Bob Cousy, Rajon Rondo and the Top 10 Guards In Boston Celtics History
In the spirit of Ray Allen's recent three-point crowning, I decided to assess my list for the top Celtics guards of all time.
There is a plethora of categories that led to my decisions which include—but are not limited to—rings, role, accolades, career-length—along with Celtics tenure—and stats.
I have no doubt that the rankings will stew up some controversy, but isn't that the fun of it?
No. 10: Reggie Lewis
Next to Len Bias, Lewis is one of the more tragic stories in Celtics' history.
The Stats: 17.6 PPG (20.8 over last two season); 4.3 rebounds; 3.7 assists; 1.5 steals.
The Credentials: 1x NBA All-Star (1992)
Lewis is one of two Celtics to have their number retired without having their name on a championship team.
Lewis suffered a sudden heart-attack while attending an off-season practice at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Lewis had shown previous signs of heart-related issues. His death was ultimately contributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a structural heart defect that is regarded as one of the most common causes of death amongst young athletes.
Prior to his all-to-soon passing, Lewis was one of the primary hopefuls for the future of the Celtics, following the Larry Bird era. This is a tall task for any player, but Lewis had game.
At 6'7”, Lewis stood like a forward but played with the quickness and vision of a guard. He posted a career-high 28.0 PPG in the 1992 playoffs and had replaced Bird as captain. Lewis had just begun to peak.
The Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center is located in Roxbury, MA, and marks the kind of impact he had achieved in the community.
How great could Reggie have been? Like Bias, it is unfortunate that we only caught a glimpse.
No. 9: Ray Allen
The only thing keeping Jesus Shuttlesworth from climbing the list is his brief stay in Boston.
The Stats: 20.4 PPG, 4.3 rebounds; 3.6 assist; 1.2 steals, 89.3 free-throw percentage
The Credentials: NBA Champion (2008); 10x NBA All-Star; Olympic Gold Medalist (2000)
At age 35, Allen is in as good of shape as any player in the league. His work ethic is beyond compare and he has yet to show a sign of slowing down. At this point, it is not out of the question that Allen might have at least three good years left in him.
Allen is also in the midst of one of the best statistical seasons of his career, hitting career-high's in field-goal percentage (50.2), and three-point percentage (45.6).
When it's all said and done, Allen will go down as one of the best pure shooters of all time. He probably only has a couple years left (at most) to add another ring to his hand but something tells me he will do it.
If I refurbish this list in a few years, Allen might have to move up a couple spots.
No. 8: Rajon Rondo
Rondo's only shortcoming amongst the garden's greatest guards is that he has only begun to grow.
The Stats: 10.7 PPG; 7.4 assists; 4.4 rebounds; 1.9 steals
The Credentials: NBA Champion (2008); 2x NBA All-Star; All Defensive First Team (2009)
Rondo's name now belongs amongst the best point guards in the league. In just his fifth season, Rondo leads the league in assists (12.9/game) and has logged three triple-doubles. At 6'1”, Rondo is a beast on the boards. While analysts argue over his ceiling, Rondo continues to post huge numbers.
Rondo would not have managed to gain the respect of his veteran teammates without his personality. Rondo is cocky.
He has touted himself as the best in the league and has no problem clashing with teammates over plays. Rondo has become the force that drives the Celtics.
By the end of his career, Rondo will undoubtedly rank as one of the best Celtics of all-time. Hopefully, the men upstairs will continue to surround him with skilled players once the current era of players depart.
Expect Rondo's points to go up along with his role as the years roll on.
No. 7: K.C. Jones
Jones is one of countless players in the history of the game that goes unacknowledged due to stats.
The Stats: 7.4 PPG; 4.3 assists; 3.5 rebounds
The Credentials: 8x NBA Champion (1959-67)
What the stats don't show (the major flaw in NBA player assessment) is that Jones was a defensive wizard.
The primary backup to Bob Cousy—eventually taking over the reigns with Cousy's departure—Jones rounded out the Celtics bench in the late 1950's and 60's as an offensive general, a ball-hawk, and a menace to any ball-handler.
Jones spent all of his nine NBA seasons as a Celtic and was part of the greatest team in history. In NBA history, Bill Russell and Sam Jones are the only other two players to have more rings than Jones.
Jones gets some extra love on the list because his career in the NBA didn't end with his playing days. After stints as head coach with the San Diego Conquistadors (ABA franchise) and the Capital Bullets (soon to be Washington Bullets), Jones coached Bird's Celtics to two championships ('84, '86).
No. 6: Nate "Tiny" Archibald
In an era of big men, Archibald brought back relevance to the little guy.
The Stats: 19.0 PPG, 7.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds; 1.2 steals
The Credentials: NBA Champion (1981); 6x NBA All-Star
Note: Archibald's ranking on the list takes a hit primarily because his stay with the Celtics was only five years.
Noteworthy: Archibald was the only player to lead the league in both scoring and assists in the 1972-73 season with the Kansas City Royals and averaged 34.0 PPG in a point-heavy league (breaking the record for a guard).
Archibald came to the Celtics in poor shape, but recovered to guide them to the NBA's best record for three consecutive seasons (1979-82). He won his only championship with the help of a young Bird in 1980-81.
The Celtics didn't need Archibald to score like he did in Cincinnati and Kansas City because Bird, Cowens and Cedric Maxwell were there to pick up the slack. Archibald would willingly take on the role of a playmaker and would learn a greater sense of control.
He averaged career-lows in stats, which can be attributed to a team-first attitude that would give him the ring he so desperately sought.
No. 5: Dennis Johnson
“DJ” is widely considered to be one of the most underrated players in NBA history.
The Stats: 15.6 PPG; 5.5 assists; 4.3 rebounds; 1.5 steals
The Credentials: 3x NBA Champion (1979, 1984, 1986); 5x NBA All-Star; NBA Finals MVP
Johnson was never a player of great natural skill, but a grinder that battled his way from the middle of the pack to greatness.
Johnson would work to become one of the best defensive guards in the league and would win two of his three championships in green.
Johnson had the privilege of playing alongside fellow Hall of Famers in Bird, Parish and McHale. Johnson described uniting with the legendary Celtics as a “dream come true.” He benefited from the mentoring of Red Auerbach and changed his playing style from a high-flier to a play-maker.
Johnson's defense earned him six all-defensive team honors and he was the recipient of one of the greatest plays in NBA history—Bird's steal from Isiah Thomas in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals (you're not a Celtics fan if you don't know how this one ends).
In the '87 Finals against the Lakers, Johnson averaged a gaudy 26 points and 13 assists. During Johnson's retirement ceremony, Magic Johnson touted him as “the best backcourt defender of all time” while Bird claimed him to be the best teammate he ever had.
After Johnson's untimely death at age 52, Bill Walton spoke out about his friend not yet being elected as a Hall of Famer:
"The fact that Dennis Johnson is not in the Hall of Fame is a disgrace to the sport of basketball and I am embarrassed."
Johnson was elected in 2010.
No. 4: Bill Sharman
Sharman partnered with Cousy to form one of the greatest backcourt combos of all time.
The Stats: 17.8 PPG, 3.9 rebounds; 3.0 assists
The Credentials: 4x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-61); 8x NBA All-Star (1953-1960); 7x Free throw Percentage Leader (1953-57, 1959, 1961); NBA's 50 Greatest Players
Sharman was one of the first guards to shoot above 40 percent from the field and still ranks amongst the top free throw shooters of all time (.883 lifetime). His mark of 93.2% from the line stood for almost twenty years.
Sharman made four consecutive appearances on the All-NBA First Team.
Sharman and Cousy would be blessed by the arrival of Bill Russell in 1956-67 along with arrival of Tom Heinsohn. This would lead to Sharman's four NBA championships and would seal his place in history.
Sharman was arguably the best shooter of his era.
No. 3: Jo Jo White
Russell departs, White enters.
The Stats: 17.2 PPG, 4.9 assists,, 4.0 rebounds
The Credentials: 2x NBA Champion (1974, 1976); 9x NBA All-Star, NBA Finals MVP (1976)
White had not yet reported to training camp when Russell announced he would retire. One of many rebuilding periods in Celtics history was about to take place.
With the drafting of David Cowens, a trade for Paul Silas, and an anchor in veteran John Havlicek, White would become the floor general of two future Celtics championship teams.
One of White's lesser acknowledged feats was playing five consecutive 82 game seasons without missing a single game. He had a solid jumper, great speed, was a top-notch defender, and, more importantly, a leader.
White scored 33 points and had 9 assists in game 5 of the '76 Finals against the suns in a triple overtime thriller—highly regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. The next night, Boston won its 13th championship in 20 seasons.
No. 2: Sam Jones
"He's always in shape and ready to play, and nobody works any harder at basketball than he does." - Red Auerbach
The Stats: 17.7 PPG; 4.9 rebounds; 2.5 assists
The Credentials: 10x NBA Champions (1959-1969); 5x NBA All-Star; NBA's 50 Greatest Players
“Mr Clutch” was quick, cool, and efficient.
Amongst other things, Jones set himself apart with his bank shot. He could hit it from either side or around the key. While most players preferred net shots, Jones refused to shy away from the reliable bank.
Jones was also a nuisance without the ball. With Bill Russell pulling down boards, Jones would already be down the court ready to receive a pass for the bucket.
Jones finished fourth in the NBA in scoring in the 1964-65 season with 25.9 PPG, but like his teammates, Jones didn't care about his career high average:
"Every guy on this team has the ability to score 2,000 points if that's what he's asked to do. There's a lot of unselfishness by others in those 2,000 points I scored."
Sound familiar? Jones was a staple of the team philosophy.
At a special ceremony at Boston Garden, Auerbach bestowed the ultimate compliment:
"I would like to thank Sam Jones," he said, "for making me a helluva coach."
Must be nice to look down at your hand and see 10 rings.
No. 1: Bob Cousy
There is no argument here.
The Stats: 18.4 points, 7.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds
The Credentials: 6x NBA Champion; 13x All-Star; 10x All-NBA First Team and anniversary team you can think of.
“The Houdini of the Hardwood”,”Mr. Basketball”, and of course, “The Cooz.”
Cousy was the core of a team of Hall of Famers that featured Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bill Sharman, and Satch Sanders.
Cousy put flare in a game that hadn't yet found it and brought flash to the court that had never been seen before.
After Cousy retired, Celtics owner Walter Brown told a Boston newspaper that "the Celtics wouldn't be here without him. If he had played in New York, he would have been as big as Babe Ruth. I think he is anyway."
Heinsohn told the Boston Herald in 1983: "What Russell was on defense, that's what Cousy was on offense—a magician. Once that ball reached his hands, the rest of us just took off, never bothering to look back. We didn't have to. He'd find us. When you got into a position to score, the ball would be there."
Cousy was the benchmark of point guards. With arguably the best vision of all time, Cousy could find the open man at a dead sprint. No-look and behind-the-back passes were not rare but every game events for Cousy. He knew how to pace the game, let plays develop and could hit any shot on the court.
Out of the emotional send-offs that the Garden would become known for, none were more powerful than the scene for the Cooz's last regular season game.
Known as the “Boston Tear Party,” Cousy received a 20-minute farewell that was only supposed to take seven minutes.
President John Kennedy wired to Cousy: “The game bears an indelible stamp of your rare skills and competitive daring.”
In six games, the Celtics defeated the Lakers to send Cousy out on top in the 1963 NBA Finals.
Cousy easily ranks as one of the top five point guards of all time.