Do You Believe in Magic? The Top 10 Point Guards in NBA History
In the fifth part of the all-time great’s series presented by Celtics Town, we take a look today the top point guards of all time.
In this edition I have added to the field by adding my all-injury and future star teams in addition to the top 10 and honorable mention.
This list was extremely fun to do because it consists of some of my favorites of all-time. I took a look at guys that got injured either before or during the primes of their careers and decided to give them a mention.
I like the future stars section because these are the players who we are forced to watch now and they give us great shows as they try to gain leverage on some of the all-time greats.
The honorable mention guys are very close to the top 10, however the choices I had to make were extremely difficult so anyone feel free to argue that some of our honorable mentions should be amongst the top 10.
The top 10—or should I say 12?—players were tough to select because all of these players had tremendous careers and played huge roles on successful teams.
Future and Current Stars
Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose
With the NBA’s future in the hands of these youngsters we can sit back relax and enjoy a competitive brand of basketball for years to come. The talent of this new breed of young NBA point guards has me anxious to see what will happen in the next 10 years.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams are the best of this young new breed as they have both led their squads into the playoffs in consecutive years. They were both part of the “Redeem Team” that won the gold medal in Beijing last summer.
Already Paul has finished near the top of the MVP race in multiple seasons which is why I consider him the best of the youngsters. Devin Harris was traded for one of the all-time greats and man oh man Dallas must want to reverse that trade.
Harris played exceptionally well this year and the sky is the limit for this young, blazing-fast stud. As for Rondo and Rose, you all saw them battle it out in the first round of the playoffs.
Rose got the best of him early on in the series, however Rondo took over and led Boston into the second round by averaging nearly a triple-double in that series. These two extremely athletic point guards’ possess skill sets that have never been witnessed before in the NBA.
They attack the basket fearlessly and ferociously, especially for guys they are not very big. The NBA is blessed that this young breed of point guards will be the ambassadors of this league for some time.
Penny Hardaway, Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Gilbert Arenas
It is hard to imagine where Baron and Francis would rank among the top point guards in the league today if they did not suffer serious knee injuries. They both were tremendous talents early on in their careers, but injuries have recently slowed them down and into different types of players.
Gilbert Arenas was well on his way to at least an honorable mention until two years ago he suffered a serious knee injury; however his work ethic and determination could get him right back into the conversation if he could follow up his surgery will a couple more dominating seasons.
The player most affected by injuries on this list has to be Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.
He showed early on in his career that he was the real deal, teaming up with Shaq in Orlando helping them to the NBA finals. Penny possessed raw talent early on in his career that would make one try to imagine what he would be like in his prime.
If he had continued on the pace he was on before the injury he would most certainly be in my top 10 and possibly in the top five.
Maurice Cheeks, Mark jackson, Kevin Johnson, Lenny Wilkens, Ron Harper, Mark Price
Some of these players just missed the cut as there are too many candidates for the top of this list. For guys like Cheeks and Jackson, they had legitimate chances to make this list five years ago before some on the list surpassed them.
Kevin Johnson was a player that is always overlooked, most likely due to his lack of winning any championships. Championships are a great measuring stick for looking at the all-time greats; however we must take other credentials into consideration.
Wilkens, Price, and Harper put up good numbers through their careers and they are point guards well deserving of recognition.
10. Tiny Archibald, Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker
For the first time in this series we have a three way tie for 10th on the all-time list for point guards. I had a tough time even deciding that these are the three players that tie for 10th on this list.
It could have gone a few different ways if you look at the scenario in which we are ranking these point guards.
Nate “Tiny” Archibald was a good NBA point guard throughout his career. “Tiny” is the only player in NBA history to have won scoring and assist titles in the same season.
He was a quick guard with the ability to change direction better than anyone during the time he was playing. His playmaking and triple threat ability made him a difficult cover and helped him to obtain all of his achievements.
Stats: 18.8 ppg, 7.4 apg
Awards: NBA champion, 3x All-NBA First Team, 2× All-NBA Second Team, 6× NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,
NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
Billups was also a tough decision because he was always a winner and has reached seven consecutive conference finals. He was Finals MVP and the leader of a good Detroit Piston basketball team for years. Initially I had him just missing the cut and Kevin Johnson just making the cut.
Ultimately I had to side with Billups because they share similar stat lines but Billups is more of a winner. He is known for his shot-making ability especially late in games, which is what you want in your leader.
George Karl said recently that Billups is the best leader he has ever coached and those characteristics were shown when he help revitalized the Denver Nuggets team in just one season.
Stats 15.1ppg, 5.6apg, 88.9% FT’s
Awards: 2004 NBA Champion, 2004 NBA Finals MVP, 2x NBA All-Defense Second Team, All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-NBA Third Team, 4x NBA All-Star
Tony Parker is the type of player that every GM and team president wants in their organization. He is a natural born winner helping the Spurs win three championships in his first six years in the league. He was the motor of that boat and as he went, they went.
The Spurs built a dynasty in the early part of this decade and Parker was one of the focal points. His numbers don’t necessarily jump out at you but if you ask anybody that has played against him over his career they will tell you that he has been one of the best over that period of time.
What solidified his name on this list were not the three championships but the Finals MVP in 2007 when the Spurs swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Add that to the fact the TP has one of the most beautiful wives in the world and you have the recipe for one successful NBA superstar.
Stats: 16.7ppg, 5.6apg
Awards: NBA All-Rookie First Team, All-NBA Third Team, 3x NBA All-Star, NBA Finals MVP, 3x NBA Champion, Euroscar European Player of the Year
9. Steve Nash
This guy made one of the biggest transitions for a player being traded to another team in most recent memory. In his first three seasons with the Phoenix Suns, he was the orchestrator of a brand of basketball that has never been seen in the NBA.
The running Suns played an up-tempo style of basketball that helped Nash earn two consecutive MVP awards. He almost won a third, however the voters decided that the best season of Nash’s career wasn’t deserving of a third straight.
The years he actually won the MVP’s, they could have went to LeBron or Shaq and the year he did not win is the year he should have actually won the trophy. Nash has been one of the league’s best over the last nine seasons and he can possibly jump this list if he ends up winning a championship to close out his career.
Stats: 14.4ppg, 8.0apg
Awards: 2× NBA Most Valuable Player, 6× NBA All-Star, 3× All-NBA First Team, All-NBA Second Team, 2× All-NBA Third Team
8. Gary Payton
“The Glove” was undoubtedly one of the best defensive point guards to ever play in the NBA. He used his size and quickness to pose matchup problems throughout his career.
He was too quick for bigger guards to defend and he was too big for small guards to defend. He had an array of back to the basket moves that make him one of the best post guards of all-time.
On the defensive end his nickname did not just magically appear. He was an on the ball best early in his career, making a transition to passing lane nightmare towards the end.
He would be higher on this list had his Supersonics delayed the second Bulls dynasty by winning the Finals in 1996 or if the Lakers denied the Pistons their title in 2004. Just one championship as a reserve puts Payton at No. 8 and behind those in front of him.
Stats: 16.3ppg, 6.7apg, 1.8spg
Awards: NBA Champion, 9x NBA All-Star: 9x All-Defensive first team, 2x All-NBA First Team: 5x Second Team: 2x Third Team: NBA Defensive Player of The Year: 1996 (only point guard ever to win the award, and only guard to win the award in the 1990s)
7. Walt Frazier
Walt “Clyde” Frazier was a New York legend know for his unbelievably smooth play. He was a defensive genius, with quick hands and nimble feet. On defense, his quick hands and feet allowed him to be a constant threat to steal the ball.
Offensively, his cool, steady play combined with terrific ball-handling ability and playmaking skills made him an extremely difficult matchup. Frazier was an all-around threat, a point guard who did far more than just score or distribute the basketball.
Additionally, he was a winner. Frazier won two championships, and, in the seventh game of the 1970 NBA finals (a game more known for Willis Reed’s decision to play while hobbled), Frazier slapped up 36 points, 19 assists, and five steals.
His teammate Bill Bradley once said about him, “[Frazier] is the only player I’ve ever seen, [whom] I would describe as an artist, who takes an artistic approach to the game.”
Stats: 18.9 ppg, 6.1 apg, 5.9 rpg
Awards: 2x NBA champion, 7x NBA All-Star, 7x All-Defense Team, 4x All-NBA First Team: 2x Second Team
6. Jason Kidd
Though he has yet to win an NBA championship, I would never say Jason Kidd is not a winner. He hasn’t been able to win the title, but he has consistently led his teams to better results than they had without him, including leading the New Jersey Nets to the finals.
Kidd has outstanding court vision, and was a menace in transition, seemingly capable of always finding the open man. For a point guard, Kidd is an ox; he is big, strong, and fast.
Though he was never a great shooter, Kidd understood his limitations and never harmed his teams by taking tough shots, or too many shots. He is one of the most unselfish players ever to play basketball, and the epitome of a pass-first point guard.
Stats: 13.9 ppg, 9.2 apg, 6.7 rpg
Awards: 9x NBA All-Star, 1995 NBA Rookie of the Year, 5x All-NBA First Team: 1x Second Team, 9x All-Defensive Team
5. Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy rates ahead of Jason Kidd for being the best point guard in his era, a great winner, and for being great from the time he stepped onto an NBA court to the time he finished his career (in his thirteen full years, Cousy made the All-Star team every year).
The first great point guard, Cousy was well ahead of his time (see Celtics Town's Cousy bio).
He was the first flashy player ever, known as the originator of the crossover and typically thought of as the first player ever to consistently throw around-the-back passes.
Cousy was known as the “Hardwood Houdini” for his breathtaking ball-handling skills and crowd-pleasing passes. At the ends of tight games, actually, the Celtics would have Cousy just dribble around by himself, stalling time on the way to victory.
According to his biography, Bob Cousy had more or less 180 degree peripheral vision, allowing him to see the court like nobody before him did, leading the league in assists eight consecutive years spanning from 1953-1960.
Stats: 18.4 ppg, 7.5 apg, 5.2 rpg
Awards: 6x NBA champion, 1957 MVP, 13x NBA All-Star, 10x All-NBA First Team: 2x Second Team, 2x All-Star Game MVP
4. Isiah Thomas
Now, Isiah is known for destroying the CBA and the Knicks, along with numerous occasions of strange off-court trouble (like the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment case and an overdose on sleeping pills).
But in his playing days, Isiah Thomas was a fierce competitor, a diminutive leader capable of leading his team to new heights. In 1984-195 Isiah Thomas had one of the best point guard seasons in history, averaging an incredible 21.2 points and 13.9 assists.
Thomas later would lead the Pistons to two championships, though his most memorable finals moment occurred in a loss to the Lakers. It was the 1988 finals, game six, when Isiah badly sprained an ankle at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Limping around the rest of the game, Isiah finished with 25 points for the quarter and 43 for the game, but the Pistons lost by one.
I rated Thomas ahead of Cousy because, while both had tremendous statistics, Thomas was undeniably the best player on his championship-winning teams, while Cousy may never have won a title if the Celtics hadn’t traded for the draft rights to Bill Russell.
Stats: 19.2 ppg, 9.3 apg, 1.9 spg
Awards: 2x NBA champion, 12x All-Star, 3x All-NBA First Team: 2x Second Team, 2x All-Star Game MVP, 1990 Finals MVP
3. John Stockton
Another player known for never winning an NBA title, John Stockton was nonetheless an incredible point guard who made all the players around him better.
He ranks as high as he does on this list for being arguably the greatest passer ever, a terrific shooter, and an underrated, hard-nosed defender.
The all-time assists leader, Stockton led the league in assists nine straight years (read: NINE STRAIGHT YEARS!!!) from 1988-1996, averaging more than 13 assists per game five times during that streak.
Stockton was a master of the pick-and-roll, dribbling around a Karl Malone screen countless times during his 19-year career, finding his team the best possible shot almost every single time.
Stockton maintained his excellent standards of play even into the twilight of his career, still averaging 10.7 points and 7.7 assists in his final year. Stockton never won a title, but it might have had a little something to do with playing against Michael Jordan during the peak of his career.
Stats: 13.1 ppg, 10.5 apg, 2.2 spg
Awards: 10x All-Star, 2x All-NBA First Team: 6x Second Team, 3x Third Team, 5X All-Defensive Team, 1993 All-Star Game MVP
2. Oscar Robertson
When you think of all-around players, think no further than Oscar Robertson. Long before Magic Johnson came along, Oscar Robertson was the first big point guard, a guy who could take over a game in any number of ways. Robertson was a constant triple-double threat, the only player ever to average a triple double.
Not only did he average a triple double that year (1961-1962), Robertson averaged an obscene 30.8 points, 11.5 assists and 12.5 rebounds. The legendary Red Auerbach once said of Robertson, “He is so great – he scares me.”
The Big O, as Oscar was called, was big enough and strong enough to post up but fast enough and skilled enough to excel in the open court. Possibly the most complete player ever, Robertson was a force on the boards, a constant threat to score, and always capable of finding an open teammate.
Robertson was the only player other than Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to win an NBA MVP between the years of 1960-1968.
Stats: 25.7 ppg, 9.5 apg, 7.5 rpg
Awards: 1971 NBA champion, 12x NBA All-Star, 1964 MVP, 1961 Rookie of the Year, 9x All-NBA First Team: 2x Second Team, 3x All-Star Game MVP
1. Magic Johnson
Truly a unique player, Johnson combined the size of a power forward with arguably the best passing skills ever. Magic was able to do things on the court unheard of for people his size; he led the fast break like no other, quarterbacking the Lakers’ “Showtime” teams of the 1980s. Along with Larry Bird, Magic was the best player of the 1980s, and led the NBA out of tough times and into a new, exciting era. Magic’s trademark smile contradicted his fiery, competitive on-court demeanor. Johnson’s coach, Paul Westphal, had this to say about him after his rookie season: “We all thought he was a movie-star player, but we found out he wears a hard hat. It's like finding a great orthopedic surgeon who can also operate a bulldozer." Showcasing his versatility, Magic filled in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center during game six of the 1980 finals (Magic’s rookie year). Actually, Magic did a lot more than just “fill in” for Kareem. He scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out 7 assists. Magic had a flair for the dramatic, but he was always a tough player willing to fulfill any role his team needed to win the game. He helped the Lakers win five titles during the 1980s, and was a three-time MVP. When he retired, Magic was the leading assist-man in NBA history, a title he has since conceded to John Stockton.
Stats: 19.5 ppg, 11.2 apg, 7.2 rpg, 1.9 spg
Awards: 5x NBA champion, 12x All-Star, 9x All-NBA First Team: 1x Second Team, 3x MVP, 3X Finals MVP, 2x All-Star Game MVP