The Top 50 Playmaking Point Guards of the Modern NBA Era

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 28, 2012

The Top 50 Playmaking Point Guards of the Modern NBA Era

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    While there have been plenty of great offensive talents in NBA history who have lined up at point guard, these are the 50 best playmakers of the modern era at the position, as determined by an original basketball metric called playmaker rating. 

    A point guard's job isn't just to pass the ball to his teammates. It's to create offense through a combination of scoring and facilitating, all while maintaining efficiency. 

    If a player can score at will but can't hit the side of a barn when he's trying to pass to open shooters, he's less effective. If someone can squeeze the ball into even the narrowest gaps but might as well try to pass the ball through the hoop due to a lack of effective shooting, he's less valuable.

    The floor general who can do everything well on offense stands out above the rest. 

    This article contains an explanation of playmaker rating, a brief list of criteria that must be met to gain eligibility for the rankings and then the breakdown of the top 50 playmakers. 

    Please keep in mind that these rankings are entirely objective and are not a list of the 50 greatest point guards of the modern era. Defense, leadership and other non-offensive attributes were not taken into account whatsoever. 

Playmaker Rating

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    Playmaker Rating is a fairly simple basketball metric that is quite easy to calculate. 

    The formula is as follows: 

    PlayRtg = MPG*(PPG+2.26*APG-TPG)/(FGA+0.44*FTA+APG+TPG) where MPG = Minutes Per Game, APG = Assists Per Game, PPG = Points Per Game, TPG = Turnovers Per Game, FGA = Field Goal Attempts Per Game, FTA = Free Throw Attempts Per Game

    But how did I come up with it? 

    It all started following a debate I had with a friend concerning the merits of assist-to-turnover ratio (specifically concerning Russell Westbrook). He argued that it was a basic, simplistic way of analyzing point guard's playmaking abilities. Obviously, a good point guard would have a higher assist-to-turnover ratio because they'd generate more assists than turnovers. 

    Sure, I'm fine with that. But the stat can get better, and that's where our opinions diverged. He agreed that other things were more telling but didn't necessarily think it was necessary.

    That's what I'm not fine with.

    Playmaking, even for point guards, involves more than just finding open teammates. After all, if your point guard can score in the flow of the offense, isn't that just as valuable as accumulating another assist? To analyze a point guard's true playmaking ability, scoring needs to be taken into account.

    Let's look at the numerator first. Point guards can do three things to end a possession when they have the ball: score, assist or turn it over. Obviously, points and assists are positive things while turnovers are negative.

    Points per game needs no coefficient in front because the difference between two-pointers and three-pointers is contained within the stat.

    I chose not to put a modifier in front of turnovers per game because a turnover leads to an extra possession for the opposing teams, and over the last few seasons the league average has typically been 1.0 points per possession if you round to the nearest tenth. Essentially, a turnover costs the offensive team a single point on average, and thus there is no need for a coefficient.

    So, why the 2.26 in front of assists per game? Put quite simply, not every assist is worth exactly two points of offense. Quite a few assists lead to made three-pointers by teammates.

    To find out exactly how often this was the case, I turned to HoopData.com, a site that breaks down where on-court field goals are made and which ones are assisted.

    During the 2011-12 season, 15.6 shots per game have been made at the rim, and 52.8 percent of them have been the direct results of assists, indicating that 8.23 assists per game are generated by shots made at the rim. From three to nine feet away, there are 4.1 made shots per game, and 39.9 percent of them are assisted, producing another 1.63 assists per game from this area.

    From 10 to 15 feet away from the hoop, there are 2.8 makes per game, and 42.8 percent of them are assisted: another 1.20 assists per game. From 16 to 23 feet, there are 7.6 makes, and 59.4 percent of them are assisted: 4.51 more assists per game.

    Finally, from behind the three-point arc, there are 6.4 makes per game, and 84.2 percent of them are the result of passes from teammates. That means that 5.39 assists per game lead to three points instead of two.

    Adding it all up, there are 20.96 assists per game by the average team in the NBA. 15.57 of them result in two-point shots, leading to 31.14 points per game. The remaining 5.39 come on three-pointers and thus lead to 16.17 points per game. Adding those two numbers up, we see that those 20.96 assists per game lead, on average, to 47.31 points per game.

    Simple division therefore tells us that each assist is worth 2.26 points (technically 2.25716) if the sample size is large enough.

    Now of course, I would have a terrible statistical mind if I was content to only use data from half of an NBA season. To verify, I went back and checked the results of the 2010-2011, 2009-2010 and 2008-2009 seasons.

    Using the same methodology, I found that each assist was worth 2.26 points (technically 2.6002) in 2010-2011, 2.25 points (technically 2.2548) in 2009-2010 and 2.27 points (technically 2.27129) in 2008-2009.

    At this point, I was content to accept 2.26 as a valid multiplier for assists per game in the PlayRtg formula.

    The last part of the numerator is minutes per game. 

    Incorporating playing time into the formula is necessary because players who are on the court more deserve to be rewarded more for their greater level of positive contributions. Ideally, I would have a modified form of usage rate—one that counted assists as "uses"—to insert into the equation, but that doesn't exist so minutes per game will have to suffice. 

    It's one thing to shoot a high percentage in limited action, but another thing entirely to do so while remaining on the court for nearly the entire game. 

    Now, as for the denominator of the formula, it is simply a modified version of the formula for individual possessions. The following is taken from an article of mine that explains a number of advanced stats:

    There are three ways that a player can be involved in the end result of a possession. They can attempt a field goal (regardless of whether it's a two-pointer or a three-pointer), they can end up on the foul line or they can turn the ball over. However, simply summing those three results does not provide the number of possessions because shooters can attempt either one, two or three free throws on any given possession.

    Box scores don't explain how many shots a player was fouled on, so we have no idea of knowing which fouls resulted in and-ones (for example) without looking through historical play-by-play data.

    Just trust on this one (I've read the studies and they're too complicated to explain in a short space) and accept the fact that the 0.44 multiplier is the best way of estimating the total number of possessions a player is involved in.

    The only difference between the denominator of my formula and the equation for possessions is the incorporation of assists. Because we're analyzing the possessions in which a player passes as well as the ones in which they shoot, the addition is necessary.

    -The above description is an updated and modified form of the original explanation, which can be found here. 

Criteria for Selection

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    To be considered for the rankings, a player must have fulfilled the following criteria: 

    1. A player must have entered the league at the start of the 1977-78 season or later. Prior to that year, turnovers were not tracked and thus the calculations would be incomplete. For the purposes of this article, the "modern era" is defined as post-1977. 

    2. A player must have either (A) played in a minimum of 420 games, the equivalent of five full seasons, or (B) played less than 420 games and still remain both on an active roster and on pace to eventually reach the minimum. Players who fall into (B) will be denoted by an asterisk in the title of the slide. 

50. Kenny Anderson: 35.23

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    Points Per Game: 12.6

    Assists Per Game: 6.1

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.3

    Minutes Per Game: 30.1

    Kenny Anderson entered the league out of Georgia Tech in 1991 and struggled to earn much playing time during his rookie season. Seeing as he was the youngest player in the league at the time, that's not too surprising. 

    After he earned the starting role with the New Jersey Nets, Anderson reeled off eight strong seasons in a row before he started to decline rapidly. 

    He made the All-Star team in 1994 when he averaged 18.8 points and 9.6 assists per game. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Per-minute assist numbers

49. Sam Cassell: 35.27

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    Points Per Game: 15.7

    Assists Per Game: 6.0

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.4

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.6

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 4.2

    Minutes Per Game: 30.0

    I wanted to give Sam Cassell some bonus points for his extraterrestrial doppleganger, but that would ruin the objectivity of these rankings. 

    An outspoken player who never seemed to stop running his mouth, the point guard entered the league in 1993 and took a few seasons to truly establish himself as a feasible option in the Houston Rockets' lineup. 

    Cassell ended up making the All-Star team in 2004 with the Minnesota Timberwolves and was a part of three championship teams. He served as the backup point guard with the Rockets during their back-to-back titles in the Michael Jordan retirement years and then helped the Boston Celtics in 2008. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Assist-to-turnover ratio

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Free-throw shooting

48. Jay Humphries: 35.60

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    Points Per Game: 11.1

    Assists Per Game: 5.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 1.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 9.3

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.5

    Minutes Per Game: 29.3

    During his 11 years in the NBA, Jay Humphries was a solid point guard, even if he wasn't truly spectacular. 

    The former Colorado Buffalo peaked from 1989-1992, averaging 14.8 points and 6.4 assists per game with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

    Even if he didn't stand out much, Humphries had a lot going for him. He was an efficient shooter from the field and rarely turned the ball over, although that was primarily due to a low usage rate throughout his career. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Short prime

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Efficiency from the field

47. Terrell Brandon: 35.74

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    Points Per Game: 13.8

    Assists Per Game: 6.1

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.8

    Minutes Per Game: 29.8

    At one point, Terrell Brandon was so good at passing and stealing the ball that he was called the best point guard in the NBA by Sports Illustrated.

    That didn't remain true throughout his career, but Brandon is now one of the more underrated figures in NBA history. 

    The floor general took four years to earn the full-time starting job with the Cleveland Cavaliers, then kept it even when he moved to the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Early retirement

46. David Wesley: 35.97

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    Points Per Game: 12.5

    Assists Per Game: 4.4

    Turnovers Per Game: 1.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 10.6

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.0

    Minutes Per Game: 31.9

    A tremendous man-to-man defender, David Wesley proved doubters wrong throughout his career when he proved that he could capably play either point guard or shooting guard. 

    While he wasn't able to shoot more than 42.4 percent from the field for his career, Wesley made enough three-pointers to make up for it. He also didn't shoot the ball enough for that to make a huge impact. 

    Wesley was always careful with the ball and showed good passing skills, particularly in his late 20s. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Lack of turnovers

45. Micheal Ray Richardson: 36.07

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    Points Per Game: 14.8

    Assists Per Game: 7.0

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.3

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.4

    Minutes Per Game: 33.4

    Even if he never learned how to properly spell "Michael," Micheal Ray Richardson developed into a tremendous distributor of the basketball before drug problems ended his basketball career prematurely. 

    A four-time All-Star, Richardson was a tremendous thief who often struggled to take care of the ball once it ended up in his hands. He didn't have a particularly high usage rate, choosing to pass far more often than shoot, but he still racked up the turnovers. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Amount of time on the court


44. Rod Strickland: 36.59

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    Points Per Game: 13.2

    Assists Per Game: 7.3

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.6

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 10.9

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 4.4

    Minutes Per Game: 30.7

    Always a flashy player with a flair for making highlights at all costs—look no further than his no-look pass in Game 7 of the 1990 Western Conference semifinals—Rod Strickland enjoyed a sensational prime during the middle of the 1990s.

    Playing for the 1997-98 Washington Wizards, the point guard averaged 17.8 points and 10.5 assists per game, just one of the many great seasons he put together.

    However, he was never much of a threat from behind the three-point arc and waited too long to retire.  

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Playing into his late 30s

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist-to-turnover ratio in his prime

43. Brandon Jennings: 36.63*

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    Points Per Game: 16.8

    Assists Per Game: 5.4

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.3

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 15.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.6

    Minutes Per Game: 34.0

    Now we come to the first player with an asterisk next to his name in the slide title. Remember, that just means that Brandon Jennings is on pace to reach the 420-game minimum, but hasn't reached it yet due to a lack of opportunity. 

    The southpaw point guard has continuously improved during his three years in the league, upping his points per game average and dropping his turnover numbers in each season. 

    Jennings can be a deadly marksman from the outside and is never afraid to pull the trigger. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Immediate playing time

42. Russell Westbrook: 36.69*

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    Points Per Game: 19.0

    Assists Per Game: 6.8

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.5

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 15.7

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 6.3

    Minutes Per Game: 34.2

    By the end of his career, Russell Westbrook is going to rank significantly higher on this list. He has the potential to eventually work his way into the top 10. 

    Westbrook has only spent four years in the league thus far, so his solid but unspectacular rookie season is still weighted heavily in this evaluation. Once it's one of 10 seasons and not one of four, it won't bring him down as much. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers 

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Scoring ability

41. Kenny Smith: 36.70

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    Points Per Game: 12.8

    Assists Per Game: 5.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.2

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 10.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.7

    Minutes Per Game: 30.1

    Kenny Smith comes in at No. 41 even without receiving any arbitrary boosts for his work with TNT. He was that good at playing point guard during the late 80s and early 90s. 

    The Jet was a solid shooter from downtown, but he never used his shot quite as much as he should have, topping out at 17.7 points per game in his first season with the Houston Rockets. 

    While he doesn't stand out in many areas, Smith was solid across the board in this evaluation. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Efficiency in all areas

40. Fat Lever: 37.06

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    Points Per Game: 13.9

    Assists Per Game: 6.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.6

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.1

    Minutes Per Game: 31.7

    How can you not love the old-school Denver Nuggets jerseys with the pixelated mountains? The gaudiness and ugliness just makes them magnificent. 

    The jerseys looked even better when Fat Lever was streaking down the court and passing the ball to Alex English for an easy assist. 

    One of the best pound-for-pound rebounders of all time, Lever did it all during the 1980s. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Short prime

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Lack of turnovers

39. Pooh Richardson: 37.10

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    Points Per Game: 11.1

    Assists Per Game: 6.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 1.8

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 10.7

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 1.5

    Minutes Per Game: 30.4

    If you thought that we'd go from a "Fat" to a "Pooh" in these rankings, raise your hand. And now, to the one person who raised his or her hand, put it down because you're lying. 

    Pooh Richardson was one of the greatest passers in NCAA history and continued to excel at moving the ball from his hands to another's once he made the leap to The Association. 

    The point guard started pretty much from the get-go, but only spent 10 years playing before he retired at 32. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Early decline

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist-to-turnover ratio

38. Mark Price: 37.41

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    Points Per Game: 15.2

    Assists Per Game: 6.7

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.5

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.6

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.3

    Minutes Per Game: 29.9

    Overcoming his lack of size and athleticism by splitting double-teams of pick-and-rolls and hitting floaters in the lane, Mark Price managed to contribute in both the scoring and assist columns. 

    Efficiency was the name of the game for the diminutive floor general, who is one of only five players in NBA history to shoot over 40 percent from downtown, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the charity stripe. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of minutes

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Ridiculous efficiency

37. Tyreke Evans: 37.57*

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    Points Per Game: 18.2

    Assists Per Game: 5.3

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 15.6

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.2

    Minutes Per Game: 36.2

    Tyreke Evans joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as one of the only four players in league history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game as a rookie.

    His sensational first year in the NBA not only put him on the map, but it also set unrealistic expectations for the rest of his career.

    Evans has struggled to achieve the same level of success, but his first campaign is still giving him the boost necessary to fall in at No. 37.  

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low assist-to-turnover ratio

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Immediate playing time

36. Derek Harper: 37.77

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    Points Per Game: 13.3

    Assists Per Game: 5.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 1.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.2

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.9

    Minutes Per Game: 31.5

    How Derek Harper never made an All-Star team is beyond me. The point guard's playmaking skills and defensive contributions should surely have resulted in a berth at some point. 

    Harper was a solid scorer during his prime, nearly breaking the 20-point barrier in 1990-91 when he averaged 19.7 points per game for the Dallas Mavericks. 

    One of the best ball thieves ever, Harper simply played too long in a supporting role to rank any higher here. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of minutes late in his career

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Efficiency from the field

35. Gilbert Arenas: 37.82

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    Points Per Game: 20.7

    Assists Per Game: 5.3

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.2

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 16.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 6.5

    Minutes Per Game: 35.1

    Gilbert Arenas may never recover from the handgun problems that ended his prime a bit early in 2009, but Agent Zero was a spectacular scorer during his time with the Washington Wizards.

    Hibachi was one of the best players in the NBA at putting the ball in the basket during the middle of the 2000s. He averaged 29.3 points per game in 2005-06 and then 28.4 the next season.

    Arenas could just flat-out shoot the basketball.  

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Three-point shooting

34. Mike Conley: 37.94*

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    Points Per Game: 11.9

    Assists Per Game: 5.4

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 10.2

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.5

    Minutes Per Game: 32.1

    Mike Conley's name might be surprising to see here, but the Memphis Grizzlies' floor general has started 329 of the 358 NBA games that he's appeared in, leaving him with no shortage of playing time. 

    A defender first and foremost, Conley is steadily improving as a distributor. The former Ohio State Buckeye has averaged 6.5 assists per game in each of the past two seasons while dropping his per-36 minutes turnover numbers in each of the past three seasons. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Playing time throughout career

33. Michael Adams: 38.13

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    Points Per Game: 14.7

    Assists Per Game: 6.4

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.9

    Minutes Per Game: 31.3

    With his high release and push-shot, Michael Adams developed into a great scorer during the best years of his career. 

    The point guard was given free rein during the 1990-91 season with the Denver Nuggets and took full advantage. Taking 8.5 three-pointers per game, Adams averaged 26.5 points and 10.5 assists per contest. 

    His prime was short-lived though, and he finished out his career in a reserve role for the Charlotte Hornets. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Short prime

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Three-point shooting

32. Damon Stoudamire: 38.17

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    Points Per Game: 13.4

    Assists Per Game: 6.1

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.3

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.6

    Minutes Per Game: 33.2

    Whether you loved or hated the cartoonish Toronto Raptors jerseys of the late 1990s, you had to appreciate Damon Stoudamire's greatness while he was wearing that uniform. 

    The point guard from Arizona averaged 19.0 points and 9.3 assists per game as a rookie, then followed it up with a sophomore season in which he produced 20.2 points and 8.8 assists per contest. 

    Stoudamire never achieved the same level of success once he left the friendly confines of Canada for the Portland Trail Blazers. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of extended success

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Low turnover numbers

31. Tony Parker: 38.19

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    Points Per Game: 16.8

    Assists Per Game: 5.9

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.5

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.6

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 4.1

    Minutes Per Game: 32.9

    While it might surprise you to see Tony Parker ranked just outside the top 30 playmakers, it's only because he's the basketball equivalent of an NFL game manager. A really good, All-Star level game manager, but still one. He's like a super version of Alex Smith. 

    He doesn't put up glamorous numbers, but instead plays with marvelous efficiency and runs the San Antonio Spurs system to perfection. 

    I have yet to come up with a way of incorporating a quantifiable version of "winning" into a metric. If I had, Parker would move up rather significantly. 

    For now, let's call him underrated by the formula and move on. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Spurs' system 

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Efficiency from the field

30. Kirk Hinrich: 38.60

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    Points Per Game: 12.5

    Assists Per Game: 5.4

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.3

    Minutes Per Game: 33.0

    I was even more surprised to find Kirk Hinrich all the way up at No. 30 than I was to see Tony Parker at No. 31. Then I remembered just how solid Captain Kirk was during his first stint with the Chicago Bulls. You know, the one in which he took over the all-time three-point mark for the franchise. 

    Hinrich might not have assumed a large role over the past few seasons, but he was a deadly sniper from long-range and a terrific passer earlier in his career. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Early scoring decline

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Three-point shooting

29. Mark Jackson: 38.83

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    Points Per Game: 9.6

    Assists Per Game: 8.0

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.4

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 8.3

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.2

    Minutes Per Game: 30.2

    Back when Mark Jackson was wearing short shorts instead of a suit, he was a dominant point guard from the New York Knicks (and other teams, but most notably the Knicks). 

    The 6'1" floor general was never much of a scorer, preferring to distribute the ball among his teammates to perfection. He only averaged double-digit points in six of his 17 seasons. 

    It didn't matter though as opponents feared playing against Jackson because of the sheer excellence of his passing. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assists

28. Baron Davis: 38.87

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    Points Per Game: 16.1

    Assists Per Game: 7.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.8

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 14.3 

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.9

    Minutes Per Game: 34.2

    When motivated and not increasing his body fat percentage, Baron Davis was capable of winning a game almost single-handedly. 

    Early in his career, when he was playing for the New Orleans and Charlotte Hornets, Davis was one of the most durable players in the game, even averaging 22.9 points and 40.1 minutes per game during the 2003-04 season. 

    Davis has always struggled to shoot at a high percentage, but he's been equal parts gunner and teammate-helper throughout his underrated career. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage 

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Durability

27. Nick Van Exel: 39.12

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    Points Per Game: 14.4

    Assists Per Game: 6.6

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.7

    Minutes Per Game: 32.9

    With his play that occasionally bordered on showboating, Nick Van Exel could do everything one could ever ask for on the offensive end of the court.

    With his deadly left hand, he was more than capable of finding open teammates or scoring on his own. He missed a lot of shots, but he also scored quite a few points. 

    His only All-Star appearance was a reward for his 1997-98 season, but that was by no means his best season. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Dual-threat nature

26. Ricky Rubio: 39.29*

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    Points Per Game: 10.6

    Assists Per Game: 8.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.2

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 9.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.8

    Minutes Per Game: 34.2

    We're dealing with a very small sample size here, but Ricky Rubio got his NBA career off to a fantastic start with the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    Displaying loads of creativity and the skills to actually make the passes into the narrow gaps that only he saw, Rubio was one of the best assist men in the league during the 2011-12 season. 

    His scoring could definitely stand to improve, but Rubio's passing game was quite impressive in his first post-Spain season. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Passing

25. Stephen Curry: 39.53*

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    Points Per Game: 17.5

    Assists Per Game: 5.8

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.8

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.6

    Minutes Per Game: 34.0

    Stephen Curry has just about everything that you could ask for in a playmaking point guard, with the sole exception of the ability to actually stay on the court for the entirety of a season. 

    The former Davidson Wildcat has a knack for creative passes, knocks down three-pointers with the best of them, is automatic from the free-throw line and shoots a high percentage from the field. He's just constantly plagued by that pesky little injury imp. 

    His ankles are made of glass as well. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Overall efficiency

24. Muggsy Bogues: 39.59

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    Points Per Game: 7.7

    Assists Per Game: 7.6

    Turnovers Per Game: 1.6

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 7.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 1.4

    Minutes Per Game: 28.6

    Muggsy Bogues was not just a gimmick. He was far more than a novelty act, despite standing only 5'3". 

    The former Wake Forest Demon Deacon never averaged more than 11.1 points per game during his career, but his passing was exemplary. Bogues put up over 10 assists per contest in two separate seasons during his 14-year career. 

    Even though he was the shortest player in NBA history, Bogues stands tall as a top-25 playmaker in the modern era. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist-to-turnover ratio

23. Chauncey Billups: 39.61

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    Points Per Game: 15.5

    Assists Per Game: 5.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.2

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.0

    Minutes Per Game: 32.2

    Chauncey Billups never truly excelled in any one area of the playmaking components, but he was solid across the board. For example, he made up for his shortcomings in the field goal percentage component by knocking down a ton of three-pointers. 

    Mr. Big Shot will be remembered for the huge buckets he'd convert in crunch time, particularly during his time with the Detroit Pistons. The recognition is well-deserved. 

    During the end of his Pistons tenure, Billups was scoring nearly 20 points per game, and that has helped him immensely here. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low assist numbers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Non-two-point shooting percentages

22. Jose Calderon: 39.71

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    Points Per Game: 9.9

    Assists Per Game: 7.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 1.7

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 7.9

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 1.6

    Minutes Per Game: 28.4

    Jose Calderon is a great example of a player who most would consider a "pure point guard." 

    Spending his career with the Toronto Raptors up to the present, the Spaniard has never been much of a scorer, preferring to feed his teammates the ball early and often.

    Calderon has done that quite well, even if he's struggled to earn elite-level playing time and doesn't put up too many points.  

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of minutes

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist-to-turnover ratio

21. Raymond Felton: 39.74

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    Points Per Game: 13.4

    Assists Per Game: 6.7

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.6

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3

    Minutes Per Game: 34.8

    Up until he was relegated to the Denver Nuggets bench and then traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, Raymond Felton was an exceptional offensive point guard. Now he's the subject of more fat jokes than successful plays. 

    That's set to change once Felton takes over the starting role for the New York Knicks again as he will look to regain his former glory in Madison Square Garden. 

    With his passing skills, he certainly could. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist numbers

20. Steve Francis: 39.83

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    Points Per Game: 18.1

    Assists Per Game: 6.0

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.5

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 14.4

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 6.1

    Minutes Per Game: 37.6

    With his ridiculous crossover and top-notch hops, Steve Francis quickly morphed into Stevie Franchise. At his peak, the point guard averaged 21.3 points and 7.0 assists per game for the 2004-05 Orlando Magic. 

    Francis will be remembered primarily for his days with the Houston Rockets and most certainly not for his time with the New York Knicks. Well, he'll be remembered for that, but not positively. 

    The speedy floor general sped off to a quick start during his time in the NBA, but the precipitous drop-off in performance at the tail end prevented him from ascending any higher in these rankings. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Scoring ability

19. Mike Bibby: 39.88

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    Points Per Game: 14.7

    Assists Per Game: 5.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.4

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.9

    Minutes Per Game: 33.9

    Mike Bibby may have been severely limited in the athletic department throughout his career, but he managed to overcome his disadvantages with toughness and a terrific long-range shot. 

    While the former Arizona Wildcat was a pass-first point guard when he first entered the league, he quickly became a gunner for the Sacramento Kings, firing at will and hitting quite a few three-pointers. 

    At his peak, Bibby was a deadly marksman and an elite scorer, not the shell of his former self that he's been the last few years. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Assists

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Three-point shooting

18. Rajon Rondo: 40.35

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    Points Per Game: 10.8

    Assists Per Game: 8.1

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.7

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 9.3

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.8

    Minutes Per Game: 32.6

    Rajon Rondo has developed into one of the NBA's premier point guards in recent years, but he still has his playmaking shortcomings. No matter how good a player may be at passing the ball, it's still vital that the player is able to score effectively. 

    The more he continues to play, the more Rondo will continue to improve and cancel out the lackluster numbers that he put up at the beginning of his career. 

    As a point of reference, Rondo would be ranked third here if we only counted his last two seasons. He's become that good. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Passing skills

17. John Wall: 40.43*

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    Points Per Game: 16.3

    Assists Per Game: 8.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.8

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.8

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.9

    Minutes Per Game: 37.0

    If John Wall has managed to put up these kind of numbers while playing with a Washington Wizards team that was filled with sub-par options and turmoil, then just imagine what he'll be able to do on a competent and committed squad. 

    Additionally, imagine what the former No. 1 pick could do if he actually learned how to shoot a three-pointer. He only made three shots from long-range during the entirety of this past lockout-shortened campaign. 

    Wall is a sensational athlete with great passing skills. The sky is the limit for him. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Washington Wizards

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist numbers

16. Mookie Blaylock: 40.44

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    Points Per Game: 13.5

    Assists Per Game: 6.7

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.3

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.9

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 1.9

    Minutes Per Game: 34.9

    While his name may make you think of a teddy bear, Mookie Blaylock was a terror to defend on the basketball court during the 1990s. He was also terrifying to dribble the ball against thanks to his quick hands, but that's not relevant here. 

    If you put Blaylock inside the three-point arc, he'd struggle tremendously unless he was passing the ball. That said, he was pretty decent when firing at will from downtown. 

    The Atlanta Hawks' all-time leader in three-pointers made and attempted may be a surprising inclusion in the top 20, but it's a well deserved honor. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Two-point shooting

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Three-point shooting

15. Andre Miller: 40.87

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    Points Per Game: 14.1

    Assists Per Game: 7.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.6

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.3

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 4.4

    Minutes Per Game: 33.9

    Using his post game and incredible passing abilities, Andre Miller has managed to put together a resume that leaves him as one of the most underrated players of the past decade. 

    You never hear Miller's name brought up in discussions of recent elite point guards, but that's exactly what Miller was for much of his career. He led the league in assists during the 2001-02 season and wasn't too far off the pace during the rest of his time in the NBA. 

    Amazingly enough, Miller never made an All-Star game. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Outside shooting

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Passing

14. Mo Cheeks: 41.26

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    Points Per Game: 11.1

    Assists Per Game: 6.7

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 8.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.7

    Minutes Per Game: 31.6

    A premier defender throughout his time in The Association, Mo Cheeks also contributed immensely to the offensive cause with his passing skills. 

    Cheeks was never much of a scorer—really, I don't even think he knew what a three-pointer was for much of his career—but his ability to distribute the ball was a valuable asset during his extended tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

    That said, it probably helped that he spent his prime playing with Julius Erving and then Charles Barkley. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist-to-turnover ratio

13. Steve Nash: 41.59

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    Points Per Game: 14.5

    Assists Per Game: 8.6

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 10.7

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.8

    Minutes Per Game: 31.4

    When you saw Steve Nash outside of the top 10, I'm guessing that you did a bit of a double-take and then stopped reading to write me an angry comment. Remember, these are not subjective rankings. 

    So, why isn't Nash ranked higher? After all, he's a tremendous free-throw shooter, an efficient shooter from the field and a ridiculously good passer. 

    Two things are hurting Nash: a lack of elite-level scoring and only playing 31.4 minutes per game during his career. 

    Thanks to the high-octane offense that Nash ran, he had to sit on the bench once in a while to catch his breath. If he'd played 35 minutes per game and maintained the other stats, his playmaker rating would have jumped up to 46.35, putting him in third place. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Time on the bench

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Court vision

12. Isiah Thomas: 41.73

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    Points Per Game: 19.2

    Assists Per Game: 9.3

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.8

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 16.2

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.4

    Minutes Per Game: 36.3

    Isiah Thomas is here to show you just how much turnovers can hurt a player's playmaker rating. Only John Wall and Magic Johnson were able to match or exceed Zeke's ability to cough the ball up. 

    You've already seen Wall, and Magic was a good bit better at passing the ball than Thomas. 

    Zeke could contribute in all areas though, so don't take this slide as an insult. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: All-around play

11. Norm Nixon: 41.78

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    Points Per Game: 15.7

    Assists Per Game: 8.3

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 14.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 2.6

    Minutes Per Game: 35.5

    Perhaps the most unknown player in the top 20, Norm Nixon benefits tremendously from only playing one season outside of his prime—he averaged 6.8 points and 6.4 assists per game with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1988-89. 

    During that prime, most of which was spent with the Los Angeles Lakers, Nixon was a constant threat to put up 20 points and 10 dimes on any given night. 

    He played far tougher than his 6'2" frame would indicate. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Three-point shooting

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Lack of decline

10. Derrick Rose: 41.89*

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    Points Per Game: 21.0

    Assists Per Game: 6.8

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 17.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.0

    Minutes Per Game: 36.8

    Now we come to the first member of the top 10 and the last player with an asterisk next to his name. 

    The young former MVP has been absolutely dominant for the Chicago Bulls when healthy. He's one of the top scorers in the NBA and can still find his teammates on a moment's notice. 

    A wizard with the ball, Rose's creativity allows him to torch the opposition even while he's still developing a shot from the outside. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Three-point shooting

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Scoring

9. Gary Payton: 42.00

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    Points Per Game: 16.3

    Assists Per Game: 6.7

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.3

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 14.0

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.4

    Minutes Per Game: 35.3

    Gary Payton was more than just a defensive stopper. Despite being nicknamed "The Glove," Payton was a powerhouse on offense for the Seattle SuperSonics. 

    He was always out on the court and a never-ending source of 20-10 games. During his nine-year prime with the Sonics, Payton averaged a sensational 21.4 points and 8.1 assists while limiting the turnovers to just 2.7 per contest. 

    His defensive abilities were truly special, seeing as they managed to outweigh the enormous impact he made on the more glamorous end of the court. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Post-Seattle years

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: All-around game

8. Tim Hardaway: 42.21

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    Points Per Game: 17.7

    Assists Per Game: 8.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 15.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.8

    Minutes Per Game: 35.3

    Tim Hardaway's UTEP Two-Step alone is enough to justify inclusion in a subjective ranking, but there's more to playmaking than the possession of an absolutely devastating crossover. 

    The point guard is one of the few players in NBA history to average over 20 points and 10 assists per game in multiple seasons, doing so in back-to-back years with the Golden State Warriors. 

    As strong as all the members of Run TMC may have been, Hardaway was the premier playmaker of the bunch. Now that is saying something. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Dual-threat nature

7. Stephon Marbury: 43.81

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    Points Per Game: 19.3

    Assists Per Game: 7.6

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 15.7

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.7

    Minutes Per Game: 37.7

    Thanks to his antics and subsequent dismissal from the New York Knicks, it's easy to forget just how good Stephon Marbury was at offense when he wanted to be. 

    Starbury averaged 20 or more points per game in seven-straight seasons and is the second-highest scoring point guard of the modern era in terms of career points per game. Only Magic Johnson tops him.

    Scoring alone isn't enough to merit inclusion in the top 10 here, though.

    Look no further than his assists per game. Starbury did it all.  

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Low field goal percentage

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Scoring

6. Kevin Johnson: 43.83

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    Points Per Game: 17.9

    Assists Per Game: 9.1

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.1

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 12.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 6.4

    Minutes Per Game: 34.1

    This tweet from B/R's own Ethan Strauss is what became the inspiration for the entire article: 

    Kevin Johnson was better than Isiah Thomas. Had we known that, Isiah might not have been granted free reign to destroy the Knicks

    — Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) July 29, 2012

    I was sitting in a pizza joint with a friend, waiting for a trivia contest to start when this tweet rolled across my phone's screen. My friend and I both just stared at it, completely dumbfounded. 

    Surely this was sacrilege. 

    Well, I'm not going to go so far as to agree with Strauss and say that Zeke was the worse of the two in question. However, he is worse when it comes to playmaking (which, remember, does not include leadership or defensive ability in the slightest).

    KJ was just an offensive powerhouse in every sense of the word—elite scorer, super-elite passer, efficient, careful with the ball, deadly from the charity stripe.  

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Three-point shooting 

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Everything else

5. Deron Williams: 44.44

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    Points Per Game: 17.6

    Assists Per Game: 9.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.2

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.8

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 4.7

    Minutes Per Game: 35.7

    While it will be interesting to see how Deron Williams' numbers change now that he's surrounded by offensive threats on the Brooklyn Nets, there's no doubt that he's been one of the most dominant offensive point guards in NBA history up to this point in his career. 

    D-Will is constantly among the league dime leaders, and his scoring doesn't exactly lag too far behind. He does turn the ball over a lot, primarily because he's in control of the possession so often. 

    We're now officially getting to the players for whom I have to nitpick to find flaws. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Dual-threat nature

4. Jason Kidd: 44.74

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    Points Per Game: 13.0

    Assists Per Game: 9.0

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.0

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 11.5

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.0

    Minutes Per Game: 36.6

    Jason Kidd is the rare player who can actually make it into the top five without scoring points in bunches. He's not the only one though, as you'll soon find out. 

    Kidd makes up for his lack of scoring punch with sensational assist totals and a whole lot of minutes played. His field goal percentage brings him down a notch, but Kidd is still effective because of the three-point shooting that improved so much throughout his career. 

    Here's hoping that Kidd doesn't end up playing for so long that he knocks himself down a few pegs on the playmaker totem pole. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Scoring

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Durability

3. John Stockton: 44.87

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    Points Per Game: 13.1

    Assists Per Game: 10.5

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.8

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 9.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 3.9

    Minutes Per Game: 31.8

    John Stockton is the other member of the top five who doesn't score much, averaging only 13.1 points per game throughout his career. However, that's not what hurts him the most. 

    Somehow, Stockton managed to rack up a nearly unbreakable assist total during his lengthy career despite only playing 31.8 minutes per game. If I arbitrarily kept his stats the same and upped his minutes per game to 37—to match the No. 1 player's time on the court—Stockton would have a 52.21 playmaker rating and find himself nearly three full points clear of the field. 

    It's a true testament to his passing skills that his assist and turnover numbers were able to almost entirely cancel out his shortcomings in the playmaker categories. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Lack of minutes

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Assist-to-turnover ratio

2. Magic Johnson: 48.19

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    Points Per Game: 19.5

    Assists Per Game: 11.2

    Turnovers Per Game: 3.9

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 13.2

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 6.5

    Minutes Per Game: 36.7

    Magic Johnson averaged more points per game than all but two players and more assists per game than any other man in these rankings. Stop and read that sentence again. Now go on. 

    Commonly viewed as the greatest point guard of all time, Magic ran the Showtime Lakers to perfection. He was the primary reason that the offense hummed along so wonderfully. 

    Other than a lack of effectiveness from behind the arc and a ton of turnovers, there's just nothing wrong with Magic's career numbers. He scored nearly 20 points per game and did so on 52 percent shooting from the field and 84.8 percent shooting on freebies. 

    Magic also played a ton of minutes and racked up the assists. It would take a truly special player to dethrone him. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: Turnovers

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Everything

1. Chris Paul: 49.44

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    Points Per Game: 18.8

    Assists Per Game: 9.8

    Turnovers Per Game: 2.5

    Field Goal Attempts Per Game: 14.1

    Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 5.4

    Minutes Per Game: 37.0

    A truly special point guard is exactly what we have in Chris Paul, whether he's dominating for the New Orleans Hornets or helping create Lob City with the Los Angeles Clippers. 

    He might fall short of Magic when he retires and his career is no longer filled with only years during which he was in his prime, but that's not the case right now. He's also well clear of the rest of the field, so he could very well experience a decline in production and still finish at No. 1. 

    Paul is essentiality the perfect playmaker. There are no holes in any of the major playmaking components. 

    Let's start with the most basic of the stats: minutes per game.

    Paul's 37 minutes per game leave this Wake Forest product trailing only Stephon Marbury and tied with John Wall. He has a slight advantage over Magic, but not a significant one. If we dropped his minutes per game to Magic's 36.7, he'd still be nearly a full point ahead.

    The current Clippers superstar has scored 18.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field. Both of those numbers fall short of Magic, but CP3 helps make up for the difference by making three-pointers. He's also just as efficient from the free-throw line.

    CP3 also falls short in assists, although his 9.8 dimes per game are by no means shabby. 

    It's the turnovers that truly make the difference. Magic's 3.9 per game were the most of any player in the rankings, but Paul's 2.5 are among the lowest of the truly elite competitors. CP3 is just ridiculously careful with the ball. 

    That massive difference is what allows Paul to rise to the top of the leaderboard. 

    Biggest Playmaking Flaw: None

    Biggest Playmaking Strength: Everything

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