In the NBA, where positions are losing meaning but the value of a 3-point shooter has risen, shooting guards can be the key to a team’s success. Whether it's providing hot streaks from the 3-point line or orchestrating an offense, the position has produced some of the most dynamic players in recent league history. Here’s a look at the 10 best shooting guards heading into the 2021-22 NBA season:
1. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
At the top of the list is James Harden, a shooting guard in a league of his own when considering statistical comparisons. Harden is ahead of his peers in just about every category, including player efficiency rating and value over replacement player. A three-time scoring champion, Harden is capable of running an offense or taking over an offense, exemplified by his ability to drop 50-point triple-doubles.
While Harden has at times been considered a point guard, the former Houston Rocket has made a name for himself at the 2. A former league MVP, Harden has defined the modern game perhaps better than any other player, with lofted logo 3’s and a knack for playing between the rules of the game to draw fouls. Harden averaged 24.6 points per game last season and will look to continue that form alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as he tries to win his first NBA championship.
2. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Booker has seen a meteoric rise over the last season or two, going from a relative afterthought in shooting guard rankings to one of the most effective offensive players in the league. This change in perception can be attributed to the Phoenix Suns’ impressive form over the last two seasons where Booker cemented himself as a standout force.
A multifaceted threat, Booker has proven he can hit a long triple while also being one of the deadliest pick-and-roll players in the league, amassing 1.018 points-per-possession when doing so. Booker averaged 25.6 points per game last season as the focal point of the Suns’ offense.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Washington’s Bradley Beal became the go-to guy for the Wizards last season, averaging a whopping 31.3 points per game, which was second-best in the league behind Steph Curry. Over the last two seasons, only Portland’s Damian Lillard has scored more points than Beal.
Beal’s excellent scoring is highlighted by the lack of other weapons available to the Wizards. He is efficient with his shooting: 47.1 percent from the field, 35.1 percent from 3, and 84.7 percent from the free-throw line over the past three seasons.
4. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
After an All-NBA snub last season, explosive youngster Donovan Mitchell will have an extra chip on his shoulder. Though a late-season injury may have factored into Mitchell being left out, it would be tough to fault Utah Jazz fans for feeling Mitchell was hard done by - especially after leading the Jazz to the best overall record in the NBA.
Though they missed out on the conference finals, Mitchell’s 26.4 points per game and 5.2 assists per game is promising for the Jazz considering Mitchell is only 25. Mitchell’s ability to produce from anywhere on the floor - whether it’s splashing triples or lifting off for dunks - will surely have Jazz fans on the edge of their seats for another season.
5. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine’s improvement each season has been encouraging for Chicago Bulls fans, but with the added threats of DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, LaVine may be able to take his game to the next level. After an impressive showing in Team USA’s gold medal run at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the Bulls 2-guard will be at peak confidence heading into the new season.
A full-effort-or-nothing type player, LaVine is a problem for opposing teams at both ends of the floor with his tough defense and innate ability to score and assist. LaVine averaged 27.4 points, 4.9 assists and 5 rebounds per game last season, which earned him his first All-Star nomination. Bulls fans will be feeling hopeful about LaVine heading to his first-ever postseason with the team.
6. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
After a red-hot start last season, C.J. McCollum’s season was shaken by a foot injury that saw him out for two months. It would not be unreasonable to think that had the injury not happened, McCollum would have nabbed his first All-Star bid.
The 30-year-old Portland Trail Blazer averaged 27.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds per game before the injury, and still managed to end the season with a respectable 23.1 points, 4.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. His partnership with Damian Lillard has made the Trailblazers a perennial threat, but McCollum will be looking to take his team further than ever this season.
7. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Though Klay Thompson’s place on the list can be questioned because of devastating injury woes over the past two seasons, Thompson at full health is a shoo-in for at least the top-five shooting guards in the league. Already a Golden State Warriors legend with three NBA championships, Thompson is renowned for his shooting ability alongside backcourt partner Steph Curry, and is also capable of providing lockdown defense.
Though Thompson isn’t expected to start the season for the Warriors, reports indicate he could return somewhere around December. If so, the Warriors will like their chances at making the playoffs for the first time in two seasons. The last season Thompson played, he averaged 21.5 points per game while shooting 40.2% from 3 on his way to a fifth-consecutive All-Star bid.
8. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
One of the best defenders on this list, the Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart brings much more to the table than what statistics imply. His on-court intensity is hard to measure but gives the Celtics a gritty side that has helped grind out wins. That being said, Smart still averaged 13.1 points and 5.7 assists per game last season.
Smart’s last season was hampered by injuries and coronavirus health and safety protocols, which led to his first omission from the All-Defensive teams in three years. If Smart can stay healthy for the 2021-22 season, it’s safe to assume the scrappy Celtic will return.
9. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves rookie barely missed out on the Rookie of the Year award, but the future still looks as bright as ever for Anthony Edwards. The former No. 1 overall pick took only 18 games in the league to cement his place as the starting shooting guard for the Timberwolves. Edwards only improved from there, earning an emphatic Dunk of the Year award on his way to becoming a main weapon for the Timberwolves.
The 20-year-old will certainly climb the shooting guard ranks in the coming seasons as he settles into the league even further. Edwards dropped 23.8 points per game and amassed a dominant 5.3 rebounds after the All-Star break last season.
10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
A shifty guard with a clean jump shot, the Oklahoma Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the most exciting prospects in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander makes up for what he lacks in volume with efficiency, already landing himself in the 80th percentile in offense at 23-years-old. He also averaged 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game last season.
Though he had a limited 2020-2021 season due to injuries, the Thunder 2-guard dominated as a pick-and-roll player, with only Steph Curry gaining more points-per-possession in those situations last season. Despite some dazzling numbers, Thunder fans may feel the best is yet to come from Gilgeous-Alexander.