Mark Price and Kevin Johnson: NBA's Most Underrated Point Guards Ever

Mike B.Correspondent IFebruary 26, 2010

Guard Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers moves the ball during a game.
Mike Powell/Getty Images

Who's the greatest point guard in NBA history?

Most people would answer that question with Earvin "Magic" Johnson, while others might throw in names like Oscar Robertson and John Stockton.

Everybody knows a thing or two about each of those Hall of Fame floor generals, but what about guys like Mark Price and Kevin Johnson?

Unless you were an avid NBA fan in the late '80s to mid-'90s, you probably have never heard of those names before. But for those of you who have, you know that they were two of the most exciting point guards back in the day.

Price and Johnson, also known as "K.J.", made a combined seven trips to the All-Star Game from '89 to '94. Price played in four ('89, '92, '93, and '94 ) and K.J. appeared in three ('90, '91, and '94).    

They also weren't strangers to All-NBA teams. Price was selected to the First Team once and the Third Team three times, while K.J. was a four-time Second Teamer.  

The two talented point guards each possessed contrasting styles.

Price is widely considered one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. He is the all-time career leader in free throw percentage with 90.4 percent and currently ranks 22nd in three-point shooting percentage with 40 percent. He also won the All-Star Weekend Three-Point Shootout twice.

K.J. was more known for his athleticism. Blessed with a lightning-quick first step and tremendous leaping ability, he sometimes made appearances on highlight reels after dunking over seven-footers.

His baseline jam over Hakeem Olajuwon during the '94 playoffs was simply amazing and has to be considered one of the most memorable dunks of all time.  

Price and K.J. were actually teammates with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of the '87-88 season. Price was in his second year and K.J. was a lottery pick who had just been drafted to battle Price for the starting job.    

Price wound up winning the job which resulted in K.J. getting traded to the Phoenix Suns in a midseason trade.

From there, both players took off like a rocket as Price went on to become arguably the greatest Cav of all time—of course until LeBron James arrived—and K.J. helped turn around a struggling Suns franchise.

Price teamed up with fellow All-Stars Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance to help the Cavs become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Price averaged 17.6 points and 7.8 assists per game during his eight years as the Cavs' starter.

During the '88-89 season, he became just the third player in NBA history—Larry Bird and Reggie Miller are the others—to shoot at least 40 percent from beyond the arc, 50 percent from the field, and 90 percent from the charity stripe.

In addition, Price enjoyed perhaps the best season of his career the following season,  when he averaged 19.6 points and 9.1 assists per game and was left off the All-Star team. 

I guess there wasn't much room for him since the East had to find backcourt spots for Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Miller, and Joe Dumars.

K.J. emerged as a star during his first full season in Phoenix. The Suns won 55 games, which is 27 more than the previous year, and K.J. earned Most Improved Player honors after averaging 20.4 points and 12.2 assists per game.     

He averaged at least 20 points and 10 assists the following two seasons becoming the third player in history to accomplish that feat for three straight seasons. Robertson and Thomas are the other two.

In addition, K.J. averaged at least 18 points and nine assists per game on four other occasions.

Price and K.J. were also teammates on Dream Team II, which won the gold medal in the '94 FIBA World Championship. That team featured the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Dominique Wilkins, and Alonzo Mourning as well.

Since Price and K.J. enjoyed such brilliant careers why are they so underrated?

Probably because they never managed to win a NBA title. And Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had a lot to do with that.

Price's Cavs couldn't get past Chicago in the Eastern Conference playoffs and K.J.—even with Charles Barkley's help—lost to the Bulls in the '93 Finals.   

Another reason they are often overlooked is because they were both a bit injury prone which prevented them from putting together additional All-Star seasons.

Mark Price and Kevin Johnson will never be placed in the same category as Magic, Robertson, Stockton, Isiah, or even Bob Cousy, however, they shouldn't be forgotten.

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