It’s simply amazing the way NBA basketball has changed, for it is no longer a team sport. Basketball has become a game that pits one athlete against another athlete, “mano a mano.” You have large, nimble men playing a game of one-on-one … and you have even larger men doing the same. The game has become more akin to hockey, wherein the basket is the “net” and the player guarding the guy with the ball the goalie. It’s all about getting to and over the basket. Even shooting guards will try and take their man off the dribble and drive to the hoop. Not for a finger roll, and not for the traditional, high-percentage off-the-glass lay-up. No, today’s basketball players drive to the basket with the sole intent of executing a SportsCenter dunk. And, when people wonder or inquire as to why the United States Basketball team seemingly gets its collective rear handed to it every time it engages in international play, they simply need turn to ESPN for the answer. The jump shot is a lost art. Make no mistake, there are some very good shooters in today’s NBA. But for the most part, basketball has become a “me-first” game. Let’s break down the Association’s shooting guards, shall we?
At the Top of the Game
Kobe Bryant (LAL): Whether you like him as a person or not, there’s no denying Bryant’s ability. A basketball prodigy (and the namesake of some very expensive Japanese corn-fed beef ) who was playing organized ball in Italy as a teenager, Kobe is averaging 27.5 points, 6.6 assists, and 6.3 boards per game this year. He is also carrying a Laker franchise that is arguably struggling, while receiving some rather modest assistance from PF Lamar Odom. Kobe is not a very mature player or human being, but nevertheless has tremendous organizational pull, to put it mildly. If not for Bryant’s manipulations, Phil “Guru” Jackson would still be the team’s head coach, Shaq would still be dominating the L.A paint, and Karl Malone would be returning to a loaded Laker franchise. All of that aside, Kobe is the most valuable fantasy basketball shooting guard when healthy (and his ankle sprain shouldn’t keep him out too much longer)… and that’s really what this is all about. Isn’t it?
Tracy McGrady (Hou): PG Steve Francis didn’t mesh well with Rockets Center Yao Ming, and T-Mac felt unloved in Orlando … so the franchises simply swapped guards. And while neither player is leading his team to a title, both are faring relatively well in their new digs. T-Mac entered the league in ‘97 as a Raptor, getting the opportunity to play alongside his high-flying cousin, Vince Carter. Unsatisfied with playing second fiddle to Carter, McGrady joined the Magic as a free agent. The knock on McGrady is his “me-first” mentality. That critique, however, applies to the majority of today’s NBA players. Shooting a very respectable 42.7% from the field while averaging 25.3 points, 6.2 boards and 1.5 steals per game, McGrady is close to officially qualifying as a superstar.
Paul Pierce (Bos): Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce were quite a tandem and made the Celtics dangerous post-season opponents. The problem? The Celtics were dangerous but not lethal. Another issue was the fact that the game of basketball is played with just one ball, and neither player has ever met a shot he didn’t like. ‘Twan, being the older and more selfish player, therefore became an ex-Celtic. Paul Pierce is a very good SG, averaging almost 22 points, 4.3 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game. However, he is as good as he’s going to get and is at the apex of his career. Both T-Mac and Kobe still possess upside, as does the next SG on the list…
Ray Allen (Sea): Simply put, Ray Allen is a very good basketball player. There seems to be some sort of youth movement underway in Seattle, and following the deal that sent PG Gary “The Glove” Payton to Milwaukee some time ago, Allen became Seattle’s unquestioned leader on and off the court. Averaging 23.9 points a game on 42% from the field, Allen’s dishing 4.2 dimes, pulling down an equal number of boards, and is the Supersonics’ go-to man. A very productive fantasy player, Allen has several more years of good basketball left in him.
On the Way Up
Larry Hughes (Was): Hughes conceivably could have been placed in the “At the Top of the Game” category, but drafted by Philadelphia in ‘98, Larry’s still a very young player and is just entering his prime. Before being sidelined by a broken thumb (expected to keep him on the sidelines for four to six weeks), Hughes was making magic in Washington, D.C. alongside fellow Wizard Gilbert Arenas. Dropping 21.2 points per contest on 43.5% from the field is certainly impressive because there are no more than two or three SGs with better shooting percentages. But Hughes was also averaging 5+ assists, 6.1 rebounds, and almost three steals per game as well. Hughes is rapidly establishing himself as a top-tier player, and while he remains an under-appreciated fantasy commodity, trade for him if you can, especially if you belong to a keeper league. With Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Jarvis Hayes playing together, the core of a potentially explosive Washington Wizards franchise is in place.
Quentin Richardson (Pho): When teams face Phoenix Suns Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Steve Nash, they are forced to confront a virtual constellation of stars. Thus, the former Clipper nicknamed “Q” is frequently left uncovered and is really starting to shine! Averaging more than 37 minutes per contest, “Q” is making the most of his time with 15.5 points, two assists, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.5 steals each game. Richardson was taken 18th overall pick in the 2000 draft and given a little more seasoning, “Q” could be a true fantasy hoops cornerstone. See how this season goes for the Suns. If Joe Johnson should go down for any reason, Richardson and his owners will be immediate beneficiaries.
Jason Richardson (GS): The former Slam Dunk Contest winner began to develop a reputation for being a predictable, one-dimensional player, possessing no defensive skills and capable of driving only to his ball-handling side. Richardson took those previously valid criticisms and channeled the resulting anger into practices. And while Richardson may never be accused of being a top flight defensive player, he has become a much more complete player; shooting 44% from the field, averaging 21.7 points, and using his great vertical leap to pull down 6+ boards per game. An ankle injury sidelined him for nine games recently, but he’s looked as good as ever since returning to action.
Also on the Way Up
Jamal Crawford (NY): Even injured, Crawford’s a much better offensive player than some other Knicks I’ve seen…
Michael Redd (Mil): Averaging just under 22 points per game and shooting 44.3% from the field, Redd is also nailing 40.7% of his treys.
Ben Gordon (Chi): This young Bull shows great potential with an improving shooting percentage and admirable accuracy from downtown. Currently, his game’s too erratic to bank on, though. Keep an eye on him as a draftable player for the ‘05-’06 season.
Richard Hamilton (Det): On pace for career highs in both assists and points scored.
Joe Johnson (Pho): The subject of trade rumors following the acquisition of veteran Jim Jackson, it looks like Johnson will be staying in Phoenix.
Manu Ginobili (SA): Exploded for 48 points in the Suns’ 128-123 overtime win over San Antonio, and continues to improve his overall game.
On the Way Down
Jalen Rose (Tor)
Eddie Jones (Mia)
Doug Christie (Sac)
Reggie Miller (Ind)
Derek Anderson (Por)
Allan Houston (NY)
Up next … Centers!
New Jersey native Jamey Feuer has written several articles for the Football Cafe; this series marks his first foray onto the hardwood.
|Questions or comments for Jamey? Post them in the Cafe’s forums!|