The Top Eight Undersized Point Guards of All Time
The little guy.
He's the only one at the playground using his entire arsenal of pump fakes and pivots just to get a shot off. He's the only one looking to pass off to an open teammate when he penetrates the lane among all the big guys. He's the only guy who realizes just how hard a "little guy" needs to work to be successful in the game of basketball.
But how does one define undersized, especially for the point guard position? I would classify it as any player under 6'2". That means no Magic, no Oscar, no Kidd, and no Nash.
It's time to give respect to the players who, although not gifted with an abundance of height, played the game at a high level while outworking those around them.
I attempt to rank these players that, while undersized, had a significant impact on basketball and were a thrill to watch at all times on the court. These are the players that care just as much about getting their teammates involved as they do putting up a good stat line.
Some on my list are scorers (that's a given). Some are pure passers. Others are defensive stoppers. One could even be labeled as a pioneer for the game. This is the list that features only one MVP and one Finals MVP but a handful of current or soon-to-be Hall of Famers.
Surprisingly enough, only one player on this list cannot be found among the top twenty-five assists leaders of all time. Three of the eight claim a spot in the top fifteen steals leaders of all time as well.
Honorable mention for this list includes Lenny Wilkens, Guy Rodgers, Norm Van Lier, Mookie Blaylock, and K.C. Jones.
No. 8 Maurice Cheeks
Mo Cheeks was short. He wasn't an exceptional scorer nor did he drain countless threes. But he did play defense, and he played it better than most.
It was his mission, each and every night, to lock down the opposing team's best guard, and, for the better part of his career, that is exactly what he did.
That meant defending the likes of Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, Mark Jackson, and Dennis Johnson. Some of the best guards of the 80s had to deal with Mo Cheeks guarding them like no one else in the League did at that time.
Mo Cheeks didn't bring an abundance of flash to the game, but he brought consistency. He was selected to the All-Defensive First Team four times throughout his playing years and, at the time of his retirement, left the game as the NBA's all-time steals leader. (He is currently fourth.)
Cheeks also finds himself tenth on the all-time list for assists leaders. Through this, he proved that a "little guy" doesn't need to score every time down the court, as evidenced by Cheeks's 11.1 points per game average; he simply needs to play tough defense and distribute the basketball. Few did that better than Mo.
No. 7 Mark Price
Mark Price is possibly the greatest shooting point guard ever. During his career, he made 90% of his free throws and 40% of his three-pointers. He had a quick release and picture-perfect form.
But more than that, Price made his team better. He penetrated and dished to the open man every time he could.
Some coaches condemn point guards for jumping in the air to make a pass. Price, however, was extremely skilled at finding the open man in a split second as he hung in the air. He was the definition of a scrappy, little guard who did whatever it took to win.
Forgive him, though, for having to compete against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls on a yearly basis. NBA Titles were very hard to come by. Price's Cavaliers were downed by the Bulls on a couple occasions, most notably, in 1989, when Jordan hit "The Shot" over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo.
Nevertheless, a lack of a title does not diminish Price's career as one of the most balanced point guards of time. No one combined a lethal shooting attack with perfect passing better than he did.
No. 6 Tim Hardaway
Hardaway, to today's generation, is known better for his legendary crossover than his actual playing career. His legacy, however, should have more to it than just a move.
Tim Hardaway was a bona-fide scorer as well as a fantastic passer. His career averages of 18 points and eight assists compare with other superstars, such as Isiah Thomas (19 points and nine assists).
In some respect, Hardaway was better than most will ever give him credit. He was the second fastest player in NBA history to 5,000 points and 2,500 assists behind only the great Oscar Robertson.
Everything you read about Hardaway relates back to that move though. Magic called him the "king of the crossover," and in the 90s, he was. Kids across the country were imitating it. He also deserves a good portion of the credit for what the move is today.
As a part of the ever-entertaining Run TMC, Hardaway and the Warriors were thrust into the national spotlight, or as big of a spotlight as Jordan would allow. But for Tim Hardaway, that spotlight will never fully go away, not so long as "the move" is still relevant.
No. 5 Nate Archibald
The only player in NBA history to ever lead the League in both scoring and assists in the same season is none other than number five on my list, Nate "Tiny" Archibald.
Although Archibald had an up-and-down career, his impact as a scorer and distributor was felt across the NBA. His mid range game was terrific, and he had the speed and quickness to penetrate into the lane at will.
Later on, "Tiny" would win a title with the Boston Celtics, after nearly retiring from basketball only a few years prior to that season. His career averages of 19 points and 7 assists do not accurately portray just how good Archibald was in his prime.
He performed at a particularly high level from 1971 to 1977. During that five-season stretch, "Tiny" would average at least 21 points and eight assists four times. In the only season he failed to do so, he averaged "only" 18 points and eight assists.
Throughout his playing career, few produced more baskets for his team than Archibald. If not for a few down seasons, "Tiny" would undoubtedly be a lot higher on this list and in the discussion for the top spot.
(Photo Credit: FootballsFuture.com)
No. 4 Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is proclaimed by some to be the most underrated point guard ever. Well, I'll try not to disrespect him now. The 6'1" Suns point guard was, like a few others on this list, gifted at both scoring for himself and putting teammates in a position to score.
No All-NBA First Team selections and only three All-Star appearances would leave others to question the validity of having him so high on a list such as this one.
However, he was competing out West against point guards like Gary Payton and John Stockton on a consistent basis. All-Star and First Team selections were hard to come by at the time, even for a guy averaging 18 points and nine assists for his career.
For four straight seasons in his prime, KJ averaged at least 20 points and ten assists. A feat that few in the history of the League can boast.
The argument can even be made for having him a spot higher on this list, but number three was a player who would change the game forever.
No. 3 Bob Cousy
Thirteen All-Star appearances. The only player on this list to win a Most Valuable Player Award. Ten All-NBA First Team selections. Six-time NBA Champion. One everlasting impact.
Maybe that is a cliché, but Bob Cousy, or the "Houdini of the Hardwood", changed the point guard position forever. No one before him had ever thrown behind-the-back passes or used "fancy" dribbling to get by a defender.
He was the first to prove that style could be coupled with substance in basketball.
Never mind that his stat line (18 points and eight assists per game) doesn't even separate him from others ranked lower than he. Never mind that his competition level wasn't the greatest.
Cousy was simply a pioneer in a sport that had never seen a player before him quite the same. In today's game, of course, his moves would be considered routine and essential parts of a ball-handler's repertoire, but, for his time, they were revolutionary. And what a revolution it was.
(Photo Credit: newsday.com)
No. 2 Isiah Thomas
The accolades speak for themselves, but a few things stand out right away about Isiah Thomas.
He is the only player on this list that was named a Finals MVP. He is also one of the scrappiest, hard-nosed point guards the League has ever seen.
The story that remains etched in the minds of basketball fans everywhere is the one regarding Thomas scoring 43 points, including 25 in one quarter, while playing on a badly sprained ankle in Game Six of the 1988 Finals. But nothing shows just how gutsy and gritty of a player "Zeke" really was more than that story.
Thomas is one of only six players in NBA history to amass more than 9,000 assists in his career and sits at no. 14 on the all-time steals list as well.
Concerning this list, however, it was very close between the top two, and, at this point, one can certainly assume who will be number one...
No. 1 John Stockton
At 6'1", John Stockton currently stands as the greatest undersized point guard to ever play in the NBA. Arguably the best passer ever, the Gonzaga product averaged 13 points, 11 assists, and two steals during his nineteen-year career.
He walked away from the game as the all-time leader in both assists and steals (and no one is even close to either record). Stockton is one-half of the greatest pick-and-roll combination in the League's history and is the best pass-first point guard ever.
Yes, the words "greatest" and "ever" seem overused at this point, but he was really that good at controlling the game and finding a wide open teammate for an easy shot time and time again.
Some people criticize Stockton for never winning a championship. But, as I've mentioned before, Michael Jordan won six rings and Hakeem Olajuwon won two during Utah's best seasons.
Whether he has a ring or not is irrelevant though; John Stockton is as good as it gets at making the most out of the height he was given.
Arguments can and will be made over who should have and who should not have made this list, but that is not what's most important.
What matters is that these eight basketball players proved that one can still be successful in a sport where height means everything, even when someone doesn't have a lot of it.
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(Question: Is Jonny Flynn the next great undersized point guard to enter the League?)