In basketball, the point guard is arguably as important as the quarterback in football. The entire offense starts with them, and many of the most exciting teams in NBA history were anchored by a great man running the point. Of course, like most positions in the NBA, the point guard’s role has evolved over time and we’ve seen many different styles used to play the position, which makes it a fascinating position to break down.
We looked back through the stat sheets from Basketball Reference and compared the best players to regularly play the point guard position. We’ve got players going back more than 50 years in NBA history covered in the list, and if current stars like Ben Simmons, Trae Young and Luka Dončić keep up their figures, they’ll join this list in years to come.
25. Stephon Marbury (1997-2009)
“Starbury” may have had very little success in the playoffs during his NBA career, but he made enough of a case to be considered among the best point guards ever. His career average of 7.6 assists per game ranks him in the top 20 of all time, and when you couple that with the fact that he was also giving teams 19.3 points per game, you’ve got a brilliant player. It’s kind of mind-blowing that Marbury only made the All-Star Team twice before leaving the league in 2009 to have a massively successful career playing ball in China.
24. Damian Lillard (2013-Present)
Not only is Damian Lillard one of the most exciting players in the game today, he makes a strong case as one of the best point guards in NBA history. The five-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has averaged more than 24 points per game since being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012. He’s spent his entire career there as the team’s undoubted leader and while his career average of 6.5 assists per game is solid, we have the feeling it would be a lot better if he had some star teammates.
Still, by also giving his team an average of 24.1 points per game for his career so far, Lillard is a player any team would love to have running their sets.
23. Micheal Ray Richardson (1979-1986)
Micheal Ray Richardson’s career was severely shortened by his repeated violations of the league’s drug policy, but we think he did enough in eight seasons to prove he was one of the great point guards in history. In that short span, he led the league in steals three times and made four All-Star Teams. Per 36 minutes of action, Richardson averaged 7.6 assists, 16 points, 2.8 steals and 5.9 rebounds.
Put simply, the guy was as fearsome a point guard as there’s ever been.
22. Rod Strickland (1989-2005)
When you look at Rod Strickland’s career figures, it blows your mind that he never made an NBA All-Star Team. The journeyman point guard averaged a stout 8.5 assists per 36 minutes for his career, which spanned a ridiculous 17 seasons. He also averaged 15.5 points per 36 minutes, which further proves his standing on this list. Those numbers show that Strickland was a master of efficiency when appearing in more than 1,000 career games.
He’s arguably the most underrated great point guard in league history.
21. Kyle Lowry (2007-Present)
Another current player who’s been defining the point guard position for years is Kyle Lowry. The 2019 NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors has been a six-time All-Star because of his consistently stellar play since the 2006-07 season. Since then, Lowry has averaged 7.1 assists, 16.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per 36 minutes of play. With that kind of production in so many facets of the game, it’s hard to believe he nearly wasn’t even drafted in the first round.
20. Mark Price (1987-1998)
The Cleveland Cavaliers of the late 1980s/early 1990s are largely forgotten today, but they had some great seasons and much of their success was due to the play of Mark Price. The four-time All-NBA selection averaged 8.4 assists and 19 points per 36 minutes during the nine seasons he spent with the Cavs and his overall career numbers aren’t much worse, with averages of 8.1 assists and 18.3 points per 36 minutes.
If he hadn’t played during the era of Michael Jordan, Price’s legacy would be even greater among could-be Hall of Famers.
19. Rajon Rondo (2007-Present)
Similar to Mark Jackson in terms of efficiency, Rajon Rondo is also somehow overlooked in the discussion of the all-time great point guards. The four-time All-Star has averaged a remarkable 9.6 assists per 36 minutes for his career, which has spanned 14 seasons so far and has impacted some of the league’s most storied franchises. Rondo has also chipped in 1.9 steals per 36 minutes, which is why he’s been named to four All-Defensive squads in a tenure that’s included a championship ring with the Celtics.
18. Jerry West (1961-1974)
Decades before Rajon Rondo was helping the Celtics win a title, Jerry West was leading the franchise’s arch-rival Lakers to a championship. “Mr. Clutch” was an architect of the style of point guard play that we commonly see today, because he made plays for himself about as often as he helped set them up for his teammates. West’s career average of 6.7 assists per game is on the low end, but his 27 points and 5.8 rebounds per game are on the high end for the position.
In a career that spanned 14 seasons, West was named an All-Star in every one of them, as well as a remarkable 12 All-NBA selections, which proves he was arguably the premier point guard of his day.
17. Maurice Cheeks (1979-1993)
With the help of 6-foot-1-inch Maurice Cheeks, the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers were one of the greatest basketball teams ever assembled. Cheeks started in 79 of 82 games that regular season and helped lead the team to a title after a dominant playoff run. But the rest of his career was just as noteworthy, as he averaged 7.6 assists, 12.4 points and a stellar 2.4 steals per 36 minutes. Cheeks, who was a five-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection was a master of the high-percentage shot, racking up a career shooting percentage of .523.
It’s no wonder “Mo” landed in the Hall of Fame with figures like that.
16. Gary Payton (1991-2007)
“The Glove” wasn’t as prolific in terms of statistics as some other points guards on this list, but he was as instrumental to the success of his teams as anyone. Payton’s averages of 6.9 assists and 16.7 points per 36 minutes are obviously solid, but his true greatness comes out when you look at more advanced analytics. He ranks inside the top 30 of all time for total win shares — which accumulates how many wins a player was responsible for in his career — and value over replacement player — which looks at how much better a team did when he was on the court versus a substitute player.
The Hall of Famer also won a championship with the Miami Heat and was a nine-time selection of the All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive squads.
15. Tiny Archibald (1971-1984)
Standing at 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 150 pounds, Tiny Archibald was indeed that — at least by NBA standards — but his game was massive. The oldest player on the list, Archibald was one of the first guys to prove that point guards could spread the ball around but also score plenty of points as well, taking what Jerry West did at the position and improving on it. This six-time All-Star averaged 7.4 assists and 19 points per 36 minutes for his career.
The fact that the former NBA champion battled back from an Achilles injury halfway through his career to become a Hall of Famer also proves Archibald’s toughness at a position that isn’t always revered for it.
14. Deron Williams (2006-2017)
Severely underrated among the great point guards, Deron Williams put up career numbers that rival many of them. Williams played in at least 65 games per season for nine of his 12 seasons in the NBA, and in that time, he averaged 8.5 assists and 17.2 points per 36 minutes. He ranks in the top 25 all-time for career assists, ahead of guys like Tiny Archibald and Jerry West. Williams was somehow only a three-time All-Star, despite the fact that he helped lead nine teams to the playoffs.
13. Mark Jackson (1988-2004)
We had Mark Jackson on our list of overlooked NBA players who should be in the Hall of Fame, and you’ll understand why when you look at his numbers. While he bounced around the league during his lengthy career, Jackson was consistently strong as a pure point guard, especially in terms of efficiency. He averaged 9.5 assists per 36 minutes, which is better than most players on this list, and he ranks among the top 25 all-time in games played, regardless of position.
Jackson’s 11.5 points per 36 minutes played aren’t as eye-popping as others on this list, but he excels in arguably the most important ways to judge a point guard.
12. Bob Cousy (1951-1970)
There’s a reason Bob Cousy won six championship rings and was an All-Star in each of the first 13 seasons of his career. The Celtics icon averaged 7.9 assists and 19 points per 36 minutes played, which are stellar numbers in terms of efficiency. Cousy led the NBA in assists for eight of the 14 seasons in which he played and ranks inside the top 20 in that stat category in league history.
That figure alone would put him alongside the best point guards to ever play, but the fact the he basically pioneered the position makes his legacy undeniable.
11. James Harden (2010-Present)
Future Hall of Famer James Harden has earned a reputation for being a ball hog because of his historic scoring output in recent years, but when he’s had other great scorers on his team, he’s been more than willing to spread the ball around. Harden’s career average of 6.6 assists per 36 minutes isn’t anything to write home about, but in the last four seasons, since he’s played alongside stars like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook in Houston, that number has jumped to 8.7 assists per 36 minutes.
Combine that with the fact that he’s averaged 26.3 points per 36 minutes for his career and has a career win share of more than 133 and you’ve got a point guard any fan would like to have on their team.
10. Stephen Curry (2010-Present)
Another current point guard who has taken on an attitude of often doing it himself is Stephen Curry. The Warriors icon has kept pace with the game’s best scorers ever, averaging nearly 25 points per 36 minutes over the course of 11 seasons so far. At the same time, he’s averaged 6.9 assists per 36 minutes, putting him ahead of James Harden and tied with Gary Payton. The two-time MVP has also averaged 1.8 steals per 36 minutes, giving him another tool that helps make a great point guard.
But Curry’s three championship rings are his most impressive stat of all and cement him as one of the great dynasty leaders in NBA history.
9. Kevin Johnson (1988-2000)
While guys like Harden and Curry are flashy point guards, Kevin Johnson was simply a rock-steady hand that made every team he was on even better. In a career that spanned 12 seasons, Johnson was named to only three All-Star Teams but was chosen to five All-NBA squads, which is a more accurate depiction of his skills compared to other point guards of the 1990s. The should-be Hall of Famer averaged 9.6 assists per 36 minutes, which is seventh all-time among guys who’ve played at least 200 games.
But Johnson was also a gifted scorer, contributing 18.9 points per 36 minutes to his teams and maintaining a career shooting percentage of .493. He simply deserves more praise in conversations like this.
8. Russell Westbrook (2009-Present)
For three consecutive seasons, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple double for the entire slate, an unprecedented level of all-around production in NBA history. That figure obviously includes assists, which Westbrook has dished out at a clip of 8.7 per 36 minutes for his career so far. His 8.32 assists per game rank him in the top 10 all-time, and those figures don’t even highlight the ridiculous amount of points he scores himself.
Westbrook has averaged 24.2 points and 1.8 steals per 36 minutes, making him one of the most dangerous single players in basketball history.
7. Jason Kidd (1995-2013)
While point guards who score a ton on their own are common today, there’s still something fantastic about a guy whose court vision allows him to create amazing plays for his teammates. That’s what Jason Kidd’s great gift was, leading him to 10 All-Star Game appearances and a spot in the Hall of Fame. Kidd averaged 8.7 assists per game for his career, which spanned nearly 1,400 games. The fact that Kidd also averaged 1.9 steals and 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes further shows why he had such a long and revered career.
6. Steve Nash (1997-2014)
Being named MVP of the NBA is a remarkable achievement, and Steve Nash earned that honor twice, despite never being a huge scorer. The Hall of Famer was a master playmaker, dishing out 9.8 assists per 36 minutes for his career, which is the second best mark ever among players who started at least 800 games. Nash’s scoring average of 16.4 points per 36 minutes and career shooting percentage of .490 are just further indicators that he was invaluable to every team he was on.
The biggest knock against Nash is that he never won a ring, but he’s hardly the only legendary point guard who’s experienced that, as you’ll see if you keep reading.
5. Isiah Thomas (1982-1994)
In the late 1980s, the Detroit Pistons proved to be the only team that could wreck Michael Jordan and stave off his eventual domination of the league in the 1990s. Isiah Thomas was the team’s leader and the emblem of its tough-as-nails attitude. He averaged 9.3 assists per game for his career, which ranks him fourth all-time in that all-important stat for judging point guard greatness.
When you consider that Thomas also averaged 19.2 points and 1.9 steals per game in a career that spanned 979 games and included two championships, it’s no wonder he ended up in the Hall of Fame.
4. Oscar Robertson (1961-1974)
Basketball fans in the 1960s got the pleasure of watching two incredible point guards in Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, and the latter player was arguably even more amazing. “Big O” became a 12-time All-Star and 11-time All-NBA selection because of his all-around greatness, which was uncommon at the time. In 14 seasons, Robertson averaged an amazing 9.5 assists, 25.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. In 1961-62, he became the first player in history to average a triple double for an entire season.
His numbers dip a bit when you look at his averages per 36 minutes, but they’re still stellar, and the production he gave his teams on a nightly basis showed that Robertson’s skill level was way ahead of its time.
3. Chris Paul (2006-Present)
In today’s game, there’s been no better point guard than Chris Paul. His averages of 9.8 assists per 36 minutes and 9.5 assists per game are by far the best of any player to begin his career in the 2000s, making him the gold standard of the current NBA point guard crop. On top of that, Paul has given his teams 19 points and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes, adding up to a remarkable total level of production.
The 10-time All-Star and nine-time All-Defensive squad selection will unquestionably be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he’s eligible, despite the fact that he’ll likely never win a championship.
2. Magic Johnson (1980-1996)
It’s easy to compare all-around stat monsters like Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson to Magic Johnson, but the latter was an even better facilitator to his teammates. In addition to averaging 19.5 points per game for his career, Johnson averaged 11.2 assists per game, which is the best mark in NBA history and may never be matched. The three-time MVP also gave his teams 7.2 rebounds per game, further elevating his status as one of the game’s greats, regardless of position.
The only reason Johnson isn’t topping this list is because he started in 763 career games, which is markedly fewer than other titans on this list, even though his five championship rings are a massive achievement.
1. John Stockton (1985-2003)
It’s impossible to argue that any point guard in history was better at creating opportunities for his teammates than John Stockton. The Utah Jazz legend averaged a mind-blowing 11.9 assists per 36 minutes, which is by far the highest mark ever. The fact that he’s also the only point guard to start in more than 1,500 NBA games further bolsters his standing as the best to ever play the game. When you throw in his amazing average of 2.5 steals per 36 minutes and his total of 207.7 win shares — the latter of which is more than 50 better than Magic Johnson — he simply can’t be beat.
Stockton is yet another incredible point guard who failed to win a championship and fell victim to the buzzsaw that was Michael Jordan’s Bulls, but he exemplified the position better than arguably any other player in NBA history.