Updated: Oct 9, 2021
Welcome back to Five-by-Five! Every Thursday, I will be ranking the top five NBA players at each position, including shooting guards today. The shooting guard, or the 2, is typically the de facto shooter on the floor. They relegate passing duties to the point guard and make their mark through scoring. However, the most talented and impactful shooting guards have a well-balanced profile of scoring, passing, and defense. Let’s take a look at the five best shooting guards with the 2021-22 season less than five weeks away.
5. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
With LaVine, no one will stop him from taking his shots. He’s a professional scorer and one of the most explosive players in the NBA. LaVine has only continued to refine his game after tearing his ACL in 2017. The UCLA product has taken less midrange shots and more 3-pointers since arriving in Chicago, and it’s certainly helped his scoring as a result. In his last three seasons, LaVine has averaged 25.5 points per game, including a career-high 27.4 points per game in the 2020-21 season.
As evidenced by a usage rate of 31.0 percent last year, LaVine has had the lion’s share of offensive touches for the Bulls. That should decrease significantly going into the 2021-22 season with the offseason that his team enjoyed. Signing a true point guard in Lonzo Ball and another scorer in DeMar DeRozan will lift the scoring burden off of LaVine’s shoulders. This year, the human stomp rocket will be able to flaunt the best parts of his game without the added pressure of initiating offense for his teammates.
4. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
This was mentioned in last week’s rankings, but as a reminder, James Harden is listed as Brooklyn’s PG with Irving playing off the ball. Irving had a bit of a strange 2020-21 season. He was electric when he was on the floor, becoming the ninth player in NBA history to join the storied 50-40-90 club. But between injury recovery and personal reasons, the seven-time All-Star played just 54 games.
Irving and the Nets will look to put last season behind them and chase a championship with laser focus in 2021. They were two shoe sizes from playing the Suns in the Finals; nonetheless, it wouldn’t have come down to that had the Big Three of Irving, Harden, and Kevin Durant played more games together earlier on. This year will feature a Nets roster with more chemistry and a hopefully healthy Irving at the 2. With that being said, Irving has had a fairly concerning injury history in the last several seasons. It could come down to a lucky year in which he can suit up almost every night. The Nets will certainly need him if they want to bring a ring home.
3. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
It became obvious in his first year that Mitchell was a special talent. Shattering franchise and league records for rookies, Spida asserted himself with his in-your-face athleticism and precocious poise early on. He lost Rookie of the Year in a closely contested (and bitter) race with Ben Simmons, but it was clear that Mitchell was a budding superstar.
Since entering the league in 2017, Mitchell’s scoring average has only improved. While not the most efficient scorer overall, his 3-point percentage has made major strides, from 34.0 percent as a rookie to 38.6 percent last season. Mitchell certainly benefited from the presence of veteran point guard Mike Conley as well as pick-and-roll partner Rudy Gobert. He should only continue to improve, and I can see him putting up Harden-esque offensive seasons in the future.
2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Out of the five players on this list, Beal definitely has it the roughest. Despite averaging 31.3 points per game last season (second behind Steph Curry), the Wizards could only manage a 34-38 record. And over the last four years, Washington has won just 43.4 percent of their games. Beal has remained loyal through it all, perhaps to his detriment. He’s spending his prime with an NBA team stuck in limbo.
This raises the question—how many points would Beal average on a decent team? There’s no doubt that he’s an immensely talented scorer with a deep bag of tricks. But his statistics paint a picture of someone that’s been handed the keys to a Honda Fit and expected to win a Formula 1 race. It’s simply not reasonable. He led the league with 23.0 field goal attempts per game, 1.3 above a second-place Curry. My point is that many NBA superstars would surpass Beal’s numbers had they taken that many shots. It’s not an insult to Beal; it’s a call to action. Get this man some help!
1. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Since entering the NBA at age 19 without starting a single game in college, Booker has taken the league by storm. His scoring prowess is preternatural, and it was put on full display at just 20 years old when he dropped 70 points in a loss to the Celtics. That was the narrative for Booker’s first five years in the league—“he’s just full of empty stats, he doesn’t help his team win.”
Until 2021. Last year’s Finals run for Phoenix only added another chapter to the Book of Devin. Accompanied by Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, Booker scored over 27 points per game in the postseason. The only knock would be his middling efficiency—he made just 44 percent of his field goal attempts, including a measly 32.1 percent from deep. His team came up just short, but their immediate future is as bright as their name. Phoenix has all of the pieces to make another title run, and a true-shooting Booker will be the key to their success.