Most refer to the quarterback as the most prized position to play in all of sports. It represents leadership, stability, the heartbeat of the team. In basketball, the position that reflects these same attributes the most is point guard: He who controls the game, dictates the tempo, and is considered to be the coach on the floor. In today’s game many would say that this distinction no longer solely belongs to the player who plays the point, but rather to the best player who is capable of handling the basketball and presents the biggest offensive threat. While this may be true, the point guard position is one that should not be purely measured by statistics, but rather by I.Q. and the ability to make the players around you better.
In today’s NBA, one could argue that the most talent-rich position in the game is indeed point guard. In ESPN’s 2013 NBA Player Rankings list, 10 of the top 30 players are point guards. Five are in the top 10. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose highlight the list. But how do you think these guards stack up against the floor generals of the past?
With that said, who is the greatest player to ever run the show? With so many others putting together their list for top 50 and top 10 greatest point guards, I believe we should get right to it and determine the cream of the crop. Who was the most dominant, the most productive, the greatest floor leader of all time?
Gary Payton – Perhaps the greatest defensive point guard all-time. “The Glove” is the only PG in history to win the DPOY award, while also racking up nearly 22,000 points and 9,000 assists. Most notably one of the greatest trash-talkers of all-time.
Walt Frazier – The epitome of cool and class. Led the Knicks the their lone two NBA championships and perhaps the greatest Game 7 performance in sports history (1970 vs LA Lakers – 36 points, 19 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals).
Bob Cousy – The originator of the Celtics dynasty leading them to their first six championships. Led the league in assist for eight straight seasons. MVP in 1957, and would have won it in 1954 & 1955 but the NBA did not award an MVP until 1956.
Nate “Tiny” Archibald – Boasted one of the most incredible statistical seasons in NBA history, leading the league in scoring (34 ppg) and assists (11 apg) in 1973.
#5 Jason Kidd
The primary responsibility of the point guard is to distribute the ball to teammates that lead to baskets. There aren’t many guards who did this better than J. Kidd. He remains the only player in league history to total 15,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. And while Kidd never put up the assists that all-time leader John Stockton compiled in the late 80's, nor the points as fellow rival Gary Payton, Kidd separates himself from all of the others when it came to rebounding collecting 1,000 more than Oscar Robertson who has the second most for a guard.
Arguing point: “Jason Kidd was not a great shooter”. Jason Kidd is 3rd all-time in career three-pointers made with 1988.
- One-time NBA champion
- 10x All-Star
- 5x All-NBA First Team
- 4x All-NBA Defensive First Team
- Third all-time in career triple doubles (105)
#4 John Stockton
One of the most unlikeliest players to be ranked as one of the greatest to ever play the game. He was never the best player on his team, never won a championship nor scoring title. He never even broke 40 points in a game, with a career high of 34. Stockton was not even a lottery pick coming out of college in 1984. So why does he appear on this list…NUMBERS. If you have ever wanted to attach the moniker of “numbers never lie” to anything, John Stockton’s face should be next to it. Put it this way, in his 19 seasons of playing in the NBA, if you cut them in half and referred to them as “Young Stockton” and “Old Stockton”, both players have Hall of Fame credentials. His career total of 15,806 assists is nearly 4,000 more than Jason Kidd, who is second. His 3,265 steals is also the league’s all-time best and is over 500 more than anyone else.
In a day and time where players are celebrated for playing in 90 percent of their team’s games in a given season, Stockton played in a calculated 99 percent of Jazz games for his entire career. Leading his team to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in the 1990’s was the pinnacle of his career and would have perhaps afforded him an NBA title had it not been for one Michael Jordan, who shut the door on him as well as on countless others.
No one would be quick to call Stockton a great scorer, but his tortoise-like approach nearly reached 20,000 points, a feat obtained by only 42 others. He scored more than 7,000 field goals but assisted on close to 16,000 more. Add this to your fantasy leagues and see who gets picked early.
#3 Isiah Thomas
Forget about the travesties and the front office failures for a moment, and take a trip back to when Zeke was one of the most fun and dynamic players the league had ever seen, a tough-as-nails competitor who would step on his own momma to win. A 12-time All-Star, Isiah ranks seventh in league history in assists and 15th in steals, but it was his attitude and flare that set the tone for his career and made him the greatest little man to ever lace 'em up. Despite his 1,000-watt smile, he fit in perfectly with the Detroit “Bad Boys” and led them to back-to-back world championships in 1989 and 1990.
Isiah’s basketball IQ and tenacity are what separated him from all others. He used his small frame to score in places where no one else could. His agility and quickness were simply too much to handle, which resulted in him averaging 19 ppg for his career, along with a bevy a amazing moments that rank as some of the greatest in league history.
#2 Oscar Robertson
30.3 points per game. 12.5 per game. 11.4 assists per game. Yes, this equals out to be a triple-double, but many would think I am speaking of the 1961-62 season when the Big O became the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. No, these are the numbers that Oscar averaged over the span of his first five seasons in the NBA. After reading this, is it even necessary to continue describing why he deserves to be mentioned on this list?
In 1962, Oscar Robertson had 985 rebounds and 899 assists. No other player before or since has had as many as 800 rebounds and 800 assists in the same season. Oscar came within an assist of getting 900/900. In that 1962 season, he had 45 games that would be now labeled as triple-doubles. That’s as many as Jason Kidd had in his first nine seasons. No other players except Wily Chamberlain (in 1968) and Magic Johnson (in 1982) had as many as 700 rebounds and 700 assists in the same season. Oscar, of course, did it in 1962, 1963, and 1964.
Perhaps the reason that the Big O is not more celebrated is because of his dominating personality on the court. He did not give players a large margin for errors as he drove his young teammates, placing blame on this who made mistakes, telling them when and where to move and insisting perfect execution. However, the result of those who actually listened, he made them All-Stars despite meager talents. It’s hard to argue with someone who at the end of the day makes you better. Especially if that man exemplified everything he was instructing you to do.
#1 Magic Johnson
His winning percentage rivals Bill Russell's. His rebounding and assist numbers dwarf Oscar Robertson's. He was more instrumental to the four Lakers titles in the 1980s than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. One could even make a case that Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the greatest to ever play the game. For the first half of Michael Jordan’s career, it was Jordan who played in Johnson’s shadow. If Johnson hadn’t left the stage prematurely, or if Jordan hadn’t resumed his career after his short-lived baseball career, we could be possibly talking about Magic over Michael.
Only one player in history ever had more more top three finishes in the MVP voting (Jordan placed 10 times in the top three). Only two players in history ever played in more NBA Finals (Bill Russell with 12 and Sam Jones, with 11).
Magic’s teams made the NBA Finals nine times in 12 seasons. They won five rings in the 1980’s, defeating teams led by Julius Erving, Larry Bird, and Isiah Thomas. And although after his first eight seasons, he had three NBA championships, and four years of leading the league in assists, he had yet to win the MVP. It would all change in 1987 as he won three in the next four years.
Simply put, Magic Johnson is the best point guard in NBA history and there really isn’t an argument that could support otherwise. At 6 foot 9, he could do anything on a basketball court, and was the very best at the two most important skills for a point guard – passing and leading. He ran the fast break like a maestro and never shied away from the big moment. Regardless of who you were (unless you were a Celtics fans), you loved watching him play. His smile was infectious, and his style entertaining. Magic averaged 19.5 points, 11.5 assists, and 7.2 rebounds per game throughout his career, numbers that actually pale in comparison to large his persona and winning personality meant to the game of basketball.