When I watched the video of Kevin Durant proclaiming James Harden should replace Dwyane Wade in Sports Illustrated’s top 10 NBA players list, a few things processed through my head, in this order:
1. Sweet! This is exactly what the NBA needs: two of its biggest superstars having beef with each other, especially superstars who play on two of the league’s very best teams.
2. Wait, this is clearly fake, right? I mean, Wade and Durant did that awesome Gatorade commercial together last year, and Durant’s tone of voice doesn’t sound very convincing. This has to be some setup for another commercial or advertisement.
3. Well, even if it isn’t real, I think I agree with Durant. Wade’s getting older and Harden is really growing into a true superstar.
Regardless of whether Harden is truly better than Wade, it’s pretty clear that both are among the top three or four shooting guards in the entire league.
But what about the rest of the NBA’s off-guards? How do Joe Johnson and J.R. Smith stack up in comparison to the rest of the shooting guards? What about some of the younger players, like Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal?
That’s where I step in. As part of Dime Magazine’s 2013-14 NBA season preview, here are the top 20 shooting guards in the league, according to me.
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20. ERIC GORDON
If Gordon could stay healthy, I would probably have him ranked significantly better than 19th among all shooting guards. He averaged over 22 points in 2010-11 as a Los Angeles Clipper, but since he joined the Hornets prior to the 2011-12 season, he has played only 50 games. He missed nearly the entirety of that first season in New Orleans due to a knee injury, and restrictions caused him to play in only 42 games during the 2012-13 season.
If Gordon can stay healthy and last a full season, then he could be a top-10 shooting guard. Until then, he’s just another guy unable to reach his full potential.
19. KEVIN MARTIN
That experiment where Kevin Martin was supposed to replace James Harden for the Thunder didn’t work out too well, did it? Martin lasted only one season with Oklahoma City and averaged just 14 points per game, his lowest since 2006.
Now — due to a three-team sign-and-trade — he’s in Minnesota, where his playing time and averages should both shoot back up to around where they were when Martin was with the Rockets.
18. DeMAR DeROZAN
Much like his teammate Rudy Gay, DeRozan is often slammed for being a ball-stopper, and an inefficient talent who doesn’t do much else besides score. That’s partly true. Toronto’s starting two-guard shot below 45 percent from the field in each of the past two years and is barely a threat from deep. But his all-around game is starting to develop. Last season, the 6-7 athlete saw his rebounds (3.9 per game) and assists (2.5) go up to career-highs while his turnovers (1.8) dropped slightly from 2011-12. He hasn’t made any monster strides since becoming a full-time starter three years ago. Then again, he’s still better than many other two guards, and averaged 18.1 points last year.
17. JIMMY BUTLER
Surprised? If you watched the Bulls over last season’s second half, you shouldn’t be. Kobe gave him dap. He gave LeBron problems. Butler is sort of like Chicago’s version of Kawhi Leonard, a guy who’s content being a role player and yet has the talent to stand out. Because of the presence of Luol Deng, Butler barely saw the floor during his rookie season in 2011-12. But last year, he finally started getting minutes, courtesy of his ruthless defense and an improved jump shot.
Now going into his third year, there are rumblings he could one day take Deng’s job, despite the fact that the two of them are better when they play together. In April, Butler averaged 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from deep and guarding the other team’s best scorer for 40 minutes a night. Then in the playoffs, he put up similar numbers matched up against the best player in the world.
Butler played a lot of the three last season, but with Marco Belinelli gone, he should see more minutes next to Deng. Even if Kirk Hinrich starts at the two (he’s projected to come off the bench), with Butler in the second unit, we’re sure Chicago will have Butler in there at the two when it counts.
16. J.J. REDICK
J.J. Redick is in for a breakout season. After spending a miserable 2012-13 season with the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks, Redick was sent to the Clippers in a three-team trade during the offseason.
He’ll probably be a starter, assuming Jamal Crawford keeps his role as sixth man, and that type of playing time combined with playing in a Doc Rivers offense and alongside Chris Paul should result in quite the season for Redick.