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The greatest NBA point guards of all time: Top 10 list
Besides NFL quarterback, NBA point guard is the most glamorous job description in all of sports. Think of a player rocking a mink coat, while controlling the rock full court through slick ball handling. In transition, the PG quickly drives the basketball into the paint to draw the defense before dropping off a smooth dime to an eagerly awaiting big man for a rim-rocking jam. On defense, the elite point guard defends the other team's floor general, picks his pocket at mid court, and calmly busts a three-ball in his man's face—at the other end of the court.
As rec league and "Y" hoops enthusiasts, the NBA point guard best captures our imagination. Frankly, many of us are not built like the 6'5 to 7-foot behemoths at the other four positions that dominate NBA arenas. The point guard position, however, accommodates all shapes and sizes— between the 5'3 Tyrone "Mugsey" Bouges and doughboy Khalid El Amin— to the 6'9 force that is Magic Johnson. For role playing purposes, it is more likely for you to pretend that you are Steve Nash(notes) hitting a game-winner in the NBA finals, than it is for you to pose as the 7'1 Shaquille O'Neal(notes), who just finished off a tomahawk dunk—with authority.
With Magic serving as the prototype, an elite point guard can completely dominate the game—without scoring. The best point men are typically pass first team players, who subjugate their own offensive talent to get teammates involved into the flow of the game. For that reason, assist totals are a leading indicator of point guard play.
Again, the best point guards subjugate their own offensive talent for the good of the team. This means that an elite point guard is also an offensive weapon, who can open up the clip at any time to torch the opposing defense if necessary. With a complete offensive game, the best point guards can drive into the lane, post up, and knock down shots from deep.
Honorable Mention: Steve Nash
Steve Nash is one of the most efficient offensive players in the history of basketball. Nash, however, is a liability on defense, who gets torched repeatedly in the Valley of the Sun by lead guards off all shapes, sizes, and skill levels. Because of his matador defense, I must leave Steve Nash just outside of the top-ten greatest point guards of all time list.
#10 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is one of the most underrated basketball players of all time.
With a deadly first step and high-top fade, KJ worked his signature crossover dribble to perfection. Classic Kevin Johnson would go rope-a-dope, where he would hesitate and lean to his left, just before crossing back over to the right and exploding into the paint. As a finisher, the 6'1 KJ had the hops to give the business to all comers at the rim, including Hakeem Olajuwon. In Phoenix, little people everywhere prevailed, as #7 climbed the ladder to throw down a thunderous jam on Olajuwon's neck.
For 13 years, K.J. sparked a high-octane offense in the Valley of the Sun —with 6,711 career assists, 84-percent free-throw shooting, 3 All-Star nominations, and 1 NBA Finals appearance. At the height of his powers, KJ joined Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson, as the only point guards in history you could put down for an automatic 20 and 10 each night. In 1991, Kevin Johnson slapped up 22 points per game—to go alongside 10 dimes and 4 boards.
At the tender age of 26, Deron Williams has already thrown his name into the ring as one of the all-time greats at point guard. In Utah, D-Will is yet another product of the Jerry Sloan school that preaches intelligence, heart, and above all else, the pick and roll. Before a 2010 free agency move that shipped his running mate to Chicago, Williams to Carlos Boozer(notes) clearly had us flashing back to visions of Stockton to Malone.
At 6'3 and 210 pounds, Deron Williams is a load. On the perimeter, the man is impossible to contain, as he can barrel into the lane at will to either set the table for a cutting wing man or finish with either hand at the cup. In space, Williams has mastered the art of the step-back three, where he feints a drive, delivers a forearm shiver, and fades behind the arc to knock down yet another dagger and fire up the crowd at Salt Lake.
Jason Kidd does not need to score to control the game.
Nicknamed Ason, for his lack of a "J" [jumpshot], it is remarkable that Jason Kidd is putting the finishing touches on a career that has spanned over three decades—with 2 Olympic gold medals, 10 All-Star game appearances, 1,700+ 3-point conversions, 11,000+ assists, and 2,400+ steals. A triple-double machine, Jason Kidd is a stat sheet stuffer, who is amongst the all-time leaders for point guards in every significant statistical category.
In his prime, J-Kidd was a speed demon, who arguably starred as the League's fastest end-to-end performer. Kidd was at his best in a freelance, up-tempo game, where he could turn on the jets and find the right man at the right place in transition. Over time, Kidd has aged gracefully into the elder Mavericks' statesmen, who facilitates half-court sets and even knocks down open threes with aplomb.
The greats always add new wrinkles to their respective games.
#7 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Walt "Clyde" Frazier
Walt "Clyde" Frazier is just too cool for school, Daddy-O!
Clyde Frazier owned New York in the 1970s—on the strength of his well-coiffed Afro, muttonchop sideburns, tailored suit, fur coat, fedora hat, Rolls Royce, and two NBA Championships. Frazier was the charismatic leader of a Knicks Dream Team, which included fellow and future Hall of Famers Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Willis Reed, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, and Zen Phil Jackson amongst its ranks. At lead guard, only the calm, cool, and collected leadership of Clyde Frazier could put these cast of characters in check.
As a baller, Frazier put on a show in the clinching Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Beneath the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, Clyde Frazier paced his Knicks to the tune of 36 points and 19 assists. Frazier's gem, however, is historically overshadowed by the sight of Willis Reed limping into the arena—to hit two open jump shots and whip the crowd into a frenzy.
Like all elite point guards, Frazier will be happy to defer the accolades, if doing so results in victory.
#6 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Gary Payton
Gary Payton is the greatest defensive point guard of all time. Nicknamed The Glove, Gary Payton initially earned recognition as a ball hawk—for his ability to shut down the aforementioned Kevin Johnson. With his wiry strength, physical style of play, and non-stop trash talk, Gary Payton also starred as the rare athlete that could get into the head of the Great Michael Jordan. In the 1996 NBA Finals, Payton harassed Michael Jordan into a subpar performance—by his Airness' standards. After Coach George Karl made the switch and unleashed Payton onto Jordan, Michael was held to 23, 26, and 22 points in the final three games of the series.
Gary Payton simply refused to back down.
As a Seattle SuperSonic, Gary Payton was the mastermind of bang-bang alley-oop plays to Man-Child Shawn Kemp. In addition to the flair for the dramatic, Payton was fundamentally sound, as he thrived in the post to cook opponents with head fakes, turnaround jumpers, and a lethal drop step towards the goal. During the 1999-2000 season, GP put it all together to average 24 points, 9 assists, and 7 boards per game, in one of the greatest statistical performances in NBA history. In the twilight of his career, Gary Payton rode off into the sunset an NBA champion— with the Miami Heat.
#5 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: John Stockton
In terms of style points, John Stockton is the anti-Clyde Frazier.
With his plain-Jane haircut, butt hugger shorts, and choir boy looks John Stockton still looks like an accountant—who is about to do your taxes. This basic exterior also translated into his economic game— where the game's all-time assist leader never made unnecessary movements and instinctively made the right decision at all times. Stock's limited use of steps made for a deceptively fast floor general, who could blow right past people but look as if he were nailed to the floor and moving nowhere. A scrapper, #12 would scratch and claw his way into position on each and every possession.
Stockton-to-Malone, of course, would pick and roll you to death. Stockton-to-Malone for the prettyboy hand-behind-the-head jam. Stockton-to-Malone off the pick and pop for the 15-foot jumper. Stockton-to-Malone for the lay-in and the three-point play. Stockton, curls off the Malone screen and fakes it to The Mailman, before knocking down a three from deep.
#4 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Bob Cousy
At first, nobody wanted Bob Cousy.
Bob Cousy was actually forced upon the Boston Celtics after he refused to report to the 1950 Tri Cities Blackhawks for a meager $6,000 salary and after the Chicago Stags, his new club, folded. At the time, Celtics brass and Head Honcho Red Auerbach were doubtful that Cousy's streetball style and gimmicks could translate into success at the professional level. After reporting to camp, however, Bob Cousy was to quickly win over the Boston Celtics organization and serve as the original building block of a budding dynasty.
By his second season, Bob Cousy had earned the nickname "Houdini of the Hardwood," as he dazzled fans with his slick ballhandling, no-look passes, and 20-points per game average. After his sophomore campaign, The Cooz went on to lead the NBA in assists for eight consecutive seasons between 1953 and 1960. In 1959, Cousy slapped up 20, 9, and 6, as the sparkplug for Auerbach's high octane offense.
As a Boston Celtic, of course, the emphasis always remains upon team play and winning championships. Between 1957 and 1963, The Cooz joined forces with The Great Bill Russell to bring home six NBA Championships in seven years. As a staple of NBA lore, you can imagine Bob Cousy playing keep-away and dribbling out the clock to claim yet another title.
#3 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Isiah Thomas
Contrary to his baby face and radiant smile, Isiah Thomas was the Baddest of the Bad Boys. In Detroit, Zeke was the ring leader of a collection of goons who thrived upon intimidation, dust ups, and rough and tumble play. The group, in its prime, gave both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen fits as the enforced the Jordan Rules, which called for Piston enforces to mollywop any fool who dared to wander into the paint.
As a Bad Boy, Zeke was to win two back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
During the first three quarters of games, Isiah was happy to deliver the rock to the likes of Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, and Mark Aguirre in their favorite spots to score the basketball. Similar to any elite one-guard, Thomas loved to get his teammates going, as evidenced by his 9.3-per game career assist average. In 1985, Isiah Thomas led the NBA—with 1,123 assists, which broke down into a 13.9 per game average.
As a scorer, Isiah Thomas often waited until crunch time to dominate. Like all young bucks, however, Isiah had to earn his stripes before he reached the promised land. Isiah Thomas averaged 26 points per game in a 1985 Playoff run that ended against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. In defeat, Thomas infamously had his inbounds pass stolen by Bird, who flipped a pass to Dennis Johnson for the clinching lay-up. Three short seasons later, Isiah also hobbled his way to a sensational 25 points in one quarter against Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers, en route to a 1988 NBA Finals loss.
After the bitter losses, Isiah Thomas and his Bad Boy entourage were to return the favor, and force the upstart Michael Jordan to wait his turn outside the championship gate.
#2 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson was a force.
Over the course of 14 seasons between the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks, Oscar Robinson put up video-game like numbers to dominate the NBA. In a career that spanned between 1961 and 1974, Roberston was to rank as a single-season leader in free throw attempts, free throw percentage, assists, games played, minutes played, and scoring average. As a measure of his leading end to end play, the Big O tallied a record 181 triple doubles, which includes a remarkable 1962 run where the man averaged 31 points, 11 assists, and 13 rebounds per game. When compiled together, Robertson slapped up 30/10/11 during his first five seasons as a professional.
Oscar Robertson did everything for the moribund Cincinnati Royals. Literally.
After a 1970 trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, Roberston was finally able to showcase his skills for the benefit of a winning program. Teamed up with a young Lew Alcindor, Robertson helped lead his Milwaukee Bucks to a 4-0 sweep over the Baltimore Bullets that season.
Although Great, Oscar Robertson is one of the most underrated characters in all of sports.
#1 Greatest NBA Point Guard of All Time: Earvin "Magic" Johnson
At 6'9, Magic Johnson starred as the only NBA athlete that could perform at a high level at all five positions. As a rookie in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, the Magic Man subbed in for an injured Kareem Abdul Jabaar to record 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. As a backdrop, Johnson's all-around performance came against Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76'ers and clinched the first of his five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although champions, everything did not come up roses in L.A., as Magic repeatedly railed against Coach Paul Westhead's deliberate style. In 1982, Westhead was fired as a casualty of Magic Johnson's trade demands. Assistant Coach Pat Riley was promptly installed as the leading man and Showtime was born on the West Coast.
During Showtime, Magic put his full arsenal on display, to crash the boards, push the tempo, and deliver pinpoint no-look passes that led to layups and dunks for his teammates. In the open court, Big Game James Worthy, Dennis Scott, A.C. Green, and Michael Cooper all flourished, as they racked up easy buckets—courtesy of the Magic Man. Over time, Magic Johnson assumed the conch from Kareem, as the balance of power shifted from half court set post ups and into a run-and-gun free-for-all.
The up-tempo style and Hollywood marquee showmanship made for the perfect contrast in heated battles versus the Boston Celtics. Led by Bird, the City of Boston always associated with scrappy athletes who perform in mold of the city's industrial landscape. Between 1983 and 1987, Magic's Lakers won two out of three heated NBA Finals match ups versus the Boston Celtics, who were a Dynasty in their own right.
Magic Johnson was the ultimate winner.
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