When we look back in NBA history, most of the game’s biggest stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were larger than life big men that dominated the game.
But as we’ve progressed to the modern age, the game appears to have gotten smaller, transforming from a game of height and strength to speed, skill, and finesse as perimeter players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and now Lebron James have emerged as the game’s biggest stars.
And even as we take a look at the NBA game today and going forward, it is undeniably a point guard’s league, with players like Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook poised to take the league to new heights in the future.
In the past, THD has ranked the Top 50 NBA Players of All Time, but now we’ll go even deeper as we attempt to rank the Top 20 NBA Point Guards of All Time……….
’88-’04 – Seattle, Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Golden State, Dallas
5,486 Assists(33rd All Time)
Know affectionately as the “Little General”, Johnson went from undrafted collegiate player from the tiny Southern University to key cog on a number of elite NBA squads, most notably the ’99 San Antonio Spurs World Championship team. Although deemed a journeyman since he played for 5 NBA teams over his 16 year NBA career, Johnson finished his NBA career as a player in 2004, tallying more total assists than other more well known floor generals like Dennis Johnson, Clyde Frazier, and Doc Rivers.
’87-’01 Washington, Charlotte, Golden State, Toronto
6,726 Assists(17th All Time)
Standing a miniscule 5’3, Muggsy is probably known most for being the shortest NBA player ever, but the player most opponentss deemed a “pest” for his ball-hawking style of play is arguably one of the most underrated floor generals of all time. Playing 14 seasons, against much taller players, Bogues made a name for himself as a standout passer and defender during the late 80′s and early 90′s with the expansion Charlotte Hornets. Playing alongside NBA greats like Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, he helped turn the Hornets into a perennial Playoff performer, averaging a robust 7.6 assists for his career. Amazingly, he even registered 39 blocks, most famously swattting a 7 foot Patrick Ewing shot in 1993. He is the all time Hornets leader in minutes played, assists, and steals.
’87-’00 -Cleveland and Phoenix
3 Time NBA All Star, NBA Most Improved Player(1989)
6,711 Assists(18th All Time)
Currently the mayor of Sacramento, California, “KJ” often went overlooked playing on talented squads that included Mark Price, Charles Barkley, and Dan Majerle. The hard-nosed floor general became only the 3rd player in league history to average 20+ points and 12 assists for an entire season in 1989, joining only Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. He then would go on to accomplish averaging 20-10 the next three consecutive seasons, joining only Thomas and Oscar Robertson in league history. It was his all around play and leadership once teamed with Barkleyin the early 90′s that helped turn the usually horrid Suns franchise into one of the league’s best teams, taking Phoenix to the ’93 Finals, losing to the Michael Jordan led Bulls.
’60-’75 – St Louis, Seattle, Cleveland, Portland
9 Time NBA All Star, NBA All Star Game MVP(1971)
7,211 Assists(11th All Time)
Most younger NBA fans remember Wilkens as a Hall of Fame coach most noticeably with Cleveland, Atlanta, and New York, but he was one of the league’s elite players sin the late 60′s and 70′s as he finished 2nd to Wilt Chamberlain in the ’68 MVP voting. He led the league in assists during the ’69-’70 season and ranked 2nd all time in assists to Oscar Robertson upon his retirement in 1975. He then went on to become one of the most decorated head coaches in NBA history, becoming the first coach to surpass 1,000 wins, a mark since eclipsed by Don Nelson.
’89-’03 – Golden State, Miami, Dallas, Denver, Indiana
5 Time NBA All Star, All NBA 1st team(1997)
7,095 Assists(14th All Time)
Known for his devastating crossover dribble, dubbed the “UTEP 2 Step”, Hardaway was one of the most prolific and hard-to-guard floor generals during his prime. Early in his career, he teamed with Chris Mullen and Mitch Richmond to form the high scoring trio “Run TMC” in Golden State before being traded to Miami in 1996, teaming with Alonzo Mourning to have some of the best seasons in Heat history. He became the 2nd fastest in NBA history to tally 5,000 points and 2,500 assists behind only Oscar Robertson and holds a respectable 17.3 ppg and 8.2 ast career averages. Tim’s son, currently is a standout SG with the University of Michigan.
’01- Present – San Antonio
5 Time NBA All Star, 3 Time NBA Champion(2003, 2005, 2007), NBA Finals MVP(2007)
5,221 Assists(49th All Time)
While the still only 30 year old French native’s career is far from over, Parker will go down as one of the league’s quickest and winningest floor generals in history, helped by his 3 World Titles with the Spurs. Teamed with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker has helped form one of the greatest trios of all time, annually keeping the Spurs among the NBA’s best teams. His 24.5 ppg scoring average in the ’07 Finals, earned him the first ever Finals MVP honors awarded to a Frenchman. He is the Spurs all time leader in assists and has the potential to finish Top 10 all time in NBA dimes.
’88-’05 – New York, San Antonio, Portland, Washington, Miami, Minnesota, Orlando, Toronto, Houston
NBA Assists Leader(1988)
7,987 Assists(9th All Time)
Although he doesn’t posses all of the accolades and hardware as some of the other floor generals on the list, Rod undoubtedly ranks as one of the Association’s all time dime-droppers, ranking in the top 10 in assists 7 times during his career. Despite a career at times marred by injuries, contract disputes, and a perceived arrogance and selfishness, Rod was a master of the highlight reel play, regularly choosing a behind-the-back dish rather than the easier bounce pass. Strickland remains one of the few NBA players to tally 20 assists in a single game multiple times. He currently is an administrator at the University of Kentucky under coach John Calipari.
’78-’93 – Philadelphia, San Antonio, New York, Atlanta, New Jersey
4 Time NBA All Star, NBA Champion(1983), 4 Time All NBA Defensive Team
7,392 Assists(11th All time)
More readily known by his nickname “Mo”, the mild mannered floor general was the lynch-pin on the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers World Title team along with Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, and Moses Malone, regarded as one of the best teams in league history. He allowed his more touted teammates garner the spotlight while amassing prolific assist and steal numbers, ranking 1st all time in steals and 5th in assists upon his retirement in 1993. He has served as head coach of both Portland and Philadelphia and is currently an assistant coach with OKC.
’05-Present – New Orleans and LA Clippers
6 Time NBA All Star, All Star Game MVP(2013), 2 Time All NBA 1st Team, 2 Time All Defensive 1st Team, NBA Rookie of the Year(2006), 4 Time NBA Steals Leader, 2 Time NBA Assist Leader
5,385 Assists(43rd All Time)
Despite playing most of his career on underachieving teams in New Orleans, “CP3″, is regarded as the game’s best current all around floor general, making 6 NBA All Star Games, including winning All Star MVP in 2013. He holds the NBA record for consecutive games with a steal(108), and is the only player to lead the league in assists and steals in consecutive seasons. He has tallied 13 career triple-doubles and has won 2 Gold Medals in Olympic competition in 2008 and 2012. Paul also currently holds the 3rd highest career assist per game average(9.8) in NBA history behind only Magic Johnson and John Stockton.
’87-’04 – New York, LA Clippers, Indiana, Denver, Toronto, Utah, Houston
NBA All Star(1989), NBA Rookie of Year(1989), NBA Assist Leader(1997)
10,334 Assists(3rd All Time)
Teamed with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley in the late 80′s and early 90′s, Jackson helped rejuvenate the Knicks franchise, becoming the only non-Lottery pick to win NBA ROY honors, averaging an impressive 10.6 assists in his 1st season. After a short stint under coach Larry Brown in LA, Jackson helped Reggie Miller turn the Pacers into contenders, making his lone NBA Finals appearance in 2000. Despite only leading the Association in assists one time and possessing only average athleticism, Jackson was one of the most intelligent and crafty point guards in NBA history, becoming 1 of only 5 players to amass 10,000 assists. Upon returement, he became a successful ESPN analyst and is currently the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
’96 – Present – Dallas, Phoenix, LA Lakers
8 Time NBA All Star, 2 Time NBA MVP, 3 Time All NBA 1st Team, 5 Time NBA Assist Leader
10,249 Assists(4th All Time)
One of the rare players in NBA history to win consecutive MVP Awards, Nash currently ranks in the Top 10 all time in assist per game average, total assists, free throw shooting, and 3 point accuracy. Teaming with Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson in the mid 90′s, Nash helped turn the Suns into one of the NBA’s most winningest teams despite never making it to the Finals. He has led the league 5 times in assists and ranked in the Top 10 in dimes an amazing 11 times. Upon retirement, Nash should rank Top 3 all time in assists.
’90-’07 – Seattle, Milwaukee, LA Lakers, Boston, Miami
9 Time NBA All Star, 2 Time All NBA 1st Team, 9 Time NBA All Defensive 1st Team, NBA Defensive POY(1996), NBA Champion(2006)
8,966 Assists(8th All Time)
Known by his nickname “The Glove”, because of his defensive prowess, Payton remains the only point guard to win Defensive POY honor in addition to scoring more than 20,000 points in his career. Elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2013, GP is regarded as one of the best two way players of all time and biggest trash-talkers, in addition to becoming a 2 time Olympic Gold Medalist with Team USA. Teamed with Shawn Kemp during the 90′s, Payton helped the Sonics return to elite form, making a Finals appearance in 1996, losing to the Bulls in 6 games, before chasing down a ring with Miami in 2006. He ranked in the Top 10 in steals 10 times and Top 10 in assists 7 times.
’70-’84 – Cincinnati, New York, Boston, Milwaukee
6 Time NBA All Star, 3 Time All NBA 1st Team, NBA Champion(1981), NBA All Star MVP(1981), NBA Scoring Champion(1973), NBA Assist Leader(1973)
6,476 Assists(20th All Time)
A prolific scorer as well as a pinpoint passer, “Tiny” is the only NBA player to win both the scoring title as well as the assist crown in the same season(1973). His 34 ppg scoring average that season broke the NBA record for guards and his 910 assists(11.4 per game) also set an NBA mark at the time. Despite early individual success, Archibald finally won his lone NBA Title with Boston in ’81, alongside a young Larry Bird. Despite a nasty Achillies tear injury that shortened his career, Nate finished in the Top 10 in assists 7 times and scoring 4 times.
’67-’80 – New York and Cleveland
7 Time NBA All Star, 4 Time All NBA 1st Team, 2 Time NBA Champion, 7 Time All Defensive 1st Team, NBA All Star Game MVP(1975)
5,040 Assists(56th All Time)
One of the best two-way guards in league history, Frazier helped lead the New York Knicks to 2 NBA Titles in the early 70′s, usually with a dynamic flare. He was one of the first perimeter players to make the steal an art form and along with fellow Hall of Famer Earl Monroe, formed possibly the best backcourt tandem of all time, helping NY to win the 1973 NBA Crown. He ranked in the Top 10 in assists 6 times in addition to averaging an impressive 18.9 ppg for his career.
’94 – Present – Dallas, Phoenix, New Jersey, New York
10 Time NBA All Star, 5 Time All NBA 1st Team, 4 Time All Defensive 1st Team, NBA Champion(2011), 5 Time NBA Assist Leader
12,074 Assists(2nd All Time)
The owner of more than 100 official NBA triple-doubles, “J-Kidd” currently ranks 2nd all time in both steals and assists and is the only player in NBA history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds. He led the Association in assists 5 times and finished Top 10 in dimes a record 16 times. Kidd won a Gold Medal with team USA in the 2000 Olympics and additionally ranks 3rd all time in both 3 point FG made and attempted.
’81-’94 – Detroit
12 Time NBA All Star, 3 Time All NBA 1st Team, 2 Time NBA Champion, NBA Finals MVP(1990), 2 Time NBA All Star Game MVP
9,061 Assists(7th All Time)
Known as “Zeke”, Thomas was one of the game’s most intense competitors, especially in the postseason as he helped lead the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boy” teams to 2 consecutive NBA crowns in 1989 and 1990. He still holds the NBA Finals record, scoring 25 points in a quarter in 1988. He was known for his dribbling ability as well as his ability to drive to the basket and score and remains the Pistons’ all time leader in points scored, assists, steals, and minutes played. His 13.9 assists per game in ’84-’85 rank behind only Magic Johnson and John Stockton and his 9.3 per game average for his career ranks 5th all time.
’50-’70 – Boston and Cincinnati
13 Time NBA All Star, 10 Time All NBA 1st Team, 6 Time NBA Champion, NBA MVP(1957), 2 time All Star MVP, 8 Time NBA Assist Leader
6,955 Assists(15th All Time)
Known as the game’s first great point guard, “The Houdini of the Hardwood” was way ahead of his time, taking PG play to new heights displaying highlight reel ball-handling and behind-the-back passing skills rarely seen before. His 50 point game, including sinking 30-32 from the line, during the ’54-’55 postseason remains one of the best individual scoring games in history. He holds the NBA record for assists in a half with 19, and has the mark for 2nd most assists in a game with 28. Cousy paired with NBA Hall of Famer to win 6 NBA crowns from ’57-’63. He was regarded as a the mold of the modern day PG and remains 1 of only 4 point guards to ever win the MVP Award.
’84-’03 – Utah
10 Time NBA All Star, 2 Time All NBA 1st Team, All Star Game MVP(2003), 9 Time NBA Assist Leader, 2 time NBA Steals Leader
15,806 Assists(3rd All Time)
John had five of the top six assists seasons in NBA history, and ranks 1st all time in assists and steals by a wide margin. Teaming with longtime teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone with the Jazz, Stockton holds the NBA record for the most seasons, games, and consecutive games played with one team, and is third in total games played behind only Kareem and Robert Parish. He averaged a double-double for his career and holds the 2nd highest career assist per game average(10.5) of any player in history. An underrated scorer, Stockton scored more than 19,000 points and ranks 30th all time.
’60-’74 – Cincinnati and Milwaukee
12 Time NBA All Star, 9 Time All NBA 1st Team, 3 Time All Star Game MVP, NBA Champion(1971), NBA MVP(1964), 6 Time NBA Assist Leader
9,887 assists(6th All Time)
Regarded by many as the greatest all around player in league history, the “Big O” was the first player to average a triple-double for a season in ’61-’62 and broke Bob Cousy’s single season mark for assists by more than 150 dimes. He became the only other player between ’60-’68 to win the MVP Award other than Chamberlain or Russell primarily by averaging a triple-double for the first 5 years of his career. Robertson became the first player to average 10 assists for a season and had six 30+ppg seasons, ranking 3rd all time. He also is the NBA all time leader in triple-doubles with a remarkable 181, an amazing feat considering the 3 point shot didn’t exist
’79 – ’91, ’96 – LA Lakers
12 Time NBA All Star, 9 Time All NBA 1st Team, 5 Time NBA Champion, 3 Time NBA MVP, 3 time NBA Finals MVP, 2 time NBA All Star Gamae MVP 4 Time NBA Assist Leader, 2 Time NBA Steal Leader
10,141 Assists(5th All Time)
Revolutionizing the point guard position with immense size and strength for the position, “Magic” helped bring the Showtime era of exciting fast break basketball to the Association, winning 5 NBA crowns during the 80′s. Johnson burst on the scene, becoming the first rookie to ever win Finals MVP behind perhaps the best statline in Finals history 42 pts, 15 rebs, 7 ast, and 3 stls, filling in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In ’82, he became only the 3rd player ever to score 700 points, grab 700 rebounds, and dish out 700 assists in one season along with Chamberlain and Robertson. He holds the highest career assist to game average(11.2) in NBA history as well as the mark for most career postseason assists, single game Playoff assists(24), all Star Game(22), and Finals Game(21). In addition, his 138 triple-double rank 2nd all time to Robertson’s 181.
Who is your ‘Top NBA Point Guard of All-time’?