NBA Rankings: Magic Johnson and The 10 Best Point Guards in NBA History
What makes a great point guard?
Is it passing ability? Basketball IQ? Championships? Leadership? Ability to make teammates better?
Well, obviously, it is all of those things combined.
But what really matters the most is how well the point guard plays the role he is asked to play by the team.
Sometimes a team needs you to dole out 15 assists on a given night. Other times the team needs you to score 30. And, every once in a while, the team needs to stop giving a damn about your stats and lock-down the team's best scorer.
Can and will you do it all?
Being versatile and responding to the needs of your team is what separates a good point guard from a great one.
And if you look at the history of the NBA, very few teams have won championships with a point guard as its alpha dog, so being a great second banana the player's most important role.
That begs the question, who is the greatest point guard of all-time? Who combined counting stats with basketball IQ, winning, and leadership all while playing the exact role needed to win basketball games.
Well, that's why I'm here.
I decided to count down the 10 best point guards in NBA history using both subjective and objective criteria.
And, without further ado, here they are...
10. Steve Nash
Years Pro: 14 (and counting)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1996-1998, 2004-Present), Dallas Mavericks (1998-2004)
Accolades: Seven-time All-Star, Two-Time MVP, Seven-time All-NBA Team Selection
Career Statistics: 14.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 8.3 APG
This spot came down to a choice between Nash and Tiny Archibald. Both players are/were massive defensive liabilities to their teams, so the choice came down to the simple question, "What guy would I rather play with?"
Archibald was the original explosive scoring little guard, an ahead of his time player who was built to be a Sixth Man of the Year in today's NBA.
Nash is the second best passing point guard in NBA history, a player who makes good players great, marginal players good, and journeymen into contributors—basically the definition of what the intention of the point guard position originally was.
In my opinion, taking the player that makes everyone better is a complete no-brainer.
Some could make the seemingly valid argument that Nash only exploded as a superstar when playing in Mike D'Antoni's(now Alvin Gentry's) uptempo system, but people forget that Tiny's era was right in the midst of an offensive explosion where possessions per game were at a peak.
So, essentially, Tiny played his career in an era where the D'Antoni system was the norm.
And, for that reason (and the other aforementioned reasons), Nash wins.
9. Gary Payton
Years Pro: 17
Teams: Seattle Supersonics (1990-2003), Milwaukee Bucks (2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-2004), Boston Celtics (2004-2005), Miami Heat (2005-2007)
Accolades: Nine-time All-Star, One-time Defensive Player of the Year, Nine-time All-NBA Team Selection, Nine-time All-Defensive Team Selection
Career Statistics: 16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.8 SPG
Whether you believe Payton was a selfish prima donna who went chasing championships at the end of his career simply to boost his Hall of Fame resume or think that Payton was simply a misunderstood star who watched Shawn Kemp eat and/or snort away his shot at a championship and simply wanted the ring that was rightfully his (I tend to waffle on this subject), there is no denying "The Glove" was the second best defensive point guard in NBA history (behind Walt Frazier).
I mean, you don't get an awesome nickname like "The Glove" without first earning it, right?
Just typing "The Glove" makes me miss the days where athletes actually had creative nicknames. If Payton breaking through in the NBA today, we would just lazily tag him "GP" and be done with it.
But I digress. As the only point guard (unless you count Alvin Robertson as a point guard, which I don't) to ever win the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Award, it would be irresponsible to leave Payton off the list.
8. Walt Frazier
Years Pro: 13
Teams: New York Knicks (1967-1977), Cleveland Cavaliers (1977-1979)
Accolades: Seven-time All-Star, Six-time All-NBA Team Selection, Seven-time All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 18.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG
The best New York Knicks in franchise history, Frazier is often overlooked on the pantheon of great players.
Even his (arguably) greatest performance (Game 7, 1969 NBA Finals: 36 Points, 19 Assists) was overshadowed by the legendary Willis Reed moment.
Frazier has also been famously bitter regarding being overlooked by the media, especially the aforementioned Game 7.
Regardless of his overratedness or underratedness, Frazier is the unquestioned best defensive point guard in NBA history. Had the NBA awarded a Defensive Player of the Year Award during Clyde's career, Gary Payton certainly would not be the only point guard with that trophy in his trophy case.
7. Jason Kidd
Years Pro: 16 (and counting)
Teams: Dallas Mavericks (1994-1997, 2008-Present), Phoenix Suns (1997-2001), New Jersey Nets (2001-2008)
Accolades: 10-time All-Star, Six-time All-NBA Team Selection, Nine-time All-Defensive Team Selection
Career Statistics: 13.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 9.2 APG, 2.0 SPG
When most NBA fans think of Kidd, they think of his current incarnation: The slow, overrated, defensive liability whose head slightly resembles a certain part of the male anatomy.
I tend to remember Kidd for who he used to be: One of the best all-around point guards in NBA history, a guy who could grab the rebound and run coast-to-coast for a fastbreak score, all while locking down his opposition on the defensive end.
The problem with Kidd has always been his erratic shooting. Had Kidd ever gotten a handle on shooting off the dribble, we could be looking at one of the three best point guards to ever play the game.
However, Kidd's below average shooting as well as his well below average teammates in his prime led to a career where Kidd will always be the bridesmaid come playoff time—never the bride.
I'll always wonder (as I am sure Kidd will) "what if" regarding Kidd's career.
6. Jerry West
Years Pro: 15
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1960-1974)
Accolades: 14-Time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA Team Selection, Three-time All-Defensive Team Selection, One-time NBA Finals MVP, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 27.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.7 APG
This really comes down to a question of whether you consider West more of a shooting guard or a point guard.
Well, in reality, he played both positions (as well as forward for a portion of his career). But if you put the proverbial gun to my head, "The Logo" was much more of a shooting guard than a point guard in my eyes—hence his spot at No. 6.
(Note: If you consider West a point guard, then he is obviously either No. 2 or No. 3, depending on your vantage point.)
Regardless of my stance on West as more of a shooting guard than a point guard, there is no questioning he was the man handling the ball down the stretch during his entire stint with the Lakers. West's basketball IQ was truly unparalleled, a trait that has followed him into his illustrious post-playing career as a General Manager.
Because of Russell's Celtics, West's playoff career was truly snakebitten by droves of bad luck, but West's place as one of the best all-around offensive guards in NBA history has to give him at least a little solace at night.
5. Bob Cousy
Years Pro: 14
Teams: Boston Celtics (1950-1963), Cincinnati Royals (1969-1970)
Accolades: 13-time All-Star, One-time MVP, 12-Time All-NBA Team Selection, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 18.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.5 APG
Cousy is one of those players where the younger generation truly has to rely on the words of folklore told by Cousy's generation. Very few highlights exist from his career, he played in an era where very few African-Americans were on NBA teams, and was an abysmal shooter.
Regardless, he deserves respect for being a pioneer of the game, winning more championships than any point guard in NBA history, and being one of only four point guards to win an MVP award.
Because I know very little about Cousy, I will cede my time to Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball (who actually quoted a Sports Illustrated article written by Herbert Warren Wind in January 1956 in the passage I will be using):
"Cousy is regarded by most experts as nothing less than the greatest all-round player in the 64-year history of basketball...Bob Cousy, above and beyond anyone else, has blazed a trail back to good basketball...He has shown, in what has amounted to an enlightened revolution, that basketball offers a hundred and one possibilities of maneuvers no one ever dreamed of before."
So, if Mr. Herbert Warren Wind was not just speaking in hyperbole, we can thank Cousy for igniting the acrobatics we see on display every night in every NBA arena.
Cousy may have played in a questionable era, but he damn sure deserves our respect.
4. Isiah Thomas
Years Pro: 13
Teams: Detroit Pistons (1981-1994)
Accolades: 12-time All-Star, Five-time All-NBA Team Selection, One-Time NBA Finals MVP, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 19.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.9 SPG
I would throw in an obligatory sexual harassment, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Jerome James, Vin Baker, Jared Jeffries or Larry Brown joke, but that just seems too cruel to Knicks fans.
Regardless, before Isiah was running everything he touched into the ground, he was the leader of one of the toughest teams in NBA history.
The baddest of Chuck Daly's "Bad Boys" had more heart than just about anyone who ever stepped on an NBA floor. His legendary playoff battles with Michael Jordan's Bulls teams, whose fierceness stemmed from Jordan's belief that Isiah led the famous "Jordan Freeze-Out" in the 1985 All-Star Game, still do not get enough credit in NBA folklore.
And as more people begin associating Isiah with ineptitude in the front office than his playing career, Thomas could soon see himself becoming just as underrated as the aforementioned Bulls-Pistons rivalry.
3. John Stockton
Years Pro: 19
Teams: Utah Jazz (1984-2003)
Accolades: 10-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA Team Selection, Five-time All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 13.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 10.5 APG, 2.2 SPG
Stockton is quite possibly the most efficient player in NBA history. His combination of incredible basketball IQ, great vision, excellent passing, smart shooting and underrated defense make him an already-underrated player.
Jerry Sloan's influence on Stockton's career cannot be understated. Stockton directly took on his coach's toughness and leadership skills and was the leader of the Malone-Stockton Jazz teams despite playing the obvious second banana role to Malone.
Stockton's humility was never more evident than in his Hall of Fame speech. On a night where Michael Jordan blasted his detractors and told his children he "wouldn't want to be them", Stockton's emotional dedication to his family was the absolute antithesis of Jordan's speech.
It's really a shame that Stockton insisted on wearing "cajones"-hugging shorts because otherwise he was a great player to watch play the game.
2. Oscar Robertson
Years Pro: 14
Teams: Cincinnati Royals (1960-1970), Milwaukee Bucks (1970-1974)
Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA Team Selection, One-time MVP, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG
The "Big O", much like Jerry West, was snakebitten championships-wise by playing in the Russell Era. Had Russell's Celtics not existed, West's Lakers and Oscar's Royals almost certainly would have traded championships throughout the 1960's.
Oscar was a before-his-time marvel who was probably the most offensively dominating point guard in NBA history.
As anyone with any semblance of NBA knowledge knows, Robertson averaged the only triple-double in NBA history in the 1961-1962 season.
In fact, if you average out Oscar's first five NBA seasons, his stats would astound you: 30.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 10.6 APG.
All incredible stats aside, you have to discount Oscar's stats slightly because of his era. Teams jacked up bad shots, played lackluster defense, and Oscar simply had an incredible physical advantage over the opposition.
Basically, Oscar's era was the perfect storm to create his immortality.
It doesn't make his stats any less astounding on paper, but you still have to wonder how inflated Robertson's stats were.
1. Magic Johnson
Years Pro: 13
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1991, 1996)
Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA Team Selection, Three-time MVP, Three-Time NBA Finals MVP, Hall of Famer
Career Statistics: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG
Was there really much question?
Magic is not only the greatest point guard of all-time, but you could argue that he's the second greatest player of all-time (I have him third).
Magic is the only player in NBA history who could vacillate between all five positions and still be an elite player.
His court vision (which was helped by his height), passing ability, and transition game are all the best in NBA history.
Magic's innate ability to find players streaking to the hoop in transition while knowing the exact time to make the pass was impressive, but his ability to actually execute the passes with such precision is what makes Magic the greatest point guard of all-time.
He made being unselfish en vogue by putting the "Showtime" into the 1980's Laker teams, won five championships in the toughest era in NBA history, and created a blueprint on how to handle the media spotlight with grace and class.
Overall, Magic was the perfect point guard, for the perfect team, in the perfect city. It's going to be a long, long time before anyone can come close to eclipsing Magic on this list.