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Friday, April 19, 2024

10 Greatest Pure Point Guards In NBA History

Pure point guards are pass-first players who run the team’s offense before looking for their own offense. We have seen a rise of score-first point guards such as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and even Stephen Curry over the past 15 years, but pass-first point guards such as Chris Paul still roam the NBA landscape today.

Following Mark Jackson’s surprising list of pure point guards which excluded his former player and all-time great shooter Stephen Curry, it is time to rank the 10 greatest pure point guards in NBA history.


1. Magic Johnson

Championships: 5

Player Stats: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Achievements: 3x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Team Selection, 4x Assist Champion, 2x Steals Champion, Hall of Fame

Magic Johnson was the quintessential floor general, leading by example with his unselfish play and high basketball IQ. He possessed an innate understanding of the game, anticipating plays before they unfolded and making split-second decisions with precision. His leadership both on and off the court inspired his teammates to elevate their performances and buy into the team’s collective success.

His court vision and passing ability were second to none. His knack for finding open teammates and delivering pinpoint passes elevated his teammates’ games and contributed to the Los Angeles Lakers’ success. He possessed an innate understanding of angles and timing, allowing him to orchestrate the offense with precision. Five NBA championships and the iconic “Showtime” dynasty are proof nobody was a better pure point guard than Magic Johnson, who was the best point guard overall.


2. John Stockton

Championships: 0

Player Stats: 13.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 10.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Achievements: 10x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection, 9x Assist Champion, 2x Steals Champion, Hall of Fame

John Stockton is the second-greatest pure point guard in NBA history, primarily due to his extraordinary passing ability, basketball IQ, and selfless approach to the game. Stockton’s most notable achievement is his record-setting career total of 15,806 assists, a mark that may never be surpassed. His ability to consistently create scoring opportunities for his teammates, especially Karl Malone, epitomized the essence of a pure point guard.

Stockton’s primary objective on the court was to make his teammates better. Despite possessing a capable jump shot and scoring ability, he prioritized setting up his teammates for high-percentage shots. His unselfishness and willingness to facilitate the offense earned him the respect of his peers and made him a beloved teammate throughout his career. His chemistry with fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone formed one of the most prolific duos in NBA history, as Stockton consistently set up Malone for easy buckets with pinpoint passes. There is a reason why the Utah Jazz never missed the playoffs with Stockton at the helm.


3. Isiah Thomas

Championships: 2

Player Stats: 19.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Achievements: 1989-90 Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Team Selection, 1984-85 Assist Champion, Hall of Fame

Isiah Thomas was the heart and soul of the Detroit Pistons during their “Bad Boys” era. His leadership on and off the court was instrumental in shaping the team’s identity and competitive spirit. Thomas led by example, displaying a relentless work ethic and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. Despite possessing scoring ability, Thomas prioritized facilitating the offense and getting his teammates involved.

His court vision and passing accuracy allowed him to create scoring opportunities for his teammates with ease, and he ranks 10th all-time in assists (9,061). Thomas had a knack for delivering pinpoint passes in traffic and finding the open man, making him a masterful floor general. He paved the way for smaller guards to thrive in the NBA and inspired future generations of players with his tenacity and competitive spirit, and probably hurt his own chances to earn individual awards for the sake of the Pistons’ success.


4. Jason Kidd

Championships: 1

Player Stats: 12.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Achievements: 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Team Selection, 9x All-Defensive Team Selection, 5x Assist Champion, 1994-95 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame

Jason Kidd’s court vision and passing ability were elite, earning him the reputation as one of the greatest facilitators in NBA history. He had an uncanny ability to anticipate plays before they unfolded and deliver pinpoint passes to his teammates. Kidd’s passing elevated the play of those around him, making him a true maestro of the offense, as he ranks second all-time in career assists (12,091).

Kidd embodied the essence of a pure point guard, prioritizing setting up his teammates for easy scoring opportunities over his own scoring. He was always willing to make the extra pass and find the open man, regardless of personal accolades. Kidd’s unselfishness and team-first mentality endeared him to his teammates and coaches throughout his career. He was a natural leader on and off the court, guiding the New Jersey Nets to two NBA Finals appearances and helping the Dallas Mavericks capture an NBA championship in 2011.


5. Steve Nash

Championships: 0

Player Stats: 14.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 8.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG

Achievements: 2x MVP, 8x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Team Selection, 5x Assist Champion, Hall of Fame

Steve Nash’s ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates was nearly unparalleled and certainly unique. He possessed superb court vision, timing, and passing accuracy, allowing him to dissect defenses and deliver pinpoint assists. Nash thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offensive system with the Phoenix Suns, known as “Seven Seconds or Less.” This system emphasized fast breaks, ball movement, and three-point shooting, perfectly suited to Nash’s skill set.

Under D’Antoni’s guidance, Nash flourished as the orchestrator of one of the most potent offenses in NBA history. Nash ranks fifth all-time in career assists with 10,335, further highlighting his exceptional playmaking ability and longevity at the point guard position. Nash is also one of the most accomplished point guards ever with two MVP awards to his name, winning them in back-to-back fashion in 2005 and 2006. 

Related: The Greatest NBA Point Guards Of All Time By Category


6. Chris Paul

Championships: 0

Player Stats: 17.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 9.4 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Achievements: 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, 9x All-Defensive Team Selection, 5x Assist Champion, 6x Steals Champion, 2005-06 Rookie of the Year

Despite not winning an NBA championship, Chris Paul’s impact and contributions to the game are undeniable. With an illustrious career spanning 18 years, Paul’s ability to distribute the ball and orchestrate the offense is unparalleled, as evidenced by his five-assist titles and third-all-time ranking in career assists with 11,798.

He possesses exceptional court vision, timing, and passing accuracy, allowing him to create scoring opportunities for his teammates in various situations. Furthermore, Paul’s leadership qualities are evident both on and off the court. He is known for being an extension of his coach on the floor, directing his teammates, and holding them accountable for their actions. His professionalism, work ethic, and dedication set a positive example for his teammates and contribute to a winning culture wherever he goes.


7. Oscar Robertson

Championships: 1

Player Stats: 25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG

Achievements: 1963-64 MVP, 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, 6x Assist Champion, 1960-61 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame

Oscar Robertson is undoubtedly one of the greatest all-around talents in NBA history, often regarded as the prototype for the modern-day point guard. While he may not fit the traditional mold of a pure point guard due to his scoring prowess, his exceptional passing ability and playmaking skills cannot be overlooked. Despite his scoring ability, Robertson was also an exceptional passer, as evidenced by his six assist titles and 11 All-NBA Team selections.

He had superb court vision and passing accuracy, often setting up his teammates for easy baskets with his pinpoint passes and unselfish play. While Robertson may have leaned slightly more toward scoring than passing at times, his scoring ability and athleticism opened up the game for his teammates. His presence on the court commanded attention from defenses, creating opportunities for his teammates to excel, and he ranks 8th all-time in career assists (9,887).


8. Gary Payton

Championships: 1

Player Stats: 16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Achievements: 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Team Selection, 9x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1995-96 Defensive Player of the Year, 1995-96 Steals Champion, 1990-91 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame

Gary Payton, known as “The Glove,” was not only a defensive stalwart but also an exceptional playmaker and leader on the court. Despite his evolution as a scorer, Payton’s natural inclination as a pass-first point guard and playmaker remained a defining aspect of his game throughout his career. Entering the NBA with a focus on distributing the ball and orchestrating the offense, Payton quickly established himself as a floor general with exceptional court vision and passing skills.

He had a knack for finding his teammates in scoring positions and setting them up for easy baskets, showcasing his innate playmaking ability from the start. While Payton developed into a dominant scorer over the years, his passing instincts and leadership qualities never waned. One of Payton’s most iconic connections was with Shawn Kemp, as their alley-oop combinations became legendary.


9. Walt Frazier

Championships: 2

Player Stats: 18.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Achievements: 7x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Team Selection, 7x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Fame

Walt Frazier may not boast the eye-popping assist numbers of some of his contemporaries, but his impact as a floor general and leader for the New York Knicks during the 1970s was undeniable. Frazier’s ability to command the offense, make accurate passes, and set the tone for games with his flair and style made him a true on-court coach for the Knicks.

While his career average of 6.1 assists per game may not rank among the league leaders, Frazier’s passing ability went beyond statistics. He possessed exceptional court vision and timing, allowing him to find his teammates in scoring positions with precision and creativity. Frazier’s passes were not only effective but also aesthetically pleasing, as he made even routine plays look beautiful with his finesse and flair.


10. Bob Cousy

Championships: 6

Player Stats: 18.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.5 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG

Achievements: 1956-57 MVP, 13x All-Star, 12x All-NBA Team Selection, 8x Assist Champion, Hall of Fame

Bob Cousy, often referred to as “The Houdini of the Hardwood,” is widely regarded as one of the greatest point guards in NBA history and a pioneer of modern basketball. Despite playing in an era where athleticism was not as pronounced as it is today, Cousy’s pure playmaking ability and leadership were instrumental in guiding the Boston Celtics to unprecedented success. With an impressive six NBA championships to his name, Cousy was the driving force behind the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and early 1960s. His exceptional court vision, passing skills, and basketball IQ were ahead of his time, allowing him to orchestrate the Celtics’ offense with precision and efficiency.

Cousy possessed a unique ability to see the floor and anticipate plays before they unfolded, allowing him to set up his teammates for easy scoring opportunities with his pinpoint passes and unselfish play. Only John Stockton won more assist titles in NBA history, and he revolutionized the point guard position with his flashy ball-handling, creative passing, and innovative style of play, paving the way for future generations of point guards to excel in the NBA.


Why Is Stephen Curry Not A Pure Point Guard?

Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry is not typically classified as a pure point guard due to his unique style of play and scoring-oriented approach. While traditional point guards prioritize playmaking, setting up their teammates, and running the offense, Curry’s game revolves heavily around his extraordinary shooting ability, particularly from beyond the three-point line.

Curry’s influence on the game of basketball cannot be overstated. He has revolutionized the way the game is played, particularly with his proficiency in shooting from long range. Unlike traditional point guards, Curry is often more focused on scoring than facilitating the offense. His ability to navigate through screens, create his own shot, and capitalize on scoring opportunities makes him more of a “point shooter” than a pure point guard.

It’s worth noting that Draymond Green, Curry’s teammate, often assumes playmaking duties and functions as a de facto point guard at times, further highlighting Curry’s role as a scoring threat rather than a traditional playmaker. Even if Curry is among the greatest point guards ever with a total of 3,687 threes made and four NBA titles to go along with a Finals MVP and two MVP trophies, he is not considered a pure point guard by any means. 

Related: Who Is The Greatest NBA Point Guard Of All Time? (The Most Accurate Formula)

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