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The Basketball Jones ranks Isiah Thomas the third-best point guard of last 30 years

Dennis Velasco of The Basketball Jones ranked the 10 best point guards since 1980, and two former Pistons made the list. Isiah Thomas ranked third, and Allen Iverson ranked sixth. I’m not going to say anything more about Iverson, whom nobody really identifies with the Pistons and I don’t consider a point guard. But here’s what Velasco wrote about Isiah:

Thomas gets a lot of crap for destroying the New York Knicks and it’s a valid point. He and James Dolan combined is what pushed me over the edge to no longer being a Knicks fan, but that’s besides the point. As a basketball player, Zeke was amazing and one of my favorite players of all-time. He led the Bad Boys to two NBA titles, and despite his size, was the biggest player for those title teams.

Isiah averaged 20+ points for five seasons and had nine seasons of 18+ points. He averaged four seasons of 10+ assists, including a 13.9 assists per game campaign that led the league. Thomas played in a dozen straight All-Star games (1982-1993), winning the All-Star MVP award twice (1984 and 1986). He made five All-NBA teams, won two titles and one NBA Finals MVP award. He finished with a 18.1 PER and 106 ORtg.

Zeke was an artist on the court with an fanastic dribble and ability to get his shot off smoothly. He was a player to watch and one that you seemingly waited for some highlight from, which was amazing considering the likes of Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan were dunking everything during that time. In any case, here’s a small taste of Zeke.

Before we go further, here’s what Velasco considered for his rankings:

statistics, impact on the game, awards and honors, longevity, playoff performance and my own gut instincts

Of course, Magic Johnson ranked first, but I’m sure Isiah’s second-place finish behind John Stockton will stir debate here.

Personally, I think Velasco got the top three right. At their peaks, Thomas was much better than Stockton. But considering Thomas played 13 years and Stockton played 19, I think Stockton has the slight edge when you consider total body of work.

Besides, Chris Paul is going to shoot into that No. 2 spot before he retires, anyway.


  • Jul 6, 201111:40 pm
    by balooga999


    No qualms with Magic being #1….. tough call on 2 and 3 though. Arguably Thomas was a better player than Stockton…though there is no doubt that Stockton had the longevity–but then you can make the longevity argument for Magic as well I suppose. All in all Thomas’ two championships rings vs. Stockton’s none might trump the 6 extra seasons that Stockton played. It’s a very subjective argument, we all weigh things from our own perspective…..all three were great players; whichever order you place them in them, there is no doubt they belong in the top 3.

    • Jul 7, 201111:06 am
      by Dan Feldman


      Balooga, I think Magic was good enough that it outweighs his relatively short career. Thomas wasn’t quite at that level.

      And I definitely agree that it’s a close call. Depending on the day, I could argue in favor of Thomas or Stockton, but I’m in a Stockton mood today.

  • Jul 6, 201111:48 pm
    by balooga999


    And just to add, agree with the Iverson argument….was more of a 2 than 1….I think guys like Mo Cheeks or Penny should have at least got a look at the 10 spot instead.

    • Jul 7, 201111:15 am
      by Dan Feldman


      Balooga, that’s an interesting question: who deserved the 10th spot if Iverson were bumped from the list? I think Penny Hardaway makes sense as an option, as do Chauncey Billups, Mike Bibby and maybe even Andre Miller. I wouldn’t put Mo Cheeks in that class, though.

  • Jul 7, 20111:44 am
    by Arthur


    Whack! Dan, I’m calling you out on this one. You’re better than this.

    If all we do is simple math, then yes, a 19 year career sounds better than a 13 year career.

    But in 19 seasons, Stockton got bounced in the first round of the playoffs NINE times.  When Zeke was winning his first ring in 1989, John Stockton was getting SWEPT by the Golden State Warriors and Run TMC.  Getting swept is never good, but getting swept by a no defense Don Nelson team with a rookie point guard has to be embarrassing, even if that rookie is Tim Hardaway with his killer crossover.

    Stockton had to play 19 seasons just for the league to thin out enough for him to get through the Western Conference.  Stockton’s playoff highlights come from the six years of his career, not the first thirteen.

    Stockton couldn’t get past Magic, or Kevin Johnson, or Gary Payton, or Tim Hardaway.  All those Stockton steals came from stripping big men.  We let the “Steals King” stat make us forget that John Stockton routinely gave up big numbers to the elite point guards of his era.  If the Houston Rockets aren’t starting the underwhelming Matt Maloney in 1997, the Jazz don’t get past Barkley, Olajuwon, and Drexler to even make the Finals.

    Zeke put his work in against the cream of NBA 1980s royalty.  He’s got two rings and only missed a third because of Hugh Evans horrible whistle in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals.  Zeke is still the college point guard that players get compared to.  Isiah dominated at the high school, college, and professional level.  Other than Magic and Bill Russell, who else pulled that off?  Not even Bobby Knight could stop Isiah.  Stockton never could.  Stockton was gifted Zeke’s spot on the 1992 Olympic team.  Let’s not let gift John Stockton Zeke’s spot on the list of great point guards too.

    Dan, put writing an apology letter to Isiah Thomas at the top of your to-do-list for tomorrow.

    • Jul 7, 201111:38 am
      by Dan Feldman


      Arthur, plenty of the arguments you make have minimal to nothing to do with who had the better career.

      Why is 1989 such an important year to pull out? Isiah was in his eighth season, and Stockton was in his fifth.  It’s pointless to isolate years, and that’s an especially unfair year to use.

      What difference does it make whether Stockton’s best years came in his first 13 or last six? It’s about his total body of work.

      What difference does it make whether Stockton steals the ball from a big or a PG? A steal is the most valuable defensive play, and he made a lot of them.

      Don’t make rings the be-all, end-all. You’re disrespecting Isiah’s teammates and overrating Stockton’s if you think that’s a fair comparison. You have a valid point that Isiah won his titles in the NBA’s golden era, but Stockton helped Utah win 64 and 62 games, and the Jazz lost in the Finals those years only because they ran into a pair of Bulls teams that rank among the best teams ever. The 97 and 98 Jazz were title-caliber teams in average years, but they were unlucky enough to run into a juggernaut.

  • Jul 7, 20114:07 am
    by IsraeliPiston


    on the subject of point guards – Will Bynum will be running a basketball camp in Israel. He was a superstar on Maccabbi Tel Aviv and was loved in Israel. Now he is giving back
    Here is the link

  • Jul 7, 20116:03 am
    by Joe


    I’m a big Isiah homer but I agree about Paul. If his knees allow him he will probably shoot into the second spot.

  • Jul 7, 20117:40 am
    by detroitpcb


    Zeke destroyed Stockton every time he played head to head. And Zeke used to have to get by karl malone’s illegal picks and elbows to defend Stockton – but he always did.

    pure garbage to rate Stockton over Zeke. How many titles does Stockton have? Must be some white boy writing that column.

    Speaking of white boys, you know who Jimmer reminds me of? Mark Price (who used to destroy Zeke the way Zeke destroyed Stockton until Rick Mahorn hip checked price into a scorer’s table)

    Unfortunately Jimmer went to the wrong team. He and Cousins will never co-exist.

  • Jul 7, 20117:51 am
    by khandor


    FWIW …
    My PG Rankings would look like this:
    1. Magic Johnson [by a wide margin vs #2]
    2. Isiah Lord Thomas III [by a wide margin vs #3]
    3. John Stockton [by a gigantic margin vs everyone else]

  • Jul 7, 20118:06 am
    by khandor


    BTW … Once all is said and done, it is highly unlikely that Chris Paul will be able to surpass either Isiah Lord Thomas III or John Stockton, as the No. 2 ranked PG of the last 30 years.

  • Jul 7, 201111:16 am
    by Danny


    No real argument can be made for Stockton over Zeke. Stockton was an all-time great, maybe the best ever, in terms of distributing, but scoring the ball trumps all in this game. Stockton wasnt even the best player on his team, and Zeke led us to 2 Titles.

    • Jul 7, 201111:41 am
      by Dan Feldman


      Danny, if Isiah played with Karl Malone, he probably wouldn’t have been the best player on his team, either. What difference does that make, though? We’re comparing Stockton and Thomas, not Stockton and Thomas and Malone.

      Don’t make rings the be-all, end-all. You’re disrespecting Isiah’s teammates and overrating Stockton’s if you think that’s a fair comparison. You have a valid point that Isiah won his titles in the NBA’s golden era, but Stockton helped Utah win 64 and 62 games, and the Jazz lost in the Finals those years only because they ran into a pair of Bulls teams that rank among the best teams ever. The 97 and 98 Jazz were title-caliber teams in average years, but they were unlucky enough to run into a juggernaut.

      • Jul 7, 201111:55 am
        by khandor


        re: <i>”… if Isiah played with Karl Malone, he probably wouldn’t have been the best player on his team, either.”</i>
        Hopefully this is not a serious comment on your part.
        Isiah Lord Thomas III was a much, much, much better basketball player than Karl Malone.

  • Jul 7, 201111:32 am
    by LEVI


    no love for j kidd????

    • Jul 7, 201111:43 am
      by Dan Feldman


      Levi, Jason Kidd ranked fourth on Velasco’s list, and that seems about right. I could go back-and-forth on Kidd and Gary Payton for 4-5, but I’d lean toward Kidd.

      • Jul 7, 201111:59 am
        by khandor


        It isn’t close between Kidd [by a wide margin] and Payton when you consider all phases of the game.

        • Mar 29, 201412:47 am
          by Tim Thielke


          When you claim every separation to be by a wide margin, it kinda trivializes what you’re saying.

  • Jul 7, 20116:57 pm
    by Dirtgrain


    I feel that Isaiah had a special level of competitiveness, to the point of embarrassment at times, that, more than anything, got the Pistons their championships.  He was a clutch performer (although the inbounds to Bird is something I don’t think I ever saw Stockton do) more so than Stockton, one-on-one, scoring the ball with a whole team trying to stop him.  Stockton was a better outside shooter, but I won’t call him a better defender.  Thomas’s defense often led the Pistons.  In fact, in a crazy, come-from-way-behind victory at Utah, I remember Thomas visibly stepping up his defense–his teammates followed.
    Homer tendencies aside, I don’t think most GMs would chose Stockton over Thomas, if they wanted to win a championship or two.  That makes Thomas the greater player.
    It is interesting to consider how both would have done on the other team.  I don’t see Stockton leading Detroit’s championship teams to championships in place of Thomas.  I don’t know if Thomas could have led Utah to a championship.  I do think Karl Malone’s stats would have been lower if he played with Thomas (that’s an easy claim to make, considering the fame of the Stockon-Malone pick and roll).

  • Jul 8, 201112:47 am
    by Arthur


    Dan, come on man. Don’t run from the truth. There are better ways to get your exercise in.

    Stockton took a lot of playoff Ls and is light on clutch memories for most serious basketball fans, even those of us who were old enough to actually watch the games back then.  Stockton’s known for longevity, and that does have its place, but hanging around for a long time might work well for homely girls at the school dance, but it should make otherwise smart man overrate John Stockton over Zeke.

    Zeke lived for the big stage and his career is full of playoff and Allstar Game big moments.  Stockton can’t touch that.

    Likewise, Zeke showed up big on both ends of the court.  Stockton scored more later in his career, and I’ll give credit that he dropped a ton of really pretty dimes, but Stock relied on team defense, cause he often got lit up by opposing pgs.  That’s why the steals against big men matter.  Stockton wasn’t getting those rips against the big dog pgs of his era.  He couldn’t play that kind of defense.

    If you want to give a player a pass for being new to the league, that pass should expire somewhere after the first four seasons.  I picked 1989 because it was the year the Pistons won a title while the bow veteran Utah Jazz were catching a fat L at the hands of the Run TMC Warriors, a fun team but not at all NBA heavyweights.

    But Dan, you can pick another year if you would like.  Most of the years you have to choose from still end with Isiah Thomas outshining John Stockton in the playoffs.  If Zeke has more rings, more playoff success, and managed to beat most of the NBA luminaries that John Stockton lost to, I does seem counter-intuitive to even try to argue that Stockton was a better player.  When the players from the 84 and 85 NBA Draft all got old and faded, Stockton managed to pace himself better and have more left in the tank.  That makes him number 2?

    Rings do matter.  The all-time greats hang around or jump ship to the Lakers, Celtics, Heat, or Rockets in order to try and win them.  Isiah and Jordan cried when they won the trophy.  We watched Dirk cry when he won this year.  The argument that rings aren’t the end all be all only gets made by players that have no rings.

    Or their defenders.

    • Jul 8, 20111:28 am
      by Dan Feldman


      I still don’t see the significance about whom Stockton stole the ball from. A steal is a steal, right? Isiah was a better positional defender than Stockton, but Stockton stole the ball much more frequently, and a steal is the most valuable play a defender can make.

      Are you really saying Stockton would deserve to rank so much higher if he stuck around for one extra season, signed a minimum contract with the Pistons, played a few minutes behind Billups and won a title? Teams win titles, not individuals. Sure, a title improves a player’s resume, but don’t put too much stock into something that he’s only a part of accomplishing.

      • Mar 29, 201412:50 am
        by Tim Thielke


        Stockton vs Malone in the finals? That would have just been too awesome a story.

  • Jul 8, 201111:34 am
    by khandor


    1. Upon what basis would you contend that, “A steal is the most valuable play a defender can make”?
    2. A team’s on-floor Leader, who is also its best player, and its best scorer, and its best passer, and its best dribble-penetrator, and its most competitive driving force, is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more than “only part of a championship”, especially when that team accomplishes it in an environment like the NBA in consecutive seasons while a host of other all-time great players were still in the league for other franchises.
    3. Isiah Lord Thomas III was one of the very best players in the history of the NBA. Period.

    • Mar 29, 201412:53 am
      by Tim Thielke


      ‘A team’s on-floor Leader, who is also its best player, and its best scorer, and its best passer, and its best dribble-penetrator, and its most competitive driving force, is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more than “only part of a championship”’

      More than part would be, at minimum, all. So what is much more than part? More than all?

  • Jun 27, 20127:59 am
    by Dan C.


    Isiah Thomas was a much better player than John Stockton…key arguments in favor of this point:

    1)  Isiah was a much more proficient scorer and, unlike Stockton, could and did create his own shot and penetrate when it counted.  Dan, above, gives Stockton a cop out for not winning a championship because he ran into two Bulls “juggernauts.”  Isiah Thomas led the Pistons to championships past Michael’s Bulls, Larry’s Celtics, and Magic’s Lakers….and don’t forget, despite a referee-Kareem inspired-loss in 1988 in seven games, the Pistons swept the Lakers in 89 and beat the Blazers in five in 90 (the juggernaut Bulls took five to beat the Lakers and six to beat the Blazers the following two seasons).  So, far from requiring a cop out, Isiah played against and beat the cream of the crop in the East and the West, and came away with 2 rings and a finals MVP.  

    2)  The party line on trying to place Stockton at the top of point guard lists is one, he is a “pure point guard” and the all-time assist leader…What is never mentioned when comparing assists between Magic, Stockton, and Isiah is that of the three only Isiah managed to finish his career in the top five all time in assists despite NEVER having a dominant post player on his team….Magic had Kareem (a top five all time post player) and Stockton had K. Malone (also a top five all time post player)…How many assists would Isiah add to his all-time numbers if all he had to do was draw a double team on the perimeter (which would have been much easier for him to do with his ability to penetrate and create off the dribble) and then kick it down to an easy dunk/5 foot jumper underneath?  So when you compare assists you need to compare not only Stockton to Isiah but Karl Malone to…..James Edwards?

  • Jun 28, 20122:11 am


    John Stockton was a bad boy.  He would be a guy to learn the fundamentals of PG from.  On the Other hand Zeke played w/fundamentals at IU w/BOBBY KNIGHT winning a championship over the Tar Heels while running the Triangle Offense.  Zeke is the GOAT of typical point guards.  Big O & Magic were Freaks of Nature.  Stockton cannot guard Zeke but Zeke can guard Stockton.  Stat’s confim.  Playoff Stat’s also confirm Zeke outplayed Stockton when it matter most.  Stockton is GREAT But Zeke was OUT OF THIS WORLD in order to beat a Magic, Legend & Jordan in their primes.  Stockton had 2 chances to beat Jordan but blew the shots.   Zeke knocked down his shots and won Titles.  All the Great Typical 6’2″ & under Point Guards have some Zeke in them.  Fundamentals – Stockton; Scoring – Iverson; Ball Handling – CP3/Nash; creating a shot off one leg – Nash & Heart Calvin Murphy.  

  • Feb 22, 201411:05 am
    by James Lorick


    You can clearly see the writer favors stockton over isiah personally so thos is a garbage comparison. Facts are facts stocktons numbers are inflated, never beat a championship worthy team…clearly could never handle the top points guards of his era…while isiah was perhaps one the best floor generals ever also one the best big moment players of any generation! Stockton racked up a bunch of meaningless stats in utah where refs clearly cheated & no one ever wanted to play & also never won anything (ring) also shared an mvp which mike shouldve won tht yr bt stern had to share wealth. in the i question if stockton top 5 & yes rings do mean everything cuz thts what your judged on at the end of your career nt inflated meaningless stats tht get broken every 5 yrs!!! 

  • Mar 29, 201412:37 am
    by Rodney


    Everybody talks about Stocktons longevity…but forget Stockton never played the way Isiah did..Isiah was fearless, going to the whole amongst the giants, and got banged up alot..we all remember the vicious, cowardly hit by Karl Malone..which Isiah took 40 stitches 
    Smaller players who are attackers tend to have shorter careers. and get injured (Iverson & Dwayde are examples)
    Isiah like was not just limited to being apoint gaurd he did it all without the help of another 50 greatest player like Stockton had…Isiah with 4 more inches might be tehbest player ever = Chuck DaiDaly
    Fir 4 years Isiah delivered the best point gaurd play in the league – Pat Riley
    Not taking anything away from John Stockton he was a great point gaurd..but Isiah was far supeior

    • Mar 29, 201412:57 am
      by Tim Thielke


      It doesn’t matter why Stockton lasted longer. That would be like saying that everyone talks about how good Kareem was but forgets how tall he was. Of course his height contributed to his success, just like Stockton’s style contributed to his longevity. But not everyone can be so successful for so long by playing that way.

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