Heading into this season, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Stephen Curry are expected to make a major impact. Tony Parker is planning a return trip to the Western Conference Finals. John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson, Jeremy Lin, Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio and Tyreke Evans are each entering this season with varying degrees of promise.
But all of that does not make this the best era of point guards in NBA history.
Not when compared to what was accomplished by the point guards of the 1980s.
During the 1980s, point guards Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas were the best players on their respective teams. They combined to win seven NBA championships within an 11-year stretch.
The 16 point guards mentioned above from this current era have won a total of four NBA titles. Parker won three and Rondo won one on teams led by Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce respectively.
Until at least one of these current point guards can emerge as the best player on an NBA championship team, this era will never compare to the one in which Johnson and Thomas truly dominated their competition.
Point Guards of the 1980s: An Era of Champions
Magic Johnson won an NBA championship and Finals MVP as a rookie in 1980. He went on to win four more titles over the next eight years. He was the best player on the Lakers in each of the five years he won a championship.
Magic Johnson is also the greatest point guard of all time. Better than any point guard in the NBA today.
You could also make a similar argument for Isiah Thomas.
Thomas led the Detroit Pistons to NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. In each of those two championship seasons he led the Pistons in scoring.
Over the 22 years since Isiah accomplished that feat, no other point guard has ever led his team in scoring while winning an NBA title.
A couple other notable point guards who played for the majority of this era include Dennis Johnson and Maurice Cheeks.
Johnson won his first NBA title with the Seattle SuperSonics and was named Finals MVP in 1979. In 1981, he was named First Team All NBA as a scoring guard. He'd add two more titles during the 1980s as point guard for the Celtics.
Cheeks was a four-time All-Star who helped the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1983 NBA title on a team led by Julius Erving and Moses Malone.
How many points would Isiah and Magic have scored if you couldn't touch them?
The impact rule changes have had on the increased production from the point guard position cannot be overlooked when comparing this era to those before it.
A summary of those changes, known as the "hand check rules" are below (via NBA.com):
Since 1990, the NBA has instituted a series of rules changes to increase the offensive player's flow and make physical play costly. First came increased penalties for flagrant fouls (1990) and fighting (1993), the implementation of the "five points" rule that called for automatic suspensions of players who amassed a certain number of flagrants (1993). Hand checking was eliminated in 1994. Using the forearm to defend players facing the basket went away in 1997.
In 1999, the league eliminated contact by a defender with his hands and forearms both in the backcourt and frontcourt, except on offensive players who caught the ball below the free throw line extended. Defenses were also prohibited from "re-routing" players off the ball. This freed up perimeter players who used screens to get open. Nor were defenders able any more to grab or impede offensive players setting screens. In 2001, the defensive three-second rule eliminated defenders camping out in the lane away from their offensive man to help.
Under the current rules, Brandon Jennings once scored 55 points in a game. How many more points could Isiah have scored if defenders couldn't use their hands to slow him down?
So where exactly does this current era of NBA point guards rank?
Based on the overall depth at the position, this current era of NBA point guards is the second best we've ever seen, behind only the group from the 1980s. The 1990-99 era of NBA point guards led by John Stockton is the third best.
Despite Steve Nash's multiple MVPs, I have his era from 2000-09 ranked fourth. Too much Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury brings down the grade.
The current era of NBA point guards could still develop into the best. In order to do that, though, somebody must emerge as the main reason his team won an NBA championship.
Until then, Magic, Isiah and the point guard era they led in the 1980s will remain on top.
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