Our 2013-2014 NBA season preview continues with the best shooting guards in the league we’ll see this season. Despite the injuries, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant are still among the best in the NBA, just slightly less. Contending with them are James Harden, who just might be above the rest already, and two players playing out of position this season: Jimmy Butler and Paul George.
Despite of the talent leading the position, starting shooting guards around the NBA are of lower quality when compared to their backcourt partners, and the quality certainly drops off once we get past the top 5.
Number 5 – Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
He won’t be playing in his more natural position of small forward, but Jimmy Butler showed he can be more than just a role player last season from the moment he had to put in 40 minute nights alongside and instead of Luol Deng. He won’t be scoring 18-20 points each night – there are enough players on this team, and especially Derrick Rose, to take care of that. However, Butler is already an elite defender and excellent rebounder for his size, and even if in some games is offensive role will be simply to be a catch-and-shoot relief for Derrick Rose as he drives into the paint, being a 40% shooter from beyond the arc should make him very helpful in that role, even if he is capable of doing much more.
Number 4 – Paul George, Indiana Pacers
The NBA’s most improved player of 2013 will move to the shooting guard position to accommodate Danny Granger’s return, although with Granger not playing the number of minutes he was used to, we’ll probably see Granger in both positions, depending on the lineups. He averaged 19.2 points per game for the Pacers during the playoffs, leading them to a game 7 in the conference finals. This year, it’s not just about becoming an All-Star, but about raising his game to yet another level (Something that might take more than one year), to that of a superstar who is good enough to lead a deep and strong team deep into the playoffs, and possibly to the NBA finals. The shooting, the defense, the leadership: It’s all there. All George needs is some consistency, and adding more tools to his offensive game, which can look a bit predictable at times.
Number 3 – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Bryant won’t miss too much, if any at all, of the regular season. Even though he is in his mid 30’s, there seem to be less questions about his ability to comeback than there are with younger guys like Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo, who are going to need a while longer to comeback. Bryant is going to have a frustrating season, which means we’ll see more and more of him 2007-self, which isn’t so different from his 2013-self. He’ll be shooting more than last season (20.3 attempts per game) and scoring around the same (26-27 points a night), but his efficiency will go down as the Lakers will struggle remaining in playoff contention for too long. Expect his defense to fall even further.
Number 2 – Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
The knee problems might have limited him in the playoffs, but Wade averaged 21.2 points per game last season with all the problems. When healthy (and he’ll be a bit lighter on those knees this year) he still might be the best shooting guard in the NBA, but the Heat will rest him as much as possible. The 15.9 points per game last season during the playoffs were the exception. Wade having the highest PER of all players in his position during the regular season is more telling of just how good he still is despite all the talk of injuries, age and decay.
Number 1 – James Harden, Houston Rockets
It was expected for James Harden to become the leading man for the Rockets once he was traded from the Thunder, but no one expected 25.9 points per game. Harden does get selfish at times and is a bit headstrong when it comes to driving to the basket or deciding on taking shot after shot with a hand in his face, but if what’s important to him is the Houston Rockets success and not his own greatness, we’ll see Harden giving up slightly on his ball handling moments in favor of Jeremy Lin or passing it inside to Dwight Howard, while he simply becomes a better and more efficient player that he’s capable of.