Changing of the 2-Guard
Popularised by the explosive exploits of the one and only Michael Jordan, there has always been a certain mystique to the Shooting Guard position. Break the position name down and you’ll understand clearly what is expected of a perfect 2-guard: someone who can shoot the ball well and someone who can guard or handle the ball well.
But times have changed drastically since MJ’s hay-day as the league’s best shooting guard/ best player. If you look at the list of the best SGs in the NBA now, only one of them completely defines the definition set above to its fullest: Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s a great shooter and can handle the ball, thus create his own shot, and thus, is the closest replica of Jordan as the ideal NBA shooting guard. The only one who comes close to fitting the ‘ideal’ amongst the elite players in the NBA is Dwyane Wade, but his iffy jump shot make him more of a penetrating guard than a shot-up shooter.
Beyond Kobe and Wade? Well, there is a sudden drastic drop in the 2-guard category. The only position fairing worse is Center, which is only being kept alive thanks to Dwight Howard’s wannabe-Superman life-support. The good ol’ days of explosive shooting guards are now under serious threat, too. Recently, Kobe commented that he has never really had a rival over his career in his position: those who rivaled him when he was younger didn’t share his longevity, while those who rival him now that he’s older were far too young for him. The only real rival for him currently is of course Wade (who is only three years younger than Kobe, by the way).
Rewind back 10 years to 2002 and elite shooting guards were truly a dime a dozen. There was of course a 23-year-old Kobe – already one of the NBA’s best players at a young age – who was heading to his third-consecutive NBA championship with Shaq leading the way. There was Allen Iverson, less than a year removed from an epic MVP season where he led the 76ers to the NBA Finals won two of his four scoring titles in 2001 and 2002. There was Vince Carter, touted to be the next Michael Jordan, coming off his finest season with the Raptors and was again amongst the NBA’s best scorers that year. ‘Vinsanity’ was also, in the Jordan model, an ‘ideal’ shooting guard in terms of his skill-set. Then there was Carter’s cousin Tracy McGrady, who was the NBA’s most improved player in 2001 after his move to Orlando, averaged almost 26 points and 8 rebounds in 2002, and a year later, averaged a career-high 32.1 points per game. And how can you forget Ray Allen, who was with the Bucks then, and was a regular feature in the All Star team.
Even the second tier SGs were fairly competitive, too, including Michael Finley and Allan Houston, both sharpshooters who averaged around 20 points a game in those years.
And then there were the so-called ‘old timers’ of that era, who were still getting it done. Reggie Miller was coming off a season where he had averaged over 31 points a game, and finished 2002 with an average of 23.6 ppg. 2001-02 was also the season when a the ‘Shooting God’ himself aka Michael Jordan made his second return from retirement, this time as a Washington Wizard, and even as he touched 39, he made an All Star appearance, averaged nearly 23 points a game, led his squad in points, assists, and steals, and a year later, became the first and only 40 year old to score 40 points in an NBA game.
Safe to reiterate, the Shooting Guard position was deep.
10 years later. Kobe and Dwyane Wade, two of the last remaining elite shooting guards, are set to face each other on Sunday night. While the Heat and the Lakers play, the rest of the NBA will wonder what happened to the hallowed shooting guard position. The best SG beyond these two is Atlanta’s Joe Johnson, who is a solid star but definitely not elite enough to justify his ridiculous salary. The only other consistent names on this list could be Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin. There are several solid SGs who are now better used as weapons off-the-bench, such as James Harden, Jason Terry, OJ Mayo, and the injured Manu Ginobili. Ray Allen is still around, still a deadly shooter, but age has fast caught up with him in most other categories. Tyreke Evans spends too much time jostling between the ‘1’ and the ‘2’, and is inconsistent from both.
Instead of the shooting guards, the offensive load (for creating, scoring, or both) now falls on the point guard more than ever. Ever since the league’s hand-check rules changed in the mid-2000s and Steve Nash won back-to-back MVP awards, we began to shift towards what today has become the golden era of PGs. Nearly every squad has a stellar point man running the show, in a list that includes Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings, John Wall, and Ricky Rubio and the evergreen Jason Kidd. Even the ‘average’ point guards today are fairly talented, Mario Chalmers, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon, and Brandon Knight. And how can we forget that the biggest sensation of the year – Jeremy Lin – is also a 1-guard.
With the point guards taking a bigger role in the offense, many of the NBA teams now employ shooting guards as just spot-up shooters to stretch the floor and to be a presence on the defensive end. The 76ers start with Jodie Meeks, the Bulls have Rip Hamilton, the Magic have JJ Reddick, Nuggets have Aaron Afflalo, Timberwolves have Martell Webster, Trailblazers have Wesley Metthews, Clippers have Randy Foye, Grizzlies start with Tony Allen and Hornets with Marco Belinelli.
The last SG who showed some potential in breaking through to the Kobe-Wade echelon was Brandon Roy, who sadly due to multiple serious injuries had to call an end to his career.
So enjoy the Kobe vs. Wade for now, because soon Kobe will be too old and Wade’s reckless ways may slow him down, too. Who will take over the 2-guard crown in the future? A lot of eyes are on current high school senior Shabazz Muhammad, who at his size, is the perfect fit of the Jordan-Kobe-Vince Carter mould. Muhammad is one of the highest ranked young players in the world and should be in the NBA in a couple of years. If he lives up to his potential, he could be the great shining SG light of the future.
But aside from that, we might as well accept the changing of the guard. Because the future belongs to the PGs. Sorry, MJ.