Changing Of The (Shooting) Guard

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*

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