Are elite 2s going extinct?
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Fri Sep 28 21:05:08 UTC 2012
Are elite 2s going extinct?
#NBArank shows a serious dearth of shooting guards in Top 100
By _Tom Haberstroh_ (http://search.espn.go.com/tom-haberstroh/) | ESPN
With _#NBArank wrapping up on Thursday_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8429392/2012-nba-player-rankings-no-1) , it offered an opportunity to take
a look at a contingent of players whom we often refer to as "elite" or
among of the best in the league -- the Top 100.
Taking a look at the top 100 players in the NBA is significant mostly
because 100 is a nice, round three-digit number, and we like lists with 100
items on them. It's also cool for these guys to be known as one of the best 100
people on the planet in their field.
But as arbitrary as the number 100 might be, it also serves as a convenient
stopping point for us to look around and examine the makeup of the NBA's
upper class. And when you look at the members of #NBArank's "Super 100," you
might notice something:
The elite shooting guard appears to be a dying breed.<
Here's a list of shooting guards in the top 100, in alphabetical order:
_Arron Afflalo_ (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3187/arron-afflalo) ,
_Ray Allen_ (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/9/ray-allen) , _Tony
Allen_ (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/2367/tony-allen) , _Kobe Bryant_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/110/kobe-bryant) , _Monta Ellis_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/2751/monta-ellis) , _Manu Ginobili_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/272/manu-ginobili) , _Eric Gordon_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3431/eric-gordon) , _James Harden_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3992/james-harden) , _Andre Iguodala_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/2386/andre-iguodala) , _Joe Johnson_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/1007/joe-johnson) , _Kevin Martin_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/2394/kevin-martin) , _O.J. Mayo_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3450/oj-mayo) , _Jason Terry_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/841/jason-terry) and _Dwyane Wade_
That's -- count 'em -- 14 guys. If the five positions were equally
distributed among the top 100, we'd expect the group of shooting guards to be 20
players deep. Instead, there are barely more than a dozen of them. In fact,
there are half as many shooting guards in the Super 100 as there are power
To frame it another way, let's look at the pairing of _O.J. Mayo_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3450/oj-mayo) and _Thaddeus Young_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3244/thaddeus-young) . The ESPN staff considered
these two players virtually indistinguishable from a quality perspective,
generating a rating of 5.60 and 5.59 respectively. But when you look at their
rankings within positions, equals they are not. Mayo is considered the
14th-best shooting guard. But Young? There's a long line of 25 power forwards
ahead of him in the ranking.
The number of top-100 shooting guards is the lowest of the five positions,
and there's a shortage of elite shooting guards when you zoom in even more.
Of the top 20 players in NBA rank, just two of them are 2s -- Kobe Bryant
and Dwyane Wade.
So why the dearth of talent at the 2 position relative to the other
Let's throw out some explanations.
Theory 1: The rise of the scoring point guard
It's a point guard league. That's a popular refrain around the NBA, and it
rings true if you look at the chart above. While there are only two
shooting guards in the top 20 of #NBArank, there are seven point guards who
reside in the cream of the crop.
It's hard to ignore that the common denominator of the stud point guard
crew these days is big-time scoring. Consider this: _Russell Westbrook_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3468/russell-westbrook) , _Derrick Rose_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3456/derrick-rose) , _Deron Williams_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/2798/deron-williams) , _Chris Paul_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/2779/chris-paul) , _Brandon Jennings_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3997/brandon-jennings) and _Kyrie Irving_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/6442/kyrie-irving) all averaged more points
per game than Joe Johnson -- one of the preeminent scorers at the 2. Is it
possible that the proliferation of scoring point guards has squeezed
shooting guards out of the spotlight?
That's possible, but then again, scoring point guards have always been in
this league. From _Allen Iverson_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/366/allen-iverson) to _Stephon Marbury_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/509/stephon-marbury) to _Tim Hardaway_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/301/tim-hardaway) to _Kevin Johnson_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/391/kevin-johnson) to Isiah Thomas -- ball handlers who can get buckets isn't
necessarily a new phenomenon. And Westbrook hasn't exactly prevented the
rise of Harden as one of the league's top 2s anyway. It also might be the
case that we're facing a classic chicken-or-the-egg question. Maybe
score-first point guards are on the rise because there are fewer talented shooting
guards to take the rock.
Theory 2: The AAU farm doesn't value shooting
The idea is simple, perhaps too much so. Basketball players are merely
products of their environment and the AAU environment that dominates teenager
ball doesn't preach shooting. One of the most frequent barbs thrown at the
AAU world is that it promotes superficial one-on-one basketball where
players prefer dunking to draining it from deep. A crossover is valued more than
the corner three.
While that all sounds well and good, it's incredibly hard to prove or test
empirically. If that were the case, we probably wouldn't see the rise of
stretch 4s such as _Rashard Lewis_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/469/rashard-lewis) , _Lamar Odom_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/617/lamar-odom) , _Ryan Anderson_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3412/ryan-anderson) , _Kevin Love_ (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3449/kevin-love) and
_Antawn Jamison_ (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/385/antawn-jamison)
. Furthermore, most of the current AAU graduates grew up idolizing Bryant
and Carter, two guys who could shoot 3s about as well as they could throw it
Granted, the highlight-reel, mixtape-obsessed culture probably isn't
Theory 3: It's cyclical
It's alarming enough that there aren't very many high-quality shooting
guards anymore, but it's also interesting that the many of the good ones are
getting up there in age. Wade, Bryant, Ginobili, Johnson, Allen and Terry are
all north of 30 years old with their primes receding in the rearview
mirror. It could be that these things naturally work in waves and the pool of
elite shooting guards is on its way down, just waiting to replenish.
Bryant, Harden and Wade were the only shooting guards this past season to
post a PER over 20 with at least 33 percent of possible minutes on the floor
(the 35-year-old Ginobili logged just 25 percent because of injury). Just
five seasons ago in 2006-07, eight shooting guards surpassed the 20 PER
plateau (Bryant, Wade, Allen, Ginobili, Martin, _Vince Carter_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/136/vince-carter) , _Tracy McGrady_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/532/tracy-mcgrady) and _Michael Redd_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/692/michael-redd) ). That number decreased to five players
in 2009-10 and four players in 2010-11.
If we dial it back to 2003-04, we find out that there were only three such
players: Carter, Allen and Bryant. Turns out we might be right back where
we started eight years ago. And if _Harrison Barnes_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/6578/harrison-barnes) , _Paul George_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/4251/paul-george) and Mayo make the leap, we might be on the
way back up again. But then again, how many times must we say that about
Theory 4: This is actually the norm
We tend to think of Michael Jordan's playing days as the golden era for
shooting guards. After all, there's Jordan … _Reggie Miller_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/552/reggie-miller) … _Mitch Richmond_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/704/mitch-richmond) … hold on, who else? If we're
being sloppy, we could lump _Clyde Drexler_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3686/clyde-drexler) and _Dominique Wilkins_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3532/dominique-wilkins) in that group, but they were far from
categorical shooting guards.
On second thought, coming up with a list of consistently great shooting
guards in the 1990s isn't an easy task. There's some truth to the theory that
shooting guards were never a deep position until Bryant, Wade, Allen,
McGrady and Carter gripped the league after the new millennium.
Look at the list of all-time shooting guards and it's hard to not come away
thinking that we just witnessed the golden era of shooting guards. Maybe
we're just spoiled nowadays.
Theory 5: It's all random
Well, that's boring, isn't it? It's probably true, too. History has shown
that we as a human race don't handle randomness very well. You don't need
to visit your local roulette table to know that we desperately search for
patterns in life when there's probably nothing there but blind luck.
There's plenty of inherent randomness in talent distribution, but you just
have to ask the right questions. _LeBron James_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/1966/lebron-james) and _Kevin Durant_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3202/kevin-durant) could have been shooting guards if they didn't
grow those extra couple inches in high school. And would we still be
talking about the void of top-shelf shooting guards if _Brandon Roy_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3027/brandon-roy) wasn't born with degenerative
knees? What if the Thunder happened to draft _Stephen Curry_
(http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/3975/stephen-curry) instead of Harden, pushing
Westbrook to what many think is his natural position at shooting guard?
These are fair questions to ask when looking at the current state of the
shooting guard position. A reasonable argument can be made that only a
handful of shooting guards are consistently outstanding in any given year and any
deviation from that is just plain ol' luck.
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