The list of great floor generals in the history of the NBA is very long. The game has seen eras dominated by great point guards, and many great basketball dynasties have consisted of a skilled big man, paired with an equally talented distributor. During the early years of the NBA, there were a few giants in the league, such as Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell, but the strategy of the game was much more guard oriented. As the game grew and strategies evolved, the league began to shift more toward a big man dominant approach, but the point guard has always been viewed as an extremely valuable position; it is the point guard who primarily handles the ball after all.
The point guard is the quarterback of a basketball team, with that identity comes the expectation to have a great grasp for the flow and feel of the game. When we look at the coaching landscape of the NBA, we find a large number of coaches who were point guards in their playing days; coaches like Mark Jackson, Tyron Lue, Derek Fisher, Jason Kidd, Billy Donovan, and Larry Brown come to mind immediately. As we delve into the 15 greatest point guards in NBA history we must establish ways to evaluate each candidate, as it is unfair, and nearly impossible to compare players of different eras and generations of the game.
In order to find the fairest way to compare all the great point guards in history we must find some baseline metrics to compare them with. We will take a look at each player’s assist totals, their team’s success, their personal accomplishments, and the impact they had on their teammates. With these criteria in mind, let’s get into the top 15 point guards of all time, and as always feel free to let us know who we forgot in the comments below.
15. Mark Jackson
Jackson spent time with six different franchises during his 17 year career. He will be remember most for his time with the Indiana Pacers, and the New York Knicks. With New York, Jackson teamed up with Patrick Ewing to help make the Knicks relevant against a dominant Chicago Bulls team.
During his rookie season he became the only non-lottery pick player to win Rookie of the Year; he averaged 10.6 assists per game in his rookie campaign. With the Pacers, Jackson helped Reggie Miller get to the NBA Finals in 2000, but unfortunately couldn’t seal the deal against a stacked Lakers team.
Jackson retired in 2004 with a career total of 10,334 assists, ranking him third all-time, Jackson has since been passed by Steve Nash on the career assist leader board.
14. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is commonly touted as the most athletic point guard the NBA has ever seen. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Westbrook possesses some of the most explosive power of any player, regardless of position in the history of the sport.
In only his eighth season in the NBA, Westbrook has already led the league in scoring and has been named a five time All-Star, with two All-Star game MVP awards. Westbrook helped guide the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA finals during his fifth season, and his career averages of 21 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 7.5 APG are very favorable against many others on this list. This season Russell is having a career year with 24 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 7.5 APG.
13. Chris Paul
“CP3” has arguably been the best floor general over the past decade. He burst onto the scene during the 2005-06 season when he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Although he has generally been on underachieving teams, Paul has compiled quite the career already.
Paul is a six time All-Star, he also holds the record for most consecutive games with at least one steal (103.) Paul also is the only player to lead the league in assists and steals in back to back seasons. CP3 has averaged 9.9 assists per game in his career, which ranks him third on the all-time list. The only thing holding Paul back is his inability to get to an NBA finals, or even a conference championship.
12. Walt “Clyde” Frazier
Regarded as one of the greatest two-way point guards in league history, Walt Frazier led the New York Knicks to two NBA titles. Frazier was named to the All-Defensive First Team seven times, and he was also selected to seven All-Star Games.
Sharing the back court with Earl Monroe, the Knicks were a juggernaut during the early 1970s. Frazier retired in 1980 with career averages of 19 PPG, 6.0 APG, and 6.0 RPG.
11. Gary Payton
“The Glove” is widely regarded as the greatest two-way point guard in NBA history. Payton appeared on nine NBA All-Defensive First Teams, including the 1996 season when he was the first and only point guard to be crowned with the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Payton, along with Shawn Kemp, helped carry the Seattle Supersonics to the NBA Finals in 1996, ultimately losing to Michael Jordan and his great Chicago Bulls team. Payton was a prolific offensive player as well, scoring over 21,000 career points during his career. Payton was able to get a Championship ring at the end of his career when he joined the Miami Heat in 2006, capping off an amazing run.
10. Nate “Tiny” Archibald
At 6-foot-1, Tiny was an undersized guard, but played his game very large. Nate is the only player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season, doing so in 1973 when he averaged 34 PPG and 11.4 APG.
Archibald suffered a devastating Achilles tear that cut his career short, however he was able to win a Championship with the 1981 Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Archibald finished his career averaging 19 PPG and nearly 8.0 APG.
9. Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas was the floor general for one of the great teams in NBA history, the Detroit Piston “Bad Boys” teams, that won back to back NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990. Thomas was a fiery competitor, and the passion he played with is what separated him from other players in the NBA during his career.
Thomas was snubbed from the the 1992 Olympic’s “Dream Team” because he and Michael Jordan had such an animosity towards each other, so much so that they refused to share the court together as teammates. Thomas also holds the record for most points in a single quarter of an NBA Finals game with 25.
8. Jerry West
“The Logo” Jerry West was an NBA Champion, a 14 time All-Star, ten time All-NBA First team selection, four time All-Defensive team selection, NBA scoring champion and an NBA assist leader. His career averages of 27 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 7.0 APG were arguably the best ever put up by a point guard when he retired in 1974. West will be remembered forever, as he is the figure depicted on the logo of the NBA, cementing his iconic status.
7. Jason Kidd
“J-Kidd” was a great do it all type player during his career, having over 100 career triple doubles is a good indication of how versatile he was as a player. He ranks second all-time in both, career assists, and steals, trailing only John Stockton in both of those categories.
Kidd was able to capture a championship late in his career, when he helped Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks conquer the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. Kidd finished the season as one of the top ten assist leaders for a record 16th time. Kidd also finished his career with over 17,000 points, 12,000 assists, and 8,700 rebounds.
6. Steve Nash
Steve Nash is the only point guard, besides Magic Johnson, to capture two league MVP trophies. Nash was the maestro for one of the league’s most high powered offenses during his time with the Phoenix Suns. Nash led the NBA is assists five times, and ranks in the top ten all-time in assists per game, career assists, free-throw percentage, and three point percentage.
Nash was a dead-eye shooter as well as a magnificent passer, he is a four time member of the exclusive 50-40-90 club, earned by shooting above 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range, and 90% from the free-throw line in, four different seasons.
5. Steph Curry
Steph Curry has only been in the NBA since 2009, yet he has already put together a Hall of Fame resume. Curry has revolutionized the game with his ability to make shots off the dribble and in spot up situations. Curry is currently on his way to a second straight league MVP Award, and possibly a second straight NBA Championship; he could do so while breaking the all-time single season record of 72 wins and 10 losses.
Curry has set the record for most 3-point shots made in a single season, and hold the three greatest single season 3-point totals already. This season he has hit more 3-point shots on the road than any other player in the league has made on the road, and at home combined. Curry is not just a great shooter, his career high for assists was in the 2013-14 season, when he averaged 8.5 assists per game; this season he is averaging 6.6 assists per game, while also scoring 30 points per contest and grabbing 5.3 rebounds.
4. Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy was the “godfather” of the point guard position. During his time with the Boston Celtics, Cousy helped lead the team to six NBA Championships, winning one MVP Award along the way; during that stretch he also led the NBA in assists eight times. Cousy was the originator of the behind-the-back pass, and many other modern day “flashy” plays. Cousy also holds the record for most assists in a half with 19, and is second all-time with his 28 assists in a single game.
3. John Stockton
John Stockton is without question one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game of basketball. He is a ten time All-Star, and he led the league in assists nine times; five of those efforts are NBA record breaking assist seasons.
Teamed with Karl Malone, Stockton helped the Utah Jazz to the playoffs every year of his career, including two trips to the NBA finals, however, he was never able to capture a Championship. Stockton retired as, and still is, the all-time career leader in assists and steals. Stockton also averaged a double double for his career with 13 PPG and 10.5 APG.
2. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson is statistically the greatest player to ever play the position of point guard. When he came into the NBA, he averaged 30 PPG, 10.0 RPG and 9.7 APG his rookie season. He followed that up by averaging a triple-double during his sophomore season, and was snubbed for league MVP the same year; the honors went to Bill Russell. From 1960-1968 Robertson was the only player to win the MVP Award, other than Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
During his first five seasons in the NBA, Robertson averaged a triple-double as he accumulated over 180 triple doubles in his career, an all-time record. Robertson also was an NBA Champion in 1971, when he teamed with Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabar.
1. Erving “Magic” Johnson
Magic was a revolutionary point man, he was the first point guard with legitimate height (6-foot-9) to dominate the game of basketball. Johnson helped lead the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships during the 1980s with some help from a great team. Johnson’s court vision was uncanny, and his teams’ fast paced offense played perfectly for his passing abilities.
In his rookie season Magic won the NBA championship, and was named the NBA Finals MVP when he helped fill in for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Johnson finished his career with the highest assist per game average of all-time (11.2), and Magic is a three time league Most Valuable Player, as well as a three time finals MVP. He also finished his career with 138 triple-doubles, which puts him as second all-time in that category, but first all-time for the purposes of this list.
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