Okay, apparently there’s not going to be any NBA for a few months. It’s special this time because it’s the lockout; however, I’d like to remind everyone that the NBA season usually starts in October, four months from June. And it was June yesterday. I’m not going to start lugubriously missing it until then, especially not when I still have so many articles to finish before that date. Anyway, let’s look at Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton’s head to head record and quantitative performance against some of the best point guards he had to face over his long career.
Of course, basketball is a team game. A single player may heavily contribute to a win (or a loss); but it takes a team to win a game. John didn’t always have the best team mates, but he tried to make his team mates the best they could be. We’re a funny culture that likes to look at individual match-ups though, and sometimes when two good players face off, we end up becoming overly enamored with the head-to-head battle. Of course, this is something we loved in the days of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell – and continues to be something we care about today. Look at the hubb-bubb around Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Clearly one guy is better than the other – it just depends on which small market fan base you ask. Both are great players; however, the head to head match up shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s not the final arbiter of who is the better player, but it does show us all who played better when in the marquee matchup.
Chris Paul and Deron faced off against each other 16 times, with Deron winning 12 times. Or, more precisely, Deron’s team, the Utah Jazz, beat the New Orleans Hornets 12 times. The Go Rating (which is a big deal for me) is pretty self explanatory – Deron’s offensive output was better. Chris was better in traditional point guard skills (like assists or assists to turn over ratio), and better on overt defense (steals, defensive gambling); however, watching those games I do distinctly remember that it was Deron’s defense that brought Chris’ shooting percentage down to 41.6 fg%. Deron also displayed greater range and confidence in his shot.
In a world where such head to head matchups matter, I thought it would be a fun exercise to look at John’s career.
John took care of himself, so much so that he played against Magic Johnson during showtime, and against Allen Iverson a few years before the Answer went to the NBA finals. That is a long time. The short list of prominent PGs that Stockton played against in All-Star competitors (or on the same team) were: Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Mark Price, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Gary Payton, and Jason Kidd. Had Iverson made an All-Star team in the same season as Stockton, then I would have included him in here. Furthermore, some guys like Terry Porter and Penny Hardaway made All-Star teams in the same season and John, but I didn’t include them because they weren’t at the same ‘status’ or level. Still, this is a pretty good group, I’d say. It’s interesting to see John’s rise and fall as a player – even in his ancient form he was still giving it to Jason Kidd who was physically a much more dominating player. Anyway, let’s get started.
John Stockton vs. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers beat Stockton’s Jazz 16 out of a total possible 24 times. That’s a winning two out of every three games. A big reason for this was that those Lakers teams (which won five titles with Magic leading the break) were a lot better than the Jazz Stockton was in charge of. Another, more micro-level analysis shows that Magic was housing Stockton. He was. John’s Go Rating was great for a starting PG, a star PG. But Magic’s 161 is out of this world. Magic got to the line 9 times a game and shot 90% from the free throw line. He had a 1.52 points per shot value. He was a few bounces away from averaging a triple double. And he added 2 steals a game. Magic was at his best during this time period; and he destroyed everyone. John’s double double, complete with a 4.1 A:TO ratio pales in comparison. Clearly, Magic won both the team matchup and the individual matchup.
John Stockton vs. Isiah Thomas
This, despite the mythology that Isiah was depredated upon by a Jazz bigman because Stockton was getting destroyed, was a very even match-up. The Jazz won 9 games, and the Pistons won 8. John had a Go Rating of 153.6, and Zeke had one of 142.7. Isiah scored more and rebounded more. John had more assists, and more steals. John’s efficiency (1.47 pps, 5.2 A:TO ratio) went up against Isiah in his prime – an nearly unstoppable force (53.7 eFG%, 22.3 ppg). Statistically you could pick either guy as the winner, and you wouldn’t be wrong. If you fancy pass first guys, Stockton is the winner because he had 11.8 apg against Isiah; and he also had a 5.2 assist to turn over ratio. Isiah only had 7.2 apg, and a 2.2 assist to turn over ratio. If you fancy PGs who can score, Isiah a 8.3 more points per game, got to the line more, and nearly averaged 1 made three a game (this was back in the day when not many people even shot threes). What’s more important? An 8.3 ppg difference, or a 3.0 a:to ratio difference? I live in Detroit, but I gotta say Stockton won this. After all, look at the Go Rating.
John Stockton vs. Mark Price
There is really no debate here. The Jazz beat up on the Cavs (12-6) at the same ratio of how Magic’s Lakers beat up on the Jazz. Furthermore, Stockton absolutely destroys Mark Price here. I never really regarded the Cavs (of the 80s and 90s) to be that great, and I think part of it is because John and the Jazz rarely lost to them. The head to head disparity is huge – 165 Go rating vs. 80. John was numerically TWICE as good as Mark here. John may not have been regarded as a great scorer, but the defensive difference is huge. The DG (Defensive Gambling) shows John had a value of 1.99. That means John would collect (rounding up) two combined blocks or steals before getting called for one foul. He has making very smart gambles on defense, gambles which paid off. Oh yeah, and John shot better from three than Mark during these 18 games. So yeah. Mark Price kinda sucked compared to John Stockton.
John Stockton vs. Kevin Johnson
I remember there was always a lot of hype and excitement for Mark Price’s understudy. (Yes young NBA fans, KJ wasn’t always the hot young PG for the Suns, he used to be Price’s backup) KJ had a solid career, but he wasn’t Stockton. John won 24 times out of 39. This is a pretty large sample size, and if you look at their records in the playoffs alone you see that when the games mattered the most, John came to play. Their over-all head to head match up leans in John’s favor as well. I’m always amazed by Stockton’s assist to turn over ratios in these match ups. Against Magic it was 4.1, Isiah it was 5.2, against Mark Price it was 4.8, now KJ it was 4.4. Did any guy put any pressure on him? Or was John just that good? KJ nearly gets 20 and 8 against Joh, and he got to the line 8.4 times a game. John went slow and steady and won the race with 15 and 13, a twice as good assist to turn over ratio, and +32.0 in the Go Rating. Winner? John Stockton.
John Stockton vs. Tim Hardaway
Speaking of hype and excitement, who could forget Tim Hardaway? The Jazz won 20 of 32 matches against the Golden State Warriors (and later Heat) during Stockton’s years against Timmy. The Head to head went very similarly, the other guy who shoot more, score more, but usually more inefficiently. John would have more assists and usually a twice as good assist to turn over ratio. After a while the math becomes very easy. In this case, Hardaway scored less than 2 points more per game; yet, John had +6 more assists per game. Advantage? Stockton.
John Stockton vs. Gary Payton
Finally a guy to lock down John Stockton’s assist to turn over ratio under 4.0. No surprise it came from The Glove. The Glove’s best years were on one of the best teams in the league for a while, the Seattle Supersonics. John was getting much older around this time of his career, and even played two playoff series’ against him while injured. Even though John was older and injure, in the head to head matchup he won 27 of the 49 times. Slight edge to the Jazz despite being a worse team. Stockton was one of the biggest reasons why. He still averaged a double double, and took it to the Glove. He actually went to the line more than Payton, who received a number of MVP votes during this span. Stockton was out rebounded, scored, and even stolen. (How frequently has that happened? Never so far in this h2h analysis!) I have a lot of respect for Gary, and he has a lot of respect for John. John had the way better Go Rating – and was more efficient. And he won more games. I guess he wins this head to head match up as well.
John Stockton vs. Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd faced Stockton at the end of Stockton’s career. John was older, slower, and had way more miles on his legs. And the Jazz won 20 out of 28 times. Stockton had a better GO Rating, and nearly averaged a double double; perhaps he would have if he still played his normal minutes. John’s Assist to Turn over Ratio was still higher than Kidds, and there is no comparison to their shooting abilities. Jason had more boards, more steals (surprisingly), and scored more. He also played 5.5 more mpg. Which John’s GO Rating finally dipped below 100, it was still a few points off of Chris Paul’s level back at the beginning of this post. Think about that, a 40 year old John Stockton was still performing at a Chris Paul level against a young Jason Kidd.
Except for Magic Johnson, who I believe is the best player of all time, John won both the team match-up and the head to head match-up against all of those guys. This isn’t cherry picking stats either, these are for all of the games, regular season and playoffs combined. And these are against other PGs who were All-Stars during John’s career as well. So I’m not showing people how he would absolutely torch guys like Rory Sparrow or whatever. If you want to just look at Go Rating, which is an offensive metric that I think is kinda neat, take a look.
Out little guy picked out of the Lotto from a small school seemed to do pretty okay for himself.
For the Lulz
I just heard that Greg Oden just got picked up for $8 million. I had to see what his head to head was against Kyrylo Fesenko. Please note that this is for a very small sample size (4 games) . . . very funny to look at.
Wow, this is just ugly vs. ugly. Oden played twice as many minutes, but Fesenko holds his own against him in most areas. Oden is a way better offensive threat – but that’s not really a comparison you want to bring out. "Oh yes, I was the #1 pick in the draft and in twice as many minutes I score 1.5 more ppg than Fesenko." That’s gotta suck, right? We’re talking about Fesenko here. Dude isn’t really that good at basketball.
How about this?
Ouch. Head to head isn’t all there is, but I wouldn’t pay either of them $3 million a year, let alone $8 million . . .