John Stockton was the Man


February 13, 2010
by Rodimus Dunn

John Houston Stockton didn’t have the size or flare of Magic.  He didn’t have the quickness or scoring prowess of Isaiah Thomas.  He didn’t have the guile or defensive genius of Gary Payton.  In terms of active players, he never had the full court speed of Jason Kidd or the incredible shooting accuracy of Steve Nash.  Stockton never even had a cool nickname.  What he did have was an amazing career that was completely underrated.  Stock is a hall of famer, was on the NBA top 50 players list, and was a member of the Dream Team, but some people still question his ability.

Everyone in the world knows that Stockton is the NBA all time leader in career assists.  He is over 4000 assists ahead of the guy in second place (Jason Kidd).  To put that into perspective, at his current pace, it will take Kidd almost 7 more seasons to pass Stockton.  Kidd is presently 37 years old and in the middle of his 17th season.  Stockton has more than double the assists of the guy who is in tenth place!  Not to over emphasize his assist numbers, but he led the league in assists a record 9 times, and recorded double figure assist seasons a record 10 times.  Simply for comparison’s sake, Isaiah Thomas had only 4 seasons with double figure assists, and Kidd only has 3 seasons so far.  The easy argument to Stockton’s assist record is that he played with Karl Malone, the NBA’s second leading scorer, for his entire career.  Did Malone get Stock a significant number of easy assists?  Absolutely.  The easy counter argument is that Stockton obviously got Malone a significant number of easy baskets.  Even if the exact number of baskets they combined on was known, it still wouldn’t tell us who was more responsible for the assist.  Did a deft Stockton pass provide Malone with an easy path for a layup, or did Malone hit a tough turn-around jumper from a generic Stockton entry pass?

The greatest misconceptions about Stockton were that he was slow, unathletic, weak, and sorry without Malone.  Those ridiculous conclusions were drawn simply because he was white, wore short shorts, had no flash to his game, had a boring haircut, and played in the most boring NBA city.  Stockton may not have been a super athlete like Michael Jordan, but who really was?  He wasn’t the lock down defender that Gary Payton was, but he did make the NBA All Defensive 2nd team 5 times.  Slow, unathletic players can’t make that claim.  I understand that steals are not purely indicative of defensive prowess, but Stockton is the NBA’s all time steals leader by a significant margin.  The record isn’t just based on longevity, as he led the league in steals twice, and averaged more than 3 steals per game three times in his career.  You can’t get that many steals in the NBA if you’re slow, unathletic, and/or weak.  Stockton certainly wasn’t sorry without Malone; he was actually pretty skilled.  He didn’t have a textbook release on his jumpshot, but for his career he shot 51.5% from the field, 38.4% from the 3pt territory, and 82.6% from the free throw line.

about to be one of his 15,806 assists

Lastly, not to disparage any player and his accomplishments in any way, but a few of these “iconic” years were no better than a few of Stockton’s years in which was an MVP afterthought.  Check out the following comparison:

Points/game Assists/game Steals/game FG% 3pt% FT%
Player A 15.5 11.5 1 50 43 89
Player B 14.7 12.3 2.4 53 42 83

 

Which player would you think should finish higher in the MVP race?

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Steve Nash is Player A from the 2004-05 season, and he won the MVP award with those numbers.  Stockton was Player B from the 1994-95 season.  He finished 8th in the MVP voting that year.

Here’s another comparison:

Points/game Assists/game Steals/game FG% 3pt% FT%
Player A 17.2 14.5 2.7 51 42 82
Player B 18.8 10.5 0.8 51 44 92

 

Which player was a serious MVP candidate?

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Player A is Stockton from the 1989-90 season, in which he finished 9th in the final MVP tally.  Player B is Nash from the 2005-06 season; the second of his back to back MVP season.

These were NOT Stockton’s best two seasons.  I’m certainly not saying Stockton ever deserved to win an MVP award or that he was the best point guard to ever play the game.  He was probably never the best player on his own team for his whole career!  Stock never won a championship, but neither did many of his contemporaries (Barkely, Ewing, Drexler, Reggie Miller), thanks to that Jordan fellow.  He was a clutch, durable, and exceptional NBA player whose accomplishments should not be overlooked.    He may have two records that may never be broken.  The argument is over, Stock was a baller.


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