Best Point Guards in NBA History | LeoVegas

Best Point Guards in NBA History

Point guard is one of the most popular and action-packed positions in basketball. Historically speaking, players with the best technique, ability to keep possession, and an eye for a pass are attributes associated with a skilled point guard. Throughout each generation of the NBA, the top point guards are largely responsible for opening up the opposition and instigating creative plays that give their team the upper hand. As the lead offensive player, their primary goal is to create situations that lead to point-scoring opportunities.

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Early Pioneers

Bob Cousy has a name that is synonymous with the Boston Celtics. As one of the top teams in basketball history, the Celtics have a long affiliation with the greatest players in the game's history. Cousy, whose nickname was "The Houdini of the Hardwood", spearheaded the blueprint for the modern-day point guard.

The Celtics retired number 14 in homage to the man who broke several point guard records, including becoming the first player to surpass 6,000 career assists. His inclusion in the 50th and 75th NBA anniversary teams, staving off such intense competition, shows just how revered he still is.

Another player who is credited with demonstrating how a point guard should play is Bob Davies. Not only did he share the same name as Cousy, he also had a similar nickname - "The Harrisburg Houdini". In today's game, Davies would be a superstar. His skills brought in the largest-ever basketball crowd in 1941, when 18,000 people crammed into Madison Square Garden to watch the Pennsylvanian dazzle the opposition with his dribbling skills. While Davies might not have the same accolades as Cousy, he's still a name that ardent NBA fans remember whenever the conversation about legendary point guards rears its head.

Magic Era: The Showtime Lakers

As we move the timeline forward a few decades, some believe the Magic Johnson era of basketball was the true golden era for the NBA. Many fans and basketball experts think that Magic Johnson is the best point guard in the game's history, full stop. With an Olympic gold medal, three NBA final MVP awards, an 11.19 assist average per game, and a 12-time All-Star, Johnson is among the most recognizable and decorated players ever to have played in the NBA. Not only did he spearhead the Lakers during this golden period, but a large section of Lakers’ fans believe he's the most outstanding player in their history, alongside Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

While this might be a topic for a different debate, there's no disputing his prowess as a point guard and his influence on how modern-day point guards should play, especially with players like Allen Iverson and Steph Curry citing him as an influence. Norm Nixon was another influential point guard who preceded Magic at the Lakers. Although Norm went on to spend as many years at the Clippers, it was as a Lakers point guard that he played a pivotal role in guiding them to two NBA Championships in three years.

The Isaiah Thomas Era

Thomas is one of a handful of players who operated on the same level as Magic Johnson during the 1980s. The Pistons legend has 12 All-Star appearances, 19.2 PPG, and is another fantastic point guard who made the 50th and 75th anniversary teams. In 1985 he broke Magic Johnson's monopoly as the season assists leader, with the Lakers’ man winning the preceding two and reclaiming the crown in 1986 and 1987. The Hall of Famer is a God among men at the Pistons, and his name still carries enormous weight with Pistons fans, even nearly 30 years after his retirement.

One player that inspired Thomas as a young player was Tiny Archibald, who in 1986, was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. The six-time All-Star peaked in the early 1980s, winning MVP in the All-Star game and achieving a career average of 18.8 PPG and 7.4 assists per game. While Tiny Archibald might not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of the greatest point guards in the NBA, his impressive stats show that he can hang with the best of them and his name is highly respected among professionals.

Stockton and Malone: A Dynamic Duo

John Stockton and Karl Malone are two names that are immortal among Utah Jazz fans. Stockton is widely regarded as one of the most technically gifted point guards of all time, and is another player who made the 75th anniversary team. His longtime teammate Karl Malone worked so well on the court in tandem, it's rare to see the ability of one player discussed without the other.

The only unfortunate circumstance for Stockton and Malone are that they operated when Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls were moulding themselves into arguably the greatest franchise the sport has seen. If Stockton and Malone had operated in any other era, we imagine that the Jazz would have gone on to win multiple NBA Championships. Stockton's nine-year stretch as assists leader between 1988 and 1996, two Olympic gold medals, and 10.5 APG shows just how consistently elite his performances were.

The AI Phenomenon

Alongside Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson is the most outstanding point guard of all time. Many believe ‘the Answer’ surpasses Magic purely due to his versatility and an outrageous playoff record of 29.7 PPG. Only Michael Jordan can boast a better record. Iverson's all-around record is a testament to how gifted he was. A four-time NBA scoring champion, three-time steals leader, and holder of two Defensive Player of the Year awards further highlights the magic that Iverson brought to the sport during his time in the NBA.

The 2000s were a sobering time for the NBA after the spectacular popularity it experienced during the 1990s with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Although it remained immensely popular in America, internationally, its popularity dwindled. However, the rise of influential point guards such as Allen Iverson and Steve Nash helped reignite this interest, especially given that Nash was one of the first overseas point guards to challenge the elite. A four-time member of the 50-40-90 club, a Lou Marsh trophy holder, a two-time MVP, and a 14.3 PPG shows the type of blistering talent the South African-born Canadian possessed.

The Modern Maestros

Looking at modern-day basketball, the whole role of a point guard has changed. Steph Curry is a phenomenon; fans and analysts almost unanimously believe he is the greatest shooter ever to grace the court. He's the only player with an above-30 PPG average while simultaneously being in the 50-40-90 club, an incredible feat he managed in 2016. Add in the fact that he has four NBA Championships, two scoring champions and two finals MVPs, we're looking at one of the greatest players in the game's history - a player who transcends the point guard position and has completely remodelled what it means to play the position.

His Warriors teammate Chris Paul is another point guard pioneer. He’s a two-time Olympic gold medallist, 12-time All-Star, six-time steals leader (surpassing Michael Jordan) and five-time assists leader. Paul's game throughout the 2010s was often considered the best all-around in the league, and once he has retired, his career will likely be alongside Curry as two of the best point guards of the 21st century.

Defensive Specialists

While it might make more sense for a point guard to play a more traditional role, creating chances and poking holes in the opposition's defence, some players are also renowned for their defensive prowess. Jason Kidd is a player who fits this bill perfectly. The five-time assist leader and 10-time All-Star also has two Olympic gold medals.

Gary Payton, alongside Magic Johnson and Allen Iverson, is considered one of the great point guards. Payton's moniker of ‘The Glove’ is a testament to just how much defensive confidence he instilled in the rest of his team, holding records for assists and steals with the Seattle SuperSonics. Michael Jordan often cites Payton as one of his most formidable defensive opponents, and accolades don't come much more spectacular than that.

Stats and Records

All-time Assists Leaders

While assists aren't the be-all and end-all of point guards, they're a great indicator of their competence in the position. Until Steph Curry transformed the position, point guards were renowned for their ability to cut up play and create opportunities. The top three assist leaders are names that all feature in today's list.

Chris Paul is third with 11,501 assists, and the formidable Jason Kidd is second with 12,091. Right out in front of the competition is the frightening consistency and longevity of John Stockton, with 15,806 assists throughout his long, decorated career.

Scoring Records by Point Guards

Less than 100 points separate Steph Curry and Chris Paul.

However, it's a record that Curry will likely surpass. He currently has 21,712, Paul's total is slightly higher at 21,755, and Gary Payton is ahead of both with 21,813.

Only two point guards above Payton are in the all-time charts, and both are titans of the game.

Russell Westbrook is second with 24,457 points, and Oscar Robertson's long standing record of 26,710 is still miles ahead of the chasing pack.