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Harden stands out among pack of top shooting guards

POSTED: Oct 12, 2015 11:52 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


1-on-1 James Harden

James Harden sits down with Ahmad Rashād and talks about being considered one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.

With the season openers bearing down in just a few weeks, this is the time to rank the top players at each position going into the 2015-16 season, based on numbers, past performance and just personal preference.

We're starting with shooting guards because, after all, filling up the basket is the name of the game.

MORE RANKINGS: Top 10 point guards | Top 10 small forwards | Top 10 power forwards | Top 10 centers

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

James Harden's Top 10 Plays 2014-15 Season

Check out the top plays from James Harden's 2014-15 season!

There is simply no debating the top spot after last season. Following his first two years in Houston when he was growing into the role of lead dog, Harden howled from start to finish. He averaged 27.4 points, 7.0 assists and 5.7 rebounds with a PER of 26.76 and carried the Rockets through an injury-plagued season all the way to the Western Conference finals. It was an MVP-worthy performance that lost out to Stephen Curry. But at 26 years old, it might have been just the start of a special run.

2. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler's Top 10 Plays from 2014-15 season

Watch the top 10 plays from the Bulls' Jimmy Butler, who has won the 2014-15 Kia Most Improved Player Award.

On top of everything else he can do, Butler has perfect timing. He bet on himself in turning down Chicago's contract extension offer and then went out and turned into an All-Star and all-around performer at both ends of the court, earning him a $95 million deal in free agency. He averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists rising to the All-Star level for the first time in his NBA career. He also won the Most Improved Award. Butler rises to the No. 2 spot on the list because of his work at the defensive end, which is where he carved out his reputation before going into full bloom last season.

3. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Klay Thompson 2014-2015 Season Highlights

Klay Thompson proved to be a valuable asset for the Golden State Warriors this season by winning the 2015 NBA Finals with his splash brother Stephen Curry. Come watch Klay Thompson's highlights from this year's NBA season.

The other half of the "Splash Brothers" combination with Curry agreed to a four-year, $70 million contract extension at the very start of last season and delivered on it with his play all season long in the Warriors' drive to their first championship in 40 years. Nothing drew attention like his record-breaking 37-point explosion in the third quarter against the Kings on Jan. 23. But for all of those "splashes" with 3-pointers in that eye-popping performance, it's all of the other things Thompson does -- coming around screens, playing ballhawking defense, fitting seamlessly in the backcourt with Curry -- that make him a stock still on the rise at age 25.

4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade Interview

Dennis Scott talks with Heat star Dwyane Wade during media day.

He's been taking a beating both on the court and by reputation as an aging player in decline for several years now. While Wade will turn 34 in January and has to keep a more watchful eye his body, there are few shooting guards that, when healthy, can keep up with him. He averaged 21.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season and ranked second among shooting guards in PER at 21.44. His minutes per game (31.8 last season) have steadily gone down and the Heat might like to keep him closer to 30 minutes this season. But he's smart, still athletic, still reckless and has the kind of veteran know-how and perspective that could thrive in the Miami backcourt alongside Goran Dragic. Don't count him out among the elite.

5. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

Green Scores 24

Check out the highlights from Danny Green who scores a team-high 24 points in the Spurs win over the Rockets.

Just like the old saying that there are horses for certain courses, there are also players that fit into specific teams as if they were placed there by a British tailor. Green certainly left money on the table when he chose to stay in San Antonio on a four-year, $40 million contract. In addition to the loyalty to the organization that stuck with him and gave the chance for an NBA career is the acknowledged that his 3-and-D skills work best in the system that coach Gregg Popovich has developed for the Spurs. Green's scoring average of 11.7 per game doesn't leap off the page, but he knows when to take his shots and can go on streaks that make the difference in games. And he sinks his teeth in on defense.

6. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

Kia Player of the Month: DeMar DeRozan

The Raptors' DeMar DeRozan is the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

He's freakishly athletic, can run the floor all night long, but probably won't crack the top five at his position until that shooting percentage (41.3 last season) improves by several points. Still, he was the main thrust of the Raptors' offense last season, averaging 20.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

7. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal Interview

Bradley Beal talks with Vince Cellini during Wizards media day.

He took a step back last season with a PER of only 14.02, and that's one big reason why the Wizards never gained any real traction until the playoffs. Still, Beal averaged a respectable 15.3 points, 3.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds and is a 22-year-old with a great upside, especially playing in backcourt with John Wall.

8. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Tyreke Evans' Near Triple-Double

Highlights of Tyreke Evans' 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists performance as he helps the Pelicans defeat the Kings.

Five years ago he was Rookie of the Year in Sacramento and now he's in New Orleans trying to stay healthy and juice up the Pelicans' offense. With new coach Alvin Gentry wanting to run, run, run and Evans' ability to play multiple positions, he could be ready to take off again.

9. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

Victor Oladipo Highlights of the 2014-2015 Season

Check out highlights of the 2014-2015 from one of NBA's young talents, Victor Oladipo!

Once the Magic got the notion of employing him as a point guard out of their heads, he's been on the rise. His PER went from 13.6 as a rookie to 15.9 last season. He's a terrific defender, wants to be a leader and could have a breakout season if the rest of the Orlando roster can raise its game.

10. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant Interview

Kobe Bryant talks with David Aldridge during Lakers media day before beginning his 20th season in the league.

Yes, he's 37 years old. Yes, he's played only 41 games over the past two seasons. Yes, he's at the end of the line. But we're not going to leave the best shooting guard of his generation off any top 10 list. Besides, if any 37-year-old could ever surprise the whole world, he's it.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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