The roles of NBA guards have evolved over generations, so much so that not everyone agrees about who played what specific positions. Do you see "Pistol" Pete Maravich as a shooting guard or a point guard? Does Allen Iverson deserve to be mentioned among the greatest point guards of all time? Additionally, how does one compare Stephen Curry to the likes of John Stockton and Oscar Robertson?
Such lists, articles and topics generate debates and even arguments among those who feel passionately about somebody supposedly "snubbed." At the very least, no such verbal battles should arise regarding the man who checks in at No. 1. Nobody before or after him, to date, played the position better, and some go so far as to rank him over both Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the greatest overall player in NBA history.
We begin with one of the greatest ball-handlers in NBA history . Ranking Kyrie Irving is a difficult exercise, as the 26-year-old has been separated from the shadow cast by LeBron James for fewer than two whole seasons, and Irving's tenure with the Boston Celtics hasn't gone as originally planned. While he's just now entering his physical prime, assuming his knee remains healthy, he is already responsible for one of the greatest clutch shots the game has ever witnessed.
Without question, Mark Price was the greatest player to ever feature for the Cleveland Cavaliers before a guy named LeBron James arrived at the team's facilities. The four-time All-Star retired with a career true shooting percentage of .586. As mentioned by NBA.com, Price held numerous franchise records upon his retirement, and he notched four All-NBA Team appearances.
Kevin Johnson is the first man spotlighted here to fall victim to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during an NBA Finals series in the 1990s. As Shane Dale of ArizonaSports.com wrote, Johnson retired one of only three men to average at least 20 points and 10 assists per game across three straight seasons. The first two to accomplish that feat? Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas. That's decent company to keep.
The first of two consecutive point guards mentioned here who had his prime cut short because of injuries, Penny Hardaway was sometimes overshadowed, both in stature and status, by Shaquille O’Neal during their tenures with the Orlando Magic. As Ken Hornack wrote for Fox Sports in 2014, a fully healthy Hardaway made for a nightmare matchup for defenders because of his 6-foot-7 frame, and he became the first man to notch at least 40 points in back-to-back postseason contests vs. a team coached by Pat Riley during the 1997 playoffs.
We'll never know how good Derrick Rose could have been had his body not betrayed him before his physical prime. Rose became the youngest player to win MVP in the spring of 2011, roughly half a year before his 23rd birthday. It's possible he'd be a top-10, all-time point guard had injuries not halted his momentum earlier this decade.
Tim Hardaway enjoyed successful stints with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat during his career. The five-time All-Star "revolutionized the dribbling game with his killer crossover that left defenders around the league helpless," as brilliantly described by the NBA's official YouTube page. He still holds the record for most three-point attempts drained in Heat history.
Known as "Mr. Big Shot " for his heroic late-game buckets that saved the Detroit Pistons, Chauncey Billups featured for five other clubs before Detroit gave him a home. He won his only ring as a member of the 2003-04 Pistons, and he was named 2004 NBA Finals MVP. Billups was selected to five All-Star squads later in his career.
A member of the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, Lenny Wilkens was a nine-time All-Star who twice led the league in assists. As the Seattle Times staff pointed out, only Oscar Robertson had more assists when Wilkens retired after the 1974-75 season. Along with being an all-time great point guard, Wilkens was also named one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history.
After former Boston Celtics guard Dennis Johnson passed away in February 2007, Bill Simmons referred to him as "the greatest defensive guard of his era." Per Richard Goldstein of The New York Times , Danny Ainge called D.J. "one of the most underrated players in the history of the game and, in my opinion, one of the greatest Celtic acquisitions of all time." Johnson won three rings, was a five-time All-Star and tallied nine consecutive All-Defensive nods. He was also part of one of the NBA's most famous plays.
Enough outlets refer to Allen Iverson as a point guard for "The Answer" to make the cut. The MVP for the 2000-01 season, who won four scoring titles dragging the underdog Philadelphia 76ers to a win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, will forever be remembered for one of the greatest postseason performances in any sport. Players of varying skills and ages will be mimicking Iverson's legendary crossover as long as kids bounce basketballs.
Twenty-seven players were selected in the 2001 NBA Draft before the San Antonio Spurs landed Tony Parker, making him one of the biggest steals in draft history. The four-time champion ran the offense for those San Antonio Spurs lineups that won titles, but he's often overlooked because of that club's team-first mentality and the fact he played alongside Tim Duncan and for head coach Gregg Popovich.
Nate "Tiny" Archibald torched defenders with his speed and elusiveness throughout a 14-year career, during which he was named to six All-Star squads. The 1972-73 scoring champion got to the charity stripe more than any other player in three separate campaigns , and he twice led the NBA in converted free throws. He helped the Boston Celtics defeat the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals.
It's possible Gary Payton would be higher on the list had he and the Seattle SuperSonics not run into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the NBA Finals. "The Glove" frustrated His Airness during the 1996 championship series to the point that Thomas Johnson of The Washington Post, among others, speculated Seattle could have won the title that spring had Payton been tasked with guarding Jordan earlier in the series. The nine-time NBA All-Star was as much a lockdown defender as the next man on this list. Payton could have excelled in any era.
Long before Walt "Clyde" Frazier evolved into a fashion icon beloved by viewers who tune in to watch the New York Knicks, he guided that franchise to two championships while being named NBA All-Defensive First Team on seven occasions. The seven-time All-Star was one of the best two-way guards of his time, and his performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA FInals remains one for the ages.
What Vince Lombardi was for pro football coaches, Bob Cousy was for point guards. The best to ever play the position as of his retirement in 1963, the "Houdini of the Hardwood" led the league in assists every year from 1952 through the 1959-60 campaign. The 1957 NBA MVP was named First-Team All-NBA in 10 straight seasons.
Russell Westbrook can be a polarizing figure among observers who would claim it appears he cares more about bolstering personal statistics than winning as a great teammate, and his shooting often leaves plenty to be desired. Still, averaging a triple-double for an entire season and setting a record for most triple-doubles in a campaign are incredible and historic achievements. How different would the resume belonging to the 2016-17 NBA MVP appear had Kevin Durant remained with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2016?
While it's impossible to quantify such a thing, Jason Kidd may be the most underrated guard in NBA history. Kidd sits second in career assists (12,091) behind only John Stockton, a figure that often overshadows his defensive prowess. Never the league's brightest star, Kidd was named to NBA All-Defensive Teams on nine occasions. He's 64th all time in career rebounds, a remarkable figure when you see some of the names below him on the list.
The lack of a ring and a league MVP trophy both hurt Chris Paul's case in overall point guard rankings. "The Point God" nevertheless deserves to be recognized as an all-time great two-way player — one who has tallied more steals than any other active player. We can all only wonder what might have been had Paul not suffered a hamstring injury that prevented him from featuring for the Houston Rockets in the last two games of the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
Wayne Gretzky is Canada's greatest sporting export. Steve Nash may not be all that far behind. A two-time NBA MVP, Nash sits third all time in career assists, and he's one of only five players to accumulate over 10,000 dimes as a pro. Stephen Curry will likely be remembered as the better of the two, but Nash was the original version of Steph.
Those who know Jerry West only as "The Logo" may discount how great he was on the court. Named an All-Star in each of his 14 professional seasons, West became the first player voted NBA Finals MVP from a losing team in 1969. His 46.3 PPG average for the 1965 Western Division Finals remains a record for a postseason series.
Not all records were made to be broken. John Stockton's marks for career assists (15,806) and career steals (3,265) aren't remotely close to being touched by any active player. Those numbers make it easy to forget Stockton shot 51.5 percent from the field. Fans who grew up watching those Utah Jazz teams can close their eyes and envision Stockton, an all-time great offensive CEO, hitting Karl Malone with pinpoint passes.
One of the best postseason performers in league history, Isiah Thomas won a pair of titles, was voted MVP for the 1990 NBA Finals and was named to 12 All-Star Games. The heart and soul of the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons often willed those teams to victories. He remains seventh all time in career assists.
Thanks to Russell Westbrook, younger basketball fans either learned or were reminded Oscar Robertson was the first player to average a triple-double over an entire season. Per ESPN, "The Big O" actually averaged a triple-double across his first 384 games, a downright ridiculous stat. As Dan Favale of Bleacher Report wrote, legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rated Robertson ahead of both Michael Jordan and LeBron James back in 2013.
Some old heads may feel it's blasphemy to rate Stephen Curry second overall. They ignore that Curry changed how the position is viewed and the league, in general, before his 30th birthday. When in form and on his game, the greatest shooter in NBA history is essentially unguardable from anywhere within 40 feet. Most amazing about that statement is that it isn't an exaggeration. The three-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP became the first unanimous MVP after joining the 50–40–90 shooting club for the 2015-16 campaign.
Conversations about the GOAT often begin and end with a Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate, which is probably unfair to Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The undisputed gold standard as it pertains to point guards, Johnson could literally play any position, something he proved when the 6-foot-9 guard was asked to feature at center during the 1980 NBA Finals. The three-time league MVP won a trio of NBA Finals MVP awards during his historic career. It's difficult to imagine any other PG matching Magic's mix of vision, athleticism, size and overall talent.
Zac Wassink is a football and futbol aficionado who is a PFWA member and is probably yelling about Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Erik Lamela and Eli Manning apologist. Chanted for Matt Harvey to start the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field. Whoops. You can find him on Twitter at @ZacWassink.