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Top 10 NBA Guards of All-time

Rob November 15, 2010 R.S. De France 13 Comments

November 15, 2010 – R.S. De France

As Kobe Bryant plays his 15th season, he also enters into his quest for a second non-consecutive three-peat, a feat only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen have accomplished. Perhaps serving to motivate him, besides the 3 all-stars in Miami, are the words of a fellow all-star and Hall of Fame NBA player Michael Jordan.

By now we’ve all heard Jordan say it, whether you agreed or kind of took a double take.  Speaking about Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan recently said, “If you’re talking about guards, I would say he [Kobe] has got to be in the top 10.”

Jordan chose his words very carefully and precisely when he ranked Kobe Bryant in the top 10 guards of all-time. MJ’s trick of the tongue is that he grouped together point and shooting guards.  Including shooting and point guards together, Jordan lets himself off the hook because anyone’s top-10 is extremely subjective, or biased.  It’s like grouping centers and power forwards together. Since point and shooting guards often serve a very different purpose on a basketball team—except for combo guards—, ranking these players together seems almost impossible to do objectively.  Some players are obviously top 10, but how one ranks point and shooting guards together comes down to what you value most:  the awards, the championships, the points, the rebounds, the assists, the defense, or the longevity, and so on. But, this is a really tough question.

Who are the top 10 NBA guards of all-time?

Jordan is the greatest scoring guard of all-time, standing 3rd all-time in scoring behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (C) and Karl Malone (PF).  Of course, the second best scoring guard (all-time points) is Oscar (11th), and the third is Kobe Bryant (14th).

That’s right, on the surface it seems impressive that Bryant is already the 3rd best scoring guard of all-time, in terms of total points, not ppg. Then again at sober second glance you realize that Kobe has already played 14 seasons and 1030 NBA games. Michael Jordan in his entire career only played 1072 games in the NBA. That means by the end of this season (barring injury) Kobe Bryant will have played more NBA games than Michael Jordan in his entire NBA career, yet MJ is way ahead of Kobe in total points scored and points per game.  In fact, it’s not all that close.

Before entering into this, you have to bring your own list of criteria.  My “biggest factor” is there to help me when I have to make tough choices and decide between great players.

Main Factors:  all-time rank, playoff production, awards, titles, and longevity

My Biggest Factor:  most un-stoppable during their era

So without further ado here is my  Top 10 NBA Guards of All-time:

6 NBA Titles 30.1 ppg
14 time All-star 5.6 apg
5 MVP’s 6.2 rpg
6 Finals MVP’s 2.3 spg
15 seasons 49.7% FG
Most Points in a Game 69 (1990)
Highest PPG 37.1 ppg
3rd in points 1st in ppg
1st playoff points 2nd in steals

What needs to be said about choosing Jordan 1st?  He is the guard with the most total points, the highest points per game, and the most playoff points in NBA history.  During his playing days in Chicago, he grew, after six years, to be an unstoppable player, grabbing 8 consecutive scoring titles and 6 NBA championships in 8 years—including his 1 ½ year sabbatical with baseball.  Not only that, but Jordan was one of the games best closers.

5 NBA Titles 19.5 ppg
12 time All-star 11.2 apg
3 MVP’s 7.2 rpg
3 Finals MVP’s 1.9 spg
12 seasons 52% FG
Most Assists in a Game 24 assists (1989 and 1990)
Highest APG 13.1 apg
4th in assists 1st in assists per game
3rd in playoff steals 1st in playoff assists

After spending a few years in Los Angeles prior to the drafting of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finally again tasted Finals’ glory thanks to Magic.  When Johnson joined the Lakers in 1979, he immediately took over as starting point guard.  Magic, Kareem, Norm Nixon, Jamal Wilkes, and Michael Cooper helped lead the Lakers to the championship against the Philadelphia 76ers.  With the lead in a 3-2 series headed into a game 6 in Philadelphia, the Lakers lost Kareem to injury when Magic stepped in at center to lead the Lakers to the NBA championship.  That was probably Magic’s most prolific effort as an NBA player, and it earned him his first of three NBA Finals MVP’s.

Game 6 1980 NBA Championships

Magic Johnson’s (Rookie) box score:

42 points 15 rebounds 7 assists
3 steals 1 block 14/14 FT’s

There is nothing to explain with these first two picks although one could even make the argument for Bryant to be 2nd, Magic 3rd.

5 NBA Titles 25.3 ppg
12 time All-star 4.7 apg
1 MVP 5.3 rpg
2 Finals MVP 1.5 spg
14 seasons 45.5% FG
Most Points in a Game 81 (2006); 2nd all time
Highest PPG 35.4 ppg
15th in points (12th NBA only) 10th in ppg
4th in playoff points 8th in playoff steals

Kobe is the 3rd best scoring guard in NBA history, already, and he looks to overtake Oscar at 11th before this season is over.  Kobe may be as high as 6th in all-time scoring by the end of the season.  In his career, Bryant has evolved from a player who relied on his physical superiority and athletic ability to dominate into a player who uses anticipation, jumpers, and his mind to dominate his opponents.  Bryant has developed into a skilled artist on the offensive end of the floor.  Also interesting has been his evolution from #2 to #1.  During his career, Bryant has changed his game depending on what was needed of him, going from a number two guy with Shaquille O’Neal to a number one guy after Shaq was sent to Miami.  Then, there are Bryant’s playoff numbers, which are among the best of all-time.  Bryant is 2nd in playoff scoring for a guard behind Michael Jordan.  In addition to being an incredible playoff scorer, Bryant has also distributed the ball well.  Bryant is also 11th in playoff assists.

1 NBA Title 25.7 ppg
12 time All-star 9.5 apg
1 MVP 7.5 rpg
0 Finals MVP’s 1.1 spg
10 seasons 48.5% FG
Most Points in a Game 56 (1964)
Highest PPG 31.4 ppg
11th in points 8th in ppg
5th in assists 4th in apg

Robertson’s 1971 title was one he won with “The Captain” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doing much of the heavy lifting although the “Big O” contributed greatly with 18.3 ppg, 8.9 apg, and 5 rpg.  In just Jabbar’s second season, his 31.7 ppg, 16.0 rpg, and probably 3 or more bpg—blocks were not kept as a statistic until a few seasons later—led his Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA title.  Being that this is Robertson’s only title and Kobe has 5—three with Shaquille O’Neal and two without—my instinct says Kobe deserves the nod over the “Big O” despite Robertson’s amazing all-around numbers.  Winning it all, for me, takes precedence here.

1 NBA Title 27.0 ppg
14-time All-Star 6.7 apg
0 MVP’s 5.8 rpg
1 Finals MVP 2.6 spg
14 Seasons 47.4% FG
Most Points in a Game 63 (1962)
Highest PPG 31.2 ppg
19th in points 5th in ppg
10th in playoff assists 7th in playoff points

The Logo.  Mr. Clutch.  West was a freak scorer who was nearly unstoppable.  As perfect as Jerry West’s jumper was, his Los Angeles Lakers never defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, losing 9 times.  Finally, in the 1969 Finals, West achieved a first, though it was not the championship he had pined for.  He became the first player to ever win an NBA Finals MVP Award in a losing effort.  Then, after the retirement of Elgin Baylor, the Gail Goodrich-Wilt Chamberlain-Jerry West trio won that elusive title in 1972.

0 NBA Titles 13.1 ppg
10 time All-Star 10.5 apg
0 MVP’s 38.4% 3′s
0 Finals MVP’s 2.2 spg
19 Seasons 51.5% FG
Most Assists in a Game 28 (1991)
Highest APG 14.5 apg
1st in assists 2nd in apg
2nd in playoff assists 1st in steals

If you think about health, excellence, consistency, and longevity in the NBA, only some players come to mind—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and John Stockton—to name a few.  Stockton ran the Utah Jazz and their pick and roll offense with power forward Karl Malone as well as anyone ever has.  Although his team never won an NBA title, the Jazz made back-to-back (’97 & ’98) appearances in the Finals only to be eliminated by Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

0 NBA Titles 25.1 ppg
12 time All-Star 2.6 apg
0 MVP’s 3.6 rpg
0 Finals MVP’s 1.4 spg
14 Seasons 50.4% FG
Most Points in a Game 63 (1978)
Highest PPG 33.1 ppg
13th in points 11th in ppg
8th in playoff ppg 37th in playoff points

Even though Gervin never won an NBA title, he was one of the most unstoppable scoring guards of all-time.  His scoring exploits earned him 4 scoring titles, which made him the first guard ever to win 3 in a row.

2 NBA Titles 19.2 ppg
12 time All-Star 9.3 apg
0 MVP’s 2.1 rpg
1 Finals MVP 1.9 spg
13 Seasons 45.2% FG
Most Assists in a Game 25 (1985)
Highest APG 13.9 apg
6th in assists 5th in apg
9th in playoff assists 5th in playoff spg

With the help of a physical team and a great coach in the late Chuck Daly, Isaih Thomas won back-to-back NBA titles, a rare feat in the NBA.  Thomas was the leader of the “Bad Boys” as they came to be known who made 3 straight NBA Finals, beating Magic’s Lakers and Drexler’s Trailblazers.  Thomas was undersized, but that didn’t stop him from using his dazzling ball-handling skills to dodge opponents.  Not only could Thomas set up his teammates, but Thomas was the Pistons’ #1 option in crunch time.

6 NBA Titles 18.4 ppg
13 time All-Star 7.5 apg
1 MVP 5.2 rpg
0 Finals MVP’s 80.3% FT’s
14 Seasons 37.5% FG’s
Most Assists in a Game 21 (year)
Highest APG 9.5 apg
14th in assists 17th in apg
12th in playoff Assists 9th in playoff apg

Despite his 6 titles, Cousy ends up down at #9 because, like Oscar Robertson, the leader of the championship effort was not the little guard, but the big center.  For Oscar, it was Kareem.  For Cousy, it was Bill Russell.  Before Russell joined the Celtics, Cousy had been there several seasons.  The C’s had been knocked out of the first and second rounds of the playoffs repeatedly.  It was not until the Celtics somehow pulled off getting Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones (3 future Hall of Famers) in the same off-season, that their great dynasty really began.  Cousy does not have the Big O’s numbers, nor was he the team’s undisputed leader.  When Cousy did win the MVP in 1957, he was assisted mightily by Russell who averaged about 15 points, 19 rebounds, and probably over 3 blocks per game (no records for blocks were kept until 1973-1974). Also, Cousy led the league 8 times in APG, 2nd only to Stockton.

0 NBA Titles 26.7 ppg
11 time All-Star 6.2 apg
1 MVP 3.7 rpg
0 Finals MVP’s 2.2 spg
14 Seasons 42.5% FG
Most Points in a Game 60 (2005)
Highest PPG 33.0 ppg
22nd in points 6th in ppg
2nd in playoff ppg 13th in steals

A.I. became only the 2nd guard, other than “The Iceman” and Jordan to earn 4 scoring titles.  Even though picking Iverson over Havlicek and Drexler was not easy, A.I.’s higher ppg hints at a greater degree of dominance during his era.  Despite the lack of an NBA title, Iverson gets the nod here.

Coin Flip

These players could easily make a top 10 NBA guards of all-time list.  And as much as I like Allen Iverson, I could have flipped a coin with the tenth spot to help me choose between Havlicek, A.I., Clyde Drexler, Pete Maravich and Nate Archibald.  I even considered Gary Payton and Jason Kidd.  One of my general baselines for the top ten was, at least a championship, but that theory went out the window with John Stockton.

Most of these players I decided between at the 10th spot have not won a championship, and some of those who did, Drexler and Payton, did so as part of last-ditch effort to win one.  Drexler joined the NBA champion Houston Rockets to help them repeat in 1995.  And Payton was a back-up point guard on the 2006 Miami Heat title team.  So, those particular accomplishments were not enough to outweigh legends like Allen Iverson—2nd in playoff points per game and John Stockton—1st in regular season assists.

Honestly, “Clyde the Glide” Drexler was hard not to choose at the 10th spot.  His resume is complete:  Hall of Fame, 1 title, 10-time all-star, 20.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 5.6 apg.  His numbers are stellar.  But, it seemed like a safe choice.

Clyde “The Glide” Drexler

1 NBA Title 20.4 ppg
10 time All-Star 5.6 apg
0 MVP’s 6.1 rpg
0 Finals MVP’s 2.0 spg
14 Seasons 47.2% FG
Highest PPG 27.2 ppg
28th in points

John Havlicek “Hondo”

8 NBA Titles 20.8 ppg
13 time All-star 4.8 apg
0 MVP’s 6.3 rpg
1 Finals MVP 1.2 spg
16 Seasons 43.9% FG
Highest PPG 28.9 ppg
14th in points 10th in playoff points
28th in assists 18th playoff assists

Now, Havlicek is a different animal.  As far as championships, Havlicek destroys A.I. 8-0.  But, Iverson’s all-time numbers give him a slight edge over Hondo.  I put A.I. over Hondo for two reasons (1) Iverson was more unstoppable as an individual, and (2) For all 8 titles, Hondo had major help.  In A.I.’s successful years in Philadelphia, including his run to the 2000 NBA Finals, he had very little help from anyone other than an aging Dikembe Mutombo.  Hondo played with Cousy, Russell, Bill Sharman, Heinsohn, Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White (all Hall of Famers), and many other great teammates.

Forwards and Guards

So many players are guard/forwards or forward/centers, but there were some players left off the list because I consider them more forwards than guards.  If we counted him as a guard, it would have been hard to leave Erving, 5th all-time leading scorer, off of any top 10 list.

  • Julius “Dr. J” Erving
  • Billy Cunningham

The Pack

Here are all the players it was tough to leave off this top 10:

  • Sam Jones
  • Lenny Wilkins
  • Bill Sharman
  • Walt Frazier
  • Jason Kidd
  • Gary Payton “The Glove”
  • Steve Nash
  • Joe Dumars
  • Dave Bing
  • “Pistol” Pete Maravich
  • Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
  • Mark Aguirre
  • Sidney Moncrief
  • “The Squid”

    Ray Allen

  • Dwayne Wade "Flash"
  • Reggie Miller
  • Nate “Tiny” Archibald
  • Mark Jackson
  • Dennis Johnson “D.J.”
  • G/F Chris Mullin
  • G/F Dave DeBusschere
  • G/F Hal Greer

Overall, these lists are subjective.  When comparing players of different eras, it is never clear-cut.  Choosing a top 10 is opinion-based, no matter how much proof and evidence you try to use.  These are mine, so what are your top 10 NBA guards of all-time? Where’s Kobe on your list?

R.S. De France is a College and University instructor of English Composition living in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing. De France has played, coached, and officiated competitive high school basketball in California for many years. Recently, De France, his wife, and another colleague started an internationally read magazine at Shwibly.com.

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  • http://www.shwibly.com Robert DeFrance

    In the 1958-1959 season, Bob Cousy tailed 28 assists in one game v. the Los Angeles Lakers.

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  • Tony C.

    A thankless task, of course, but Mark Aguirre a guard? Really much more of a forward.

    Also, Iverson over Maravich, Frazier and Bing? Sorry, but he couldn’t warm any of those three up. I know that you are emphasizing scoring, which makes it even more improbable that Maravich wouldn’t make the list. I rather doubt that there has ever been a more “unstoppable” scoring machine than Maravich, no matter what the bare numbers say.

    • Anklesnap

      @Tony C., Nash is a modern day Maravich, and maybe even more efficient at the task. I would argue for Nash in the Top 10 for sure. And it’s also tough to leave out J.Kidd just given his overall dominance over the combination of assists, boards, and defense during his career. Kidd has also improved the efficiency of his outside shooting over the years making him a pretty strong candidate as there is nothing he can’t do on the court as a guard.

      – understand the comments on Aguirre and Hondo not being guards, but it’s not an easy task to categorize the swingmen. At the end of the day, even Lebron plays more of a guard style game and can log some heavy minutes at point guard on occasion. So it’s a tough call.

      All in all, good list Rob, based on your factors I think its well done.

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  • stuff

    you forgot to mention that oscar was only person ever to average a triple double for a season and might have been the most complete guard ever. Also, ray allen’s nickname is not the squid, its jesus shuttlesworth

  • Alan MAN

    Hi,

    people always forget to mention Anfernee Hardaway, as talented as all the best guards on the list, well if he wasn’t injured…

  • Bill

    If you factor in the advent of the three point shot what happens to those point totals. Do that and many of those gaudy point totals and points per game become rather ordinary. Remember, O. Robertson AVERAGED the ONLY seasonal triple double WITHOUT the three point shot. I know you are talking about pros, but remember that P. Maravich averaged over 44 points a game in college WITHOUT the three point line and that also applies to his scoring in the NBA..
    What would Kobe’s 81 point game total point game be without the three point shot. I am also old enough to remember when the NBA actually called travelling and the charge.

  • http://thehoopdoctors.com/online2/2010/11/top-10-nba-guards-of-all-time/ illmatic

    Just because Kobe plays like Jordan & just happened to be a great teams doesn’t mean he is that good. At least you guys realize Magic is better. Oscar was clearly a much better player & won a title with a dominate big man just like who? Kobe (every single title)

    Steve Nash top 10? Most overrated MVP ever! No defense at all & turns the ball over too much. John Stockton was a point, Steve Nash is overrated streetball crap. Stoudemire leaving the team shows his true value now. Chris Paul is a gazillion times better.

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  • six

    In this type of evaluation Kobe benefits from his proximity to Jordan in terms of chronology, style of play and relationship. Kobe has the best all around backcourt game of his era. On the Oscar Robertson had the best all around game of his era. He scored like Kobe, distruted like Magic, and boarded like Bird. The margin between he and Kobe is highly debatable. The few years that Kobe was not surrounded with high caliber players he his teams looked just above average even though his game is always compelling. I would give the edge to the Big O. But I can see how people would take Kobe.

  • Jon

    Ray Allen is a better all time player than Allen Iverson. True Story.

  • Jonathan Hathaway

    No allen iverson should not be on the list.