Top Five Shooting Guards in the NBA: The Beard Goes #1

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Lineup’s point guard rankings as well:

Top Point Guards in the NBA

Now that you have a better understanding of the ground rules of these rankings, we about to enter my list for the shooting guard position. For my rankings, positions are defined by Basketball-Reference for the 2019-20 season. The only restrictions are rookies, meaning injured players are eligible to make the cut.

1James Harden6134.
2Paul George42215.73.91.343.239.988.220.53.9
3Bradley Beal5730.
4Devin Booker6226.
5Klay Thompson*

(*) denotes player missed an entire season (2019-20). Averages included in table are career averages.

5. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

One glaring factor hurts Thompson’s place on my list, and some may question his very existence in my top five shooting guards. That glaring factor is his health, and if he will ever return to his All-NBA form following surgery on a torn ACL Thompson suffered in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

Pre-injury, Thompson was regarded as one of the best two-way players in the NBA. His place on my list is in jeopardy, but assuming he returns at full strength, Thompson’s play next season will silence all the nay-sayers that are doubting him right now. Like his injured backcourt mate Stephen Curry, Thompson’s resume alone has plenty to offer for consideration into the top five at the shooting guard spot.

Behind Curry, Thompson may arguably be the best shooter in the NBA right now and is among my top five shooters in league history. Thompson is a three-time NBA Champion, 5-time All-Star and 2-time All-NBA member. In eight seasons, Thompson has made around three shots a game from long distance and is shooting about 42 percent from deep in his career.

Oh, by the way, Thompson has the record for most points in a single quarter with 37. Thompson also has the record for made threes in a single game, as he hit 14 threes in a game against the Chicago Bulls during the 2018-19 season.

Unlike some of his counterparts, Thompson has taken the role as the Warriors’ best perimeter defender, matching up against the best scorers in the NBA every night. Even despite his defensive prowess, Thompson has made the All-Defensive Team only once, partly due to his low numbers in steals and blocks.

The Warriors extended Thompson earlier this season, as both sides agreed to a five-year, $190 million max contract. In 2021, I fully expect Thompson to regain his All-NBA form and to propel Golden State back into championship contention.

4. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

2020 is finally looking like the year I’ve expected from Booker and the Suns. Booker’s best season as a pro has, in turn, helped the Suns remain relevant in the playoff race this year. While a few offseason moves and player progression have helped with Booker’s improvement (Kelly Oubre, DeAndre Ayton, Ricky Rubio), there’s little doubt that Booker’s work in the offseason has paid off.

With career-highs in efficiency and rebounds, Booker made his first All-Star appearance this season and has silenced some of the overrated chants that have followed his name for years. He’s no longer a stat padder on a lottery team but is now the face of a franchise whose trajectory looks to be trending in a positive direction.

Are the Suns contenders? No. Is Booker even near any part of the MVP conversation? Absolutely not. But this current Suns squad is by far the best team that Phoenix has put out in Booker’s career so far. As one of the nine teams in the bubble that have not yet secured a playoff spot, Booker and the Suns are six games back of the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

Booker is in the midst of his most efficient season to date. He’s shooting a career-high 48.7 percent from the field, around 36 percent from three (2 made threes per game) and is among the best in the league from the foul line at 91.6 percent. Oh, I forgot to mention his increased efficiency is also coming on about two shots less than his averages from 2018-19 and a usage rating that has slipped from 32 to 28.9.

Despite his deficiencies on the defensive end (112.5 Def. Rating) Booker’s offensive output is too great to pass up. Even with an elite playmaker at the point guard slot in Ricky Rubio, Booker is putting up his best assist to turnover rate in his career (1.67) and has a 29 percent assist percentage.

To put things into perspective, only three other players have matched Booker’s scoring and assist output per 36 minutes, as well as true shooting percentage in their first four seasons in the NBA: Walter Davis Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Two of the three are Hall of Famers, and if Booker keeps up this pace, he might find himself in the Hall one day.

3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

If you were to search “good player, bad team,” an image of Bradley Beal would undoubtedly pop up. The Washington Wizards are a complete joke, and Beal’s backcourt mate, John Wall, has yet to see the court in almost three full seasons. But, hey, the Wizards have one of the best trading chips in the NBA in Bradley Beal.

Since entering the league in 2012, Beal has made the jump from fringe starter to top-five scorer in the NBA. Beal is a bonafide bucket-getter who can score 35-plus on any given night. He’s also become quite the playmaker on offense and is averaging a career-best 6.1 assists per game in 2019-20.

After a career season in 2018-19, Beal has gotten better and is now in the conversation for the best shooting guard in basketball. This season, Beal has taken his scoring to another level and is averaging an absurd 30.5 PPG, which ranks second in the NBA behind James Harden.

I’m not surprised at all to see Beal’s scoring average so high, as the Wizard’s roster lacks any sort of talent behind their star shooting guard. What’s most astonishing from Beal’s scoring output is his extreme volume, 22.9 FGA, and his above-average efficiency. He’s shooting 45.5 percent from the field and around 35 percent from deep while taking 8.5 three-point attempts per game.

My only concern with Beal is his eye-popping usage rate (33.8), which ranks 5th-most in the NBA behind Giannis, Harden, Doncic, and Trae Young. But I also can’t blame Beal or the Wizards for that rate considering the lack of talent and scoring surrounding Beal.

I view Bradley Beal more of an elite number two option more than I like him leading an NBA franchise. Despite averaging 30.5 points and 6.1 assists per game, Beal was infamously snubbed from this year’s All-Star festivities. Even if John Wall returns to the court next season at 80 percent of what he was pre-injury, I think it might be time for Washington to unload Beal for draft picks before he walks away in free agency.

2. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

Before being ousted by a 36-foot-shot from Damian Lillard, Paul George had put together his best season as a pro in 2018-19. That season George finished 3rd in MVP voting, having averaged 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. George put up career numbers all while playing alongside another MVP-caliber talent in Russell Westbrook.

For the majority of 2019-20, George hasn’t been healthy, as he’s recovering from injuries to both shoulders, he sustained at the end of the 2018-19 season. His numbers have taken a bit of hit since joining the Clippers, but it’s fair to say George is the sure-fire number 2 option behind Kawhi Leonard.

Despite missing 22 of the 64 games this season, George is slowly returning to form as he gets his legs under him. Leading up to the break, George played some of his best basketball all season. In the month of March (5 games) George averaged a little under 20 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting from the field, including 40.6 percent from three (6.4 3PA).

The Clippers possess a luxury unlike any other team in the NBA with George as their second option. On most teams, George would be a number one option and the team’s best defender. On the Clippers, George ranks 2nd-best on both sides of the ball. Throw in Lou Williams, and you might have an argument for George as LA’s third-best scorer.

At full strength, George is a top 10 player in the NBA and one of the best defenders at his position. We saw what he’s capable of when he’s healthy, and the resumed season in Orlando should give George a chance to redeem himself from an abysmal showing in the 2019 playoffs.

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

As if there was any debate, James Harden is the runaway pick for the best shooting guard in the NBA. Harden again leads the NBA in points per game at 34.4, and even with the addition of Russell Westbrook, Harden is still collecting 6.4 rebounds and dishing out 7.4 assists per night.

His combination of volume and efficiency is almost unheard of in NBA history. Last season, Harden accounted for over 45 percent of Houston’s total offense with his combination of scoring and points generated off assists. He also has the 2nd-highest usage rate in league history, trailing only his newest teammate, Russell Westbrook.

His usage rate is down about 4 percent, which doesn’t surprise me at all, but he’s averaging a career-best 11.8 free-throw attempts per game. To simplify things, Harden’s role may be lessening, but he’s becoming more effective as a scorer. It’s almost astonishing to think that Harden could follow up the season he had in 2018-19, and somehow we’re almost disappointed that Harden’s scoring has dropped from 36.1 to 34.4 PPG.

The Beard might be the best scorer in basketball, and from a skill standpoint, the hardest player to guard in the NBA. Besides Stephen Curry, Harden bends defenses and gives opposing coaches nightmares like no other player in the league.

He might not be a player that can carry the Rockets to a championship, but he has all the talent and skills to be the best player in any given season.

Diehard Laker and Seahawk fan. I unfortunately witnessed the Seattle Seahawks passing the ball on the 1 yard line. I hope that sports can unite people and bring them closer together. Current student at Chapman University.

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