Evolution is a concept that many use to explain how we developed as human-beings. Evolution is also very much alive in the game of basketball and is a process that takes place over the years. There are different forms of evolution and, obviously, the players determine them. There are certain shots that become more popular such as the Tony Parker floater. There are also certain roles that diminish in the league such as the Shaq-esque post game. But in this article, I’m going to talk about the evolution of the NBA point guard.
One of the oldest all-time great point guards is Bob Cousy, a 13-time All-Star and six-time NBA Champion. Cousy’s career high in points per game was just about 21 along with 9.5 assists at best. Although Cousy was a very poor percentage shooter, he played a significant role in the development of the NBA point guard as he started playing in the early 1950s. Cousy helped bring alive the concept of being a playmaker first for your team.
Although Oscar Robertson (A.K.A the “Big O”) wasn’t the prototypical point guard and didn’t play with the flash and speed of other greats, he deserves to be brought up in this conversation. Oscar Robertson was most definitely the LeBron James of the 1960s as he was able to play at least three positions. Despite the weaker athleticism and competition in the 60s, the “Big O” posted extremely similar numbers to James with career averages of over 25.7 points, 9.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds. Although neither James or the “Big O” were strictly point guards, both had the complete package that allowed them to manage the game like a point guard.
Walt Frazier, two-time NBA Champion, was the point guard that headlined the 1970s. Although he did not have the outstanding playmaking ability of Cousy or the “Big O,” Frazier got the job done with his amazing all-around play. Frazier shot a fantastic percentage for a point guard at 49 percent along with career averages of about 19, six, and six. Those aren’t the type of numbers that will blow you away, but Frazier brought irreplaceable leadership to the table for the New York Knicks.
Everyone knows the 1980s had Earvin “Magic” Johnson written all over it. The 80s was the era where competition really held a grudge against each other. Isiah Thomas was an unforgettable great that’s also most definitely in this conversation. Magic had the honor of playing with some of the greatest (Laker) teams of all-time that included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Both champions and maybe the two most talented point guards of all-time, they had different playing styles. Magic’s career averages weren’t too bad: 19.5 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds. Isiah’s were pretty impressive too: 19 points and nine assists as he averaged double-digit assists four times in his career.
Size combined with his unbelievable court vision and IQ was the biggest reason Magic was able to stand out as the greatest point guard of all-time. His 6-9 frame gave him the ability to see the whole court and hit his teammates in spots you wouldn’t think possible. Magic was a God and a turning point in the game of basketball. He truly exhibited everything an exemplary point guard could have: talent, athleticism, leadership, court vision, IQ, scoring ability. You name it. Even though Johnson’s Laker teams certainly helped him win five championships and three Finals MVPs, he helped LA just as much as they helped him.
The 6-1 standing Isiah Thomas was much shorter than Magic Johnson. However, he found a way to give Johnson excellent competition with his skill, speed, and drive to be better than Magic. Just as Magic was asked to carry a talented Laker team, Isiah Thomas was the floor general that the “Bad Boys” couldn’t live without. “Zeke” was entertaining with the ball but also was a great decision maker. He provided the Pistons with enough scoring as well as finding his teammates (Dumars, etc.) in the right spots and it was almost impossible for any defender to stay with him.
John Stockton played a very long time (19 years) and it is rare for any player to stay conditioned and healthy for that long (Kidd/Nash did it too). Stockton may have never been the most gifted scorer on his team but he is remembered as one of the most amazing passers of all-time. Although Stockton did average 17 points per game at best, he really didn’t need to score that much to make a true MVP-like impact on the game. Stockton averaged an incredible 14-plus assists a couple years including nine straight seasons over 11 assists per game. Stockton wasn’t extraordinarily athletic and he had a pretty small frame at about 6-1 and 170 lbs. Stockton was the definition of a true, regular-sized point guard because he didn’t have the body or athleticism of other greats but he strived off his remarkable ability to set up his teammates.
Both Jason Kidd and Steve Nash emerged as the frontrunner point guards of the 1990s and 2000s. Kidd didn’t only have unbelievable court vision like Magic and Stockton, but he was a great defender and rebounder. J-Kidd averaged a career five rebounds per game which is invaluable as a point guard. Kidd was probably the most inefficient scorer out of all the great point guards but it didn’t affect his game in the least bit. Passing wasn’t the only way that Kidd improved the players around him. Kidd had a brilliant basketball IQ. He provided intangibles in his game that greatly benefitted the team and the locker room.
The list of great point guards is endless (Gary Payton, Tiny Archibald, etc.) As you can see, basketball starts with the leadership and skill-set of the team’s point guard. With no point guard (or LeBron/Robertson) to run the show, plays are tough to execute and it is extremely difficult to find longterm success. The talk about all-time great point guards isn’t over, though. It will continue as long as the game of basketball is around.
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