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2001, February: Basketball Digest – Points of Impact – ranking of basketball point forwards

June 23, 2008

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From No. 1 (Jason Kidd) to No. 29 (whoever gets the nod that night for the Bulls), we rank the NBA’s floor generals

GET THE POINT? NBA TEAMS that do usually are in the running for
postseason glory. Those that don’t, well, their seasons often wind up
pointless.

Not that it is absolutely necessary to have a classic point guard from
the Bob Cousy-Lenny Wilkens-Isiah Thomas mold. The Chicago Bulls
certainly didn’t when they were winning all of those titles.

But they had the equivalent of a point forward in Scottie Pippen. And
coach Phil Jackson, who made do with B.J. Armstrong in Chicago’s first
run of championships, turned to defense-oriented Ron Harper for the
second batch to relieve some of the stress on Michael Jordan and Pippen
when the Bulls didn’t have the ball.

He’s done the same thing in Los Angeles and already has a championship
ring with the Lakers. Naturally, so does Kobe Bryant, who was relieved
of most ball-handling and some key defensive duties, too, with Harper
on hand.

Besides, Harper is a terrific motivator. He brought his three
championship rings from Chicago into the Lakers’ locker room during the
Finals last spring.

"He flashed them in everyone’s face and said, `You want one of these?’"
Glen Rice said during the Finals. "We all said, `Yes.’ He said, `You’ve
got to work hard.’ Hopefully pretty soon we’ll have one of those to
flash in his face."

Thanks in part to Harper, they do. And Rice brought his to New York
when he was dealt to the Knicks. In New York, Rice will learn that one
of the Big Apple’s greatest exports is, well, the point guard.

The list runs the gamut from Dick McGuire and Cousy to left-handed
wizards Wilkens and Tiny Archibald. And from the physical (Mark
Jackson) to the mercurial (Stephon Marbury).

Leadership, unselfishness, quickness with the ball, and an ability to
see the whole court and know what will happen next are key traits for
today’s point guards. Scoring is important too, because without the
threat of hitting outside shots or finishing off drives, they became
one-dimensional. Defenders lay off expecting the pass, thus cutting
down on passing lanes.

"The position changes with the game, but right now, a point guard has
to be the most versatile guy on the court," says Thomas, who is in his
first year as coach of the Indiana Pacers. "He needs speed to push the
ball, but he also needs strength to handle tight defensive coverage. He
has to be able to shoot enough to keep people honest, and he is
supposed to keep his team-mates happy by distributing.

"The NBA game demands versatility, so if a point is not able to do those things, a team will go out and find someone who will."

So which point guards might have a chance of carrying their teams to
the top–or at least helping guide them there the way Harper has done
in four of the last five seasons? Who are the best at the one and why?
Which players are pointing their teams toward the heights?

BASKETBALL DIGEST has ranked the starting point guards throughout the
NBA. Current evidence leads us to conclude that the Phoenix Suns’ Jason
Kidd is the best one in the game. [For a detailed look at Kidd’s game,
turn to our profile starting on page 32.] But there’s plenty of pointed
competition.

1. Jason Kidd, Phoenix Suns

He came into the league without a dangerous shot and too reliant on
getting to the hole. As Kidd has matured, however, he’s turned into a
scoring threat, the league’s top assist man–usurping the crown from
future Hall-of-Famer John Stockton–and the best rebounding guard in
the NBA.

Kidd’s 9.3 assist average heading into this season stood fourth on the
all-time list. If not for a broken ankle at the end of last season, he
might have carried the Suns deeper into the playoffs. The premier
triple-double man in basketball, Kidd also was a stabilizing presence
on an immature Olympic team that nearly blew the gold medal at Sydney.

2. Gary Payton, Seattle SuperSonics

As tough as they come, "the Glove" is a masterful defensive presence as
well as a dangerous scorer and distributor. It was a sign of how highly
he is regarded by other NBA veterans that Patrick Ewing didn’t balk at
being dealt to the Sonics.

Payton also has the mean streak necessary to intimidate some of the
younger players who guard him or try to penetrate against him. Watch
how often some of the inexperienced points get rid of the ball with
Payton hounding them.

3. Jalen Rose, Indiana Pacers

Hardly a classic one, Rose can play shooting guard and small
forward–and probably will at various times each season. Eventually, he
figures to replace Reggie Miller at the two.

For now, Rose is one of the league’s most well-rounded guards, using
his size and reach to overwhelm opponents. He has some problems with
the quick-silver points when they drive, but those players can’t handle
him if he posts up.

Rose displayed his leadership skills during last year’s playoff run.

4. Stephon Marbury, New Jersey Nets

Not given many options on this shooting-challenged team, Marbury has to
hoist up too many shots. He could wind up leading all shooting guards
in scoring average this year, but his strength is when he can penetrate
and dish off.

Marbury also likes having the ball in the tightest situations. He’s on
the right team for that, because none of the other Nets feel the same
way.

5. John Stockton, Utah Jazz

No longer quite at the superstar level, Stockton still is rugged,
unselfish, and sees the court as well as any point guard. He sets
picks, runs through picks, takes the open shot when it’s there, and
remains a master of the pick-and-roll.

Unfortunately, the Jazz don’t seem likely to close his illustrious
career with a championship. But Stockton will go down in history
alongside the likes of Cousy, Wilkens, and Magic Johnson.

6. Mark Jackson, Toronto Raptors

Just ask Vince Carter how important and talented Jackson is. Jackson’s
weaknesses –a mediocre shot, a lack of speed–are offset by his
physicality and court sense. Carter is a threat to score 40 every night
with Jackson feeding him in just the right spots.

"It’s no coincidence New York brings out the greatest point guards,"
says Jackson, who helped St. John’s make the 1985 Final Four. "On the
play-ground, he’s the guy with the ball in his hands, all day, every
day. It breeds toughness, competitiveness, greatness."

7. Darrell Armstrong, Orlando Magic

Once among the most underrated players in the game, Armstrong had his
breakthrough last season, when he had far more responsibility than this
year. He’s a fine complement to the new stars in Orlando.

8. Steve Francis, Houston Rockets

By next year, he might be in the top five (or even the top three).
Francis has everything a quality guard needs, plus that extra touch of
creativity every star needs. When he learns the league a bit more and
gets more comfortable with his teammates, he could challenge Kidd for
supremacy.

9. Terrell Brandon, Minnesota Timberwolves

People tend to forget how well-rounded Brandon is because he can’t stay
healthy. But when he is at full strength and running the Timberwolves’
attack, he is very formidable.

10. Sam Cassell, Milwaukee Bucks

A clutch scorer who gets too selfish at times, he is a two trapped in a
one’s body. But as a point guard, he controls the tempo well when he is
interested, which isn’t all the time.

11. Tim Hardaway, Miami Heat

Not really a point anymore, because he is the team’s No. 1 scoring
option. But he isn’t Miami’s shooting guard either, with Eddie Jones
around. Hardaway also has been plagued by injuries and isn’t nearly as
good as he was several seasons ago. But on any given night, he can
still be very difficult to handle.

12. Nick Van Exel, Denver Nuggets

Even more unpredictable and outrageous than Cassell, and also more of a
scoring option than most points. Van Exel has a knack for knocking down
absurd shots in close games–never leave him unguarded with the shot
clock winding down.

13. Avery Johnson, San Antonio Spurs

It helps having Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Sean Elliott, and Derek
Anderson to feed. But Johnson proved his mettle in the playoffs two
years ago and remains, at 35, capable of leading the Spurs to another
title.

14. Eric Snow, Philadelphia 76ers

Maybe Allen Iverson makes him look better. Or maybe he makes Iverson
into the best backcourt scoring option in the league. Snow also plays
better defense than most of the NBA’s point guards.

15. Andre Miller, Cleveland Cavaliers

Like Francis, he deserves more time for a full evaluation. And he needs
to upgrade his outside shooting. But Miller is a premier ball-handler
and passer and likes to play D.

16. Baron Davis, Charlotte Hornets

The No. 3 pick of the 1999 draft played sparingly as a rookie, but
already this season he’s shown he learned a lot on the pines. His
emergence–he earned player of the week honors in late November–forced
veteran David Wesley to the two.

17. Damon Stoudamire, Portland Trail Blazers

Not close to the player he was in Toronto, Stoudamire sits in too many
critical situations to be rated higher. For sheer talent with the ball
and willingness to take it to the hole, Stoudamire is top-10 material.
For defense, he barely makes the charts.

18. Steve Nash, Dallas Mavericks

His best work recently was at the Olympics for Canada. He needs to transfer more of that energy to the Mavs.

19. Mike Bibby, Vancouver Grizzlies

Getting there, but will he ever get where he wants with the Grizzlies? At least in Vancouver, his slow progress is obscured.

20. Rod Strickland, Washington Wizards

Such a waste of talent. Bad attitude, poor leadership, vastly overpaid.

21. Jason Williams, Sacramento Kings

Forget the showboating. He is fundamentally weak and not particularly popular with other players.

22. Ron Harper, Los Angeles Lakers

Judging him as an individual player, he has become very limited. But he
has more positive intangibles than most of the players on this list
combined. In the playoffs, he is a rock.

23. Charlie Ward, New York Knicks

No Heisman Trophy winner in hoops, but a serviceable player on an over-hyped team.

24. Mookie Blaylock, Golden State Warriors

A shell of the player he was in Atlanta.

25. Kenny Anderson, Boston Celtics

A shell of of the player he was in New Jersey (and at Georgia Tech).

26. Chucky Atkins, Detroit Pistons

We must reserve judgment until the Pistons surround him with better
talent. He has showed some nice potential in getting Jerry Stackhouse
the ball.

27. Jason Terry, Atlanta Hawks

He probably wishes he was back at Arizona.

28. Jeff McInnis, Los Angeles Clippers

He definitely wishes he was back at North Carolina.

29. Khalid El-Amin, A.J. Guyton, Bryce Drew, and anybody else the Chicago Bulls throw into the mix

Throw the ball to Elton Brand and get out of the way.

The Best Backups

HERE’S A LOOK AT SOME OF THE NON-REGULARS who man the point and how well (or poorly) they fare:

Travis Best, Indiana Pacers He would start for several other teams.

Greg Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers A terrific defender, a decent ball-handler, very intelligent.

Tony Delk, Phoenix Suns Excellent pickup, although he won’t take
playing time from Jason Kidd. Can contribute as a two in some
situations.

Terry Porter, San Antonio Spurs A solid vet to have around for playoff grind.

Chris Childs, New York Knicks He needs to get out of New York to have any chance to prosper.

Bimbo Coles, Cleveland Cavaliers A solid vet, shouldn’t play more than 20 minutes a night.

Lindsey Hunter, Milwaukee Bucks He prefers to shoot rather than pass.

Anthony Carter, Miami Heat He’s there to give the perpetually injured Tim Hardaway a chance to rest those aching knees.

Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers Since Kobe Bryant’s emergence, he’s gone downhill.

Howard Eisley, Dallas Mavericks John Stockton’s heir apparent is now battling Steve Nash for playing time.

Mateen Cleaves, Detroit Pistons Give him a couple of years. He won’t back down from challenge.

Muggsy Bogues, Toronto Raptors Short people belong in the NBA for as long as they can last.

Jacque Vaughn, Utah Jazz Starting to develop after All-America career at Kansas.

Darrick Martin and Bobby Jackson, Sacramento Kings Either one could
become key player with starter Jason Williams’ unpredictability.

Sherman Douglas, New Jersey Nets He’s better than anyone else the Nets have found to back up Stephon Marbury.

Robert Pack, Boston Celtics Has slowed considerably and is basically just fortunate to still be in league.

The Top 10 Point Guards of All Time

SOMEDAY SOON, JASON KIDD WILL BELONG on this list of the best
playmakers in NBA history. As will Gary Payton and perhaps Stephon
Marbury. For now, though, John Stockton is the only active point guard
we feel deserves a place among the all-time greats.

1. Magic Johnson

With the body of the power forward, Magic ran the point with
unparalleled flair as he led the "Showtime" Los Angles Lakers to five
titles in the ’80s. The three time MVP led the league in passing five
straight seasons on his way to a career 11.2-apg average.

2. Oscar Robertson

The only player to ever average a triple-double for an entire season,
"the Big O" led the league in assists seven times and finished among
the top five another five times. In 1967-68 he became the only player
to ever lead the league in scoring, passing, and free throw percentage.

3. Bob Cousy

You can trace all of today’s flashy moves back to "the Houdini of the
Hardwood." But, take note youngsters, Cousy backed up his flash with
substance, leading the NBA in assists eight times as he directed the
Celtics to six NBA titles.

4. John Stockton

No one has ever played the position better for longer than Stockton,
the NBA’s all-time assists and steals leader. After close to 1,300
games as the floor general of the Jazz, he’s still among the league’s
elite. Put it this way: If you were ever hanging from a cliff and you
needed someone to throw you a rope, you’d want Stockton.

5. Isiah Thomas

The most explosive small man in NBA history, Thomas was at his best
when it really counted. The Pistons’ all-time leader in points,
assists, and steals, he was the heart and soul of the "Bad Boys"
championship run.

6. Nate Archibald

In his third season, "Tiny" led the NBA in scoring and passing, a feat
matched only by No. 2 Robertson. Injuries slowed him down in
mid-career, but he recovered to lead the Boston Celtics to the 1981
title.

7. Dave Bing

As much a scorer as a playmaker, the classy Bing averaged more than
20-ppg his first seven seasons in the NBA. In 1967-68 the Hall-of-Famer
became the first guard in 20 years to lead the league in scoring.

8. Lenny Wilkens

Before he was a Hall-of-Famer as a coach, Wilkens had a Hall of Fame
career running the point for 15 seasons. Wilkens wasn’t afraid to take
it to the hoop himself on his way to nine All-Star nods and career
averages of 16.5 ppg and 6.7 apg.

9. Richie Guerin

Largely a forgotten figure in NBA annals, behind Cousy, Guerin was the
premier point in the late ’50s and early ’60s. As a player/coach for
six of his last seven seasons, the set-shooter led his team to two
division titles.

10. Bob Davies

Before Cousy, there was the "Houdini of Harrisburg," who is credited
with pioneering the behind-the-back dribble. In his final season,
Davies set a then single-game record with 20 assists against–who
else?–Cousy’s Celtics.

Barry Wilner
COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group