The modern NBA game is built around pace and space. Point guards tend to score more, three-guard lineups are frequently used and prototypical wing-players are commonly asked to play as undersized power forwards and even centers at times. Accordingly, positional designations have become less concrete.
Regardless, the position of shooting guard is still an appropriate designation for a number of off-ball players. Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal are well recognized for their strong contributions at the two-guard position. However, several other shooting guards are somewhat overlooked. Below are six shooting guards who don’t get enough attention or credit for their respective skill and impact.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
After nearly losing the ball in the backcourt in a close game last week, Hood rose to the occasion with a pull-up three-pointer with 50.3 seconds remaining. Hood stepped up in the absence of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward and sealed the game for the Utah Jazz.
“I can come out and be aggressive, especially tonight with Gordon out and [Derrick Favors] still out,” Hood remarked. “My teammates were looking for me to do that tonight.”
This win came at a time when the Utah Jazz are fighting to keep home court with a likely first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers looming. For a team that must fight for a piece of the national spotlight, most attention is given to defensive star Rudy Gobert and team centerpiece Hayward, but let’s now give credit to the underappreciated play of Hood.
For the season, Hood sports a 2.1 plus/minus individual rating and he has a 106.7 offensive rating and a 101.9 defensive rating. Both the offense and defense are better with him on the court and in 27.1 minutes, he has a 23 usage percentage. Hood is a solid ball-handler who can both makes plays for others off the dribble and effectively attack the basket. His combination of size, mobility and shooting makes him a valuable contributor for a Jazz team that is powered primarily by its defense.
As covered in this space last week, the team is poised to make some noise in the playoffs and Hood can play a big part in that. If Hood can play solid defense and knock down some big shots in the postseason, he may start receiving the recognition he deserves amongst other shooting guards.
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon has been playing at a very high level this season. Gordon, once seen as a potential cornerstone player for the Los Angeles Clippers next to a young forward Blake Griffin and later a potential cornerstone for the Hornets/Pelicans, has struggled with injuries for years, only playing an average of 44 games a season in New Orleans. Now in his ninth season, Gordon has become a reliable, valuable and underrated contributor and a key reason for the unexpected success of the Rockets, who like to get to the rim and shoot a massive number of three-pointers.
In 31 minutes per game, the second lowest average in his nine NBA seasons, Gordon sports a career-high 53.7 effective shooting percentage. This includes increasing his three-point attempts to a ridiculous 8.8 per game, by far a career-high, while maintaining a 38 percent average, which is on par with his better shooting seasons. In fact, 65.6 percent of his shots are three pointers, by far a career high. Gordon knows how valuable his three-point shooting is to the Rockets, so when he has an open look from distances, he’s taking and making them. Gordon also managed to win this year’s Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend, knocking out other marksmen like Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving.
Gordon’s contributions this season are somewhat overlooked because of James Harden’s incredible season, his injury history and his lack of national exposure on the postseason stage. Gordon played in four playoff games in 2014-15, where he performed well individually but New Orleans suffered a sweep. Accordingly, most NBA fans have only seen him play sporadically in regular season games and may not be familiar with how effective he has been this season. Now Gordon will have a chance to make his mark in the upcoming playoffs alongside Harden. If Gordon can spread the court, knock down three-pointers consistently, make the occasional play off the dribble and play solid perimeter defense, his profile should get the boost it arguably already deserves.
Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Seth Curry is a player that has received plenty of attention for many reasons, starting as early as his NBA debut in the 2013-2014 season. These include simply being the brother of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, and a curiosity as to whether he could eventually become a viable NBA player.
Last season, fans wondered whether his surprising play in 44 games for a losing Sacramento Kings squad foreshadowed a bright future, or whether he simply succeeded in putting up empty statistics for a team that never had a realistic shot of winning at a high level or making the playoffs.
This season, Curry’s minutes have nearly doubled (29, up from 15.7) and he has been able to maintain high shooting marks despite drawing much more attention from opposing defenses as a main offensive weapon for the Mavericks. He is shooting 48.1 percent overall, 42.5 percent from three and sports a 57.8 percent effective shooting mark. His effective shooting ranks seventh among all guards this season with at least 25 games played.
Curry still has his shortcomings. He is not an elite athlete and can be physically overmatched by his opponents at times. But he has really developed his ability to create space with his ball handling abilities, jabs, fakes and ability to utilize screens from teammates. Curry has come a long way since he first entered the NBA scene, and it looks as though he still has room to keep developing and improving.
In less than two seasons, Curry has not only silenced the critics of his late season play with Sacramento, but is now being treated as a foundational player for the Mavericks. Not bad for a guy who gained recognition early on primarily for being Steph Curry’s brother.
Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Like Curry, Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers has found himself talked about by NBA fans for reasons other than his actual play on the court, including having a more well-known NBA family member. Rivers’ father, a former NBA player himself, is the coach and general manager for the Clippers and authorized the move to acquire his son a few seasons ago.
Doc Rivers has been properly chastised for failing to consistently support the Clippers star players with supplemental talent over the last few seasons. However, Austin Rivers has blossomed into a two-way player and critical bench player for the team. Although Rivers failed to live up his draft status in New Orleans (drafted 10th overall in 2012), he is now thriving with the Clippers. In 27.8 minutes, Rivers has a 20.3 percent usage and is shooting 44 percent from the field, 37 percent from three, while recording 2.8 assists and shooting 69 percent on free throws — all career highs.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, Rivers recently suffered a hamstring strain that will cause him to miss the rest of the regular season and at least some of the playoffs.
“I was looking forward to this year’s playoffs. The goal was game one of the playoffs, but it’s looking like hopefully mid-first round, early second round. We’ll see. You never know, I might heal faster than I think,” Rivers stated.
Now, the team must enter a high stakes first round match up with the Jazz without Rivers and test how far this team can go without his contributions.
Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets
Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets doesn’t get the notoriety of other big name guards. Teammate Nikola Jokic has commanded much of the attention in Denver this season for his stellar play, but Harris is deserving of recognition as well. In his third season, Harris has been playing quite well for the Nuggets, who still have hopes of making the playoffs.
The Nuggets play high scoring basketball and Harris is a key contributor with a 114.9 offensive rating, a top mark amongst all guards in the league. His superb shooting certainly plays a huge part in this effort. In 30.8 minutes, Harris is shooting 49.8 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three with an effective field goal rate of 58.1 percent, nearly tops amongst all guards and ahead of Steph Curry.
Coach Michael Malone explained what Harris has done to be so effective this season.
“Gary Harris, if you had to give grades for the offseason, Gary Harris had a phenomenal offseason. He was in our gym almost every day. He worked on his body. He worked on his shooting. He worked on his handles. I think that all of that hard work pays off and you see his confidence at a very high level right now,” Coach Malone stated.
With the Nuggets in ninth place and in a tight playoff race, Harris may miss out on the opportunity to show off his talents in the postseason. But as a key members on an up-and-coming Nuggets squad, Harris shouldn’t be overlooked for much longer.
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
At this point, Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield is best known for being the primary asset received in exchange for superstar big man DeMarcus Cousins, and for being compared to Steph Curry by owner Vivek Ranadive. Either way, the rookie guard has been subject to criticism largely out of his control. Without Cousins, the spotlight has been off of the Kings and Hield. What has he done since? He has quietly put together an impressive finish to his rookie year in Sacramento.
Since being traded, Hield has improved his scoring (8.6 up to 14.4 points per game), shooting (39.2 percent up to 49.3 percent), and three point shooting (36.9 percent to 42.5 percent), with additional increases to his field goal attempts, rebounding, assists and steals. This increase in production is notable, as he has become more efficient while playing more minutes and taking on a larger role on offense. Additionally, over this period his effective shooting mark of 60.9 percent with the Kings is seventh amongst all guards in the NBA with at least 10 games played.
Hield has been a pleasant surprise for the Kings since the trade, but eventually he will have to prove that he can perform at this level when surrounded by more talent and while playing on a team that is competing for a playoff position. But for now, it’s fun to see a player thrive in what many considered to be a no-win position. Although the Kings gave up on their mercurial franchise player, the team may still be rewarded if Hield continues to display such impressive, rapid improvement.
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