NBA: The Top 10 Point Guards of the 1990s
In the ’90s, the NBA experienced an extensive global expansion. Many of the greatest players competed during this decade. In fact, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan experienced some of their greatest performances. So, we measured the amount of win shares (how many wins a player is responsible for in a given season, or in this case from 1990–99) each point guard totaled. Using that metric, let’s look at the top 10 point guards of the 1990s.
10. Derek Harper
When it comes to the best point guards of the 1990s, Derek Harper might not be the first name who comes to mind. But he finished the decade with 47.4 win shares. In 1983, the Dallas Mavericks drafted him No. 11 overall, and his career first flourished. He never became an All-Star, but he made two All-Defensive Second Teams during his time with the Mavericks, which spanned from 1984–1994, and then again in 1996–97.
During the ’90s, Harper averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 assists in 32.3 minutes per game, while his best season came in 1990–91. He averaged 19.1 points and 7.1 assists with 1.9 steals per game that year while playing in all 82 games for the Mavs. Dallas traded Harper to the New York Knicks in January 1994 for Tony Campbell and a first-round draft pick. Harper later re-signed with Dallas to play another season before the team traded him to the Orlando Magic. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999.
9. Mark Price
Another point guard drafted by the Dallas Mavericks lands on this list. Mark Price was selected in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft. The Mavs traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers on draft day for a different second-round pick (a player who never actually suited up in an NBA game). Price spent the majority of his career with the Cavs. He accumulated 50.9 win shares during the ’90s.
What’s extra impressive about Price: He did all this despite playing only seven games in 1995–96 (he retired following the 1997–98 season). During the ’90s, Price averaged 15.7 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 39.4% from three-point range. His best season came in 1989–90, when he averaged 19.6 points and 9.1 assists in 37.1 minutes per game. Cleveland traded Price to the Washington Bullets in 1995, where he played just seven games. He joined the Golden State Warriors for one season and the Orlando Magic for one season to round out his career. Price retired at 33.
8. Mark Jackson
The New York Knicks selected Mark Jackson with the No. 18 overall draft pick in 1987. Jackson had an interesting career, playing at least one season for seven different teams — and having two separate stints with the Knicks and Indiana Pacers. Jackson accumulated 56.7 win shares during the 1990s, playing three seasons with the Knicks, two with the Los Angeles Clippers, five with the Indiana Pacers, and a part of one season with the Denver Nuggets.
During the decade, Jackson averaged 10 points and 8.3 assists per game in 31.4 minutes. He made just one All-Star team in his career (1988–89 season). Jackson’s best season came when he led the NBA in assists in 1996–97; he began that year with the Nuggets and later returned to the Pacers in a trade. He averaged 11.4 assists and 9.9 points that year. Jackson never won a championship or made it into the Hall of Fame. However, he finished his career fourth on the all-time assist leaderboard, ahead of Magic Johnson.
7. Mookie Blaylock
Another one of the more underrated point guards of the ’90s: Mookie Blaylock. Playing for the New Jersey Nets and Atlanta Hawks, Blaylock accumulated 65.1 win shares during this decade. In 1989, the Nets drafted him with the No. 12 overall pick. He immediately worked his way into the regular rotation — and eventually the starting lineup. The 6-foot point guard averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 assists with 1.6 steals per game as rookie.
After three seasons in New Jersey, the Nets traded him to the Hawks in exchange for guard Rumeal Robinson. With Atlanta, he truly broke out, playing with Dikeme Mutombo and Steve Smith. Blaylock made his only All-Star team in 1993–94, and he had his best season in 1994–95 when he averaged 17.2 points, 7.7 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. He led the NBA in steals twice in the decade, as well.
6. Terry Porter
The 1990s was a tale of two, five-season half-decades for Terry Porter. The Portland Trail Blazers originally drafted him in 1985 with the No. 24 overall pick. While in Portland, Porter became a fixture in the starting lineup alongside star guard Clyde Drexler, frequently leading the Blazers on deep playoff runs and twice to the NBA Finals — although they lost both times. During the ’90s Porter was worth 67.8 win shares, spending his first six seasons with Portland before playing three with the Minnesota Timberwolves and one with the Miami Heat.
In his first five seasons, from age 26–30, Porter averaged 16.9 points and 6.7 assists, all for the Trail Blazers. During the second portion of the decade, however, Porter averaged just 8.9 points and 3.9 assists in 22.8 minutes per game from the ages of 31–35. Porter made two All-Star teams, in 1990–91 and 1992–93. Despite playing three seasons to finish out his career with the San Antonio Spurs, he never did win a championship.
5. Rod Strickland
Rod Strickland totaled 68.5 win shares. He began the decade with the Knicks briefly, before they dealt him to the San Antonio Spurs. Strickland experienced his best playoff success in 1990, playing 10 games for the Spurs. That year, they reached the second round of the playoffs with Strickland, as well as young players such as 24-year-old Robinson and 21-year-old forward Sean Elliott.
Unfortunately, Strickland never made it out of the first round of the playoffs again; his career was marred by constant moves. He left the Spurs when he signed with the Portland Trail Blazers in the summer of ’92. The Trail Blazers traded him to Washington in the summer of ’96 for Rasheed Wallace. Despite playing for mostly mediocre teams in the ’90s, Strickland averaged 15.7 points and 8.5 assists in 34.9 minutes per game.
4. Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway joined the NBA in the 1989–90 season and compiled 72.3 win shares during that time. A strong team surrounded him early in his career; he was the “T” in the “Run TMC” of the early ’90s Warriors. However, the best playoff success Hardaway experienced as a Warriors player was the 1990–91 team that made it to the second round. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, who eventually represented the West in the NBA Finals.
Hardaway’s best overall season came the following year in 1991–92, when he averaged 23.4 points and 10 assists per game. The Warriors traded him to the Miami Heat at the 1996 trade deadline. He saw the best success of his NBA career in 1996–97 when he and Alonzo Mourning lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champions, the Chicago Bulls. From there, Hardaway gradually declined in his scoring and shooting percentages.
3. Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson was Chris Paul before Paul was even on the scene. Johnson had 76.3 win shares and spent the ’90s running point guard for the Phoenix Suns, averaging 18.8 points and 9.3 assists over the course of nine seasons. He had his best year in 1989–90, averaging 22.5 points and 11.4 assists per game. However, he experienced the most personal success when he and Charles Barkley led the team to the NBA Finals in 1992–93 against Jordan and the Bulls.
Johnson continued to lead the team as the point guard until they acquired Jason Kidd from the Dallas Mavericks for Michael Finley in the middle of the 1996–97 season. That meant Johnson, Kidd and rookie Steve Nash were all on the roster together. The crunch on minutes left Johnson on the bench sharing time with Nash the following season. Johnson eventually retired — although he briefly returned for the final few games of the 1999–00 season.
2. Gary Payton
Gary Payton compiled the second-most win shares, 80.2, of all the point guards in the ’90s. This is impressive considering his first year in the NBA was 1990–91, and he didn’t develop into a full star until 1994–95. Payton helped lead the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals the next season along with fellow star Shawn Kemp and quality role players Detlef Schrempf and Hersey Hawkins.
Despite winning 64 games that year and having the best season in franchise history, the Sonics ran into the Bulls in the NBA Finals — there’s a pattern here — and lost. Payton was the model of consistency for Seattle. During this decade, he participated in all but two games he was eligible for, playing 39.1 minutes per game from 1996–99.
“The Glove” collected his most prestigious award, Defensive Player of the Year, in that 1995–96 season, which saw him get Seattle within two victories of an NBA Championship. The Sonics never reached the NBA Finals again, but Payton made it back twice. He lost with the Lakers in 2003–04 and finally won with the Heat in 2005–06.
1. John Stockton
We aren’t shocked that John Stockton sits at the top of this list. He collected 120.5 win shares in the ’90s, over 40 more than Payton in second place. If it shows you how valuable Stockton was to the Utah Jazz during their most prominent run of success as a franchise, he led the league in assists nine consecutive seasons and led the league in steals twice.
During the ’90s, Stockton shot 51.7% from the field and 40.2% from three-point range. He averaged 15.2 points, 12.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The Jazz saw their best success under Stockton in 1996–97 and 1997–98, when he and Karl Malone lead them to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances. Stockton averaged 14.4 points and 11.2 assists in that 1996–97 season, shooting 54.8% from the field.
Unfortunately, like so many before him, Stockton’s Jazz ran into Jordan’s Bulls in the playoffs both years and inevitably lost, 4-2. Stockton saw his career rapidly declining, as he was 36 years old at the beginning of the 1998–99 season. The Jazz never made it beyond the Western Conference Finals again.