In line with Sporting News’ rollout of the “75 greatest peaks in NBA history,” tying into the NBA’s 75th anniversary season, there’s a lot of chatter about where all-time great players deserve to be ranked among their peers.
The first part of the “75 greatest peaks in NBA history” list debuted Tuesday, ranking the players who made the cut from 75 down to 51. Yesterday, we looked at players ranked 50-26. Today, we debuted the third part of that list, going from 25 down to 11.
When assessing the first 65 players on the list, one thing stuck out – there are a lot of great point guards.
Tony Parker, Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich, Derrick Rose, Walt Frazier, Kyrie Irving, Penny Hardaway, Gary Payton, Damian Lillard, Jason Kidd, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas, Stephen Curry, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West all find their names on the first 65 players revealed.
It got me thinking: If you were to build the perfect point guard using bits and pieces of some of the best to ever play the game at the position, what would that create-a-player look like?
Building the perfect NBA point guard
Size: Magic Johnson
Decisions don’t get much easier than this one.
Standing in at 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Johnson was a unicorn at the point guard position back in the 1980s. Not that 6-foot-9 point guards grow on trees nowadays, but back then, no one had ever seen a player his height and length be able to handle the rock, get up-and-down the court and see the floor the way Magic did.
His size made him one of the most versatile players the NBA has ever seen, successfully playing all five positions throughout his career. He even started an NBA Finals game at center as a rookie in 1980, stepping in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and producing a jaw-dropping performance with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Lakers to an NBA title.
Magic’s size is a great starting point for the perfect point guard.
Durability: John Stockton
You know what they say — the best ability is availability. Stockton was one of the most available players in NBA history.
In 16 of his 19 seasons in the NBA, Stockton appeared in all 82 games for the Jazz. If you include the 1999 lockout season, where teams only played 50 games, then Stockton had 17 (!) seasons where he didn’t miss a single game.
Load management? He’s never heard of it.
Stockton only missed four games during his first 13 professional seasons before preseason knee surgery caused him to miss the first 18 games of the 1997-98 season. Up until that point, from 1990 to 1997, Stockton had appeared in 609 consecutive games, the eighth-longest streak in NBA history.
His 1,504 games played rank fifth all-time, but it’s worth noting that he played fewer seasons in the league than all four players ahead of him – Robert Parish, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki.
As the league’s all-time assists and steals leader, Stockton easily could have been used elsewhere on this create-a-player, but his durability was the most valuable and irreplaceable asset.
Athleticism: Russell Westbrook
No point guard in NBA history can rock the rim the way Westbrook does.
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds of muscle, Westbrook is like a runaway freight train when he gets going downhill. With a lightning-quick first step, electrifying explosiveness, broad, powerful shoulders and a killer instinct, you’re better off just getting out of the way once Westbrook picks up steam.
It’s all-out warfare when he’s attacking the hoop, and more often than not, Westbrook wins that battle.
Basketball IQ: Chris Paul
They call him the “Point God” for a reason: Paul is one of the savviest players the league has ever seen.
Paul sees the floor and understands the game at a different level. It’s like he can see the future at times, the way he navigates defenses to set up himself or his teammates for easy buckets. He’s become the king of sneaky plays that causes the masses to question his gamesmanship, being labeled a dirty player by some. But others attribute it to his desire to win, doing anything he can to give his team an edge.
I mean, how many players can say they helped their team win a game on a technicality in the rule book? Paul can.
His brain is key to building the perfect point guard.
Swagger and confidence: Allen Iverson
Before there was LeagueFits, there was Iverson rocking whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, bringing his own swagger to the NBA. And as much as we could get into his off-court style or on-court trends like the braids, headband, baggy shorts and uniform, arm sleeves and finger bands, I’m moreso talking about his demeanor when I say “swagger and confidence.”
Iverson is the walking definition of “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of fight in the dog.” It’s why players like LeBron James, among others, have called Iverson “pound-for-pound” the best player in NBA history.
From a rookie A.I. crossing up Michael Jordan, to the stepover on Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals, to his signature celebration calling to hear more from opposing crowds, you could make the case that no player in league history played with more swagger and confidence than Iverson.
That attitude is key in this create-a-player.
Shooting: Stephen Curry
Remember when I said “decisions don’t get much easier” than picking Magic for size? I’m bringing that same statement back here for Curry and shooting.
I mean, who else would it be other than the greatest shooter in the history of basketball?
He’s not yet the all-time 3-point leader, but barring an injury cutting his 2021-22 campaign short, Curry (2,832 3-pointers made) will catch Ray Allen (2,973) this season.
He was the fastest player in NBA history to hit 2,000 3s. His 402 3s made in 2015-16 are the most ever in a single season. During that season, he became the only player to ever average over 30 points while joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club. He’s the only player to score 50 points on 10 or more 3s in a game on multiple occasions – something he’s done four times. His 21 games with 10 or more 3s are by far the most in NBA history, with his teammate Klay Thompson’s five such games ranking second.
And that’s just a few of Curry’s endless list of records when it comes to shooting. All of that is to say, it didn’t take much brainpower to make this selection.
Handle: Kyrie Irving
Irving is a wizard with the basketball. It’s like watching poetry in motion when he sizes up a defender, creates separation and gets a shot off.
Nothing Irving does with the basketball is predetermined. He’s the most read-and-react ball handler I’ve ever seen. If a defender unexpectedly cuts off one passageway, he has a counter move in his bag to adjust. The basketball term “ball on a string” couldn’t be more applicable.
Irving is as smooth as it gets when it comes to ball handling and confounding the defender in front of him.
Passing: Steve Nash
Nash’s court vision and playmaking ability was elite. How else could you win back-to-back MVPs while averaging fewer than 20 points per game? As good as he was as a scorer himself, he was even better at elevating his teammates around him.
Nash took home five assists titles over his career and led the league in total assists six times. He had seven different seasons in which he averaged over 10.0 assists per game, solidifying himself as the best passer in the NBA from 2004 until roughly 2012. On fastbreaks, pick-and-rolls, in traffic driving the lane, behind-the-back, behind his head, no-look passes flinging all over the court, Nash could dish a dime in any way shape or form.
Even when it looked like a passing lane had closed, Nash would find a way to squeeze the ball to his target for a basket.
His 10,335 career assists are third-most in NBA history and it’s the perfect skill set to add to this created perfect point guard.
Defense and toughness: Gary Payton
It doesn’t get much more lockdown from the guard position than Payton.
No one took more pride on the defensive end than “the Glove,” who never backed down from any assignment. He was aggressive, physical and in-your-face the second his matchup crossed halfcourt. His intensity paired perfectly with a strong 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame with some of the quickest hands to pick anyone’s pocket. He only led the NBA in steals once, but he averaged over 2.0 steals per game in eight different seasons over the course of his career.
Payton earned nine All-Defensive First Team selections and was the last guard to be named Defensive Player of the Year when he took home the award in 1996.
Clutch gene: Damian Lillard
It has gotten to the point where if Lillard gets a shot off with a chance to tie or win the game – no matter what the defense is like around him – you should expect the ball to go in.
He has undeniably been the most clutch player in the NBA over the past few seasons. Last season, he led the league in clutch scoring while shooting an unfathomable 51.1 percent from the field in those situations. (For what it’s worth, Lillard shot 45.1 percent from the field last season, so he actually got more efficient when the stakes were at their highest).
There is no better evidence of his clutch gene than being the only player in NBA history to hit two series-clinching buzzer-beater shots in the NBA Playoffs, sending home the Rockets at the buzzer in 2014 and the Thunder in 2019.
With the game on the line, this create-a-player needs Lillard’s steady hand under pressure.
Wow factor: Luka Doncic
This is much more intangible than anything else on this list, but “Luka Magic” feels real, doesn’t it?
Whether he’s warping opposing defenses with his gravity, knocking down clutch, skyscraping 3-pointers, airbending filthy passes across the court or deceiving his matchup with ball fakes to free up playmaking opportunities, Doncic has a way to “wow” his audience.
At just 22-years-old, he already has the masses convinced of his all-time greatness, as evidence of him already cracking the 75 greatest peaks in NBA history just three years into his career. The best is still yet to come for the phenom guard, jaw-dropping plays and all.