During his summer stint as a member of the U.S. national team, Dwyane Wade found himself subjected to plenty of good-natured teasing. He'd hear taunts about his rising popularity, his recent championship and even his Gatorade commercial.
You've seen it. The one with the big heads on children's bodies.
"I'm gonna be K.G."
|Just stop right there, Dwyane Wade. You're not the best of the best -- yet. (Getty Images)|
A lot of kids want to be D-Wade these days. The Miami guard has become a very big fish, and the other fish don't let him forget about it. It has nothing to do with keeping him humble -- Wade has a firm grip on that -- but rather a sign of admiration and respect. It's what the old guard used to do to Michael Jordan. LeBron James might be the "King," but D-Wade is the "Ring." This is his moment.
There also was a time when Kobe Bryant could do no wrong. He owns as many championship rings as Wade has played seasons, but has endured a lifetime's worth of drama since he claimed his last one.
Those are the resumes of the two contenders for the final No. 1 spot in these positional rankings we've been bringing you all month. Kobe and D-Wade, forever linked in history as Shaquille O'Neal tag-team partners, can now also be the subject of a great water cooler debate. They're the best shooting guards to come along since Jordan, but forced to choose, who's better?
Right now, despite Wade's summer surge, it's still Bryant.
Hope these message boards are ready to be bombarded.
While Wade's dynamic style captured a title, he's still not as complete as Bryant, whose Lakers barely managed to make the playoffs. Although Wade's jumper is getting deadlier by the day, he still lacks consistency. Once he gets the perimeter stroke down, there really will be no way to guard him.
Bryant is already there, as he should be, given his tenure in the league. It's hard to believe, but Bryant will start his 11th season when things tip off in late October. The ride has been a wild one, drawing him as many detractors as fans, but no one can deny he's gifted.
|1. K. Bryant||1||SAME|
|2. D. Wade||2||SAME|
|3. R. Allen||3||SAME|
|4. R. Hamilton||7|
|5. V. Carter||4|
|6. M. Redd||11|
|7. J. Johnson||--|
|8. M. Ginobili||5|
|9. J. Richardson||10|
|10. L. Hughes||9|
|Complete 2005 rankings|
If you want someone to take the final shot of a game, nine times out of 10, Bryant will be your choice. Wade has notched his share of vital game winners throughout his short career, relying on imperial one-on-one skills to get to where he wants to go, but he's not the master yet. Bryant has put in his dues, and although Wade is clearly on the fast track, the veteran still holds a slight edge.
Debate this all year if you must. It's definitely worthy, and probably the reason the league schedule-makers are banking on another Heat-Lakers matchup to draw in the Christmas Day crowd. The O'Neal-Bryant feud is done, but that doesn't mean Kobe and Wade can't be rivals.
1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers: He'll sport jersey No. 24 this season, a move he says signals the start of the second half of his career. Act II is undoubtedly his own now. He's a grown man, and the Lakers are his to build back up. The franchise's fate is in his control, and Lakers fans are right to be optimistic. Last season will be remembered for the 81-point night against Toronto, but the greatest development came during the playoffs, when Bryant bought into the team concept and proved his greatness by making the game easier for his mates. That shows you that he and Phil Jackson may finally be on the same page.
2. Dwyane Wade, Miami: It's scary to think that he still has significant upside, isn't it? It feels like Wade has taken over the world over the past 18 months or so, and the hype machine surrounding him is really only getting started. Signed through 2009, he'll have a great shot to pad that ring total with Shaq in tow and championship experience already in his back pocket.
|Ray Allen, Sonics (Getty Images)|
4. Richard Hamilton, Detroit: I'll buy into the theory that if he was on another squad where he had to shoulder more responsibility, Rip's rep would be larger than it is. Of course, he wouldn't have a ring to show for it, and that's really what matters. Hamilton is brilliant moving without the ball and coming off screens, and he's a standout defender.
|Vince Carter, Nets (Getty Images)|
6. Michael Redd, Milwaukee: Redd gave Detroit fits in the playoffs, shooting 52 percent and averaging more than 27 per game. That legitimized him as a star. Had the Ohio native opted to return home to play for Cleveland, the Cavs might be a championship front-runner this season. Instead, he's being paid handsomely to take the Bucks to new heights. So far, he's off to a good start.
7. Joe Johnson, Atlanta: Given the division his acquisition caused in the Hawks front office, he couldn't afford to be a bust. Fortunately, he wasn't. Johnson needed time to adjust, but by season's end he was at ease with the go-to role and regularly putting up big nights. His versatility is his greatest asset, and his best days are ahead of him. Regardless of how good Boris Diaw has turned out to be for Phoenix, you can't argue with picking up Johnson now. He's worth every penny.
8. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio: Momentum from a magical year in which he won Olympic gold and an NBA title was tempered by injuries last season. He played at the FIBA World Championships this summer, so it's not like he took the entire offseason to rest, but all reports indicate he's healthier than he's been in some time. Ginobili's game is unique and dynamic, flopping aside.
9. Jason Richardson, Golden State: He hasn't gotten an All-Star sniff despite being a dominant scorer the last three seasons, averaging a career-best 23.2 last year. He hasn't been able to carry the Warriors to the playoffs and still struggles with his shot selection, no doubt in part to the unending frustration he has seen in the Bay Area.
|Sept. 5||Small forward|
|Sept. 12||Power forward|
|Sept. 19||Point guard|
|Sept. 26||Shooting guard|
|Oct. 4||Top 50|
10. Larry Hughes, Cleveland: Injuries derailed his start in Cleveland and have been a perennial obstacle of late. The experiment with LeBron hasn't really gotten off the ground yet, but it does sound promising, given the opportunity to get on the same page. Hughes is one of the NBA's top thieves and has the right attitude to be the perfect second option.
11. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte: In case you failed to notice, Wallace was among the league's breakout performers last year. He showed off an improved offensive game and was his usual self on the defensive end, making a difference with his athleticism and penchant for steals. With Adam Morrison on board, Wallace will switch from small forward to shooting guard but will still draw the tougher assignments on the wing.
12. Shane Battier, Houston: Jeff Van Gundy is going to let Battier run wild against opposing offensive threats, and that's going to make him one of the most valuable offseason acquisitions in the league. Battier bonded with Bruce Bowen at U.S. national team tryouts and seems poised to pick up the stopper torch. Battier isn't too shabby on the other end of the floor either.
13. Ben Gordon, Chicago: He's streaky and undersized, but can he destroy you when he gets it going. Having a defined role and increased experience should help him get off to a better start than he did while undergoing a sophomore slump, which lasted until he broke out around March.
Who is the NBA's best shooting guard?
Total Votes: 6,695
14. Raja Bell, Phoenix: Kobe's best friend is carving out quite the niche for himself in the Valley of the Sun, transforming himself from productive sub to a valuable cog on a title contender. He has seized his opportunity by coming through in the clutch repeatedly.
15. Wally Szczerbiak, Boston: He seemed to fit in well after coming over from Minnesota, not that it translated into team success. He and Paul Pierce could form a productive wing combo, defensive proficiency notwithstanding. But Szczerbiak has to continue the positive momentum enjoyed last season following a few down years.
16. Cuttino Mobley, L.A. Clippers: Although he scored a bunch of points with Sacramento, he never really felt at home after being separated from buddy Steve Francis and Orlando in one of the worst moves made this decade (for Doug Christie). He looked like his old self with the L.A. Clippers last year, despite his scoring dipping to its lowest point since 1999. Mobley just made a difference, and does so wherever he plays.
17. Bonzi Wells, unaffiliated: That's a neat word -- unaffiliated. In this case, it doesn't mean no one wants him, but it does mean there's a lot of negotiating to be done. Wherever he goes, let's hope Wells can avoid off-court trouble and become a productive asset worthy of the contract he feels he deserves next season.
18. Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas: He's my early favorite for the Sixth Man Award, provided he keeps coming off the bench. Stack looked rejuvenated in the playoffs, taking big shots and relishing key minutes. If the Mavs make it back to the Finals, he'll be a big reason why.
19. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia: He has a world of ability, but it hasn't appeared in more than flashes through his first two seasons. He has been a serviceable wing, but should be dominating games with his athleticism, particularly defensively. He needs to step it up.
20. Kevin Martin, Sacramento: Martin will be in the running for Most Improved Player, because he's about to blow up for the Kings. Freed from the shadow of Peja Stojakovic, he has an opportunity to become a huge scoring threat. Someone's come a long way from Zanesville, Ohio, and Western Carolina.
Also considered: Stephen Jackson, Indiana; Desmond Mason, New Orleans/Oklahoma City; Morris Peterson, Toronto; Eddie Jones, Memphis; DeShawn Stevenson, Washington; Brandon Roy, Portland; Michael Finley, San Antonio; Fred Jones, Toronto; Flip Murray, Detroit; J.R. Smith, Denver.