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20 Greatest Shooting Guards in NBA History: The Definitive List

Kobe - One of the best SG in NBA All-Time

The NBA has been graced by countless legends, but when it comes to shooting guards, the competition is particularly fierce. From the scoring prowess of Michael Jordan to the versatility of Kobe Bryant, shooting guards have often been the linchpin of championship teams.

In this comprehensive list, we delve into the 20 greatest shooting guards in NBA history, breaking down their careers, achievements, and impact on the game. Buckle up, because this is going to be a thrilling ride through basketball history.

Table of Contents

The Role of the Shooting Guard

The shooting guard position has evolved significantly over the years. In the early days of the NBA, shooting guards were primarily responsible for scoring and little else.

However, as the game has progressed, so has the role of the shooting guard. Today, they are expected to be versatile players who can score, defend, and even facilitate the offense.

The Importance in Team Dynamics

The shooting guard is often considered the “second fiddle” to the point guard, but make no mistake, a great shooting guard can be the difference between a good team and a championship team.

They are the players who take the big shots, make the crucial defensive plays, and often serve as the emotional leaders of their teams. Their importance cannot be overstated, and this list aims to honor the best to ever play the position.

Methodology: How We Ranked Them

Statistical Analysis

In compiling this list, we’ve relied on a combination of statistics, accolades, and impact on the game. Numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole story.

We’ve looked at points per game, shooting percentages, All-Star appearances, and more. However, stats are just one piece of the puzzle.

The Eye Test

Statistics can be misleading. That’s why the “eye test” is equally important in our evaluation. How did these players perform in clutch moments?

What was their impact on the team’s success? Did they elevate the game of their teammates? These are questions that numbers alone can’t answer, and we’ve taken them into consideration in our rankings.

The Criteria: What Makes a Great Shooting Guard?

Skill Set

  • Scoring Ability: A great shooting guard needs to be able to put the ball in the basket, whether it’s through jump shots, driving to the rim, or getting to the free-throw line.
  • Defensive Prowess: They must also be competent defenders. The best shooting guards can lock down opponents and change the course of a game with their defensive skills.
  • Versatility: The ability to adapt and excel in various roles—be it as a scorer, facilitator, or defender—is crucial.

Legacy and Impact

A player’s legacy isn’t just about the numbers they put up; it’s also about their impact on the game. Have they changed the way the shooting guard position is played?

Have they inspired a new generation of players? These are factors that weigh heavily in our rankings.

The List:

20. Gail Goodrich

Gail Goodrich Lakers

Top Honors: A single NBA championship, a spot on the All-NBA 1st Team, and five All-Star appearances

NBA Statistics: Ranks 61st in all-time scoring and 75th in career assists

Career Stats:

  • Points: 19,181
  • Rebounds: 2,643
  • Assists: 4,612
  • Steals: Not recorded (pre-steals era)

Peak Performance:

In his heyday, Gail Goodrich was renowned for his shooting prowess, particularly given the standards of his time.

He was also adept at making crucial baskets when his team was in dire need. However, it’s worth noting that Goodrich’s talents were primarily on the offensive end; his defensive contributions were minimal.

1971-72 season where he averaged 25.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.

19. Bill Sharman

Bill Sharman Celtics Jersey

Top Honors: Quadruple NBA championships, four All-NBA 1st Team nods, and eight All-Star selections

NBA Statistics: Holds the 233rd position in all-time scoring

Career Stats:

  • Points: 12,653
  • Rebounds: Not recorded
  • Assists: Not recorded
  • Steals: Not recorded (pre-steals era)

Peak:

1958-59 season where he averaged 22.3 points and was named to the All-NBA 1st Team.

Career Highlights:

Bill Sharman was among the NBA’s original long-range marksmen, excelling in sinking deep jump shots during his prime years.

A key player on multiple dominant Celtics squads, Sharman’s high basketball IQ didn’t just end on the court; it transitioned into a successful coaching career post-retirement.

18. Joe Dumars

Joe Dumars in Pistons

Top Honors: Dual NBA championships, a Finals MVP award, three All-NBA team selections, six All-Star appearances, and six All-Defensive team nods

NBA Statistics: Ranks 82nd in career assists, 106th in scoring, and 230th in steals

Career Stats:

  • Points: 16,401
  • Rebounds: 2,203
  • Assists: 4,612
  • Steals: 902

Peak:

1990-91 season where he averaged 20.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.

Legacy:

Joe Dumars was the defensive linchpin of the notorious Bad Boys Pistons, who clinched consecutive titles in the late 1980s.

Known as a “glue guy” on elite rosters, Dumars had a knack for sinking mid-range jumpers off the dribble and was an underappreciated facilitator on the court.

17. Dennis Johnson

Dennis Johnson

Top Honors: Triple NBA championships, a Finals MVP award, two All-NBA team selections, five All-Star appearances, and six All-Defensive 1st Team selections

NBA Statistics: Holds the 51st position in both assists and steals, and 131st in scoring

Career Stats:

  • Points: 15,535
  • Rebounds: 4,249
  • Assists: 5,499
  • Steals: 1,477

Peak:

1978-79 season where he won Finals MVP, averaging 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.

Legacy:

Dennis Johnson’s absence from the NBA75 list is a glaring oversight, given that he was one of the premier defensive guards in league history.

While his defensive prowess is well-documented, Johnson was also a formidable offensive force, particularly as a playmaker.

Despite having the talent to be a superstar, Johnson willingly embraced a supporting role in the Celtics’ 1980s dynasty, exemplifying selflessness.

16. Manu Ginobili 

Manu Ginobili

Top Honors: Quadruple NBA championships, two All-NBA 3rd Team nods, a pair of All-Star appearances, and a Sixth Man of the Year award

NBA Statistics: Ranks 60th in steals, 120th in assists, and 180th in points

Career Stats:

  • Points: 14,043
  • Rebounds: 3,697
  • Assists: 4,001
  • Steals: 1,392

Peak:

2007-08 season where he won Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.

Legacy:

Manu Ginobili was a fearless scorer who could light up the scoreboard in numerous ways—whether it was driving to the basket, finishing over taller defenders, or draining step-back threes.

The Argentine lefty was not just a scorer but also a natural leader with exceptional agility. He popularized the Euro step in the NBA, leaving an indelible mark on the game.

15. Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson GSW

Top Honors: Four NBA championships, two All-NBA 3rd Team selections, five All-Star nods, and one All-Defensive 2nd Team selection

NBA Statistics: Holds the 235th position in scoring

Career Stats:

  • Points: 11,995
  • Rebounds: 2,080
  • Assists: 1,474
  • Steals: 731

Peak:

2015-16 season where he averaged 22.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game

Legacy:

Klay Thompson’s absence from the NBA75 list may be attributed to his statistical record, but it’s crucial to consider the two full seasons he missed during his prime due to injuries.

Despite these setbacks, Thompson has clinched four titles and made five All-Star teams, while also ranking among the Top 20 in all-time three-pointers.

If he can make a successful comeback and regain his elite form, his all-time ranking is bound to soar.

14. Sam Jones

Sam Jones 1966

Top Honors: An astounding 10 NBA championships, three All-NBA 2nd Team selections, and five All-Star appearances

NBA Statistics: Ranks 133rd in all-time scoring

Career Stats:

  • Points: 15,411
  • Rebounds: 4,305
  • Assists: 2,209
  • Steals: Not recorded (pre-steals era)

Peak:

1964-65 season where he averaged 25.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game.

Legacy:

Sam Jones was the Celtics’ go-to scorer during their 1960s dynasty and had a knack for delivering when it mattered most—especially in the playoffs. His jump shot was remarkably accurate, a rare feat for guards of his era, making him a standout performer.

13. Hal Greer

Hal Greer

Top Honors: A single NBA championship, seven All-NBA 2nd Team selections, and a whopping 10 All-Star nods

NBA Statistics: Holds the 37th position in scoring, 87th in assists, and 208th in rebounds

Career Stats:

  • Points: 21,586
  • Rebounds: 5,665
  • Assists: 4,540
  • Steals: Not recorded (pre-steals era)

Peak:

1967-68 season where he averaged 24.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.

Legacy:

Hal Greer was an often-overlooked guard who made 10 All-Star appearances in the 1960s and was a seven-time All-NBA 2nd Team selection.

Alongside Wilt Chamberlain, he helped lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a championship in the 1966-67 season, forming one of the most underrated guard-big duos in NBA history.

12. Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady

Top Honors: Seven All-NBA team selections, seven All-Star appearances, and a Most Improved Player award

NBA Statistics: Ranks 73rd in scoring, 111th in assists, 148th in blocks, and 243rd in rebounds

Career Stats:

  • Points: 18,381
  • Rebounds: 5,276
  • Assists: 4,161
  • Steals: 1,136

Peak:

2002-03 season where he led the league in scoring with 32.1 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

Legacy:

Tracy McGrady’s ranking could have been significantly different had he enjoyed more playoff success or longevity.

Nonetheless, at his peak, he was an electrifying, multi-faceted wing who could have thrived in today’s NBA. His lack of deep playoff runs and career longevity, however, leaves us wondering what could have been.

11. Earl Monroe

Earl Malone

Top Honors: A single NBA championship, one All-NBA 1st Team selection, four All-Star appearances, and a Rookie of the Year award

NBA Statistics: Ranks 89th in scoring and 156th in assists

Career Stats:

  • Points: 17,454
  • Rebounds: 2,796
  • Assists: 3,594
  • Steals: Not recorded (pre-steals era)

Peak:

1968-69 season where he averaged 25.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game.

Legacy:

Known as “The Pearl,” Earl Monroe was a master of mid-range scoring and ball-handling, capable of stopping abruptly to sink jumpers with finesse.

While his stats and accolades may not fully capture his impact, Monroe was a highly respected player whose innovative style influenced generations of guards that followed him.

10. Vince Carter

Vince Carter in Toronto Raptors

Top Honors: Two All-NBA team selections and eight All-Star appearances

NBA Statistics: Holds the 19th position in scoring, 44th in steals, 77th in assists, 126th in blocks, and 141st in rebounds

Career Stats:

  • Points: 25,728
  • Rebounds: 6,606
  • Assists: 4,714
  • Steals: 1,530

Peak:

2000-01 season where he averaged 27.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game.

Legacy:

Vince Carter was not just an electrifying dunker; he was a remarkably consistent player over a 22-year career. His longevity is all the more impressive considering how much his game relied on athleticism during his prime years.

9. Ray Allen

Ray Allen

Top Honors: Dual NBA championships, two All-NBA team selections, and 10 All-Star nods

NBA Statistics: Ranks 25th in scoring, 53rd in steals, 94th in assists, and 244th in rebounds

Career Stats:

  • Points: 24,505
  • Rebounds: 5,272
  • Assists: 4,361
  • Steals: 1,451

Peak:

2006-07 season where he averaged 26.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.

Legacy:

Ray Allen’s career might have looked even more impressive had he played in today’s three-point-centric NBA. Nonetheless, he etched out a Hall-of-Fame career in his own era, solidifying his reputation as one of the greatest shooters the game has ever seen.

8. Reggie Miller

Reggie Miller

Top Honors: Three All-NBA 3rd Team selections and five All-Star appearances

NBA Statistics: Ranks 22nd in scoring, 50th in steals, and 113th in assists

Career Stats:

  • Points: 25,279
  • Rebounds: 4,182
  • Assists: 4,141
  • Steals: 1,505

Peak:

1989-90 season where he averaged 24.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game.

Legacy:

Reggie Miller was a shooting savant, ranking fourth in NBA history for made three-pointers with 2,560. His clutch gene was undeniable, as evidenced by a highlight reel filled with game-winning threes in high-stakes playoff situations.

7. Clyde Drexler

Clyde Drexler

Top Honors: A single NBA championship, five All-NBA team selections, and 10 All-Star nods

NBA Statistics: Holds the 8th position in steals, 34th in scoring, 36th in assists, 131st in rebounds, and 172nd in blocks

Career Stats:

  • Points: 22,195
  • Rebounds: 6,677
  • Assists: 6,125
  • Steals: 2,207

Peak:

1991-92 season where he led the Blazers to the NBA Finals. Averaged 25.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game.

Legacy:

Clyde Drexler was a versatile talent, excelling in scoring, rebounding, and playmaking from his position. His athleticism also translated well on the defensive end, making him a well-rounded player in every sense.

6. George Gervin

George Gervin

Top Honors: Five All-NBA 1st Team selections and nine All-Star appearances

NBA Statistics: Ranks 43rd in scoring, 189th in blocks, and 206th in steals

Career Stats:

  • Points: 20,708
  • Rebounds: 3,607
  • Assists: 2,798
  • Steals: 1,258

Peak:

1979-80 season where he led the league in scoring with 33.1 points per game.

Legacy:

George Gervin was a silky-smooth scorer who could rack up points even without a reliable three-point shot.

He is most famous for his iconic finger-roll layup, a move that remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing in basketball history.

5. James Harden

James harden

Top Honors: An MVP award, six All-NBA 1st Team selections, 10 All-Star appearances, and a Sixth Man of the Year award

NBA Statistics: Ranks 28th in scoring, 31st in assists, 54th in steals, and 240th in rebounds

Career Stats:

  • Points: 23,254
  • Rebounds: 4,958
  • Assists: 5,888
  • Steals: 1,447

Peak:

2017-18 season where he won the MVP. Averaged 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.

Legacy:

James Harden’s Hall-of-Fame credentials are already established, thanks to his extraordinary scoring and playmaking abilities. His signature crossover and stepback jumper make him a nightmare for defenders.

However, his playoff shortcomings are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. At 33, the 2022-23 season presents a golden opportunity for Harden to rewrite that narrative, especially with a stacked 76ers team.

4. Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson

Top Honors: An MVP award, seven All-NBA team selections, and 11 All-Star appearances

NBA Statistics: Holds the 14th position in steals, 26th in scoring, and 48th in assists

Career Stats:

  • Points: 24,368
  • Rebounds: 3,394
  • Assists: 5,624
  • Steals: 1,983

Peak:

2000-01 season where he won the MVP and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals. Averaged 31.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.5 steals per game.

Legacy:

Allen Iverson was not just a basketball player; he was a cultural icon. His explosive athleticism was awe-inspiring, especially for someone listed at just 6 feet.

Iverson’s crossover was legendary, and his scoring flair made him one of the most exciting players to watch during his prime.

3. Dwyane Wade

Dwyane wade

Top Honors: Three NBA championships, a Finals MVP award, eight All-NBA team selections, 13 All-Star nods, and three All-Defensive 2nd Team selections

NBA Statistics: Ranks 31st in steals, 32nd in scoring, 43rd in assists, and 128th in blocks

Career Stats:

  • Points: 23,165
  • Rebounds: 4,933
  • Assists: 5,701
  • Steals: 1,620

Peak:

2008-09 season where he averaged 30.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.

Legacy:

Dwyane Wade may never have won an MVP, but he came close and had a well-rounded game that included playmaking and defense. Notably, he holds the record for the most blocks by a player 6-foot-4 or shorter.

Wade’s willingness to take a backseat to LeBron James in pursuit of championships speaks volumes about his character and team-first mentality.

2. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant vs miami Heat

Top Honors: Five NBA championships, two Finals MVPs, an MVP award, 11 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 18 All-Star appearances, and nine All-Defensive 1st Team selections

NBA Statistics: Ranks 4th in scoring, 16th in steals, 33rd in assists, 111th in rebounds, and 201st in blocks

Career Stats:

  • Points: 33,643
  • Rebounds: 7,047
  • Assists: 6,306
  • Steals: 1,944

Peak:

2005-06 season where he averaged 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.

Legacy:

Kobe Bryant’s career may not have had the peak of other superstars, but it was marked by sustained brilliance, thanks to an almost fanatical work ethic.

Initially a sidekick to Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe evolved into the Lakers’ linchpin, amassing five titles and two Finals MVPs.

His influence on the game is immeasurable, arguably converting more fans to basketball than anyone except Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson.

1. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Top Honors: Six NBA championships, six Finals MVPs, five MVP awards, 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 14 All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and nine All-Defensive 1st Team selections

NBA Statistics: Holds the 3rd position in steals, 5th in scoring, 47th in assists, 123rd in blocks, and 132nd in rebounds

Career Stats:

  • Points: 30,012
  • Rebounds: 6,672
  • Assists: 5,633
  • Steals: 2,514

Peak:

1995-96 season where he led the Bulls to a then-record 72-10 season and won his fourth MVP. Averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.

Legacy:

While not a unanimous choice, Michael Jordan is the closest thing to a consensus GOAT. His competitive drive was legendary, pushing him to train relentlessly and achieve a body capable of decimating opponents.

His mid-range game was unparalleled, and his athleticism allowed him to finish over anyone. Add to that his clutch gene, which saw him nail game-winners in the most pressure-packed situations, and you have a player who was not just the face of the NBA but a global icon. According to our voters, he remains the GOAT.

Honorable Mentions

Mitch Richmond

Mitch Richmond was a six-time NBA All-Star and a key player for the Sacramento Kings in the ’90s. Known for his scoring ability, Richmond was a versatile guard who could shoot from long range and drive to the basket.

Richmond’s career may not have the championships or the MVP awards, but his consistent excellence and scoring prowess make him worthy of an honorable mention. He was a player who could take over a game and was a fan favorite during his time.

Latrell Sprewell

Latrell Sprewell was a four-time NBA All-Star known for his athleticism and defensive skills. He had a tumultuous career marked by highs and lows but was undoubtedly talented.

Sprewell’s career is often overshadowed by off-court controversies, but his on-court contributions were significant. He was a lockdown defender and a capable scorer, making him one of the more versatile shooting guards of his era.

Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton, commonly known as Rip, was a three-time NBA All-Star and an NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He was known for his mid-range game and was a key player in one of the best defensive teams in NBA history.

Hamilton’s mid-range shooting was a thing of beauty, and he was a critical component of the Pistons’ championship run. While he may not have the individual accolades of some others, his team success and specific skill set earn him an honorable mention.

These players have left an indelible mark on the game and deserve recognition, even if they didn’t make our top 20 list. Their careers serve as a testament to the depth of talent that has graced the shooting guard position over the years.

FAQ

Why is Michael Jordan considered the GOAT over other shooting guards?

Michael Jordan’s six championships, five MVP awards, and numerous other accolades set him apart. His impact on the game, both on and off the court, has been unparalleled.

His clutch performances in the playoffs and Finals are often cited as the defining factor in his GOAT status.

Why is Kobe Bryant ranked below Michael Jordan?

While Kobe Bryant had an illustrious career with five championships, he falls short in MVP awards and overall efficiency compared to Michael Jordan.

Kobe’s influence is immense, but the consensus often places Jordan ahead due to his higher peak and greater number of championships.

How did injuries affect Klay Thompson’s ranking?

Klay Thompson missed two full seasons during his prime due to injuries, which has impacted his all-time ranking. His four championships and shooting prowess make him a contender, but the injuries have limited his statistical achievements.

Why is James Harden’s playoff performance a concern?

James Harden has had an extraordinary regular-season career, but his playoff performances have often not lived up to expectations. This discrepancy has been a factor in his ranking among the all-time greats.

How does Allen Iverson’s size factor into his ranking?

Allen Iverson’s size (listed at 6 feet) is often considered a limitation, especially on the defensive end. However, his scoring ability and impact on the game have been so significant that he still ranks highly among the greatest shooting guards.

Why is Tracy McGrady’s lack of deep playoff runs significant?

Tracy McGrady was an electrifying player in his prime, but his lack of success in the playoffs has impacted his legacy. His individual skills are beyond question, but the absence of significant postseason achievements is a factor in his ranking.

What makes Manu Ginobili unique among the top shooting guards?

Manu Ginobili’s impact goes beyond the NBA; he has had a significant international career as well. His role as a Sixth Man and his unique playing style, including popularizing the Euro step in the NBA, make him a unique entry on this list.

Final Words

In the realm of basketball, the shooting guard position has been a cornerstone of legendary plays, unforgettable moments, and iconic figures. From Michael Jordan’s unparalleled greatness to the versatility of players like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, the shooting guard role has been a defining aspect of the NBA’s rich history.

This list serves as a tribute to the 20 greatest shooting guards who have not only excelled in their craft but have also left an indelible mark on the game we all love.

Whether you agree or disagree with the rankings, one thing is certain: These players have shaped the game in ways that transcend statistics and accolades. They are the epitome of skill, determination, and legacy.

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