Posted by: Chris on June 15th, 2012
The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
So, heading into the wayback machine today. Watching these finals and hearing the superlatives tossed around about LBJ, Durant, and Westbrook got me thinking about how unbelievably underrated John Stockton is historically. Various lists have him anywhere from 11 to 25, and a composite of fan and expert lists on Ranker.com puts him in 18th place. This is criminally low. Let’s examine this a bit.
People tend to forget how unbelievably skilled Stockton was at shooting the ball. John shot relatively poorly his first 3 years compared to his whole career, yet even during those years he hit 48.8% of his shots. His career shooting % is 51.5. For context, Michael Jordan hit 49.7% of shots for his career. The main piece missing was the three-point shot early on for John Stockton. 5 years in, he had only attempted 198 3-pointers and made 51 of them, 25.8%. Despite that problem, Stock’s 87-88 and 88-89 seasons were two of his best (we’ll get to that a bit later). But in 89-90, the 3 had arrived for good, as a 47-113 year (41.6%) portented the great shooting to come, 39.6% from 3 for the remainder of his career. In 4 years (94-95, 95-96, 97-98, 00-01) Stockton was the very best shooter in the NBA by at least one of the two primary advanced metrics (True Shooting Percentage or Effective FG Percentage). John also made 83% of his FT for his career, a very high percentage; by comparison, Kobe Bryant, considered one of today’s most “automatic” at the line, has made 84% for his career.
So here’s an insane stat. When John Stockton was on the floor, he was directly involved in over 70% of his team’s made baskets. SEVENTY PER CENT. Stockton shot the ball himself about 20% of the time down the floor, and had a 50.2% assist rate (the percentage of teammates’ made baskets assisted by the player when he is on the floor), highest in NBA history by an absolute mile. 2nd place in NBA history, Chris Paul, is still only 46.2%, and only 3 others ever to play the game are even over 40% (Deron Williams, Steve Nash, and Magic Johnson are barely above 40). Overall, Stockton’s career offensive rating (a composite advanced stat which combines all offensive stats such as assists, turnovers, shooting, usage, etc.) is 4th-best in league history, though he’s basically in a
6-way tie with Chris Paul, Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Charles Barkley. Stockton led the league in assists for 10 years straight at one point, and made all of his teammates measurably better with his presence on the floor (including Karl Malone, who I’m sad to say is actually somewhat overrated by most because so much of his production was a result of playing alongside Stockton). Considering what portion of one of the league’s consistently best offenses in the late 80s and early 90s was Stock’s doing, there is a fair argument that he is the best offensive player ever to play the game of basketball.
It’s well known that Stockton is the career NBA Steals leader by a wide margin, a record that will absolutely never be eclipsed by any player. That does overstate the case a bit, as part of that was his longevity, but he’s still 8th in history in steal percentage. His defense was almost purely predicated on his quickness, as at 6′1 170 John was not a physically imposing defender. Outside of the steals, Stockton was great at keeping his man in front, very good at working through opposing picks and helping off + adjusting back quickly as needed, but occasionally prone to being overpowered. 6′1 wasn’t as short in Stockton’s time as it is now, but he was still undersized in height too and often shot over. Overall, Stockton was a significantly above-average defender for his size, and slightly above-average for the position overall. He had some very good defensive years as he entered his prime, which is part of what made him exceptional in 87-88 and 88-89.
Stockton is of course legendary for his health, and his 1504 games played were the 3rd-most in NBA history despite him being 22 upon entering the league. It’s telling that arguably 3 of Stockton’s best years, the 94-95, 95-96 and 96-97 seasons, happened when he was 32, 33, and 34. He only failed to play all 82 games in 3 of his 19 seasons, and played all 82 in his last 4, all the way through age 41. This left him with Assist and Steal totals that will probably never even be approached, much less eclipsed. He was the best player on a consistent playoff contending team which played 2 NBA finals and 3 WC Finals. And of course, he spent his entire career with our beloved Utah Jazz.
So, why bring up Stockton’s legacy right now? Well, we’re watching a finals where legacies will start to be built. Somehow or another, one of the game’s very best players (either its current best, LeBron James, or a legitimate top-3 in Durant, [plus another top-10/top-8 guy in Westbrook and a former top-5 guy in Wade]) is adding to his legacy in this game’s great history. As we’re awed by the young talent possessed by our rivals, it’s great to reflect on the fantastic talents we’ve had, and remind ourselves that somewhere out there are other Westbrooks and Durants for us to hire and develop. As the core of this Jazz team grows, we can see shades of that exceptional generational talent in Kanter (I’m hoping that a few years from now we’ll be saying “Enes Kant-be-stopped”. The guy’s basically Bynum with better intangibles and 1 less inch of height.) and Favors, occasionally in Hayward and Millsap, and rarely in Burks. We can only hope that one of these guys turns out to have the loyalty, work ethic, drive and talent we’ve been so lucky in the past to have in guys like Malone and Stockton. Given all the info above, where do I rank Stockton all-time? I’d say all told it’s in the 5-8 range, considering the longevity and consistency as one of the very best players in the game. The guy played 19 years and was often the 2nd or 3rd best player in the NBA during that time. The only players I’d 100% rank above Stockton based purely on talent are Jordan, Magic and LeBron. But considering accomplishment, he’s ahead of LBJ and falls behind guys like Wilt, Kareem, Russell. John Stockton is the greatest player ever to don a Jazz uniform, and we’re extremely fortunate to have enjoyed his services for all his years in the league.
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