A few days ago we looked at the best point guards to ever don a Celtics uniform. Today, in what is sure to be another long and slow midsummer day in the NBA, we’ll move on to shooting guards. The off-guard position is very different than it was 50 years ago. It’s more about scoring now than playmaking, and a couple of Celtics SG’s were at the forefront of the positions transition.
So while the Celtics list of great SG’s might not contain names like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Clyde Drexler, and Allen Iverson, it certainly includes some great players who helped pave the way for those recognizable names.
Just like last time, only a player’s contributions as a Celtic count for this list. Note: I’m counting John Havlicek as a small forward because, well, that’s what he was.
5. Frank Ramsey (’54-64)
3-Year Peak (’57-’60): 15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.1 apg
Accomplishments with team: 7 titles
The Kentucky Colonel was the NBA’s first true 6th man, a player everyone knew was good enough to be a starter but was brought off the bench anyway to provide a tactical advantage. Ramsey told Red Auerbach he felt more comfortable playing off the bench and Red wanted him to be at his best late in games. Doesn’t sound like anything new by modern standards but during the mid-50’s this was one of the most innovative moves the game of basketball had ever seen.
Ramsey, a 3-time All-American at Kentucky, was a great scorer and that’s exactly what he gave the Celtics for nine seasons. He may not transcend history like Bill Russell or Bob Cousy, but that Celtics dynasty in the 50’s wouldn’t be much of a dynasty at all if it wasn’t for Frank Ramsey.
4. Danny Ainge (’81-’89)
3- Year Peak (’85-’88): 13.7 ppg, 5.6 apg, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 spg, 41.6% 3pt
Accomplishments with team: All-Star (1988), Lead league in 3’s (1988), 2 Titles (’83-’84, ’85-’86)
Before he was the Celtics GM, Danny Ainge was a pesky player that opponents hated. But his defensive effort, playmaking ability, and perimeter shooting led to him being an integral part of some great Celtics teams. Ainge actually had two seasons with the Celtics where he shot over 50% from the field. For a guard in the 80’s, that is outstanding.
You could argue that Ainge was a combo-guard, but his defensive ability and shooting had him playing off-ball whenever he was in with the starters. Ainge will be most remembered for his temper on the court and his stint as GM off it but his place in Celtics history was well-earned during the 80’s.
3. Ray Allen (’07-’12)
3-Year Peak (’07-’10): 17.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 39.2% 3pt, 92.4% FT
Accomplishments with team: 3 All-Stars, Title (’07-’08)
Your personal opinion of Ray Allen and the way he left Boston does not factor in to this equation. All that Ray did was carry over his elite shooting and scoring with him when joining the Celtics, and it helped lead them to a title. The outrageous career 3pt shooting numbers for Allen are too dependent on his time in Seattle and Milwaukee to spend much space talking about it, but the idea that Ray Allen was a shell of his former self with the Celtics is false.
Just remember Ray for the ’08 playoffs. He was struggling mightily with his shot throughout and it became an issue. But he completely turned it around in the Finals, where he made 22 out of 42 triples (52.4%). That remains an impressive number. His true shooting percentage in those Finals was 70.8%!!!!
Look at the stats page for those finals and tell me that Ray Allen shouldn’t have been the Finals MVP.
2. Bill Sharman (’51-’61)
3-Year Peak (’56-’59): 21.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Accomplishments with team: 8 All-Stars, 3 All-NBA 2nd teams, 4 All-NBA 1st teams, 4 Titles, 7x FT shooting champion
Sharman, Cousy’s backcourt running mate, also was one of the few SG’s in the 50’s to regularly shoot over 40% from the field. This, combined with the sheer volume of his scoring, showed teams that perhaps an offense was best run with one of the guards serving as a playmaker and the other focusing on his own scoring.
On top of being a great shooter for his time, Sharman was durable and didn’t seem to mind falling out of the spotlight in favor of Russell and Cooz. Sharman also deserves credit as a coach seeing as he won titles in the NBL, ABA, and the NBA.
Just as important as the accuracy of Sharman’s patented one-handed shot, was the speed with which he got the ball out of his hand. As a coach, he invented the pre-game shootaround. Sharman simply changed the NBA. And he was pretty damn good too.
1. Sam Jones (’57-’69)
3-Year Peak (’63-’66): 23.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 45.6% FG
Accomplishments with team: 5 All-Stars, 3 All-NBA 2nd teams, 10 titles
Jones was one of the first great athletes at the guard position, and his scoring numbers would be even more impressive if there was a 3-pt line during his time. His shot was so pretty that he was nicknamed “The Shooter”, in what remains one of the least creative nicknames in NBA history. His 10 titles trail only Bill Russell for most ever.
Jones’ athleticism also made him a star in the Celtics groundbreaking fastbreak and allowed him to contribute defensively. Bill Russell made NBA execs covert different level of athletes in their frontcourt. Sam Jones did that with guards.
Not a ton of good video from this era exists, but here’s a nice highlight video for Jones.
We’ll be doing small forward later this week!