Assigning positions to players is a nebulous exercise at best, and maybe that as much as anything accounts for the paucity of top-flight shooting guards in today's NBA.
The best players at the position tend to spend plenty of time at adjacent spots, whether it's a combo guard like Monta Ellis who can run the point, or a longer player like Jimmy Butler who swings between the wing positions. Whatever the reason, just four of the top 50 in projected wins above replacement players (WARP) are coded as 2-guards in our forecast. There are 24 point guards who would have cracked the top 10 at shooting guard. Where have you gone, Reggie Miller?
Over the next week, we'll rank players by position according to forecast WARP, which is perfect for this kind of exercise because it accounts for a player's efficiency, volume of production and team context. (A complete explanation can be found at the bottom of this page; last year's shooting guard rankings can be found here.)
Here are the projected top 10 shooting guards for the 2014-15 NBA season, followed by the next five and an overview of why some notable SGs fell outside the top 10.
PG | SG | SF | PF | C
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Projected 2014-15 WARP: 16.2 | Win%: 67 percent
Last season, Harden was just nudged out of the top spot by Dwyane Wade, but this time around, he laps a weak field of 2-guards. One issue that holds back traditional shooting guards is they don't have the ball in their hands that often, which tends to suppress their value in new metrics such as WARP. That's not a problem for Harden. According to SportVu data from NBA.com, Harden averaged 5.3 minutes per game in time of possession, ranking 15th in the league. Among the top 18, only LeBron James joined Harden as non-point guards.
Harden justifies all that possession time with a true shooting percentage annually above the .600 mark, buoyed by his league-average 3-point shooting and astronomical foul-drawing rate. Harden's on-ball defensive metrics aren't as bad as his reputation suggests, but his team defensive markers are so bad that, statistically, the perception about Harden's indifference on that end seems well-deserved. Still, as long as he keeps churning out 14 to 15 WARP per season, he'll remain a top-10 player.