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Ranking the Top 5 point guards in NBA History

Nash in action for the Suns
Nash in action for the Suns
Jayesh Sinha

The NBA has had some legendary and incredible point guards. The Point Guard position in basketball is also referred to as the 1 spot. This signifies the importance of the point guard to the flow of the attack for the team. The point guard is comparable to a quarterback in American Football or a playmaker in Football.

Traditionally it has been the point guard's responsibility to handle the ball and make the most of the team's 24-second possessions. They create the best chance of scoring a basket for their team. The point guard and the coach must be in complete sync on the plays to run or the possession will come to nothing. The point guard ensures that the ball finds its way into the hands of the right player at the right time. If no player is open, the best point guards are more than capable of finishing the job of scoring themselves, often from beyond the three-point line.

Over the decades there have been many great point guards in the NBA. It is inevitable that some great ones will be left off the list.

So without further delay, let's get on with it.

5 - Steve Nash

Championships: 0

Career averages: 14.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 8.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG

Achievements: 2x MVP, 8x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer.

This one is controversial and rightly so. Many NBA purists will gasp at the thought of Nash being placed ahead of John Stockton on any Best Point Guards List.

There are two reasons for place Nash ahead of Stockton, the all-time assist leader in the NBA. John Stockton played alongside another Hall of Famer in Karl Malone. Stockton was an understudy to Malone, a two-time MVP, and benefitted from having someone of Malone's caliber to convert his passes into baskets.

Nash's prime years came with the Phoenix Suns, where he won two MVP titles, something John Stockton never did. Nash was the leader of the team, unlike Stockton. He won his MVPs without the presence of any player who came even closer to getting into the Hall of Fame.

Nash was also a far better shooter than John Stockton, a four-time member of the esteemed 50-40-90 club in the NBA. That is 50% shooting from the field, 40% shooting from beyond the three-point line and 90% shooting from the free throw line.

Only one other player has done this twice and only eight other players, besides Nash, have ever achieved this feat in the NBA. Stockton is not one of the eight.

Nash was a player who made his teammates better, and got them to produce far greater performances than they did without him. He was a passing maestro and had a knack for finding his team-mates in the perfect spot for them to score.

Fans used to say of Nash that he could make even a stone score in the NBA. Nash controlled the tempo of the basketball. When he wasn't looking for open teammates with his deadly accurate passing, he was flying past defenders to score. He often used his trademark layup near the basket or knocked down threes from a distance.

Nash was a complete offensive package and deserving of his number five spot on the list.

4 - Oscar Robertson

Oscar Robertson (L) with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 2018
Oscar Robertson (L) with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 2018

Championships: 1

Career averages: 25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG

Achievements: 1963-1964 MVP, 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, 1960-1961 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Famer

Oscar Robertson played his basketball in the formative years of the NBA. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings) in 1960. He was the first player in the NBA to average a triple-double (10 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, 10 assists per game) over the course of a season.

Robertson was a guard and it was traditionally the job of the big men to catch the rebounds. The fact that Robertson was able to go up against the big men and come away with so many rebounds left many surprised.

Robertson had only one triple-double season, but he came close many times. The closest was in the 1963-64 season when he averaged 31.4 points per game, 11 assists per game and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Robertson joined the Milwaukee Bucks at the start of 1970-71. There, alongside NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor), he won his first and only NBA title.

Robertson was voted among the top 50 NBA Basketball players ever in 1996 and is an inductee of the NBA Hall of Fame.

3 - Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas talking to the crowd
Isiah Thomas talking to the crowd

Championships: 2

Career averages: 19.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Achievements: 1989-1990 Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer

Isiah Thomas was someone who split opinions. His on-court abilities were never in doubt, and Michael Jordan called him the second best Point Guard in the history of the NBA.

Zeke, as he is affectionately called, was a very competitive player and sometimes that competitiveness in him led to him crossing the line on the court. The Detroit Pistons, led by Isiah, were a tough team and very physical. The NBA stars of the era didn't enjoy playing against this kind of basketball. The Pistons team came to be known as the 'Bad Boy' Pistons and their brand of basketball was sometimes referred to as Thug Ball.

Fights and altercations were a common sight during Pistons basketball games. Isiah Thomas also publicly disparaged well-liked NBA superstars of the 80s, including Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, which didn't make him many friends among his peers.

Isiah Thomas' infamous run-ins with Michael Jordan's Bulls have been documented in the show The Last Dance. Isaiah Thomas was omitted from the 1992 USA Men's Basketball Team for the Olympics. It was alleged that it was because no other star, including Michael Jordan, wanted Isiah on the team, despite Isiah being the best point guard at the time.

Isiah's abilities with the ball in his hand aren't in any dispute. He was a tough and disciplined fighter and expected the same from all his teammates. When he felt he wasn't getting them from his teammates, he often called them out for it publicly.

It was his well drilled Pistons team that brought an end to the dominance of the Lakers and the Celtics in the 80s. Between 1980 and 1988, every NBA title, barring 1, was won by either the Lakers or the Celtics.

The Pistons put an end to that run in 1989 when they defeated the Lakers to lift the title and repeated the feat again in 1990.

Isiah Thomas was one of the toughest pound-for-pound players in the history of the league and one of its true leaders.

2 - Stephen Curry

Stephan Curry in action
Stephan Curry in action

Championships: 3

Career averages: 24.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Achievements: 2x MVP, 7x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Selection, 2xScoring Champion

That Stephen Curry is the only active player on the list speaks volumes about his achievements and legacy.

Curry is almost universally considered to be the greatest three-point shooter the game of basketball has ever witnessed. Before Curry burst onto the scene, it was widely believed that there was only one way to dominate a basketball game. That was to get the ball into the hands of the big centers near the basket and for them to dominate the paint. Three-point shooting was always considered more of a fall-back option.

Curry revolutionised the game of basketball with his shooting. He showed that small diminutive guards can wreck opposition defenses with three-point shooting alone. Curry led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Championship in 2015.

Other teams jumped onto this new approach to basketball. Soon the big men, hitherto the cornerstones of franchises, were relegated to supporting roles and big-men centric basketball was relegated to the dinosaur era of basketball.

Steph Curry inspired many kids to take up basketball. You can't teach a kid to grow seven feet tall, but you can most definitely teach kids to shoot the basketball. Today a whole generation of young, not very tall (by basketball standards), stars have now begun to thrive in the NBA on the back of their shooting.

Their journey into the NBA wouldn't have been possible without Stephen Curry showing the way. In that regard Curry is the most transformational player ever and his success changed basketball forever and is his greatest legacy.

Curry subsequently won two more NBA Championships in 2017 and 2018 and he is far from done. In the latest season he led the league in the most points scored per game and showed that he is still very much in his prime and has his eyes set on winning more titles.

Will he finish as the greatest point guard ever? It will be tough, but who would want to bet against the greatest shooter ever?

1 - Magic Johnson

Earvin "Magic" Johnson at a Los Angeles Lakers Media Availability
Earvin "Magic" Johnson at a Los Angeles Lakers Media Availability

Championships: 5

Career averages: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Achievements: 3x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer

Magic Johnson's actual name is Earvin Johnson. However, even some of the most ardent basketball fans don't know this. He will forever be known as Magic to the basketball world. He got the name because of the Magical things he did on the court, especially in the passing department. Watching him play was pure Magic.

The name stuck and Earvin Johnson became Magic Johnson. Isn't that fact alone enough to show how great of a basketball player he was?

Magic Johnson was drafted into the NBA in 1979 by the Lakers. That started the phase of Lakers' dominance in 1980s. Magic was 6 feet 9 inches tall, far taller than point guards usually tend to be.

Magic could do virtually anything on the court. He was tall enough to guard the opposition's tall centers, and was very accurate with his three-point shots. Johnson could drive the ball to the basket and dunk with ferocity and his passing was a joy to watch. Every night the fans got to see a pass that stayed with them for years.

Magic was a sensational dribbler and was a passer par excellence. His dazzling displays led to the Lakers team being called "Showtime".

Above all, Magic had a very vibrant energy when he played and his smile was infectious. All of this led to NBA fans absolutely adoring him. Magic achieved all it is possible to achieve in the game. He won MVPs and NBA titles, but above all he won hearts and put smiles on the viewers' faces.

Magic's superlative NBA career was cut short when in 1991 he announced that he had contracted HIV and was retiring. Since then he has focused his attention towards spreading HIV and AIDS awareness. His legacy as the greatest point guard ever is set in stone and no one, not even Stephen Curry, could hope to change that.

Honorable Mentions - John Stockton, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd.

Edited by Arnav Kholkar

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