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Sep072012

Ranking The Best Point Guards Of All-Time

Ahhh, the good old days when legends who hated each other kissed before every game of the entire 1988 Finals.We've already covered Centers, Power Forwards, and Small Forwards so far. Stats obviously don’t translate very well from era to era, but we can examine the basic attributes we know about the game’s best at the PG position. Keeping things as straight-forward and objective as possible, here’s my ranking of the NBA’s 7 best point guards ever.

 

The placement of Cousy is very tricky since his career was so early. Considering that he continued to do well as the league changed drastically in the late-50's/early-60's, I decided to include him after not including guys like George Mikan, Dolph Schayes, and Neil Johnston since their careers don't hold up in a faster league. I ultimately ranked him just above Stockton since Cousy's peak was much higher and his team's success wasn't so dependent on lucky match-ups and a diluted league of underperformers.

 

 

1. Magic Johnson

Positives:
transformed his team's offense more than any other player ever
best fast break PG ever
awesome leader
great rebounder out of the backcourt
extreme offensive versatility
balanced, efficient, capable scorer
great defensive centerfielder (lots of steals off-the-ball)
had many huge playoff series & games – became quite clutch from '85 on
carried post-Kareem and old-Kareem LA teams to great heights

Negatives:
first 5 years: labeled a coach-killer, disliked by teammates, terrible in the clutch
very poor man-to-man defense

 

 

2. Isiah Thomas

Positives:
great leadership, completely team-oriented
regularly had unbelievably huge games & moments when they mattered most
his tenacious/gritty attitude permeated his teams, provided their identity & pulse
very good quickness, passing, defense, and mid-range shooting
lead good team offense despite so many unwilling & limited teammates (offensively)
knew how to control scorer/facilitator roles at the highest level

Negatives:
even while peaking statistically, he didn't become great leader until 5-6 years in
didn't have a good outside shot
one of the worst “bad sports” in history (but didn't really affect his teammates)
probably should have shot less (but his teammates affected this)

 

 

3. Jason Kidd

Positives:
JKidd could transform crappy teammates into a great team better than anyone
got the ball to the right teammate in the right spot better than anyone
fantastic, intelligent defender
one of the 2 best rebounding PGs ever
one of the 3-4 best fast break PGs ever
extremely smart and versatile to the highest degree for a PG
developed into a capable/good 3-point shooter

Negatives:
very poor shooter from 2 (although he needed to do so much next to bad teammates)
had numerous falling-outs with different teams and teammates (how much his fault?)

several injuries caused him to miss several games throughout career

 

 

4. Steve Nash

Positives:
most singularly important player in history for team's style of play and its success
phenomenal shooter from everywhere, especially behind the arc
amazing runner of the fast break
great killer instinct
played very well into his mid-30's
added great value to his teams' ability to win (W-L improved a lot with him)

Negatives:
numerous back injuries really slowed the beginning of his career
horrible defensive player, both on and off the ball
not a consistently good playoffs player

 

5. Bob Cousy

Positives:
transcendent passer who got everyone involved and energized
one of the 2-3 best fast break PG's ever
revolutionized the PG position and the fast break
very quick, aggressive, and gutsy

Negatives:
Boston's post-season success before Russell was poor

poor defender
below-average shooter, shot way too much considering C's had good shooters

 

 

6. John Stockton

Positives:
fantastic teammate
fantastic table setter who barely turned the ball over
great shooter from everywhere, including 3's
didn't make mistakes
pesky defender, got tons of steals
played at a high level late into his 30's

Negatives:
got older at the absolute perfect time as league talent bottomed out
post-season success luckily avoided good teams and good PG's
much much worse shooter in playoffs
became a bad man-to-man defender for his final 10-ish seasons
never dominant – his peak was below that of every good PG from his career
absolutely annihilated by Gary Payton in '96 playoffs (his 90's “rival”)
dirty player

 

 

7. Oscar Robertson

Positives:
could score a lot of points efficiently while still dishing out tons of assists
great rebounder, particularly early in his career
if he could physically overpower a smaller/weaker player, he would
very consistent

Negatives:
teammates hated and feared him - their collective confidence never rose
won only 2 playoff series total in first 10 years with plenty of supporting talent
regularly did worse in playoffs – never had big clutch games or moments
overpowered league of slow, short, white guards – noticably worse as that changed
traded from the team he was the face of while still good – this didn't hurt team

 


Next group in approximate order:
8. Chris Paul (can and should rise - this is basically his lowest possible career finish)
9. Walt Frazier
10. Gary Payton
11. Tiny Archibald
12. Kevin Johnson
13. Lenny Wilkens

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Reader Comments (18)

Pretty bold to rank Oscar that low. I'm suspicious of this ranking because u are not being consistent in your criteria of judging players: were they great irrespective of the team? Or did they reap credit for the success of the team?

Experts rank him much higher, even though he played in a league full of slow white guys. Somehow this doesn't affect guys like Jerry West who played at the same time and was the primary ball carrier the second half of his career.

Here are my rankings:
1. Magic. Transcendent player who spearheaded the greatest team in the most competitive era ever.
2. Oscar. Most fundamentally sound player in league history.
3. West. Great player by all measure. But As a perfectionist he was unpopular In the locker room.
4. Thomas.
5. Frazier
6. Stockton
7. Lenny Wilkens.
8. Kidd
9. Nash
10. Cousy

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOroboros

Oscar was hated by his teammates and West was loved - not sure where you'd get the impression that anything close to the opposite was true; send a link to support your assertion. My biggest problem with Oscar is that he was unable to lead what ON PAPER should be a pretty strong Royals team to any sort of success for 10 years. He had all those numbers, his teammates put up tons of great numbers, they had plenty of All-Stars throughout the 60's, had a 4-year stretch with 7 1st-team All-NBA players (during which Boston had 0)...and during those 4 years the Royals won no playoff series and even missed the playoffs one year. Beyond any statistics, that is not a PG (or PF - Jerry Lucas) who has a great impact on his team's ability to win. He just doesn't. That's why he absolutely has to get bumped.

The only reason I mention the slow, small, white guys is to point out that Oscar's stats have to be taken with a grain of salt. His game was specifically based on overpowering those guys (read the history, watch what youtube provides) - West's was not. That's how we know West had a much better chance of standing up over time. But again, the stats are secondary in all of this. It's really really troubling that Oscar had some rather loaded teams and just couldn't lead them to any sort of success (missing the playoffs a bunch is no good) -- that has to be looked at much more closely than anything else we know about him. If it's not about helping your team win, then I'm not sure what to evaluate players on.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

My sources aren't conveniently linked because Charley Rosen's books aren't available online. He made that assertion and it stands to reason a perfectionist wouldn't be charismatic.

Moreover I believe you're being disingenuous in arguing the all NBA when Russell played on teams with the most hall of fame players and they were standing in the way in the eastern conference. I will check the numbers later to confirm this specious claim of yours.

Robertson was never on a team favored to win over those Celtics. Plus the 76ers were also way too strong during the second half of the 60s.

Since no expert - Rosen, Simmons, David Friedman, or even that detestable Elliot Kalb -- bumps Robertson that low I have to question your list. They are credible historians who have the Big O much higher.

You're right -- winning is the litmus test. But only one team wins the title every year and winners are overrated to the detriment to everyone - including the winners themselves.

Riddle me this: had John Starks hit that last 3 point shot in game 6, would Hakeem's spot on the all time greatest ever list drop, and Ewing's spot rise? Why or why not?

There's more to this than winning.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOroboros

If Rosen is your source, then I can't take those opinions seriously. Now if Rosen, a known Phil Jackson backer who bashes anyone PJ ever didn't like, actually provides some sources (books or sites) to back any of this up, I'll gladly take a look. As long as it's just Rosen and him using some slanted Jackson quotes that he's never stated anywhere else, my mind isn't changed one bit.

I don't expect Cincy to be favored over Russell's teams, but plenty of other teams were in the mid- to late-60's, and the Royals couldn't even make the playoffs their last two years with Oscar when they should have been doing quite well. Then they traded him since he was so detrimental to the club he was the face of. That's really bad. If Oscar can't lead a team with multiple seasons of multiple 1st-team All-NBA selections past the first round for 5 straight seasons of peak years, that's not a PG I want leading my team.

Most people have Big O much higher because his stats were great and he looked dominant while he was getting his stats early in his career before bigger guards showed up. But when a player's huge stats never seem to line up with the team doing well (Zach Randolph, Carmelo, TMac, Vince...), you have to raise the red flag and wonder what sort of value they actually provide. It's just like historians ranking Elvin Hayes high because of his huge stats, so they're just supposed to rank him high. E had an absolutely awful influence on his team and was horrendous whenever the games were important. I can't just blindly go along with ranking Hayes high because other people love his stats. Same with Oscar.

It's not about winning when evaluating individuals, it's about that individual's effect on winning. That's why someone like Jason Kidd deserves WAY more credit than most people give him. Fans are so busy being impressed by Oscar's stats, they fail to realize he never had big moments or games when it mattered most ("eerily consistent" was the quote used about him) and that he probably had a negative impact on his teammates' ability to play because they were so often in fear of him. At least Jordan could also raise the collective confidence level of his teammates while brutalizing them - not the case AT ALL with Big O.

September 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

Good list, like many top 7-10 lists, the 2-7/10 spots are debatable. Usually #1 is accepted among most people. The real debate is if some of the top guys were not included at all, rather then be a spot higher or lower than you'd expect. I'm glad to see Steve Nash get some love though, I've always had a soft spot for him. I'd love to see him get a ring before retiring.

September 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGav

I think Nash is too low.
Oscar Cousy and Stockton are legends.
I dont think Nash is.


Id like to see a 4-team line up
1) Lakers 2)celts 3) east all stars 4) west all stars (obviously no lakers or celts)

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdude

Nash has an many MVP awards as Oscar, Cousy, and Stockton combined, by the way.

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

That could be. But I dont view him as a legnd. I dont know anyone who does to tell the truth.

Any takers on my 4 all time teams?

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdude

Celts: Centers Russel, Parrish Cowens
PF Garnett Mchale
SF Bird Hondo Pierce
SG Sam Jones Allen
PG Cousy Tiny (save a seat for Rondo)

Lakers: Centers Wilt, Shaq, KAJ
PF Gasol Lovellette
SF Baylor Worthy Wilkes
SG West Kobe
PG Magic Goodrich

East and West are taking more time and thought energy than I have right now.

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdude

east
pg- Isiah thomas, oscar robertson
sg- michael jordan, allen iverson
sf- lebron james, julius erving, scottie pippen
pf- charles barkley, bob pettit, wes unseld
c- moses malone, willis reed

west
pg- john stockton, steve nash
sg- george gervin, clyde drexler
sf- rick barry, chris mullin
pf- tim duncan, karl malone, dirk nowitzki
c-hakeem olajuwon, david robinson, nate thurmond

boston
pg- bob cousy, tiny archibald
sg- john havlicek, sam jones
sf- larry bird, paul pierce, tommy heinsohn
pf- kevin mchale, kevin garnett
c- bill russell, dave cowens, robert parish

los angeles
pg- magic johnson, gail goodrich
sg- kobe bryant, jerry west
sf- elgin baylor, bob mcadoo
pf- james worthy, pau gasol
c- kareem abdul jabbar, shaquille oneal, wilt chamberlain, george mikan

i'm taking the eastern conference squad in this one

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternbafan

Stockton at 6? Are you kidding me?

In the positives you mention he "got tons of steals". Retard, he's the all time leader in steals, and assists. How the hell do you not mention that? His assists record is not likely to be broken until the Rondo, Paul generation is into their late 30's.

Yes he never got a ring (because he happened to be playing against the greatest player and arguably team of all time). That in no way means he's not a top 3 PG. Top 3 I would understand. But behind Kidd?

You ZACHARIAH BLOTT, are an utter moron.

December 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStocktonishigherthan6

@StockLover
Doesn't it seem just a bit odd that Stockton was often killed head-to-head by Gary Payton and other "lesser" PG's of the 80's and 90's? Just look at how long it took Malone/Stockton to noticeably pass Kemp/Payton as an elite Western duo, even though in hindsight we know how nuts and immature that Sonics pair was.

Doesn't it seem odd that the Jazz made no real, consistent noise in the playoffs until the entire Western Conference imploded on itself in the 90's and didn't peak until Stockton was in his mid-30's? You really think that had more to do with Stockton peaking from age 34 to 36 (highly unlikely) than with the rest of the conference/league's talent simply falling off into its worst levels since the early-70's (much more reasonable)?

December 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

Magic was "terrible in the clutch" his first 5 years ?
His Rookie Game 6 in the 1980 NBA Finals is frequently ranked as THE single greatest individual performance in the history of the sport. He jumped center in place of injured league MVP Kareem, played all 5 positions, scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dished 7 assists, and won the championship as a 20 year old rookie. "Terrible?!?" A year earlier he was Most Outstanding Player as NCAA Champion and he even won a hs championship.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShowtime

If you're trying to counter-balance my argument, which is defended by numerous terrible games and series over multiple years that got him blasted in Sports Illustrated at the time, with one game, then I think we have different ideas of what it means to do research.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

RE: "If you're trying to counter-balance my argument, which is defended by numerous terrible games and series over multiple years that got him blasted in Sports Illustrated at the time, with one game, then I think we have different ideas of what it means to do research."
LOL - I was a Lakers season ticket holder in the early 1980's and also an SI subscriber throughout the 1980's. Magic once again won Finals MVP in his THIRD season in 1982. That was the same season in which he became only the third player ever, after Wilt and Oscar, to score 700 points, pass for 700 assists, and pull down 700 rebounds. There were EXACTLY THREE games in which Magic possibly could have been accused of failing in the clutch - Game 3 in the 1981 miniseries loss to the Rockets, and Games 2 and 4 in the epic 1984 Finals against the Celtics.. The man won a high school championship (before you were born judging by who was playing in the NBA while you were in college according to your bio.), the NCAA Championship and MOP award, and the NBA Championship as THE ONLY ROOKIE FINALS MVP AWARD RECIPIENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE LEAGUE by the time he was 20 years old, and he had a SECOND Finals MVP award and championship at the end of his THIRD SEASON by 22, but your wonderful "research" leads to the label "terrible in the clutch" his first 5 years. I WATCHED THE GAMES - what were YOU doing in 1980 and 1982?!?

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShowtime

Sports Illustrated: August 20, 1984
"Johnson In the Clutch: Don't Call Him Magic, Just Call Him Unreliable"

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1122425/index.htm


I'm real curious what sort of math you're doing to decide that I wasn't born when Magic won a state title in high school (which seems like very relevant information in a discussion of NBA careers) when I was in college at the same time as Iverson, who was there from '94-96. I guess you're assuming I graduated high school early...or you just suck at advanced math like subtraction and basic logic like thinking a HS title (which I doubt you watched) has anything to do with ranking NBA players.

December 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

I think Walt Frazier is under rated here. He had no weaknesses - great ball handler, passer, scorer, defender, rebounder. Perennial all star and all nba defense. And he was at his best in playoffs and clutch moments. The famous Willis Reed game 7 championship in 1970 was really the Walt Frazier game. Reed could barely move due to knee problems and made two baskets to inspire the team but Frazier scored 36 with 19 assists and 5 steals! Among the greatest finals performances ever.

March 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDarunguy

@Darungay
No doubt Frazier was big-time, but I'm just a bit confused as to how a physical, grind-it-out PG who wasn't fast and who peaked in the worst era of NBA talent and who absolutely fell off the planet once all the talent merged in '76 would translate to today's game. He'd be good--I'm not saying he wouldn't be--but I can't see who I currently have above him right now that he would pass. Maybe Oscar since his teams never seemed to rise to his individual talent (huge problem for me on rankings like this). Maybe Stockton, who was always overrated by fans. Definitely none of the other 8, including Chris Paul. I can see him as high as 6th, but no better; in fact, I put him above O on the top-50 list, and he's close to Stockton. Thanks for the comment, though!

April 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

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