The Two-Guard Game

Editor's Note: This guy is good. Read his stuff. Front-paged.

I'll warn you now -- this is an EXTREMELY long read, and I've been told I'm not the most entertaining writer, so unless you have an intense need to read about the Mavs' shooting guard prospects this summer, stay away!

I've already covered centers and point guards, so the Mavericks' next position of need to examine is shooting guard. Dallas has lacked a prototypical great high-scoring shooting guard with size since the departure of Michael Finley in 2005. To compensate, they've mostly relied on the bench scoring of Jason Terry and a few decent wing scorers they've accumulated over the years like Jerry Stackhouse, Caron Butler, and Vince Carter.

Terry has been quite consistent in his 8 years with Dallas -- he always shot good percentages from the field and the free throw line, maintained an ability to get off his own shot, and embraced a big leadership role on the team despite his role as a bench player...and ran his mouth while doing it.

As has been outlined in many places, it seems pretty unlikely Terry will return. He's a 34-year-old combo guard with a slightly oversized ego and who's also a defensive liability at his position and highly unlikely to be worth his next contract -- which Terry wants to be for six or seven years (seriously, he said this on TNT's Inside the NBA a few nights ago). Unless he drastically compromises to take something like the mid-level exception, he's gone.

More after the jump...

Moving forward, the Mavs need to find an impact player at this position. Point guard and center may be more glaring needs, but it's clear that Dirk Nowitzki needs a lot of scoring help, and Terry's looming departure doesn't help things one bit. The 2012 free agent class doesn't offer any superstars at 2-guard, but there are some decent starters and backups the Mavs can look at signing, not to mention some intriguing draft prospects. Even if Dallas doesn't find their shooting guard of the future, they should be able to get someone that can help out immediately, whether that's a starter or a bench scorer like Terry.

I'm going to divide the shooting guard class into a few sections to go over our options.

Tier 1 -- Definitely a quality starter

1. Eric Gordon. Gordon is a restricted free agent this summer with a $5.1 million qualifying offer. He's also easily the most talented and coveted shooting guard of the free agent class, when healthy. That's a pretty big "if," though, because he hasn't missed less than 20 games since his rookie year in 08-09. He played 2 games this year before undergoing season-ending arthroscopic surgery, and has suffered several injuries in the past that limited his participation to 62 games in 2009 and 56 games in 2010. That could be unnerving to potential suitors, and may drive down his asking price since some of the injuries he's suffered, particular knee injuries, have a habit of staying long-term (see: Roy, Brandon and Oden, Greg).

Still, when he's on the court, he is in the upper echelon of shooting guards in the league (along with Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, James Harden, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, and Joe Johnson). People gripe a lot about the quality of starting centers in the league (cough, Haywood), but it's kind of a sad commentary on the state of the league's shooting guards that a 23-year-old phenom who has sat most of his last 3 seasons is in the top seven or eight.

Anyways, as far as his game, he's an undersized player (6'3), but has great shooting numbers (career 45% shooter with 37% from 3) and is a very quick, solid athlete who can finish at the bucket. The emergence of James Harden into an all-world shooting guard over the last year prevents me from saying he's the best under-25 two-guard in the league, but it can be argued that while Harden is the superior playmaker, Gordon is the better pure scorer. He doesn't bring much to the table defensively, but Shawn Marion serves as the Mavs' specialist at defending talented wings. If Marion's not around anymore, Dallas could conceivably bring in another defensive specialist who could play off the bench. Regardless, Gordon's scoring potential would bring a whole new, exciting element to the Mavs, and Gordon has proven that he can play with a high-scoring big before -- he played with Blake Griffin in the 2010 season and both averaged 20+ ppg (granted, the team was pretty dreadful).

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Gordon is going to be available even if the Mavs are interested. The Hornets will most probably match any offer he gets even if that means a max contract. New Orleans has plenty of cap space, with only about $37 million tied up in contracts, and they could potentially use the amnesty provision on Emeka Okafor's mammoth contract (he is due to make $13.5 million this year and $14.5 million next year). Additionally, the Hornets were just bought by Saints owner Tom Benson and it would make sense that he would aggressively push to retain the Hornets' young superstar. They are really trying to perform a full-scale makeover of the team (complete with new name and all), and need an identifiable star to recoup some of the energy that left with Chris Paul.

2. Ray Allen. I'll be honest -- this is the guy I want. Allen is, by any calculation, one of the best two-guards of the post-Jordan generation and an all-time great shooter. He also posted a career-high in three-point percentage this year (an outstanding 45.3%) and had a pretty great year for a 36-year-old (14.2 ppg in 34 minutes), but was somewhat of an afterthought on the Celtics due to some injuries and the emergence of defensive ace/starter Avery Bradley at the end of the year.

Allen's game is beautiful to watch, a collection of perfect cuts and precise maneuvers through a maze of screens. He doesn't seem overly quick, but he has mastered the arts of using fakes, sharp angles, and subtle arm-shoves to get open looks. This style of play is most often likened to Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton but, in my opinion, Allen is better than both. His textbook jump shot is, to borrow a Kobe Bryant quote, "like water" -- a smooth, effortless motion with no hitches and the same quick release every time.

He's going to turn 37 in July, but his intense dedication to maintaining his health and physical fitness is well-documented and should alleviate concerns of his body breaking down (Allen easily would be in the top 1% if you were to rank the fittest NBA players). Over the last five seasons, this was the only year that Allen missed more than 9 games, suggesting that his injury troubles were more of an aberration than the norm. He's also a tremendously reliable player and consummate professional -- you know that he will work tirelessly to be the best player he can, as evidenced by his legendary shooting and training regimen. Quite frankly, even if his athleticism and speed decline significantly, he would still be a useful player to have -- he's a knockdown three-point shooter whose game relies nearly entirely on smart off-ball movement and spot-up shooting, skills that he would likely still have at 41, let alone 37.

I can't project a specific figure, but Allen will probably be offered two or three-year deals ranging from the mid-level exception (about $5 million) to $10 million per year at most. After playing for a top-tier contender the last few seasons, I would expect he has no interest in going to an irrelevant team, which puts Dallas in a good situation. There's always the chance he could return to Boston and keep the Big Three intact (it seems Garnett will return at a reduced cost and Pierce is already under contract), but Celtics GM Danny Ainge could also opt to give Avery Bradley more of a chance to develop as their starter of the future.

Signing Allen would put on hold the Mavs' plans to get a long-term answer at the position, but it would give us an immediate impact player with impeccable pedigree. If we could get him for the mid-level exception or slightly more, that would be a steal, but it would likely take more than that.

Tier 2 -- Could be a quality starter or scorer off the bench, but it's less clear

1. O.J. Mayo. Mayo is a really tough player to evaluate. There are times when I watch him make a tough shot or good play and I say, "Damn, this guy is a great shooting guard." He has average size for a good 2-guard (6'4), but is an above-average shooter and has an impressive build with good athleticism.

But then I wonder, if this guy is so great, how come he still plays off the bench behind Tony Allen and only plays 26 minutes a game? The answer seems to lie in his role on the team. Mayo, the 3rd overall pick of the 2008 draft, finished second to Derrick Rose in the 08-09 Rookie of the Year race while averaging 18.5 ppg and not missing a game. He averaged 17.5 ppg the next season, but then saw fewer minutes (only 26 a game) with the arrival of Tony Allen in the 2010 season. His per-36-minutes scoring average has stayed pretty much consistent (at around 16 ppg), meaning that his production hasn't really declined, just his opportunities. That has a lot to do with the Grizzlies' ridiculous abundance of scorers (Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph) and Tony Allen's key role as a defensive stopper for them. Of more concern is Mayo's declining field-goal percentage and free throw shooting (45% to 41% and around 85% to 76% drops), but those could rise if he played more minutes.

Mayo is a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $7.4 million. Just looking at their salary situation, it's highly unlikely Memphis will try and keep him. They have already committed roughly $60 million to their starting core of Conley, Allen, Gay, Gasol, and Randolph, and still have a few other rotation players and others to take care of. Mayo will ultimately receive somewhere between $8 million and $11 million on the open market, so it's not happening unless they shake things up with major trades.

This means Mayo is also likely out of the Mavs' price range, at least if signing a certain elite point guard and good center are the top priorities. Even if signing a top shooting guard were the priority, I like Mayo's game, but if I were the Mavs, I would be very hesitant about shelling out that kind of cash to a guy who hasn't shown himself to be a proven, dependable starter.

2. Lou Williams. Of all the 2-guards in this free agent class, Williams is probably the most like Jason Terry, only he's far quicker and more athletic. He's not as great a shooter (few are), but he is similar in his height (only 6'2), highly productive bench scoring (he led the Sixers in scoring off the bench this year), and happy trigger finger. Williams came into the league as a second-round selection out of high school in 2005 and has exhibited steady improvement every year since.

He was paid $5.9 million this year and has a player option for $6.4 million next year. Personally, I think that rate is about what it should be, but I've got a feeling he thinks he's worth more than that (like Terry, again) and will opt out to test the open market. The Sixers still should be one of the favorites to sign him. He's still only 25 and has showed the ability to improve every year, and they really need his scoring punch in the backcourt since Iguodala isn't that type of player and Evan Turner's development has been slow.

For the Mavs, though, I think they'll pass and try to find a more traditional, bigger starting shooting guard.

3. Nick Young. Young is a solid young (yes, I did) 6'6 scorer with awkward hair, a career 18.0 per-36-minutes scoring average, and a Jason-Terry-sized case of "irrational confidence" syndrome. He played the last six years of his career for the Washington School of Boneheadedness and Wizardry (alongside star pupils Gilbert Arenas and JaVale McGee) before being sent to the Clippers in a trade in March this season. His minutes went down to 23.5 after the trade, but he's served as a decent scorer off the bench to back up Caron Butler and actually had a huge impact making threes against the Grizzlies in Round 1, especially in that magnificent comeback in Game 1.

The concern with Young is his tendency to take poor shots, a trait that clashes heavily with the Mavs' unselfish ball-movement offense. Still, if that could be addressed, he's not a bad shooter from the field (43%) or from 3 (38%), and he's averaged around 16 or 17 ppg as a starter in the past. There's probably not much room for ascension into an All-Star or anything since he's already 26, but merely replicating those numbers would really be an upgrade for Dallas.

Young made a little more than $3.5 million this year and the Clippers will be around $10 million under the cap once Mo Williams picks up his $8.5 million option, so a return is entirely possible. Given the dearth of good shooting guards in the league, though, I think his price range would be between $5 to $7 million. That's not outrageous, but it would surprise me to see the Mavs outbid another more desperate team.

4. Jamal Crawford. Yet another all-time "irrational confidence" guy (with Terry, Williams, Young, Crawford, and J.R. Smith -- who I'll get to later -- this draft is well-stocked for teams looking for irrational confidence). Crawford is a bench scorer in the same mold as Terry, but as weird as it may sound, he's far less efficient and far more streaky -- something that bears out in his statistics of 40.8% shooting from the field and 34% 3-point shooting. A typical Crawford offensive possession involves tons of dribbling, more dribbling, a glance at the shot clock, more dribbling, and then an off-balance contested 20-footer. In fact, it's really a testament to his talent that he has the shooting percentages he does.

He's already announced that he will opt out of his current contract, which would keep him in Portland for $5.2 million next year, which may not be that smart even though there's always the chance some dumb team throws him some cash. Regardless, I don't see the Mavs trying to acquire him -- he's 32, offers nothing defensively, and won't fit the offense.

Tier 3 -- The Wild Card

Kelenna Azubuike. Dallas acquired Azubuike in late March and assigned him to the Texas Legends to get some playing experience as he's just reviving his career after suffering a torn patella tendon in late 2009. Most people, including most Mavs fans, don't really know who this funky-named guy is, but before his injury troubles he was really a very productive player, averaging around 14 ppg on 46% shooting from the field and nearly 45% from three while pulling down almost 5 rebounds a game as well.

The Mavs signed him for about $250,000 this year with a $900,000 team option to keep him next year, which will assuredly be picked up. This is another example of the Mavs' recent "moneyball" approach in finding cheap, talented, and potentially highly-productive free agents, a strategy which also yielded Brandan Wright this past year. If Azubuike can return to something close to his 2009 form, he could be an outstanding bargain, just as Wright is currently.

Tier 4 -- Average or below-average starter / Decent rotation player

1. Vince Carter. We saw this movie this year and it wasn't good. That shouldn't have been much of a surprise since Carter (aka Half-Man-Half-Embarrassing) hasn't been a 20 ppg scorer any of the last 4 years and hasn't been a truly superstar-level player since the 06-07 season. At points in the year, his three-point shooting and occasional post play helped out, but it wasn't nearly consistent enough to seal his return.

Carter signed a three-year deal in December for the mini-midlevel exception (about $3 million), but only the first two were partially guaranteed so the Mavs could part ways with him. Unless there is a clearly better option, the Mavs could seriously consider bringing back Carter -- at the very least, he gives them good size and floor spacing and he's been integrated into their system for a year.

Side note -- This is what I see when I picture Vince's tenure as a Mav: Vince, with his now-trademark headband, is on the high block, palming the ball out behind him. He uses a jab, then puts his head down and drives hard, cradling the ball with his wrist and rocking it like Michael Jordan did in the dunk contest. He jumps in the air and covers a lot of ground horizontally, waiting entirely too long to release the lay-up attempt. He's basically on the ground by the time he lets go and it misses...badly. Sadly, it's not 2001 anymore. No revving up the engines this time.

2. DeShawn Stevenson. I'd really like to see this happen. D-Steve was a fan favorite for his tough, physical defense, edginess, and good three-point shooting. He went to New Jersey on a 1-year $2.5 million deal but was pretty underwhelming this year. Hopefully, he realizes he can come back and revive his career in Dallas (along with another Nets player). He would take a lot of defensive pressure off Shawn Marion, restore the toughness that was sorely lacking this year, and energize the fans. Given his poor year, also, the Mavs might be able to get him back on a cheap one-year deal.

3. J.R. Smith. The last of the irrational confidence guys. Smith is an explosive scorer when he gets going, with unlimited range, very good athleticism, and sort of a streetball mentality to the game. He was rumored to want a bigger contract (rather than opting in with the Knicks for $2.5 million next year), but seems to be potentially reconsidering. The Mavs likely won't want him anyways -- Cuban was open about his lack of interest in signing Smith earlier this year.

4. C.J. Miles. There was some talk of this because he and Deron Williams were teammates in Utah and he's from Dallas. I'm not sure why that's exciting people (there was even an article about it on ESPNDallas) because he's a rather average player. Don't see the Mavs being interested.

5. Shannon Brown. Brown played an increased role this year, averaging 11 ppg in 24 minutes for the Suns. He's steadily improved his 3-point shooting (36% this year), but remains just a good change-of-pace player off the bench. He made $3.5 million this year and is probably looking for a long-term deal, which I doubt the Mavs want to give him.

6. Marco Belinelli. I really like Belinelli's game. He's a great three-point shooter (around 40%) and has contributed more each year, but ultimately he's a 26-year-old spot-up shooter with a cool name. Belinelli made $3.4 million this year and is presumably looking for a long-term deal with a pay raise, so he probably won't end up in Dallas.

7. Landry Fields. Fields is a good young player with a very well-rounded game. He's not really much of a pure scorer, but he plays defense, rebounds, drives, and shoots pretty well, and has plenty of room to grow in all facets. Fields is a restricted free agent, but due to the Gilbert Arenas provision of the CBA, other teams can't offer him more than the mid-level exception ($5 million). Meanwhile, he is also eligible for the Early Bird exception, which allows the Knicks to sign him and still have their mid-level exception free to sign another free agent (like Steve Nash). It's a virtual lock he'll be a Knick next year.

8. Mickael Pietrus. If the Mavs can't get Stevenson, this is another great option as a rotation player (some hardcore Mavs fans might remember him for being on the hated 2007 Golden State Warriors). Pietrus only got paid $1.2 million this year, but he provided so much more value than that. His numbers really don't impress (7 ppg in 22 minutes on 38.5% shooting and 33.5% from three) but he is a long, lanky body that provides consistently good perimeter defense, serviceable three-point shooting, and great effort. Unfortunately, since most people have noticed this and Doc Rivers has praised him frequently, he's probably in line for a good raise. Depending on the cost, of course, the Mavs should try and make him a realistic option.

Tier 5 -- Definitely not a starter, but could crack the rotation

1. Marquis Daniels. This former Mavs draftee has really seen his minutes and production go down in recent years. He doesn't have any real specific skill (like perimeter defense or shooting) so it's hard to see why the Mavs would want to bring him in, even on a minimum deal.

2. Sasha Pavlovic.The Mavs actually signed Pavlovic to a short-term deal before the 2011 playoffs and he suited up for 10 games, shooting 44% from three in about 16 minutes a game. His numbers this year aren't very impressive, but the Celtics didn't play him much this year (since Allen and Bradley took most of the minutes) and I think he can still be a capable rotation player.

3. Jodie Meeks. Meeks is a young player who's contributed some scoring off the bench for the Sixers, a team that is extremely deep on backcourt scoring (with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala, and Lou Williams). He could be a cheap bench option for another team, but his game seems too similar to that of Roddy Beaubois' for the Mavs to have interest.

4. Josh Howard. Dallas traded Howard to Washington in 2010 in an extremely one-sided deal that netted Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, and Brendan Haywood. Now that Howard's game has fallen off a cliff, it's unlikely the Mavs will show any inclination of dealing with the off-court baggage and issues that caused them to trade him in the first place.

5. Danny Green. Green's career has really been resurrected by the Spurs this year as he's carved out a niche as an excellent three-point shooter, solid defender, and generally active body. Unfortunately, like many of the Spurs' great role players, I don't think he would function the same way if you plugged him into a different situation. That said, it'd be surprising if Green returned to San Antonio. He only made around $900,000 this year and some team will probably offer him a better deal elsewhere.

6. Gerald Green. Green is a guy who broke out for the Nets this year after an initially underwhelming NBA career (partially in Dallas) followed by stints in Russia, China, and the D-League. He averaged 13 ppg in 25 minutes. He has really good size and decent shooting numbers, but his ceiling is likely just a decent rotation player. Someone may pay him prematurely this summer, but he only played 31 games this year and has a lot to prove as far as being a reliable contributor.

That about covers all the options worth talking about (cough, not Jerry Stackhouse) at shooting guard for 2012. There are plenty of interesting potential draft choices -- like Brad Beal, Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers, etc. -- but I will cover these in the weeks closer to the draft.

If you actually stayed to read this long, kudos and I hope you enjoyed it. 'Til next time.

Reader submitted. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of our editorial staff.