Changing Of The (Shooting) Guard

A Sports Scribe, Basketball — By on November 16, 2012 at 9:30 am

You all like lists, right?

Well, try to make these lists: top five shooting guards NOT named Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade in the NBA today and future Hall of Fame shooting guards NOT named Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade or Ray Allen since 2000.

Shockingly shorter lists than you imagined, right?

It was once the glamor position of the league, much of that having to do with Michael Jordan, a man who quite honestly was more deified than the Pope himself if you spoke to the right people. Yet, even in his era, there were Hall of Fame shooting guards like Joe Dumars, Clyde Drexler and Reggie Miller, emerging market stars like Mitch Richmond, versatile athletes like Latrell Sprewell, or even long-distance marksmen/defenders (Pat Riley’s guys) like John Starks and Dan Majerle.

As those guys were ushered out, it was Bryant who carried the mantle of the game’s best 2-guard. Not dissimilar to the 1990s, KB8 had gone against a diverse mix of opponents in the same position throughout the 2000s. There was Allen, stutter-stepping and shooting his way into the record books, Vince Carter trying to marry his athleticism with leadership, and even a mix of Rip Hamilton, Allan Houston and Michael Finley to keep things interesting until Miami selected Wade in the famous 2003 NBA Draft.

And yet, somehow, as the game rewarded offense and versatility, the shooting guard position has … well, it’s hard to really know what to make of it these days.

While the decline of true pivot centers has been discussed since Hakeem Olajuwon wore that very strange Toronto Raptors uniform in 2001, the shooting guard position hasn’t exactly declined, but in the last decade-plus, it hasn’t exactly been the glamor position it once was.

Consider how not very long ago in the late 1990s, there was consternation about that generation of combo guards, undersized in an era where 2-guards stood six-foot-five and more, but with ball-handling and passing ability like traditional point guards. Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Baron Davis and Steve Francis were the preeminent foursome, but a mix of personality clashes, injuries and team offense stagnation apparently called for the death of the combo.

Jerry West, these men were not.

(Yet, remarkably, those much-maligned guys were the forerunners to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, while we try to figure out where to fit Eric Gordon, Steph Curry and Tyreke Evans.)

The combo guard also emerged when the forward positions married each other as players became either swingmen, stretch forwards, point forwards or forward-centers. Often, teams employed those out of necessity (ex.: Sprewell, at 6’5”, played both guard positions and small forward for New York), as some guys were such great athletes that they actually could play the secondary positions when roster changes or injuries to teammates called for it.

However, there was Kevin Garnett (and to a lesser extent, Shareef Abdur-Rahim), who changed how we viewed the small forward position — not just the bridge between the backcourt and the sizable frontcourt, but playing the secondary PF positions almost as well, if not better than, their primary “3″ spots. And certainly, there is Tim Duncan, considered the greatest power forward of all time, but who has infamously had his position debated for his entire career (is he really a center just masquerading as a forward?).

And we need not mention that this generation is being defined by arguably the best crop of point guards in NBA history coupled with a reemergence of natural scoring small forwards like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. And the guy Cleveland once “Witnessed.”

As Bryant’s twilight is upon us and Wade finds his health saved by LeBron James and Chris Bosh (PF/C!), it’s fairly reasonable to wonder where the shooting guard position is headed. It’s hard to believe that it’s extinct; in fact, it’s certainly possible that there’s another true great 2-guard waiting in the wings. In the near future, there may be some hoopsters that can channel the two-way players both guys once were, become sharpshooters in the vein of Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, play with near-reckless abandon like Manu Ginobili or score from every angle as George Gervin did so smoothly.

Maybe the game’s evolution is saving the best for last like Jordan used to in the fourth quarter.

*The passing of the guard always happens. We thought the passing of the guard happened in 1998 with MJ to Kobe, until MJ came back. But in the 1998 All-Star game will always be a classic. Enjoy*

J. Clinkscales

Jason is the co-host of The Exchange on BlogTalkRadio with Sumit Dasgupta (@skd_thExchange) and the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Also a vastly undersized PF.

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    13 Comments

  • Are you not counting Paul Pierce as a shooting guard? I’d say that before Ray-Ray headed to Boston, Pierce was more a two-guard than anything else. That’s the one Hall of Famer guy I’d add, but point taken.

    It does seem like the league has shifted from a 2-guard dominant league to a point guard dominant league. Like you said, it’s all cyclical, and we’ve thought this before. But I’m sure someone will emerge.

    And per Ed’s and Tins’ latest post, maybe that guy is Rudy Gay? Again, anymore, SF/SG are almost the same position.

    • Of course, Pierce is, though he’s another one of those guys that switched positions off and on because of other personnel, but he’s started mostly at SF. Same said for Gay, who alternated quite a bit in his first two seasons; not only between SG & SF, but he was even slotted at PF when Mike Miller was in Memphis.

  • Doug says:

    James Harden says hi.

    • We say hi right back. Anyone else stand out to you as an elite true SG? (And no sarcasm at all, genuinely asking.)

      • Doug says:

        No, I agree with you. Just one guy you didn’t mention in the article. Probably one of the last elite shooting guards right now. You could argue Joe Johnson, maybe Eric Gordon if he could stay on the floor, but for the most part, the days of elite shooting guards are gone. Even a guy with potential like Paul George is probably best suited to play the 3.

        • Doug says:

          Also, do you think guys like Drexler and Jordan would play SG if they came into the league today? With a lot of teams playing small ball now, they would probably end up playing a lot at the 3.

          • And GREAT question. I’m inclined to agree that they’d end up between both, especially since to make the switch between the 2 & 3 (or 4) while dealing with the size and strength of even the average players at the forward positions, you have to be a pretty damn good athlete in a realm of mostly great athletes; hence the Sprewell mention.

        • You’re absolutely right; a slight oversight on my part as I edited this while watching the Knicks finish off the Spurs in San Antonio.

          The Paul George thing fascinates me. I actually remember when Peja Stojaković came into the league, and he was put at SG a few times… a 6’9″ SG?!?! Seemed bizarre. Not that they’re the same player, but height-wise, it’s interesting how the Pacers have to make it work.

    • I miss James Harden. Forever sad. :(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

      -Ed.

  • Joe Simmons says:

    Good post…

    The shooting guard has turned into lead guards today. You have guys who can stroke it but they are now expected to handle the ball as well. The true shooting guard doesn’t exist due to the size factor.

    The Small Forward is now the new shooting guard. Big guys are the dominant scorers on most teams today and even the specifics are starting to be thrown out the window with these guys. Now you need guys who are swing players. If they play the point they have to be able to play the two. Look at how guys like Jason Kidd have transitioned to the two now.

    SF have to have the ability to play either the 2 or the 4 depending on their size.

    SG have to be able to move to the 1 or the 3 at times as well. The league has shifted from position specifics to just finding ball players and making them fit.

    • That last point is real truth speak. Thankfully, teams are just trying to put the best players on the court, not pigeon-holing guys into positions. That makes for better basketball, having the best players out there doing pretty much everything. Of course, it’s not a full shift, evident by the fact that the Sixers start Kwame freakin Brown because they “need a center” with Andrew Bynum out.

      But it’s changing, and changing for the better in my opinion.

  • JAG says:

    This trend seems to have started in ’96, when the Bulls started Ron Harper, Jordan and Pippen. No one could figure out who was playing 1,2 or 3. All three could play any of the three positions. Whoever had the ball would push it up the floor; no need to wait for the 1 to come get it.

    Having multiple players capable of playing multiple positions gives the offense much more versatility and makes it tougher for defenses to figure out what’s coming.

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