As a great as the Lakers have been at center throughout their history, the two-guard spot is every bit as equal, headed by two of the three best to ever play the position.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to sum up the duo that heads up this spot without making this piece significantly longer than it’s already got to be. Let’s see what we can do about conciseness (Note: I wouldn’t bet on me here).
Like many of the greats from his era, Jerry West played a game that was ahead of its time. West was one of the NBA’s first combo guards, with ball handling and passing skills that would have landed him in the Hall of Fame as a point guard and an offensive skill set that ranks among the greatest ever among perimeter players. He could penetrate. He could stop on a dime and release a beautiful mid-range jump shot before most defenders could react.
During his 14-year playing career with the Lakers, West earned 14 All-Star selections (MVP in 1972), 10 All-NBA First Team selections and a pair of Second Team nods. He is the third player in history to reach 25,000 points (after Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson).
He retired with 25,192 points (second in Laker history), 6,238 assists (second in Laker history) and 5,366 rebounds in 932 games. He retired with career averages of 27.0 ppg (sixth all-time, tied with Shaq for second in Laker history), 5.8 rpg and 6.7 apg.
He led the Lakers in scoring seven times (Elgin Baylor topped him four times in the 1960s and Gail Goodrich three times at the end of West’s career). Four times in his career West averaged 30+ ppg, five times he grabbed 6+ rpg and nine times he averaged 6+ apg.
In 14 seasons, with the Lakers, Jerry West appeared in the Finals nine times, cashing in on his eighth trip in 1972, after seven heartbreaking losses to Celtics in the 1960s. Two of the fives times his teams failed to reach the Finals, 1967 and 1974, West was unable to play more than a single postseason game due to injury. Seven times, West averaged 30+ ppg in a postseason, including an awesome 40.6 ppg in 11 games in 1965.
In the 1969 Finals, West became the only player ever to win Finals MVP in a losing effort, averaging 38 ppg and posting a 42- 13- 12 in a brutal 108-106 Game 7 loss. In 153 career postseason games, West averaged 29.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 6.4 apg. Only Michael Jordan has a higher career postseason scoring average (33.5 ppg) than West.
He played defense as hard as he played offense. West’s quickness and incredible instincts made him perhaps the best man-to-man defender of his era.
Also, while stats were not kept on steals and blocked shots until his final season, West is widely regarded as one of the elite ball hawks and shot blocking guards in NBA history. The All-Defensive Teams were introduced in 1969, his 10th season. West made every one of them until he retired in 1974.
Even in retirement, West dedicated his life to helping the Lakers win. After coaching the team to the playoffs three times, he moved to the front office, where, as GM, he constructed the Lakers’ 1980s dynasty and later assembled the trio of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and coach Phil Jackson. Counting his one ring as a player, that’s 11 Laker championships with Jerry West’s fingerprints all over them (yeah, he gets the last two as well! He got Kobe and Phil in the first place!).
West’s intensity, dedication and toughness are also nothing short of legendary. West possessed a tireless work ethic, never allowing himself to be content with his own greatness and was totally obsessed with working to improve his game.
West once said of himself, "I'm surprised when the ball doesn't go into the hoop… I think I should make every shot."
After the Lakers' heartbreaking loss to the Boston Celtics in the 1969 NBA Finals, Celtics’ legend John Havlicek walked up to West and said, "Jerry, I love you."
When does that happen??
On "Jerry West Night", 11-time NBA champion and Lakers’ rival Bill Russell (whose team held a 7-0 Finals record against West’s) said, "Jerry, you are, in every sense of the word, truly a champion… If I could have one wish granted, it would be that you would always be happy."
Jerry West is the greatest shooting guard of the pre-Jordan NBA, the Logo, and forever one of the greatest players in NBA history.
A quick note for anyone that owns the Celtics’ Dynasty Series DVDs: watch Jerry West in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of that 1969 Finals series. MJ and Kobe have nothing on this guy.
Whichever of these two didn’t get the nod here was going to be the toughest snub in this entire series. In this case, it’s Kobe Bryant.
Whatever your thoughts on Kobe Bryant, there’s no denying that he’s as compelling a personality as the NBA’s seen in a long time. There’s a phenomenal book to be written about the second greatest (when it’s all said and done) two-guard in NBA history (Kobe, if you’re reading this, I’d be more than happy to write it). I will attempt to summarize this future book in a few hundred words.
For the purpose of this exercise, Kobe’s status as the most polarizing player in NBA history will for the most part be set aside.
In many ways, Kobe Bryant is extremely similar to Jerry West. No task on a basketball court is beyond his ability—at either end of the floor. He’s hyper competitive, sometimes to the point of detriment. Finally, Kobe shares Jerry West’s work ethic, a single-minded obsession with polishing and fine-tuning his already otherworldly game in the pursuit of perfection.
When he entered the league at age 17 out of high school, Kobe Bryant was a freakishly gifted athlete, a very skilled basketball player. However, he had little in the way of a refined game.
In nearly a decade and a half since (you feel old reading that? I feel old writing it!) he’s developed the deadliest mid-range game since Michael Jordan, he’s become a threat from three-point range (and is tied for the most “3s” ever made in a game, with 12), he evolved into one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders (All-Defensive First Team eight times), has worked with Hakeem Olajuwon to expand his low post game and has become an extremely effective rebounder (his Game 7 performance was the rebounding equivalent of a 40-point game).
On top of all that, there’s his uncanny ability to deliver in “winnin’ time”—late in close games and in the postseason. Kobe is the best crunch time player since MJ, both in the regular season and the playoffs. In an annual survey of NBA general managers, Kobe’s regularly selected as the player they’d most want taking a game-deciding shot.
The Lakers have reached the postseason in 13 of his 14 seasons, advancing to the NBA Finals seven times. Five of those seven trips have ended in a championship, three straight from 2000-02 (w/ Shaq) and the two most recent (2009-10), with Kobe claiming Finals MVP in both. In a staggering 198 postseason games (fourth all-time), Kobe’s averaged 25.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 4.8 apg. He’s scored 5,049 postseason points, which is 82 behind Shaq for third all-time.
Bryant also possesses a rare gift for taking over a game that’s seldom, if ever, been exhibited by a perimeter player. In terms of offensive achievements, Kobe has few peers in NBA history. A pair of scoring titles (2006 and 2007), 25+ ppg nine times (25.3 career ppg), 30+ three times, one of three 35+ ppg seasons since 1975, a record nine straight games of 40+ points in 2002-03, 62 points through three quarters v. Dallas in December 2005 (the Mavs had 61), the second highest scoring game in NBA history (81 v. Toronto on 1/22/2006), 10 50-point games in 2006-07 (including four in a row, with a pair of 60s), the highest non-Wilt single-month scoring average (43.4 ppg in January 2006) and 25,790 points scored (11th all-time; 1,619 out of sixth place) and counting…
Kobe has been named an All-Star 12 of 13 possible times (no game in 1999) and has won three All-Star MVPs. He’s been selected to the All-NBA First Team eight times, the Second Team twice and was named league MVP in 2008 (no way he shouldn’t have won it in 2006 as well!).
All this, and he’s still just 32 years old—though I must acknowledge that his is perhaps the oldest 32 in NBA history.
However, given his exceptional physical gifts and tireless work ethic, Kobe’s far from done building his resume. If he hasn’t already done it, at some point before his retirement, Kobe Bryant will establish himself as one of the five greatest players ever to take the floor in the NBA.
In most NBA circles, a three-time champion and 15+ ppg on some of history’s best teams, coupled with the primes years of a Hall of Fame career—including a major role on a 69-win champion with a 33-game winning streak—would constitute a very strong two-guard spot. However, in Lakerland, Byron Scott and Gail Goodrich round out the two-guard spot and are just a pair of blips on the radar.
Heading up the next tier of Lakers’ two-guards is Gail Goodrich. The 10th pick in the 1965 draft, Goodrich spent three unspectacular seasons with the Lakers before he was lost to the Phoenix Suns in the 1968 expansion draft. In Phoenix, he exhibited the outstanding scoring that would be his calling card and was reacquired by the Lakers in a trade (for backup center Mel Counts) in 1970.
After returning, Goodrich led the Lakers in scoring in five times (1971-75), averaging at least 22.6 ppg each season. Goodrich was the top scorer on the 69-win, 1971-72 championship team. That year he averaged a career best 25.9 ppg and earned his first All-Star selection as a Laker. He was named an All-Star in each of the next three seasons as well and earned the only All-NBA First Team selection of his career in 1973-74, when he averaged 25.3 ppg (fourth in the NBA) and 5.2 apg.
Goodrich remained with the Lakers until the 1975-76 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s first with the team. He then signed with the New Orleans Jazz, with whom he’d spend his last three seasons. At the time of his retirement in 1979, Goodrich was 11th all-time in scoring and 10th all-time in assists. In Laker history, he still holds a spot in the top 10 in points (13,044; sixth), assists (2,863; eighth) and scoring average (19 ppg; ninth).
As great a player as Goodrich was for the Lakers in the 1970s, his greatest impact on the franchise is something over which he had no control. As a result of losing Goodrich to free agency, the Lakers were entitled to compensation. The Jazz agreed to send its top pick in the 1979 draft and a pair of other first-rounders to the Lakers.
The Jazz finished the 1978-79 season with the worst record in the NBA, ensuring the Lakers a top-two pick, to be determined by a coin flip. The Lakers won the coin flip against the Chicago Bulls, and with it, the right to select Magic Johnson.
Beginning a few years after Goodrich’s exit, Byron Scott spent his first NBA decade with the Lakers, with much of that time spent as Magic Johnson’s backcourt running mate. In 846 regular season games, Scott averaged 15.1 ppg,, and he was just as good in the playoffs, averaging 15.3 ppg in 142 postseason games.
He averaged 17+ ppg three times and peaked as an individual player in the Lakers’ 1987-88 “Back to Back” season, when he averaged a team-high 21.7 ppg, along with 4.1 rpg and 4.1 apg. In the team’s 24-game title run, Scott averaged 19.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg and shot the ball extremely well (50- 87- 44 from FG- FT- 3-pt). His is never the first name that comes to mind, but he was one of the most important members of the Showtime era.