Maybe the hardest part of making this list was deciding if certain players were a shooting guard or a small forward — for many players in today’s NBA they are interchangeable. For example, you don’t see Nicolas Batum on this list because I see him as a three, but he could play as a two depending on where he lands. It doesn’t change what they do on the court, but the better designation might simply be wing player.
Unlike the thin point guard spot, there is a deeper crop out on the wing, and with teams looking for shooting these players will be in demand. Here is our list of the top five shooting guards.
1) DeMar DeRozan. The Toronto Raptors has said he wants to stay in Toronto and is only going to meet with the Raptors. The only way another team gets a shot at him is if the Raptors low ball him in negotiations, and that’s not going to happen. DeRozan can get to the rim with the best of them and was an All-Star last season scoring 23.5 points per game. However, his lack of a three-point shot hurts him in the playoffs and against good defensive teams, it would make it difficult for him to be a No. 1 option anywhere.
2) Bradley Beal (restricted). Go ahead and start practicing your outrage now —”Beal isn’t a max player, what are the Wizards doing?” Guess what, Beal is going to be a max player. And the Wizards are going to pay it. The question isn’t his game — he averaged 17.4 points per game last season and is a career 39.7 percent shooter from three — but rather his health, where a stress fracture in his right leg has kept him out of 46 games the past two seasons and is a lingering problem. He’s going to be on a minutes restriction the rest of his career to deal with that stress issue. But if teams are willing to pay you the max (and there are several, which Washington would just match), then you’re a max player, and Beal will be that come early July.
3) Dwayne Wade. There will be a cat-and-mouse game with Wade and the Miami Heat again — he will push for the biggest deal possible noting he has taken less in the past to help the team and its cap situation, the Heat will ask him to take less to help the team and because of his age. Eventually, the two sides will reach a deal. Wade averaged 19 points a game last season and, as we saw in the playoffs, still can become a dominant force for a stretch of games.
4) Kent Bazemore. I’m listing him here, but he genuinely could be a two or a three depending on the team and how you wish to define his role. He had a breakout season in Atlanta and is at the peak of his skills at age 27, plus we know from the past couple free agent periods that top “3&D” guys get PAID. Of the top players on this list, Bazemore is the guy most likely to switch teams, which means he will have a lot of interest from a variety of suitors.
5) J.R. Smith. In Cleveland, away from the clubs of New York and with LeBron James as his mentor, Smith has developed into a solid, reliable catch-and-shoot specialist who brings real value to a team (not just streaky bad shot making). Expect a number of teams to make a run at him, but as long as LeBron is in Cleveland I would be surprised if he landed anywhere else.
Others free agent shooting guards of note: Jamal Crawford, Dion Waiters (restricted), Evan Fournier (restricted), Manu Ginobili, Eric Gordon, Arron Afflalo, Allen Crabbe (restricted)