a young Wade, and just by watching him play, you could surmise why. On defense, they both rack up steals and blocks few other guards can match, while on offense boasting the slippery moves needed to get to the rim, plus the otherworldly hops needed to finish explosively once they get there.

Additionally, like rookie-year Wade, rookie-year Mitchell also carried his team to a first-round playoff victory over a heavily favored opponent (Baron Davis and the Hornets in Wade’s case, Westbrook and the Thunder in Mitchell’s). If Mitchell shows any sort of Wade-like second-year improvement (it’ll have to come with his efficiency), he could be in store for a monster sophomore season.

We expect it to happen.

5. DEMAR DEROZAN, SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Just by attempting (and sinking) more shots than he ever previously had from three-point range, DeMar DeRozan had the most efficient year of his career in 2017-18, according to multiple advanced metrics.

Along with his more confident three-point bombing, DeRozan also had the highest assist rate of his time as a professional (25 percent), and it was that improved play-making that helped him be more productive than ever.

Now, heading into his first year with the Spurs and suiting up for an elite head coach in Gregg Popovich, the native Californian may wind up topping himself in 2018-19. His touch from deep will have to get even better, as will his defense, but DeRozan, after being slighted by the Raptors, will certainly have the motivation to be even better next season. We think it’ll happen.

4. JIMMY BUTLER, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Jimmy Butler put up yet another monster season in 2017-18, even despite missing a good chunk of the year with a knee injury. The former Marquette man averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 three-pointers per game on 47.4/35.0/85.4 shooting splits last season, and helped lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to the playoffs for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.

Besides using his size and strength to get to the basket and finish with ease, perhaps the best attribute Butler possesses offensively is his knack for getting to the free-throw stripe. Over the past three seasons, only four guard/forward types have attempted more freebies than Butler’s 1,343, and all of them played at least 600 more minutes than the Timberwolves swingman. Needless to say, taking a bunch of foul shots (and making them, obviously) is hugely important for a player’s efficiency, and can help make up for a guy who isn’t a three-point sniper, as is the case with Butler.

The main reason Butler, despite his defensive toughness and effective point-production, didn’t rank higher on this list is due to the uncertainty (maybe we could even call it turmoil) surrounding the Wolves heading into next season. Though nothing has come to pass as of yet, there seems to be a lot of tension boiling over behind the scenes with Minnesota, and it’ll absolutely be something to monitor as we get closer to training camp.

3. VICTOR OLADIPO, INDIANA PACERS

At the time of the Paul George trade to the Thunder, it appeared the Pacers had absolutely gotten fleeced, as their package in return for the All-Star wing consisted of “just” Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Well, after the season Oladipo (and Sabonis) just had, it looks like if anything, Oklahoma City were the ones who were had.

Those who believed Indiana received too little in return for George can’t be faulted, as Oladipo had shown little to no improvement between Year-2 and Year-4 of his career. In reality, it even looked like he was regressing.

But then came his first season with the Pacers, and Oladipo absolutely blew up.

The Indiana product averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.1 triples and a league-leading 2.4 steals per contest, while shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from deep. Along with his efficient high-volume scoring, Oladipo was also a lockdown defender on the wing, which helped him earn All-NBA and All-Star honors for the first time in his career.

Oladipo’s outside touch could still stand to get better, as could his foul-drawing ability, but we expect him to improve in both facets and make yet another jump next season, thus further solidifying himself as a Top-4 shooting guard in the NBA.

2. KLAY THOMPSON, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

No other shooting guard in the league has his strengths intertwined so perfectly with what his team needs than Thompson does with the Golden State Warriors.

The best team in basketball require an off-ball guard who’s fine with running around screens, spotting up for three-pointers and not dribbling away on every possession. That’s perfect for Thompson as, well, he’s not much of a ball-handler anyway. The reigning champs also need their 2-guard to be a tough defender, as his backcourt mate, Curry, is just a fine point-stopper, but certainly not a top-notch one. Again, Thompson fits the bill perfectly there, as he has the sturdy frame and quick feet needed to both stay in front of opposing guards or weather backdown attempts from bigger foes.

So even though Thompson may not be as flashy as some of the other elite guys in our countdown, we still project him to be the second-best shooting guard in the league next year thanks to his pristine team fit, to go with what an absurd outside shooter he is. (Among players with at least 3,000 three-point attempts in their careers, Thompson ranks fourth all-time in accuracy at 42.2 percent.)

His laid-back attitude and overall unselfishness are vital in making one of the best teams ever assembled truly hum. Thompson will never get the full credit he deserves, but he doesn’t care. And that’s what makes him special.

1. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS

After multiple close calls, James Harden finally – and rightfully – won his first career MVP award in 2017-18, after averaging a league-leading 30.4 points per game, to go with 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 3.7 three-pointers nightly. He attempted an insane 10.1 free-throws per game, made 85.8 percent of them, and also shot 36.7 percent from beyond the arc to boot. Quite frankly, you would be hard-pressed to create a more efficient scorer in a lab if you were given the opportunity.

In addition, his defense, for the first time in his career, didn’t result in a nightly meme. (Perhaps playing with Chris Paul had something to do with that, but regardless, Harden deserves credit for improving his effort on that end as well.) And it’s that newfound two-way fortitude which helped Harden lead the Rockets to their best regular season in franchise history (65 wins), and to within one game of dethroning the Warriors and reaching the NBA Finals.

Harden’s prime will probably be defined by whether or not he can finally get over the proverbial hump and guide his own team to a title, but even if he can’t, the ball-handling, tough-shot-making, bearded maestro is headed to the Hall of Fame when his career is over.

And in a more micro sense, his reign as the league’s best shooting guard doesn’t appear to have an end in sight.

Frank Urbina joined Alex Kennedy on the HoopsHype podcast to go into further detail on his shooting-guard rankings. Click play here for his reasoning on the selections he made:

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.

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