The NBA is over 70 years old now, and its history is littered with great performances from giant centers, skilled forwards, and nifty guards. But it’s the smaller guards who tend to capture our attention as fans more than anyone else. They’re the ones that must overcome a size disadvantage by being quicker, sneakier, more agile, peskier, or just downright better. And with the introduction of the three point line in the 80s, the smaller guards had another new advantage: shooting.
The older NBA game tilted heavily towards its big men. Names like Wilt, Kareem, Mikan, and others dominated the early decades while guards were typically supporting players. In the modern game, guards are the stars. So who are the greatest 25 guards in NBA history? Let’s count them down from 25 to 1, starting with a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list…
Kevin Johnson (Honorable Mention #3)
Kevin Johnson was a walking efficient offense machine. Everywhere he went, an elite offense followed. KJ recorded a 115 offensive rating in nine straight seasons and finished his career at 59% true shooting, an outstanding mark. Johnson was the second best player on a bunch of terrific Charles Barkley Suns teams.
He ranks seventh all time in assists per game, top 100 in free throw percentage, and top 50 in both true shooting and win shares per 48 minutes. You probably remember Kevin Johnson as being very good, but the advanced metrics remember him as great.
Achievements: 5x All NBA, 3x All Star
Sidney Moncrief (Honorable Mention #2)
Sidney Moncrief finally got elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019, and it was long overdue for one of the best 20 guards to ever play the game. Moncrief was one of the best two way players in the game. He averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists a game at his peak while also adding elite defense, named to five All Defense teams and earning Defensive Player of the Year award two different seasons.
He was one of the league’s first lock-down perimeter defenders and might have won DPOY even more if it had existed early in his career. Moncrief’s teams won at least 49 games all but two seasons of his career.
Achievements: 5x All NBA, 5x All Star
Bob Cousy (Honorable Mention #1)
Bob Cousy is the OG point guard. He won the 1957 MVP, led the league in assists eight straight times, and won six championships. He was also the third or fourth best player on all those title teams, one of a handful of Celtics point guards with a ton of rings who benefited in a huge way from playing next to an NBA legend — in this case, Bill Russell.
Achievements: 6x champion, 12x All NBA, 13x All Star
25. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson is the beneficiary of one epic year in 2001 when everything bounced right. He won the MVP scoring 31 points a game with no teammate above 12 ppg., took his team to the Finals, and was the only team to take a game off the Lakers in the playoffs with his iconic Tyronn Lue step over.
But that was his only Conference Finals, and despite all the scoring from The Answer, Iverson’s teams were consistently bottom 10 in offense. Iverson was very inefficient with 42% field goals, 31% threes, and 52% true shooting and never adjusted his game to the modern ways.
Achievements: 1x MVP, 7x All NBA, 11x All Star
24. Manu Ginobili
The surface level numbers will always underrate Manu Ginobili. He never scored 20 points a game for a season and came off the bench much of his career, and he somehow only ever won one Sixth Man of the Year award when we should honestly probably name the award after him. Ginobili may have been a sixth man, but he was one of a kind on the court. He was the modern heir to James Harden, bringing the Euro step to the NBA with a unique ability to get to the rim and finish from almost any angle.
Manu won four titles with the Spurs and was probably the second best player on two of them. He was a bench player in name only, and they’d already have a Ginobili statue outside the stadium if he’d played in New York or Los Angeles.
Achievements: 4x champion, 2x All NBA, 2x All Star
23. Ray Allen
Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters in basketball history. He ranks number one all time in three pointers and shot 40% for his career, and his Finals Game 6 shot to save the Miami Heat from certain elimination in 2013 remains one of the all time greatest shots in NBA history.
Allen’s teams were best when he wasn’t one of the top two players, but offenses were absolutely lethal if they got to add his spacing and shooting beyond that. If this were fictional players instead, Jesus Shuttlesworth would rank even further up the list.
Achievements: 2x champion, 2x All NBA, 10x All Star
22. Bill Sharman
Bill Sharman played most of his career in the 1950s and had two careers in one. For the first half of his career, Sharman was the best player on the league’s best offense but didn’t have a lot of help. Then Bill Russell showed up and Sharman started winning titles, four in all. He was arguably the best Cetlic on the first of them when Russell was still a rookie.
Sharman led the league in free throw percentage seven times, finishing his career with a sparkling 88%, ranking top 15 all time. Sharman was one of those old timey players whose game might have been even better in the modern game with a three point line.
Achievements: 4x champion, 7x All NBA, 8x All Star
21. Russell Westbrook
Five years ago, it would have been crazy to imagine if any NBA player would ever average a triple double over a whole season again, like Oscar Robertson once did. Now Russell Westbrook has done it three straight seasons and we barely even bat an eyelid anymore. Westbrook won MVP his first such season and probably won’t even finish top 10 in 2019. He’s now averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists over almost a decade at his peak, and though his recent teams haven’t come through, Westbrook has already played in four Conference Finals.
Sure he’s also the worst volume three point shooter ever and takes more than a couple things off the table, but he brings a whole buffet to start with. Westbrook ranks top 30 all time in points per game — that part’s not a surprise — but he’s also third best ever in assist percentage, behind only legendary passers John Stockton and Chris Paul.
Achievements: 1x MVP, 8x All NBA, 8x All Star
20. Gary Payton
Gary Payton is one of the all time great defensive guards, making nine All Defense teams and winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 the year Payton’s Super Sonics made the Finals. Payton was so good on defense he was called The Glove for the way he held guys in check like a baseball in a glove.
But he could play some offense too. Payton has the unique distinction of being the only player in NBA history to lead the league in three pointers and assists in the same year, doing so in 2000, and he also weirdly finished 6th in the MVP race six different times.
Achievements: 1x champion, 9x All NBA, 9x All Star
19. Chauncey Billups
It’s crazy to think how much of a career Chauncey Billlups made for himself despite doing very little before he finally got to Detroit at age 26. Billups was traded five times, including each of his first three seasons. He was worth the wait for the Pistons, who made six straight Conference Finals with Billups as their best player in win shares and other advanced metric models.
Detroit made the Finals twice and won it all in 2004, and Mr. Big Shot was named Finals MVP, an apt nickname for a guy consistently even better in the playoffs than in the regular season. Billups finished 5th in a weak 2006 MVP race and had a real case to win it looking back, and he led Denver to the Conference Finals his first season after leaving the Pistons. He’s the highest retired player on this list not in the Hall of Fame yet — and he will be there soon enough.
Achievements: 1x champion, 3x All NBA, 5x All Star
18. Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller is criminally underrated. Miller made only five All Star teams but should have made 10 or 15. He’s one of the greatest shooters and scorers in NBA history. Miller led the league in free throw percentage five times and hit almost 89% of his freebies in his career, and he ranks second all time in three pointers made with a sparkling 40% shooting percentage from deep.
Miller ranks top ten all time with 61% true shooting despite constantly being the fulcrum of pretty much every offense he played on. Miller was the best player on all of his teams and dragged six of them to the Conference Finals anyway. Shooting guards aren’t supposed to do that unless they’re the elitest of the elites.
Achievements: 3x All NBA, 5x All Star
17. Sam Jones
It’s a heck of a thing to win 10 NBA championships. Sam Jones played 12 NBA seasons and made the Conference Finals in all of them and the NBA Finals all but once, and he won the title in 10 of 12 seasons. And although Bill Russell gets the biggest piece of the championship pie, Jones was the second best Celtic on four of those teams and third or fourth best for three more.
Jones scored over 20 points a game in his prime and added valuable defense. Think of him as something like Klay Thompson on the Warriors — but for 12 years straight.
Achievements: 10x champion, 3x All NBA, 5x All Star
16. George Gervin
The Iceman was one of the games smoothest and easiest scorers, a Kevin Durant type scorer thirty years before KD graced our television screens. George Gervin averaged at least 25 points a game in nine seasons straight… in the playoffs! He led all playoff scorers in PPG six of those seasons and averaged 27 points a game for 11 years at his peak.
Gervin won the scoring title four times with an easy, efficient jumper, and he finished top 3 MVP three years straight from 1978 to 1980. It’s a shame his Spurs teams never got him much help.
Achievements: 9x All NBA (or All ABA), 12x All Star
15. Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas also misses the cut. The Baby Faced Assassin had many of the best Pistons scoring games in the playoffs, but the Bad Boy Pistons won with defense and Thomas’s role kept the offense barely afloat while he was the worst starter on defense. The advanced metrics suggest Thomas may have been the worst starter on those Pistons champs, period.
Achievements: 2x champion, 5x All NBA, 12x All Star
14. Jason Kidd
They called him “Ason” Kidd early in his career because he didn’t have a J. But Jason Kidd stuck around the NBA almost two decades and was a good or very good player for almost all of them. Kidd led the league in assists five times and was named to the All Defense team nine times.
He did find a jump shot later in his career but finished with a career 51% true shooting, but he contributed so much on the boards and in defense that he was a floor general and a winner for a very long time. Kidd was the best player on two Nets teams that made the Finals and finally got that coveted ring in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks, knocking off the first edition of LeBron’s Miami Heat.
Achievements: 1x champion, 6x All NBA, 10x All Star
13. Steve Nash
Steve Nash will always be a back to back MVP, even if he’s probably the least deserving player to do it. Nash won MVP in 2005 and 2006 and finished second the following season, but he probably should’ve finished third or worse all three seasons. Still, let’s focus on the positives — Nash was one of the game’s all time genius passers and the maestro of Mike D’Antoni’s league changing Seven Seconds or Less Suns offense.
Nash ranks top 10 in assists per game, free throw percentage, and three point percentage. He was one of the league’s all time great shooters, and as great as a passer as he is, it’s a shame we didn’t get some Steph Curry years from him. If Nash had shot the ball a little bit more, he might not have gone 0–4 in Conference Finals, and he’d probably have cracked top 10 on this list.
Achievements: 2x MVP, 7x All NBA, 8x All Star
12. Clyde Drexler
Clyde Drexler was the second best shooting guard from the 90s, and like many other players in his era, we’d probably think much more highly of him if the guy ranked number one wasn’t around. Clyde the Glide averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists a game over a 13 year peak. Those numbers look normal for a star shooting guard now, but Drexler was one of the few shooting guards to post such all around performances with scoring, handling, defense, and rebounding.
Drexler finished second to Jordan in the 1992 MVP race and then again in the Finals. He finally got a ring in 1995 with MJ out of the picture, and some of the advanced metrics suggest Drexler may have even been better than Hakeem Olajuwon for those champion Rockets.
Achievements: 1x champion, 5x All NBA, 10x All Star
11. Walt Frazier
Today Walt Frazier is known as the flashy dressed voice of the Knicks, but he was the face of the franchise in the 70s, leading the team to championships in 1970 and 1973 as the best player on both teams. Frazier was an awesome defender, named seven times to an All Defense team, and he did more than his fair share on the other end too, averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 dimes over an eight year peak.
Frazier never finished top three in an MVP race but should have in 1973 and maybe should have won in 1970. He and the Knicks played in six straight Conference Finals, and only Clyde’s relatively short peak stops him from ranking even further up the list.
Achievements: 2x champion, 6x All NBA, 7x All Star
10. James Harden
James Harden won an MVP in 2018 and will finish at least second this year, his fourth top two finish in five seasons. He already ranks ninth all time in three pointers and just made the second most threes ever in a season. Harden’s already top 100 all time in points, assists, and steals, and at age 29, he’s still going to add to those numbers — quite a bit, if this 36/7/8 season is any indication.
Of course you’ll want to hold his playoff performance against him until he breaks through, but it’s easy to forget Harden has already played in four Conference Finals and might have been the second best player on a Finals team at age 22. The flopping, the free throws, it’s all difficult to watch at times. But James Harden is an all time great already, whether you like it or not.
Achievements: 1x MVP, 6x All NBA, 7x All Star
9. John Stockton
John Stockton was a very good point guard for an absurd length of time, essentially two straight decades. Stockton had a 115 or better offensive rating his final 15 seasons straight. His 15,806 assists are most all time — by almost four thousand! Stockton led the league in assists nine straight seasons. He’s also the all time NBA leader in steals by almost 600, maybe just as unreachable of a record.
Stockton ranks fifth all time in offensive rating and sixth in win shares. His bread and butter pick and roll tandem with Karl Malone made them one of the best one two punches in NBA history. If only they’d had a little more postseason success — that go to offense never seemed to work quite well enough on the game’s biggest stage.
Achievements: 11x All NBA, 10x All Star
8. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is The Point God, and he’s even better than you give him credit for. CP3 is good at pretty much everything. He’s made nine All Defense teams and led the league in steals six times. He’s also a walking elite offense. CP3 has a 118 or better offensive rating 12 seasons in a row — and counting.
He currently has the #1 all time offensive rating and he ranks top eight all time in assists and steals per game, BPM, PER, and win shares per 48 minutes. CP3 never won an MVP, though he probably should’ve in 2008, and he never made the Conference Finals until last season. Still, Chris Paul might be the only player in history that’s the best player for two different NBA franchises.
Achievements: 8x All NBA, 9x All Star
7. Stephen Curry
Steph Curry is the greatest basketball shooter in human history. That much is not up for debate. He’s already third all time in three pointers and will be first in a little more than a season. And despite all the difficult shots, Curry ranks top five in career three point percentage and number one all time in free throw percentage. The advanced metrics are even better. Curry ranks 4th all time with 62% true shooting on a leaderboard populated by seven foot dudes shooting two feet from the rim, and he’s #2 all time in OBPM.
He won back to back MVPs in 2015 and 2016, and the latter season was perhaps the greatest offensive season in NBA history with 30/5/7 on 50/45/91 shooting. He’s been the best player on three champions — yeah, you heard me — and might add another ring to his resume soon.
Achievements: 3x champion, 2x MVP, 6x All NBA, 6x All Star
6. Dwyane Wade
That’s finally a career for Dwayne Wade, and what an amazing career it was. Wade finishes top 50 all time in points, assists, steals, free throws, and win shares with a career average of 22 points per game. He played in five NBA Finals, four of them, 3 with LeBron and one on his own.
Winning the 2012 and 2013 titles with James pushed Wade up the all time guard rankings, but it was his 2006 championship that really made him a legend. That run made Dwyane Wade the only shooting guard besides Michael Jordan to be the clear best player on a title team. Wade slashed to the rim and finished at an elite level, and he earned every bit of the retirement tour he got.
Achievements: 3x champion, 8x All NBA, 13x All Star
5. Oscar Robertson
Until the last few years, Oscar Robertson was the only player ever to average a triple double for an entire season. Robertson nearly averaged a triple double for his entire decade long peak. He led the league in assists six times and finished top five in eight straight MVP races, winning it in 1964 over Wilt Chamberlain.
Robertson struggled to get his team to the highest level until late in his career when he joined Kareem with the Bucks, finally making two Finals and winning one of them. Robertson’s numbers are helped by a heavy minutes load at an insane pace, but the dude ranks top 10 all time in both points and assists per game. That’s pretty nuts, no matter how you slice it.
Achievements: 1x champion, 1x MVP, 11x All NBA, 12x All Star
4. Jerry West
As great as Kobe Bryant was, he might not even be the best Lakers shooting guard of all time. Jerry West may have been an even better scorer. He averaged 26 or more points per game a ridiculous 11 straight seasons, and he has a career 29ppg playoff average including seven different playoffs over 30ppg. West was 9–2 in the Conference Finals and finished top five in eight different MVP races.
Of course he also went 1–8 in the NBA Finals and finished runner up in the MVP race without ever winning one, and he’s the only player in NBA history to win a Finals MVP on the losing team. Thankfully, West finally broke through for a title on the 69–13 1972 Lakers to win his one ring. But with his all time scoring, passing, and defense, it’s not exactly his fault he came up short in all the rest.
Achievements: 1x champion, 12x All NBA, 14x All Star
3. Kobe Bryant
The numbers for Kobe Bryant are simply staggering. He finished his career third all time with 33,643 points and a career average of 25 points a game. Kobe won an MVP in 2008 but, even more impressively, he finished top 5 in MVP voting all but one year between 2002 and 2013. There was the 81 point game, second most points all time in an NBA game, and of course there was the 60 point finale to end his career.
And the winning — there was plenty of that, too. Kobe was 7–1 in Conference Finals and 5–2 in the Finals, winning five rings with Shaq and Pau and grabbing two Finals MVP awards on top of the rings. Throw in two scoring titles and 12 All Defense teams and you have one of the game’s all time’s greats.
Achievements: 5x champion, 1x MVP, 15x All NBA, 18x All Star
2. Magic Johnson
Argue about anything else on this list of guards, but number one and two are absolute locks. Magic Johnson is the greatest point guard of all time. He could do everything. Magic led the league in scoring five times and in assists four times. He was the best player on eight straight Conference Finals Lakers teams and won five NBA championships, named Finals MVP in three of them, one of which was as a rookie when he was the second best player on a 60–win champ and memorably filled in at center in the Finals for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Magic was the heartbeat of the Showtime Lakers with a dazzling array of passes, and elite offense followed him wherever he went. He finished top three in the MVP race nine straight times and won it three times between 1987 and 1990. Magic Johnson is one of the game’s all time greats.
Achievements: 5x champion, 3x MVP, 10x All NBA, 12x All Star
1. Michael Jordan
Is there any question? Michael Jordan finished with a career scoring average over 30 points a game and once scored 30 a game for seven consecutive seasons. Jordan led the NBA in scoring 10 times, with several of the greatest offensive seasons in league history. Oh and he was also elite defensively. Jordan was named to nine All Defense teams and once won Defensive Player of the Year. He won five MVP awards. And then there was all the Bulls dominance.
In Michael’s final six full seasons with the Bulls, Chicago won the championship in all of them. Jordan was 24–11 in NBA Finals games. He was six-for-six in the Finals and six-for-six winning Finals MVP. There was nothing Michael Jordan could not do on a basketball court. He was the Greatest Of All Time.
Achievements: 6x champion, 5x MVP, 11x All NBA, 14x All Star