Projecting the best NBA shooting guards in 2015-16

Despite his well-chronicled defensive deficiencies, James Harden arguably is the best shooting guard in the NBA.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

By David Kenyon

The acceptance of the swingman has lessened the depth at the two around the league, but James Harden leads a decent yet elder group of the best NBA shooting guards.

While Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward and other young stars dominate the swingman classification, veterans like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade stake a claim to most of the top spots.

Note: Think we missed someone? Check out the swingman rankings.

7. Arron Afflalo, New York Knicks

 

Just two seasons removed from a quiet All-Star worthy season, Arron Afflalo is an overlooked and underrated asset. Perhaps it’s because the 30-year-old is now on his sixth stop during his nine-year career, but Afflalo will be a pivotal piece of the New York Knicks.

For better or worse, Carmelo Anthony will dominate the offense. Thanks to Afflalo’s presence, though, the Knicks should display significantly improved spacing. He can both stretch the floor and demand attention in the post, which will allow Carmelo to hit the blocks or jump out to the perimeter.

The biggest question surrounding Afflalo’s new team, however, is if he’ll receive enough passes to regularly contribute as a spot-up shooter. Afflalo typically won’t have a chance to create for himself, but with a career 38.5 three-point percentage, he’ll fit in just fine.

6. Monta Ellis, Indiana Pacers

 

Monta Ellis is the perfect example of a player who has no elite skill but a bevy of above-average talents. He’s a solid defender when the effort is there, a respectable three-point shooter from the corners and superb when slashing to the rim. Plus, Ellis’ passing ability atones for inconsistent range.

Last season, he was the feature of the Dallas Mavericks offense. Ellis tallied 18.9 points on a 44.5 percent mark from the field. But in 2015-16 next to Paul George, the 11th-year pro will be a complementary piece for essentially the first time in his career. However, as long as Ellis accepts the new role, he should thrive with the Indiana Pacers.

5. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

 

The Washington Wizards have a near-superstar in John Wall, but every elite player needs a sidekick. Bradley Beal, who is an elite three-point shooter, is that man. The Florida product connected on a career-best 40.9 percent mark from downtown, which was good enough for ninth in the NBA.

Beal has a bit of an injury issue, since he’s only appeared in more than 63 games once during his three NBA seasons. The 22-year old needs to become a better passer and develop his on-ball defensive skills, but Beal is a formidable off-ball defender and willing rebounder.

Once he consistently avoids injuries, Beal will ascend the list. For now, though, he’ll regularly battle for a spot in the back end of the top five.

4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

 

There might not be a more vocal fan base than Kobe Bryant’s, especially when the Los Angeles Lakers legend receives a poor rating in anything. But after playing just 41 games over the last two seasons combined, Kobe’s no longer the player he once was. And that’s OK!

In 2014-15, Bryant logged 35 appearances but shot a career-worst 37.3 percent. Why was that particularly bad? Kobe’s previous low was 41.7 during his rookie campaign. Additionally, the veteran hasn’t drained more than 35 percent of his threes since 2008-09.

Nevertheless, the future Hall of Famer is a volume shooter on a bad team, and he’s a near-lock for averages for 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin were the only other players to manage those marks, too. Kobe is remarkably inefficient, but he’s still valuable to the Lakers.

3. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

 

Although Dwayne Wade isn’t yet living by reputation, the three-time champion is reaching the conclusion of an illustrious NBA career. Wade rarely, if ever, plays both sides of a back-to-back due to lingering knee issues. But when D-Wade is ready to go, he can still shine.

The Marquette product remains a capable defender in both on- and off-ball situations, a serviceable rebounder and versatile scorer inside the arc. Wade registered 21.5 points and 4.8 assists per outing last season.

Chris Bosh’s extended absence hurt Wade’s production, but the power forward is healthy and will remove some of the pressure for Wade to excel on offense. The 33-year-old is in line for another superb year.

2. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

 

The three-and-D specialist is becoming an increasingly important type of player, but Klay Thompson is a rare breed: He’s a three-and-D superstar.

Thompson racked up 21.7 points per game and netted 43.9 percent of his three-point attempts, which ranked 10th and fourth in the league, respectively. Additionally, the 25-year-old is among the premier wing defenders in the league, especially when guarding the ball-handler.

Stephen Curry earns most of the attention for the Golden State Warriors—and deservedly so—but if it wasn’t for Thompson sticking with the opponent’s best backcourt scoring option, Curry’s so-so defense would be exposed more often. Thompson should hold steady at the top of the rankings for most of the next decade.

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

 

Harden is regularly criticized for his defense, but the Houston Rockets standout took noticeable strides last season. If he simply becomes average on that side of the floor, Harden will be a great player for a long time.

The left-hander is one of the best individual creators in the NBA, evidenced by his league-leading 824 free-throw attempts. Harden netted a career-high 27.4 points per game in 2014-15, but he also recorded personal-best marks with 7.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks.

Harden guided the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals, and a return trip is certainly a realistic possibility. Thanks to Harden, Houston will once again showcase one of the league’s most prolific offenses.