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NBA Top 25: 22-20

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What you see before you is the second semi-weekly installment of The Daily Californian official top 25 NBA players of all time, as democratically voted on by our sports staffers. On Thursday, we covered legends Steve Nash and Scottie Pippen, Dwyane Wade and David Robinson — players who have won league MVPs, Defensive Players of the Year awards and Finals. Now as we continue our journey, we look into the careers of a truly great point guard who never won a championship ring because of the meteoric rise of the game’s best-ever player, a big man who always had a knack for playing his best ball when it mattered most and a player so smooth on offense and sneaky on defense that he was commonly referred to as the heir apparent to Magic Johnson. Let’s dive in.

22. John Stockton

By Vikram Muller

Stockton is debatably the greatest pure point guard ever ─ assuming Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson don’t fit the definition. Over a 19-year career, Stockton quietly but consistently made his name as one of the greatest players on both sides of the ball, and his statistics display nothing less than his greatness as a distributor and a pick-pocket. Stock ranks first all-time on the NBA’s career assist and steals lists, ahead of Jason Kidd by healthy margins ─ over 3000 assists and nearly 600 steals ─ in both categories.

Additionally, Stockton is one of only a few players who made the playoffs every single season he played in the NBA, and this testament to his longevity is only amplified by the fact that he did it for 19 years and all with the Utah Jazz. In his fourth season, Stockton led from the front, becoming a full-time starter and also beginning a streak of nine consecutive seasons leading the league in assists, five of which rank in the top six single-season assists averages in NBA history. His 1989-90 and ’90-91 seasons are also the only two in NBA history by any player to average over 14 assists a game. The versatility of Magic and the Big O and Stockton’s lack of a championship (there’s no shame in coming up short twice against prime Michael Jordan), are the only things holding his ranking down.

21. Kevin Garnett

By Austin Isaacsohn

I hate Kevin Garnett.  But, it’s a weird sort of hate.

It’s the kind of hate that only rises when a player on an archrival embarrasses your favorite team in the Finals. It’s a “why does he seem to be having so much more fun than the Lakers” kind of hate. Truthfully, it’s the kind of hate that only conjures up when you love what a player is and what he does, you just hate that he’s doing it for a team you hate.

I know, I know, my relationship with KG is complicated.

When he was toiling away in Minnesota, I didn’t think I’d ever have such strong feelings for him. He was a league MVP on a crappy team — the mega-talented kid in a garage band who plays every instrument better than any of his buddies. His Timberwolves were ousted in the first round his first seven trips to the playoffs. In his 12 years in Minnesota, his best teammate was probably Stephon Marbury. Think about that.

So when he tore my Lakers to shreds to the tune of an 18-13-3 Finals average, capped by a truly stellar 26-14-4 performance in the Game 6 clincher, it was hard to be mad. I mean, it was easy to be mad. Really really pissed, actually. But I couldn’t help but feel for the guy.

I sat and wondered what could’ve happened had he traded places with a guy like Tim Duncan. Had he been mentored by David Robinson, coached by Gregg Popovich for 20 years and constantly surrounded by players that were sometimes even better than he was, while Duncan struggled with inept management and weak teammates for a decade plus. Who would be a top 10 lock, and who would barely nab a top 25 spot?

Hey, anything is possible

20. Isiah Thomas

By Andrew Wild

The term pure point guard sometimes seems like an attempt to discredit incredible players like Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, and it comes off as an annoying strawman argument. Then you put in the tape for Isiah Thomas and understand what it means.

It is often noted by fans of the game that what determines true greatness is the ability to make your teammates better. It’s what separates LeBron from Carmelo. With the exception of Magic Johnson, nobody did that better than Isiah. Thomas’s basketball IQ put him so many steps ahead of every other player, he could have scored 40 anytime he wanted to and occasionally did (Game 6 of the 1988 Finals is a case of that done on one ankle and one of the best performances of all time.)

But that’s not what Isiah was about. The Bad Boy Pistons era defense is famously among the best ever, but no one locks in on defense unless they feel they’re being taken care of on offense. Isiah was as generous a caretaker as has ever taken the floor, and his generosity infected his entire team. For all the talk about how ugly and physical the era the Pistons brought in was, I have almost never seen a team so locked in with each other as they were from 1988 to 1991.

The legend of the Isiah Pistons as thugs has ballooned in the years since their prime was cut short by Isiah’s injuries and the ascendance of Michael Jordan into basketball nirvana. Don’t let your memory of be defined by that. Isiah played with as much joy, creativity and brains as anyone who has ever laced them up, and no one can ever take that, or two of the most memorable championship teams of all time, away from him.

Send complaints to [email protected].

JUNE 30, 2016

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