Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best There Ever Was: Shooting Guards 26-30

The story so far. In this ongoing series, I've been looking at the best 30 players ever at each position, and how current players match up to them. I started with point guards, and now I'm on to the shooting guards.

30: Drazen Petrovic. It is actually a coincidence that this post is coming out somewhat concurrently with Once Brothers. Petrovic didn't have as good of a career as many shooting guards not on this list, but was their equal at his best, as he showed in the NBA and international play.

An excellent shooter, Petrovic is fourth all time in three point percentage. In his final season in the NBA, Petrovic scored 22 PPG on a .605 TS%, and was named to the third team All-NBA. But his ranking here is only partially based on his short NBA career, and is heavily influenced by his performance in international play, where he led the ACB in scoring in 1989, was named MVP of the European Championship, and led Yugoslavia and Croatia to silver medals in the Olympics.

29: Gail Goodrich. The Chris Bosh to Wilt and West's LeBron and Wade, Goodrich was a 6'1 combo guard who came up with the Lakers and was taken in the expansion draft by the Suns. In 1970, he teamed with Connie Hawkins and Dick Van Arsdale to transform Phoenix into a decent team in only its second year in existence. After that season, he was traded back to L.A., where he played for several years before signing a big contract with the Jazz, and providing a demonstration on the folly of signing a 33 year old 6'1 combo guard to a big contract.

Goodrich's best season came in 1972, not coincidentally the only season those Lakers won a championship. Goodrich gave the Lakers a second guard who could handle the ball, score from everywhere on the court, and find Wilt for easy baskets. Looking at the roster, the concern would be that Goodrich's talents were redundant with West on the team, but the dual threat seemed to make the team more effective, because both were good passers, making it close to impossible to defend both of them.

28: Steve Smith. Smith was a rarity; a NBA nomad that was actually a very good player who played for very good teams. He only missed the playoffs once during his career, in his second season in the league, though he only won one title, as a role player with San Antonio. If Smith is forgotten or underrated, it is another data point in support of Bill James' observation that players who do a bit of everything well tend to be forgotten in comparison with players who have one outstanding skill. Smith never came close to leading the league in scoring, wasn't a defensive standout, and only made one All-Star team, but did everything well for about a decade on some very good teams.

27: Jason Terry. The Robin to Dirk's Batman, no matter what Josh Howard or Devin Harris enthusiasts may claim, the JET has combined accurate shooting with good passing with, well, more accurate shooting for a decade. Terry has never been considered a great player; he's not much of a defender, isn't a "number 1" scorer, and has never made an All-Star or All-NBA team. A decade's worth of efficient offense adds up, and Terry's status as the 2nd best player on a team that came thisclose to winning a championship is impressive, though I'm not sure if that's more of an argument for Terry's or Dirk's value.

26: Mitch Richmond. The "middle child" of Run TMC, both alphabetically and positionally, Richmond is the guy I think of as the prototypical "good scorer on a bad team." As befits the middle child, Richmond didn't (and doesn't) get as many accolades as Hardaway and Mullin. That said, it's difficult for me to make the case that Richmond is underrated historically. He wasn't much of an all around player, offering little but scoring and durability. Still, those are two skills that every team needs, and at his best Richmond scored 26 PPG on .454/.428/.861 shooting in 81 games, while featuring one of the prettiest jumpers ever.

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