15 greatest point guards in NBA history
Almost every list made in the past 30 years has anointed Magic Johnson as the greatest point guard ever; that title is in jeopardy.
Greatest point guards of all time
When listing the greatest point guards of all time, I tried not to put too much value on championships. Basketball is a team sport, you can still be a great player without your team having a cabinet full of trophies. Having said that, the mark of a true point guard is how well they elevate their teammates.
Besides a few exceptions, the best point guards in NBA history always made everybody on the floor better.
15) James Harden
The advanced stats love James Harden. It doesn’t matter if it’s Win Shares or Value Over Replacement Player; Harden is near the top of nearly every list.
What those stats don’t account for is he’s one of the worst playoff performers of our lifetime. No superstar disappears when the moment matters quite like Harden.
He’s also one of the worst players to watch game in and game out. Fortunately for him, his body of work during the regular season is too much to ignore. But man, I would’ve loved to leave him off this list.
14) Chauncey Billups
He is the most underrated player of his generation. Chauncey Billups was as steady as they get.
Like Chris Paul or Kyle Lowry, his numbers aren’t flashy, but he always made the right play. Mr. Big Shot lived up to the nickname as he recognized when he had to take over, and that’s precisely what you want from your team’s point guard.
13) Damian Lillard
He has damn near unlimited range and always shows up in the playoffs, even if his teammates don’t. If you’re going to scoff at this ranking, look at the teams he’s carrying; the Portland Trail Blazers have no business being as good as they have been.
12) Sidney Moncrief
Cut from the same cloth as Payton and Frazier, Sidney Moncrief would’ve been much higher on this list if it wasn’t for his lack of longevity.
From 1982 to 1986 Moncrief was one of the best players in the NBA, making All NBA teams every year and snagging Defensive Player of the Year twice. Unfortunately, injuries cut his career short, and he was never able to regain all-star form.
11) Gary Payton
Walt Frazier 2.0, while Gary Payton was steady and often even excellent on offense, it was on defense where Payton cemented himself as one of the best point guards in NBA history. Nobody ever shut down Michael Jordan, especially in the playoffs, but the Glove’s defense against MJ in the ’96 Finals had the Bulls sweating.
That Bulls team is often considered the greatest team of all time, and the only team that challenged them was in Seattle SuperSonics.
Payton’s defense was legendary, and he was the best point guard of the 1990s. He and Shawn Kemp formed the most exciting duo of the decade, and those Sonics teams still hold up on the YouTube rabbit hole to this day.
10) Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson is my favorite basketball player of all time, but this is not a homer pick. AI was excellent, one of the best scorers ever.
When talking about Iverson, we tend to forget his overall offensive prowess; everybody just talks about how cool he was and his relative inefficiency. Nobody was as smooth under the basket as the Answer; his handling and finishing ability was second to none.
He led a team with no other scoring threats to the NBA Finals and managed to steal a game from a first-class Lakers team.
His career is also one of the biggest what-ifs in NBA history.
What if he had a GM better at surrounding him with complementary talent? What if he had a coach that wasn’t so abrasive? What if Iverson was paired with some like Mike D’Antoni in an offense that would accentuate his speed and passing? Was Iverson always going to shoot himself in the foot, or was there a path to true greatness for AI? I don’t know, but watching his total control of the court makes me think there’s an even better version than the one we got, and that’s saying something.
9) Walt Frazier
One of the best defenders of all time and a two-time champion; it’s no wonder Walt Frazier is considered one of the greatest point guards of all time. Mr. Cool had one of the best game sevens in an NBA Finals ever when he put up 36 points, and 19(!) assists against the Lakers in 1970.
Three years later, he erased Jerry West, one of the best offensive players of all time, and the New York Knicks brought home their second title of the ’70s. Frazier had a knack for improving his game come playoffs, and that’s what you need from your superstar guard.
8) Jason Kidd
During Jason Kidd‘s career, there was no player a superstar would’ve rather played with. Never a great scorer himself, he got the most out of every player he played alongside.
Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Dirk Nowitzki, and many others had incredible success playing alongside J-Kidd. The New Jersey Nets teams that had back-to-back finals appearances had no business having that kind of success, but that’s why Kidd is considered so great.
7) Steve Nash
The NBA you see today had a lot to do with Steve Nash. Beyond his back-to-back MVPs, Nash being the harbinger of the modern era is what earns his spot on this list. The Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns proved you could win in the NBA by going small and playing fast. They improved on the Run TMC Warriors of the late 80s/early 90s.
The biggest knock on Nash is that his gas tank seemed to empty deep into the playoffs. If Nash could’ve been the energizer bunny that Curry is, the modern NBA may have come a little sooner.
6) Chris Paul
Speaking of playoff resumes, with a couple of titles, Chris Paul could be in the conversation for the greatest point guard of all time. Unfortunately, his on-court mastery gets overshadowed by his poor playoff record. Despite losing efforts, he was terrific in every playoff series until the Dallas Mavericks in 2022.
CP3 is the ultimate floor raiser; every team he goes to gets instantly better. Even bad teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder won 60% of their games with the Point God driving the bus; the season after CP3 left, they lost 50 games. New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers all improved ten-fold under Paul’s guidance, that kind of instant success can’t be overstated. Don’t let some tough losses blind you from his undeniable talent.
5) John Stockton
If you were John Stockton‘s teammate, you were getting teed up for some easy buckets. These days, the entry pass is a lost art as fewer players play with their back to the basket. Stockton was incredible at getting his big man the ball, he and Karl Malone had a symbiotic relationship. Feed and score, over and over and over and over again.
He led the league in assists for nine straight seasons and only missed four games in his first 13 seasons. During the regular season, John Stockton showed up. So why isn’t he higher on the list?
He has some all-time playoff clunkers. Malone got a lot of flack cause “the Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays,” but Stockton was right there with him. Against the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, he’s played some of the worst games a star player has ever put on their playoff resume.
4) Oscar Robertson
In many ways, Oscar Robertson is the opposite of Isiah Thomas. His stats jump off the page, but so does his lousy playoff resume until he was paired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was the first player to average a triple-double over a season and actually averaged a triple-double over the first five seasons of his career.
The Big O was undoubtedly one of the greatest point guards of all time, he was Chris Paul and Westbrook wrapped into one package. He could grab rebounds and run a fastbreak or smash turn-around jumpers from the elbow when everything slowed down. Saying that, it’s hard to know if he actually made his teammates better, he was great but were players better for playing with him?
3) Isiah Thomas
When digging into total stats or the analytics, Isiah Thomas’ name doesn’t appear much. He makes it cause he’s the picture-perfect point guard, and Thomas got better when the lights shined brightest.
From 1985 to 1992, Thomas’ Bad Boy Detroit Pistons battled some of the best teams in NBA history – Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson’s Lakers, and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Pistons battled the cream of the crop and won two titles in the NBA’s most brutal era.
While his numbers don’t pop off the page like many of the other players on this list, there’s no doubt he made everybody on the floor with him better. Despite some tough losses, his playoff resume is stellar when considering the competition.
2) Stephen Curry
If the goal of a great player is to stack the chess board in your favor, you could argue that Stephen Curry is the greatest basketball player of all time. When you’re playing the Chef, you must account for him from half court to under the basket. Your defense needs to be keyed in on Curry whether he has the ball or not. Either corner, above the break, driving to the rim, it doesn’t matter; if you don’t know where Steph Curry is at all times, he will wreak havoc on your defense.
The 2021-22 Boston Celtics had one of the best defenses of the past 20 years, and Curry cooked them. In a game where Steph went 0-9 from three, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Gary Payton II, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins were all able to shoot over 50%, and the Golden State Warriors won. Curry was +15, and the Warriors won by double digits in a game he went 0-9 from beyond the arc, that doesn’t happen without the fear he strikes through the heart of a defense.
The most impressive part of Curry’s game is his endless motor. Even more than his ridiculous range, the fact that Steph is still running off screens at minute 44 is preposterous. At the end of a game, when everybody is dead tired and the game slows down, Curry is still moving. He also makes everybody he plays with better. How do we view Draymond without Curry to accentuate his talents? You put all that together, and you get one of the greatest point guards of all time.
1) Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson is the first name that pops into everybody’s head when the “best PG ever” conversation comes up, and for a good reason. Much like Stephen Curry, Oscar Robertson, and Steve Nash – Johnson helped revolutionize the point guard position and basketball as a whole.
Magic was an outlier, a 6’9″ point guard who could grab the rebound, dash down the floor like a gazelle, and deliver a picture-perfect pass in the exact right spot for his teammate. As a result, he paved the way for players like LeBron James to break the traditional small-forward mold. We’ve had the phrase “positionless basketball” beat into our skulls over the past decade, and Magic Johnson was the start of that. He won a finals game and sealed the 1980 Los Angeles Lakers championship by playing center!
Beyond being a five-time NBA Champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP, three-time MVP, and nine All NBA First Team selections, what made Magic Johnson remarkable was that you could make this all-time point guard list and put players like Nikola Jokic or LeBron James on it without batting an eye. Not only is he top five in Playoff Value Over Replacement Player and Playoff Win Shares Per 48, but he is one of a handful of athletes who can claim they truly changed the game, and that’s what makes Magic Johnson the greatest point guard of all time.
Jun 20, 2022; San Francisco, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry holds the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award trophy during the Warriors championship parade in downtown San Francisco. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports With his first Finals MVP and fourth NBA Championship, has Stephen Curry become the greatest point guard of…
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