When I decided to make this top 20 list, I took some things into account. Before the 80s, guards weren't necessarily labeled as “point guards" or “shooting guards." So I went with the role they were primarily in as we see them now. Maravich would have excelled, and did, in both roles.
Also, with one exception, I actually watched everyone on the list play at some point. That exception is Bob Cousy..who according to all experts invented the position at the professional level. Plus, he was my Dad’s favorite player!
You'll notice three things in my Honorable Mention list. First the addition of Meyers, Leiberman, and Mulkey. I know that women's basketball is not seen in the same light as Men's, but we are talking about people that broke new ground at this position and in that view, these three certainly have earned the mention. Second, you see LeBron and MJ on the list..out of position. Injuries have at times forced these guys to play the role for long periods of time and not surprisingly, they were as good as anyone on the list. Finally, Rick Adleman was my favorite player on my favorite team (70-71 “Trail Blazers"...yep it was two words back then.) and while I desperately wanted to put him on the list, compared to the company he is on on the list..(Also because #21, Jerry Sloan was the starter on those 70’s Bulls teams and Adleman was the 6th man…) I simply cannot include him, even as a homer pick.
A final note...The Kidd vs. GP argument continues here. They grew up together, played on the same youth teams, were rivals in College and certainly in the pros, and remain to this day best friends. One was a far better shooter and the other a far better defender. Their matchups were classic. Kidd had better numbers, but GP has the benefit of being the better trash talker and was great in the movies “White men can’t jump!", and “Eddie" (Teamed up with Freeman Williams in the former, and paying against the late great Malik Sealy in the latter.) They should be on the list together, wherever they are. At the time I wrote this, I put Kidd higher, if you think they should be reversed...I have no problem at all with that. [For the record...Free and GP would have killed Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in real life IMHO.]
These folks were great but just could not cut that list... Here is my Honorable Mention:
Latrell Sprewell, Kim Mulkey, Ann Meyers, Nancy Lieberman, Rick Adleman, Steve Kerr, KC Jones, Dwayne Wade, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Hal Greer, Jerry Sloan.
And Here are the top 20...
20.Dennis Johnson(Cavs, Sonics, Celtics) - The “Tripod" - DJ ran more than the offense for those remarkable 80s Celtics teams. He also had the ominous task of having to guard Magic Johnson. With the Sonics, he was a true Blazer killer, but then , there are three Sonics on this list for that very reason. The Late, Great DJ was simply amazing. I heard rumors how he got the nickname.
19.Mark Price(Cavs) - He, along with Larry Nance (Sr.) were the heart and soul of those Cavs teams, Price was an excellent shooter and could guard the best of them. The Cavaliers were always a tough playoff out...he’s why.
18.Gus Williams(Sonics, Bucks, Bullets) - Amazing vision, and I’d take him and Jack Sikma in almost any game of 2-on-2.
17.Tony Parker(Spurs) - Now in his 47th season with the Spurs, has won 4 rings, and at one point was the best point guard in the league. He’s still very good, though he only plays 15 or so minutes a game. He credits former teammate Terry Porter for teaching him how to truly excel in the NBA. Speaking of which….
16.Terry Porter(Blazers, Wizards, Spurs) - In my opinion, the best player on those Adleman-coached Trailblazer teams. He was their team captain and kept the defense running. He could always handle that pesky 2-guard on defense. Isiah Thomas called him the one guy he didn’t want to face.
15. Lionel Hollins(Blazers, 76ers, Clippers) - My last homer pick, I promise. Bill Walton said he was the true leader of that legendary ‘77 team. Walton asked to have him traded to the Clippers with him so he could show them how to play as a single unit. Love “The Train".
14.Gary Payton (Sonics, Heat, Lakers) -Okay, he wasn’t my favorite player. However, I also feel he fit well in the George Karl “Grind and Run" system, I have to give him credit. He was all-defense 11 times. "The Glove" led the league several times in forced turnovers, and he was awesome to watch in the paint without the ball. Reminded me a lot of Jim Paxson...only much, much better.
13.Jason Kidd(Mavs, Nets, Knicks...et al…) - I know this seems low for J-Kidd and GP, but when you see what’s above him, you’ll understand. Kidd reinvented the position after Magic and Stockton established it. He had a sweet jumper and a great all-around game. He’s also showing us some coaching chops. Now, if he can simply get along with his owners!
12.John Stockton(Jazz) - I always gave him quiet respect, but I never really liked him. He would always spend the first half of each game testing the refs as to how much shoving and pushing he could get away with. He pissed off a lot of opponents, but to be fair, that was his job. I contend it is thanks to Stockton that very-overrated Karl Malone looked better than he was. Stockton seemed to find open guys that should never be open. He was even able to make Greg Ostertag look good!
11.Steph Curry(Warriors) - You think I am disrespecting the two-time MVP. I am not, I assure you. Maybe at some point he’ll be seen in the top three, but in my opinion on this list #11 is high praise. He has great leadership and playmaking. He doesn’t seem to be selfish and can see as well as anyone who on his team has the hot-hand. He’s been a little injury-prone of late, but he also takes a lot of jostling around out there. I think he’s currently the #2 point guard in the league, and there are a lot of good ones playing right now.
10.Pete Maravich(Hawks, Jazz) - First question. Was he a point guard or a shooting guard? He was great in both roles. He was flashy, a great shooter and one of the best passers in the history of the game. Not a great defender though, and sometimes a ball-hog at a Clyde Drexler / Russell Westbrook / Kobe Bryant level. He was also my absolute favorite player as a kid. If you are ranking the best point-guards from 1-to-20, as I am, he belongs right in the middle of the list, and so that is where I have him. Rest well, Pistol!
Note: I have been asked why I picked #23 as MY NUMBER when I played sports and was it because of Jordan? No, that was Pistol’s number at LSU. If I stole it from anyone, it was Maravich. (In truth my Football numbers were 5 and 18 [=23], and my Basketball numbers were 10 and 13 [again, 23]...so in Baseball, when I got 23, it seemed to work for me. I had never heard of Michael Jordan until I was done playing sports.)
9.Walt “Clyde" Frazier(Knicks, Cavs) - Okay - tell me honestly Knick fans, do you seriously believe that the Knicks win either title in ‘69 or ‘73 without Frazier? He was the coolest head on the court, he complimented eight Hall-of-Famers and was able to get them all the ball enough to keep them happy. That’s no small task (Frazier, Monroe, Reed, Lucas, DeBusschere, Bradley, Cazzie Russell, and Phil Jackson!)
8.Bob Cousy(Celtics) - Bill Russell is offended anytime someone puts a list like this together and doesn’t talk about Cousy. Not only was he the leader of the best NBA team ever assembled, he spent the rest of his life teaching the greats how to play the position, including the likes of West, Oscar, and Lenny Wilkens. Plus, in Blue Chips, he has the famous scene where he is shooting free throws with Nick Nolte and made every single one, including a couple left-handed. He was also my Father’s favorite player.
7.Steve Nash (Mavs, Suns, Lakers) - I hear you groan. He’s Steph Curry 1.0, so why is he 4 positions ahead of Steph. Well - yes. They play a similar game, but he also had some really crappy teams he got pretty far into the playoffs. He was everybody’s friend, and when Kobe wanted to extend his career a few more years and make one more run, he called Nash. (I know, he also called Dwight Howard, so let’s not make that a thing.) I like him and his off the court stuff is fantastic. Nash at #7? I am good with it.
6.Isiah Thomas(Pistons) - Oh, Yeah! I know he was a part of the bad boys, he had a short career, and most of the league hated him. But understand he gave more than he had and he finally had to retire because his body just gave out. He certainly left it all on the court. He was the unquestioned leader of those Pistons teams and each teammate would run through a wall for him. (and he ran through a lot of walls.) The team was not that good on paper, but played as good as a unit as the Showtime Lakers or those Celtics teams of the 80s. He should have been on the Dream Team instead of Clyde or Mullin, and he could guard anyone. He’s this high on the list because he deserves to be. He’s this LOW on the list because of…..
5.Lenny Wilkens(Hawks, Sonics, Cavs, Blazers) - Oops, Geoff Petrie just allowed another easy Lenny Wilkens Lay-up as I wrote his name. He could do it all and nobody did it better. At the time he was only behind West and Oscar, and gets pushed to #5 only because of two newcomers. Also, his stock goes even higher because of his phenomenal coaching career. (Don’t forget he was also Player-Coach of both the Sonics and Trail Blazers.)
4.Chris Paul(Hornets, Pelicans, Clippers, Rockets) - CP3 is the best point guard playing now. He does OK without good teammates. This season we are seeing how good he is with them. He shoots well, passes well, defends well, and is a great floor leader.He is Jason Kidd, only more so. I only wish the Blazers would have made a better play to draft him. (Like moving up a couple of places..) He is a once-in-a-generation talent. I look forward to every game I might get to watch him.
3. Oscar Robertson(Royals, Bucks) - Oscar vs. West. It’s an age-old argument. Kareem says he learned how to pass and run from Oscar. He defended okay and averaged a career triple-double. That’s not nothing! He also managed to make competitive a lot of those crappy Royals teams. He is compared now to Jason Kidd, but considering the time, the rules, I like the Big “O" at number three.
2.Jerry West(Lakers) - I have him as #2 in all-time shooters behind Bird. He stands there on this list again. Nothing really happened on those classic Lakers teams without West leading the charge. He could guard anyone and practically invented the idea of scoring in transition, certainly perfected it. Plus he had the absolute best All-star jersey there was. (He got his name "West" on both sides of the Jersey.) Also, he was the only all-star that Wilt Chamberlain ever got along with. The West Virginia Mountaineer was the best guard ever...until he drafted…
1. Earvin “Magic" Johnson (Lakers) - Any arguments? Didn’t think so. At 6-8 he could do it all, could also play all five positions when needed. He was also evolving his game throughout his career. He didn’t start his NBA career a great shooter, but he sure was towards the end. (To be totally fair, that could also be said for MJ, Kobe, and now we see with LeBron.) The best passer ever, and I got to see one of his best. Triple teamed in the Memorial Coliseum with a 1-point lead in the playoffs and nobody to pass to, he simply tossed the ball slowly to no-one in the backcourt. It took about 10-seconds to slowly bounce to the end-line and gave the Blazers 4-seconds and 94 feet to score the winning bucket. They Didn’t. Who thinks of that? My #1 point guard and #4 player of all time...That’s who!