NBA: Magic Johnson and the 10 Greatest Point Guards of All Time
The point guard. Not always easy to define, and played in many different styles by many different players. From three-point gunners to selfless passers, from six feet tall to just a few inches short of seven feet, these 10 men did it better than the rest.
It is now the NBA's glamour position, and there are some youngsters who will be knocking on the door to bump the legends down the list. As it is, one old guy increased his standing, while others have more work to do. For now, here are the 10 greatest of all time.
10. Chris Paul/Deron Williams
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Paul: 19 points, 10 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.
Williams: 17 points, 9.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game.
It is too soon to put either of these stud point guards ahead of the all-time greats. Still, both have built enough of a resume to be mentioned, and it is safe to say one or both of these men will be much higher on this list when it is all said and done.
Paul is more of an injury risk, but he has already had huge playoff games in his career, personified by his performances against the Lakers in these past playoffs. After his knee injury, there was a fear he may not again be CP3. Now we know he can still do it when his team needs him to, if not every night. He averaged 30/14.5/10/3 in two wins against the two-time defending champion Lakers.
It will be interesting to see where D-Will’s career goes from here, as he may not be playing in the NBA next season. Still, he too has been an elite performer for much of his short NBA career. Both are free agents after the season, so it will be interesting to see where they end up and if they can win any rings. The sky is the limit for Paul and Williams.
9. Gary Payton
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The Essentials: nine-time first team all-defense, Defensive Player of the Year (‘96), eighth all-time in assists, fourth all-time in steals, best player on one runner-up, role player on one NBA Champion.
Easily the best point guard of the ‘90s, “The Glove” was an all-around threat, peaking in 2000 when he averaged 24 points and nine assists to go with two steals. Payton had a relatively short spurt as an elite player (10 seasons) for an all-time great.
Still, he finally learned how to be a great teammate late in his career, when he was willing to be a role player with the Heat. He had two huge shots in the finals (late in Game 3, overtime in Game 5) and, believe it or not, Miami may not have won it without him.
8. Steve Nash
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The Essentials: two-time NBA MVP, three-time season leader in assists per game, sixth all-time in assists, member of 50-40-90 club (field goal percentages from the field, three-point line, and free throw line).
The best shooter on the list, Nash’s back-to-back MVPs are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the other members on that list are Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Tim Duncan. That looks great for Nash. However, it is so evident he is not on the level with those greats, it discredits the voters more than it credits Nash.
Still, he has long been one of the NBA’s great teammates and shooters, and a player everyone would want to play with. His Suns teams were the most fun to watch for years. If he could have at least gotten them to the finals, he would have jumped a couple spots on this list.
7. John Stockton
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The Essentials: first all-time in assists and steals, second assists per game (10.5) nine-time season leader in assists per game, second best player on two NBA Finals runner-ups.
The fact that Stockton never won a championship is the lone blemish of his Hall-of-Fame resume. Neither he nor Karl Malone ever stepped up to be “The Man” to lead the Jazz to a title. The model of consistency, Stockton never really had any iconic moments either.
He got outplayed by inferior opposing point guards in the late ‘80s and early '90s in huge playoff games, and got badly outplayed by Gary Payton in the ’96 Western Conference Finals. Regardless, he played 19 NBA seasons, many at an elite level, and is first in assists and steals; statistical watermarks for a point guard.
6. Jason Kidd
The Essentials: NBA Champion, best player on two runner-ups, second all-time in assists, third in steals, five-time season leader in assists per game.
Kidd had one of the best two-year runs for a point guard, and was literally the most valuable player on the Nets in 2002-03. By swapping Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd, the Nets went from lottery team to two-time Eastern Conference Champion. Dragging a team that otherwise consisted of Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, Kenyon Martin and Todd Macculloch, has to count for something.
Right when it looked like the end for Kidd, he transformed his playing style to fit his advanced age. Once referred to as Ason (no J), Kidd has become a dead-eye clutch three-point shooter for the NBA Champion Mavs. He is no longer an elite player, but was an indispensable piece of a championship at age 38.
5. Bob Cousy
The Essentials:1957 MVP, six-time NBA Champion, eight-time season leader in assists, career average of 19-8-5.
Readers who do their homework may point out Cousy’s abysmal field-goal shooting at 38 percent. However, if you delve further into the statistics, you will notice Cousy played primarily in the league’s least efficient shooting era, the ‘50s, and his clip is right around the average for his time.
Regardless, he was the second best player and ran the show of six NBA Championship teams. Cousy ran the NBA’s first fast-break offense, and it is safe to say his skills would have transferred to today’s game.
4. Isiah Thomas
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The Essentials: two-time NBA Champion, Finals MVP, fourth all-time in assists per game (9.3), seventh total assists, 15th in steals.
Isiah is the best pure point guard of all time, as you will notice the three men in front of him were something of a hybrid.
Isiah’s teams were always in the playoffs, battling in the NBA's most competitive era for the championship. Thomas mastered the role of being a pass-first point guard who only looked for his shot as a primary option when his team needed it at the end of games, personified by two unbelievable performances.
In 1984, he kept the Pistons alive against the Knicks with 16 points in the final 91 seconds, only to be overshadowed by his 25-point third quarter in Game 6 of the 1988 finals. Isiah is one of the only players who was his team’s best scorer, but only forced the issue when it mattered most.
3. Oscar Robertson
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The Essentials: 1964 MVP, 1972 NBA Champion, five-year peak (30-10-11), last player to average a triple double in a season (1962), eighth all-time in points per game (25.5), third all-time assists per game (9.5), fifth in total assists.
Think of him as the Wilt Chamberlain of guards. From a purely statistical standpoint, you could argue him as the greatest of all time, regardless of position.
However, for a player with such gifts, he only won one NBA Championship, played in another, and he was not the best player on either team (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was).
By many accounts, he was a cantankerous jerk who withered his teammates’ confidence, though the racism he endured surely had something to do with his bitter nature. Still, Bill Russell played in the same era and had to have endured some racism as well, and was one of the great winners and teammates. Bad teammate or not, the “Big O” is one of the great players of all time.
2. Jerry West
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The Essentials: 1969 Finals MVP, four-time All-Defense, 30.5 points per game for his career in the finals, third in points per game in the playoffs (29.3), fifth in career points per game (27).
It is fitting that the most difficult decision on this list, West or Robertson for No. 2, comes between two players who played in the same era and were polar opposites of each other.
West was one of the most popular players to ever play the game, is the NBA’s logo, and by all accounts a great guy.
He, too, may have only won one NBA Championship, but he appeared in eight others and you don’t earn the moniker “Captain Clutch” for nothing. He came up with monstrous performances, even if his teams did not always win the Big One.
Without an injured Elgin Baylor, West averaged 40.3 points per game for the entire 1965 playoffs, and 46.3 points per game in a first-round victory over Baltimore. Both records still stand. In Game 1 of the 1969 Finals, West went for an unheard of 53 points and 10 assists that Bill Russell refers to as “the greatest clutch performance ever against the Celtics.”
West transformed his game to more of a pure point guard and passer during the latter third of his career because that was what his team needed. Being a better teammate, better defender and having a host of legendary games and moments, gives "The Logo” the edge over Robertson.
1. Magic Johnson
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The Essentials: three-time NBA MVP, three-time Finals MVP, holds 12 different playoff records, first all-time in total playoff assists and assists per game (12.5), first all-time assists per game (11.2), fourth all-time in total assists. Career averages: 19.5/11.2/7.3 (points, assists, rebounds)
Magic Johnson checks off every category you could want from an all-time great: Multiple championships, multiple MVPs and some of the most iconic moments in NBA history.
His 42-15-8 game filling in at center for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a rookie in 1980 is the stuff of NBA lore, and a game that no NBA history book can overlook. His baby hook over three Hall-of-Fame Celtics in the 1984 Finals is one of the NBA’s most famous shots as well.
We may never see another player quite like Magic. He used his 6’9” frame to look over defenders from the point guard position and pick teams apart. He and Larry Bird were solely responsible for saving a floundering league in the ‘80s, and his Showtime Lakers remain one of the most popular teams of all time.