Jason Kidd vs. Gary Payton: Who Will Go Down as the Greater NBA Point Guard?
In the NBA, point guards may have the toughest position to play. They have to safe guard the basketball while setting up the offensive sets and getting teammates in easy scoring positions. They also have to be able to guard the fast break and try to prevent their opponents from being effective in running their own offensive systems.
The best point guards throughout the league also find other ways to contribute, such as providing ample scoring, rebounding and shutdown defense.
Jason Kidd and Gary Payton are two point guards in recent history who have become legends of the game by excelling in many different areas. As many of their career years in the league came at the same time, these players have often been debated among basketball enthusiasts.
Part of the NBA Debate Team, in this article Bleacher Report featured columnists Allen Kim and Ethan S. compare these two legends.
We hope you enjoy the arguments presented throughout and encourage you to weigh in on the debate. Which points stand out the best and who do you feel is the better player?
What Were the Biggest Strengths of Kidd's and Payton's Games? (Allen)
Jason Kidd’s biggest strength was without a doubt his versatility. He was the Swiss Army Knife of basketball players—he could score, rebound, pass and defend with the best of them.
Kidd is arguably the closest thing we’ve ever seen to Magic Johnson—although LeBron James could give him a good run for his money—and that’s about the highest praise you can give another player, especially a point guard.
A nightly triple-double threat, Kidd was able to hurt opposing teams in a multitude of ways. He was never limited by his poor shooting stroke because he was able to orchestrate the offense with absolute precision and help his team by rebounding the ball and playing lockdown defense.
While he was never a strong shooter early in his career, he developed a reliable three-ball—albeit a set-shot—later in his career and it has become one of his greatest weapons. You only have to look at his 1,795 career three-pointers—good for third all time—to see how that part of his game has evolved.
Gary Payton made his living on defense and, while he is arguably the greatest defensive point guard of all time, his game wasn’t nearly as well-rounded as Kidd’s game.
Like Kidd, Payton wasn’t much of a shooter. However, he found ways to score. Despite his advantage in the scoring department, it’s not enough to offset the differences in their games.
What Were the Biggest Strengths of Kidd's and Payton's Games? (Ethan)
Jason Kidd has been known for his all-around game throughout his career. With 107 career triple-doubles, Kidd ranks third behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. He was never a dominant scorer, but Kidd was consistently one of the best guards in the league at rebounding and defense.
Yet, it is Kidd’s playmaking ability that has set him apart from his contemporaries. Currently Jason Kidd ranks second all time in total assists (11,578) and seventh in assist average (9.1). Teammates have often raved about playing alongside him as Kidd has been one of the best at making those around him better.
Part of the reason behind Kidd’s success is due to his leadership. This quality along with his ability to be a pure point guard were a few reasons why Team USA wanted him to be part of the so-called “Redeem Team” in the 2008 Olympics. Capitalizing on these strengths has helped Jason Kidd achieve an undefeated international career with Team USA.
Gary Payton was a more dominant scorer than Jason Kidd, but it was his defense that was the best facet of his game. Payton’s defense was dominant during most of his career and led to the nickname given to him—“The Glove.”
Along with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, Payton holds the NBA record for most selections to the All-Defensive First Team by earning the distinction nine times. In addition, he is the only guard since 1988 (when Michael Jordan was selected) to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.
It may be argued that there has never been a better point guard on the defensive end than Payton. An example of his defensive abilities was his containment of Michael Jordan in the 1996 NBA Finals. During that series, Payton helped guard Jordan and held him to 41 percent shooting. In the last game of the series (Game 6), Jordan shot just 5-19.
Coming into that series with a 36.3 ppg average in the finals, Jordan managed to score just one 30-point game out of the six played in that series. During the final three games, when Jordan was guarded primarily by Payton, Jordan averaged just 23.7 ppg.
Whose Championship Run Was a Bigger Accomplishment? (Allen)
Jason Kidd wins this argument hands down.
When Gary Payton won his lone title with the Miami Heat in 2006, he was nothing more than a role player and a shell of his former self. The Miami Heat won on the shoulders of a one-man army—one that goes by the name of Dwyane Wade. Payton merely tagged along for the ride.
Payton could still play solid defense, but he wasn’t anywhere near as effective as he was during his prime.
Jason Kidd, on the other hand, contributed to a true team effort for the Dallas Mavericks as they toppled—coincidentally—the Miami Heat.
Kidd averaged 9.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists during his epic finals series.
Payton only managed 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
Whose Championship Run Was a Bigger Accomplishment? (Ethan)
With all due respect to Gary Payton, Jason Kidd’s championship run of 2011 was more impressive than Payton’s run in 2006. While it is true that both players have won just one championship, Kidd simply played a bigger role.
In regards to the wait, Kidd earned his first ring after 17 seasons in the NBA, similar to Payton.
Their respective stats during their Finals series speak for themselves to a degree:
Payton: 2.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1 spg, 0 bpg, 37% FG, 14% 3FG, 33% FT
Kidd: 7.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.8 bpg, 39% FG, 43% 3FG, 75% FT
While Kidd played a major role as the starting point guard, Payton was a role player during the Finals. Payton hit some big shots at the end of Games 3 and 6 during the 2006 Finals that helped win those games for Miami. By hitting those shots, Payton reminded the basketball world that he was one of the most fearless and cold-blooded clutch players in the world.
Likewise, Kidd hit several big shots and free throws during intense moments of the 2011 finals. In addition, Kidd helped guard some of the NBA’s best en route to winning the finals. As one of the better defensive players in the league, Kidd used his defensive wits to slow Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade.
However, one of the greatest contributions for Kidd was his ability to move the ball on the perimeter for the Dallas Mavericks. His ability to run the offense this way made it near impossible for opponents to stop the Mavericks.
Both Payton and Kidd played in their finals series bigger than the statistics imply, but it is obvious that Kidd’s run was more impressive.
If You Could Choose Only One to Build a Team Around, Who Would You Pick? (Allen)
The role of a point guard is to run the offense and facilitate his teammates. While Gary Payton was more than capable of doing both, Jason Kidd's playmaking abilities are on another level.
You need not look any further than their career assist averages. Kidd’s average is at 9.1 while Payton’s 6.7 average trails by a rather significant margin.
Not to mention, Kidd led the league in assists five times while Payton never took home an assist title throughout his lengthy tenure in the NBA.
In terms of longevity, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton are pretty close.
Payton played 17 years in the league—one more than Kidd has played—and he was an ironman. He rarely missed time due to injury.
While Kidd had some injury issues at sporadic points throughout his tenure, oddly enough, he has been an ironman late in his career—he has played in at least 80 games in each of the last six seasons. At his current pace, he would surpass Payton in years and games played—if he fulfills his goal of playing three more seasons.
If You Could Choose Only One to Build a Team Around, Who Would You Pick? (Ethan)
In all honesty, I don’t think any team could go wrong with building around either Jason Kidd or Gary Payton. Both are complete players and are among the best point guards ever.
With Jason Kidd, he would vastly improve any team by his fluid offensive style and leadership ability. His rebounding ability would be a catalyst to running fast breaks and his defense would help slow other top guards.
However, Gary Payton is a rarer breed of a player. With a scoring ability better than most to play the game, Payton could easily be the first or second main offensive weapon on a team. His ability to post up other point guards allowed him to score at an efficient rate.
Although Payton was not a pass-first type of guard like Kidd, he was still one of the best playmakers in NBA history. Payton currently ranks eighth all time in assists and led the potent “Sonic Boom” offense with Shawn Kemp while with the Seattle Supersonics.
While Kidd is good on defense, Payton’s ability on that end of the court is in another stratosphere. One would be hard-pressed to name three guards in NBA history who were better defenders.
The greatest factor that hurts Payton is his attitude. As one of the biggest trash talkers in the NBA, Payton often clashed with teammates and coaches with his oversized ego. Yet, Payton’s teams generally did better than Kidd’s teams while in the NBA and head-to-head, Payton usually won more matchups.
Some may critique Payton for his 2004 run with the Lakers while paired with Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant. While heavily favored to win that year’s finals, LA lost to Detroit while Payton was mostly a non-factor.
I believe the biggest factor leading to his poor play was his frustration with the triangle offense which did not utilize his skills most effectively. While Kidd may have been more professional in that scenario, he also would have struggled to post his usual numbers in the triangle offensive system.
Nevertheless, Payton’s dominance as a scorer, playmaker and defender would make him the better foundation for a team.
In Their Primes, Who Was the Better Player: Kidd or Payton? (Allen)
Unlike all the point guards widely considered to be greater than Jason Kidd, he never had a teammate that even remotely approached his skill level during his best years—Magic Johnson had Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy, Bob Cousy had a plethora of Hall of Famers to dish the ball to and John Stockton had Karl Malone.
Kidd’s early and best years were wasted playing alongside the likes of Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, Tom Gugliotta, Shawn Marion, Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin. Granted, each of these players were by no means bad players, but Kidd was a cut above all of them and he unquestionably elevated their play.
When Vince Carter finally came around, Kidd was still playing at a high level, but he was on the decline and past his prime.
If Kidd had a dominate teammate like Dirk Nowitzki earlier in his career, who knows what he could’ve accomplished. After all, he managed to win a title alongside Nowitzki late in each of their respective careers.
So this ends up being a “what if” type of scenario. Kidd was never able to maximize his talents and potential playing alongside the supporting cast he was afforded through a significant part of his career.
Gary Payton was blessed with a perennial all-star in Shawn Kemp, who happened to be one of the most intimidating players at the time and the perfect complement to Payton.
When going up against one another, in 41 head-to-head regular season matches, Kidd leads Payton with 22 wins to 19 losses. His overall stat line is also superior: 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 10.1 assists to Payton’s 17.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists.
In 16 playoff battles, Payton has a two-game edge in wins, but he had superior teammates for most of their matchups. However, in terms of individual performances, Payton was outplayed by Kidd in the postseason.
Kidd averaged 16.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 1.9 steals against Payton in the postseason. Payton countered with respectable but inferior numbers putting up 17.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.2 steals.
In Their Primes, Who Was the Better Player: Kidd or Payton? (Ethan)
During their primes, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton were two of the best players in NBA history.
In Kidd’s prime years, he averaged about 15 to 17 points per game, about seven rebounds per game, nine to ten assists per game and a couple of steals per game. He shot around 41 percent from the field, around 30 to 34 percent from three-point territory and 80 percent from the foul line.
He led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals, though in an admittedly weak Eastern Conference. Most years during his prime Jason Kidd led the league in triple-doubles and assists.
During Payton’s prime, he usually led all point guards in scoring by posting averages of about 20 to 24 points per game. He also averaged about five rebounds per game, seven to nine assists per game and over two steals per game. From the field Payton made between 45 and 50 percent of his shots, about 32 percent of his three-pointers and 74 percent of his free throws.
As one can see, Kidd has Payton beat in most categories except for scoring, field goal percentage and steals. However, Payton led the Sonics to several 60-win seasons in a tough Western Conference, and against most other teams in history (other than the record 72-win Bulls), his 1996 Sonics team would have won a championship.
While Kidd was an amazing all-around talent, Payton was one of the best point guards at scoring all time. Few feared Jason Kidd on the court, but many were intimidated by Gary Payton when he walked onto the court. They knew he was going to be near impossible to stop on the offensive end and that Payton was going to make life miserable for you on the defensive end.
Although Jason Kidd was an impressive player during his best years, Payton’s play was at a higher level.
How Will History Remember Kidd and Payton, and How Will They Rank? (Allen)
In terms of ranking point guards, I believe Jason Kidd edges Gary Payton, if only by a small margin.
Kidd elevated the play of those around him to a level Payton would never be able to match. He was one of the rare specimens capable of leading a team to victory without having to score.
His basketball IQ is through the roof and his prowess on both sides of the ball manifests itself every time he suits up.
If you want to compare accolades, we can start with the award that recognizes a player’s excellence at their position. Kidd made the All-NBA First Team five times while Payton only managed to make it twice.
Payton, on the other hand, had a clear advantage with defensive awards. He was selected to the All-Defensive First Team nine consecutive times, and he won—something Kidd was never able to accomplish—an NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
Kidd was certainly no slouch in the defensive department. He wasn't able to match Payton's numerous awards, but he did make the All-Defensive First Team four times and five times to the All-Defensive Second Team.
While Payton was better, Kidd isn't very far behind.
However, Kidd’s trump card is his near MVP. Whether you agree with me or not, I fully believe that Kidd deserved the MVP award that went to Tim Duncan in 2002. Kidd did far more with far less, and he played a more pivotal role for his team. That alone—at least in my opinion—outweighs Payton's defensive advantage.
How Will History Remember Kidd and Payton, and How Will They Rank? (Ethan)
Fortunately for both players, history will remember Jason Kidd and Gary Payton kindly. I think few NBA analysts rank Kidd and Payton outside of their top 50 players of all-time and I personally rank them both within the top 40 players.
Their career numbers are astounding. Currently Kidd ranks second in assists, third in steals, third in three-pointers and eighth in minutes all time. Meanwhile, Payton ranks 26th in points, eighth in assists, fourth in steals and seventh in minutes in NBA history.
When looking at averages, their numbers are not entirely reflective of their dominance as they each played long careers with several years towards the end serving as role players. Their averages are also hindered in part by the era in which they played. The 1990s and 2000s featured slower paces than previous decades in the NBA and overall teams had much more complicated defensive schemes.
If Kidd and Payton had played in the up-tempo 1960s or 1980s, there is little doubt that their scoring, field goal percentage and assist averages would be higher.
Both Kidd and Payton were all-around players who brought the total package. About the only accolades not on their resume are winning the MVP and Finals MVP awards. While I rank Payton slightly higher than Kidd, both players should be remembered as two of the very best of all time.
About the Authors
Allen serves as the Deputy NBA Editor for Bleacher Report. Since coming on board, he has witnessed incredible growth in the company and writers, and is privileged to be a part of B/R.
Born and raised in New York, he naturally grew attached to the Patrick Ewing-era New York Knicks. However, despite a decade of futility under "he who shall not be named," he's looking forward to a new chapter in Knickerbocker history.
Ethan currently lives near Seattle, Washington and has enjoyed engaging with the Bleacher Report community. His favorite sports leagues are the NBA and NFL (unfortunately the two leagues currently on strike). When not writing with Bleacher Report, Ethan enjoys spending time with family and friends and enjoying time outside. Few things are better than a warm sunny day in the Pacific Northwest.
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