It didn’t used to be this way. Once upon a time, impactful shooting guards who could change the complexion of a season or a series walked among the NBA mortals in abundance.
Even after Sir Jordan the Great hung up his expensive sneakers in the early 2000s, a plethora of prime time off guards once grazed in the NBA badlands. The mid-’90s ushered in the Era Of The Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Finley, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen–these masters of the guard position all were in their prime around the same time.The era crested in 2002 and 2006, when 11 shooting guards averaged at least 19 points per game (to put that in perspective, 2014 only saw five 2 guards exceed the 19 ppg threshold, four if you think Goran Dragic is a point guard … which I do).
What was the Extinction Level Event that has so thinned the ranks of big time shooting guards? How did we go from Michael Finley averaging 21.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 4.5 apg from ’98 to ’02 but only garnering two All Star selections, to fans being outraged that one-dimensional Klay Thompson‘s 18 points a night weren’t All-Star worthy?
We can pontificate for ages on the reason the shooting guard position is so sparse, but we can’t ignore that there appears to be a shift in the trend.
Just as the drafting Steve Smith (1991) and Latrell Sprewell (1992) were portents of the influx of two-guard talent in the mid-’90s, the rise of all around threats like Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and sweet-shooting, high-scoring Wizard Bradley Beal are a sign of things to come. There’s reason to be hopeful about a resurgence of the the NBA featured shooting guard.
The reason is 6 feet, 4 inches of concrete laid over a human form and charged with bad intentions. The reason is Marcus Smart.
I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of Marcus Smart donning the Celtic green and white at first. The “Tank For Tim Duncan” fiasco still haunts me, and I just KNEW the basketball gods would gift Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge with the No. 1 pick.
So I started watching tape on the guy who passed up millions in 2013 to go back to play for the NCAA for free. I saw a broad shouldered bully on the court who could finish with a defender draped over him like a blankie in nap-time.
I saw a crafty handle, a motor powered by plutonium, a fire plug with the guts to take and make big shots. I saw shades of Dwyane Wade, flashes of Brandon Roy, a bit of Bonzi Wells as Smart mercilessly abused smaller defenders in the post.
Sure, Smart was playing point guard in college … so what? I became dizzy picturing Marcus Smart and Rajon Rondo torturing opposing backcourts.
I dug a little deeper. The “eye test” told me that Boston had a certified weapon who could run either guard spot and defend like a demon, but how did he stack up against established NBA stars coming out of college?
The answer? Pretty damn well.
- Dwyane Wade (Soph., Marquette, ’03) : 21.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.2 stls, 50% fg
- Brandon Roy (Sr., Washington, ’06): 20.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.4 stls, 51% fg
- James Harden (Soph., Arizona State): 20.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.7 stls, 49% fg
- Michael Finley (Sr., Wisconsin): 20.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.9 stls, 38% fg
- Marcus Smart (Soph., Oklahoma St.): 18.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2.9 stls, 42% fg
Yes, Smart’s sophomore year field goal percentage left much to be desired, but shooting can be taught, and Finley entered the NBA with worst percentages but ended up a dead-eye 3 point shooter.
The four established NBA stars listed above averaged 25.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 6 apg in their respective best NBA years. There’s no guarantee that Marcus Smart reaches those lofty levels, but if they’re setting the precedent and Smart approaches that level of production, that’s pretty damn good.
And can you guess how many players have matched Smarts 18-5.9-4.8-2.9 college stat-line in the last 17 years? That’s right. None.
I mean, college stats aren’t everything; we saw the likes of Adam Morrison and Jimmer Fredette put up huge college numbers, we saw Evan Turner draw oohs and ahs as a college star. But Evan Turner wasn’t built like a rhinoceros that can dribble.
Ammo and Jimmer weren’t 240 lbs of aggressive muscle. I had a feeling Boston had someone special with the No. 6 pick; reading Bobby Gonzalez’s and Sam Amico’s reports of Marcus Smart holding his own against the upper echelon point guards in the NBA at Team USA camp in Vegas did it for me: Marcus Smart is the second coming of the great NBA shooting guard.
Call me a homer, call me crazy, but call me the fan of the next great NBA guard, Marcus Smart.