The start of the 2021-22 NBA season is a little more than three weeks away. We are counting down to the start of the season by profiling the very best players in the league. We are also ranking players by position across both conferences. Trae Young sits at the top of the five best point guards in the Eastern Conference while Stephen Curry comes in at pole position in the West.
We now take a look at the shooting guard spot in both the East and the West. There is a plethora of talent available at the aforesaid position, with at least one of the players ranking among the all-time greats. There are several young players with a bright future ahead of them provided they continue to get better. The 2021-22 NBA season will give them another opportunity to showcase their talent at the highest level. And so without further ado, we look at the five best shooting guards in the Eastern Conference.
#5 Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers)
With the exit of LeBron James from Cleveland in 2018, Collin Sexton has been the one bright spark for the Cavaliers over the last few seasons. Picked eighth overall in the 2018 Draft, Sexton has consistently improved over the last three NBA seasons. He has gone from averaging 16.7 ppg to 24.3 ppg in 2020-21. The game against the Brooklyn Nets in January, where he dropped 20 straight points in both overtime periods to lift the Cavs to an improbable win, has given fans a glimpse of just how capable he is.
The key for Sexton is to become a better shooter. He shot 47.5% from the field and 37.1% from long range last season. If he can take those numbers closer to 50.0% and 40.0%, he will draw far more attention from defenses, which would work to his teammates’ advantage. The addition of veteran Ricky Rubio by the Cavs and the expected development of Darius Garland may also help Sexton in his fourth season in the league.
#4 Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
One of the best two-way guards in the NBA, Jaylen Brown will look to make good on his absence from the 2021 postseason in 2021-22. Prior to injuring his left wrist (the injury that kept him out of the playoffs), Brown averaged a career-best 24.7 ppg, shooting career numbers from the field (48.4%) and downtown (39.7%) over 58 games in the 2020-21 NBA season. That performance earned him his first NBA All-Star game nod.
With forward Jayson Tatum also heading towards becoming a Celtics legend, Brown’s continued improvement could make the Celtics pair an all-time formidable duo. But for that to happen, Brown must first heal completely and quickly for the Celtics.
#3 Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls)
Hailing from the same NBA draft class as Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, it is probably safe to say that Zach LaVine has overtaken most of the players who were picked ahead of him in 2014. After averaging 10.1 ppg in his rookie season, LaVine had a breakthrough 2020-21 where he posted career-best numbers in scoring (27.4 ppg), field-goal shooting (50.7%), three-point shooting (41.9%), rebounding (5.0 rpg) and assists (4.9 apg).
2020-21 was also the first time LaVine ranked among the top 10 scorers in the league and earned his first NBA All-Star nod. The one glaring gap in LaVine’s resume is that he still doesn’t have a single playoff appearance. With Chicago adding more talent in the offseason in Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, LaVine may finally have the right players around him to help him make his postseason debut in 2022.
#2 Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Had he not missed a few games during the final stretch of the 2020-21 season, Bradley Beal may well have edged Stephen Curry as the NBA’s 2021 Scoring Champ. Beal finished 2020-21 with career-bests of 31.3 ppg and field goal efficiency of 48.5%. He also tied the Wizards’ franchise record for the best game score by an individual player when he dropped 60 points on the Philadelphia 76ers in January.
The interesting question about Beal is not regarding his talent, but the pieces the Wizards surround him with. With head coach Scott Brooks and Russell Westbrook having moved out, Beal will now have to work with new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and build chemistry with a new bunch of players that includes Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie.
#1 James Harden (Brooklyn Nets)
The best in the NBA irrespective of conference. Even as James Harden enters his 13th NBA season, he remains one of the most skilful scorers the game has ever seen. He is the only player to score more than 10,000 points in the last five NBA seasons. Harden has achieved this spectacular scoring streak while also figuring among the NBA’s top three assists leaders over the same period.
Harden began last season on a sour note with the Houston Rockets, which eventually led to him being traded from there to Brooklyn. He was also allegedly out of shape when the 2020-21 season began and not one hundred percent fit when he returned for the Nets in their Conference semi-finals matchup against Milwaukee. If he comes out healthy and ready for the 2021-22 season, he can lead the Nets alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and get the franchise its first NBA championship.