Changing of the Guard--or Diminishing of the Guards?Subjectively, it seems like there is a changing of the guard--literally and figuratively--in the NBA. Young players like Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis are moving to the forefront, while older players who have dominated the NBA for the past several years are declining and/or hampered by injuries. The shooting guard position is taking on a new look. Kobe Bryant, the best shooting guard--and often the best player overall--in the NBA for the better part of the past decade and a half, has just suffered another season-ending injury; surgery on his right rotator cuff is expected to keep him out of action for nine months. Dwayne Wade, probably the second best shooting guard in the NBA for most of the time frame that Bryant dominated, has been battling injuries and declining athleticism for several years.
In FanDuel leagues the best fantasy basketball player options at shooting guard are guys like James Harden and Klay Thompson. Harden and Thompson--who set the all-time NBA record by pouring in 37 points in a quarter en route to scoring 52 points during Golden State's 126-101 rout of Sacramento last Friday--are also the scoring leaders among shooting guards so far this season, at 27.6 ppg and 23.0 ppg respectively (Harden is the NBA's overall scoring leader as well). Surprisingly, Bryant (22.3 ppg) and Wade (21.4 ppg) are next in line, though of course Bryant will not play enough games this season to be a qualifier. Monta Ellis is fifth (20.3 ppg) and Jimmy Butler is the only other shooting guard averaging at least 20 ppg (20.1 ppg).
My initial assumption was that if I looked back five years the list would be much different but in 2009-10 the scoring leaders among shooting guards were Kobe Bryant (27.0 ppg), Dwyane Wade (26.6 ppg), Monta Ellis (25.5 ppg), Tyreke Evans (20.1 ppg) and Jamal Crawford (18.1 ppg). Evans is seventh this season (17.0 ppg) and Crawford is 11th (15.7 ppg).
However, 10 year ago the shooting guard landscape included greater quality and quantity. Allen Iverson led the scoring parade (30.7 ppg, capturing the last of his four scoring titles) but seven other shooting guards also averaged at least 20 ppg: Kobe Bryant (27.6 ppg), Tracy McGrady (25.7 ppg), Vince Carter (24.5 ppg), Dwyane Wade (24.1 ppg), Ray Allen (23.9 ppg), Michael Redd (23.0 ppg) and Jason Richardson (21.7 ppg). The first six players on that list are future Hall of Famers in their primes, while the 2005 versions of Redd and Richardson would almost certainly be All-Stars in 2015 (Redd made the All-Star team once in an injury-riddled career and Richardson never made the All-Star team).
Obviously, even though the position is called "shooting guard" a lot more goes into being a great shooting guard than just shooting/scoring. However, I doubt that many objective talent evaluators would take the top shooting guards of 2015--using any relevant statistic or standard--as a group over the top shooting guards of 2005. Maybe we are not seeing a changing of the guard as much as we are seeing some talent depletion at the shooting guard position. Such things are cyclical and it could be argued that the point guard position is now enjoying a renaissance but thinking about this does put All-NBA selections and All-Star selections in perspective; when considering such honors from a historical standpoint, it is important not to just look at how many times a player was tapped but also what kind of depth existed at his position during his prime.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:51 PM