Tag Archives: NBA point guards

9. Seattle Supersonics

SeattleSSonics5

Win (%) Play-offs 2nd Round Conference Finals NBA Finals Titles
64.85 8 5 2 1 0

It has been three years since Sonics moved from Seattle to Oklahoma and became Oklahoma City Thunder. Those of us that watched the Sonics during the 90s miss them and I believe that everyone would want the Sonics to return to Seattle. I am afraid that in ten years from now nobody will refer to the great Seattle team as it has happened in the past with other teams that have been re-allocated.

The 90s’ Sonics were a great team, an impressive one, I could easily say the most impressive team in the NBA. I cannot remember of anyone that didn’t like to watch the Sonics play. It was the combination of Payton and Kemp, the overall team presence (including their jerseys), their colours, the home-crowd, the arena and even the revolutionary city of Seattle, although most of us (kids that played basketball at the open courts of the Greek basketball-capital, Thessaloniki) never been there. No offence to Oklahoma City, but come on now, Thunder is not a basketball team’s name and what is it with those jerseys and the colours? They look like a set of pyjamas (although I really like the young team that Oklahoma is building, but it could have been Seattle’s team). Imagine the impact that the Sonics’ team had on us, because I wasn’t even a Sonics fan, but I knew a lot of them and if it weren’t for the Spurs I could easily be a Sonics fan.

1990 – 1992 Building the 90s team

1989-90 season was of great importance to that 90s’ Sonics team as they drafted a high-school boy that was going to change the future of the team, his name was Shawn Kemp. In 1990 Sonics recorded a 41-41 and did not qualify for the play-offs but Kemp’s athletic abilities were already recognized. Next year they made some moves, sent Dale Ellis to Milwaukee in exchange for Rickey Pierce, and McDaniel to Phoenix for Eddie Johnson, but their most important move was drafting the young point guard Gary Payton. The trades had an immediate positive effect on the team, even though the youngsters were not ready yet they made the play-offs (41-41 again in regular season) where they battled against a great Blazers team and fell after 5 games (3-2). In 1991-92 season they made another key decision by hiring George Karl as their head coach. Sonics played beyond 50% (47-35) in the regular season and qualified sixth in the West for the play-offs. They faced Mullin’s and Hardaway’s Golden State Warriors and they eliminated them in four games (3-1), while Shawn Kemp averaged 22ppg. and 16.3rpg., but in the 2nd round things were not that easy as they played against the powerful Jazz that defeated them in five games (4-1). This was the beginning of the 90s era for the Sonics.

1992-93 The first sign of success

In 1992-93 season the trades, the drafted players and the coaching came together and the Sonics had their first over 50-wins (55-27) season in the 90s. This record brought them in the 3rd position of the Western Conference Play-offs where they had to face the team that eliminated them last season and it was definitely a strong team. The Supersonics had already become a team that was a joy to watch as Payton’s and Kemp’s cooperation was maturing and the results were at least impressive. However, the Sonics got almost eliminated in the first round as they were behind 2-1 and they had to play the fourth game of the series at Utah. The Sonics found the courage and with some great performances from their veterans (Eddie Johnson and Nate McMillan) were able to win both of the remaining games and qualify (3-2) for the next round. In the second round, the Sonics had to play against the Houston Rockets (almost the same team that won the championship next year). The series was tough like a dogfight; 1-0 for the Sonics, 2-0 Sonics, 2-1 Sonics, 2-2 series tied, 3-2 Sonics, 3-3 series tied and finally after a heart-breaking game the Sonics beat the Rockets 103-100 and eliminated them 4-3, but I have to mention that there were a few calls that Rockets’ fans remember even now. Anyhow, the Sonics qualified for the Western Conference Finals where the best team of the regular season (Phoenix Suns 62-20) was waiting, after eliminating the Spurs (4-2). A great match-up, Barkley versus Kemp and two high-scoring and offensively orientated teams against each other. Those western finals were so good, either team could have won, but in the end it was the Suns that prevailed (4-3). It was again a great battle with both teams coming at each other throughout the series, but Charles Barkley saved the best for the last and came up big on the seventh game of the series (44 points and 24 rebounds) to give his Suns the so-wanted win and qualification to the NBA Finals.

1994 – 1995 Disappointment and making history

How disappointment and making history can be in the same sentence? Of course they can be you don’t only make history by winning or by doing acts of heroism, you can be a negative protagonist of the history and Seattle Supersonics were exactly that in the next two seasons of the 90s. Detlef Schrempf and Kendall Gill came to the team as Derrick McKey and Rickey Pierce were traded and the team became even stronger. They demonstrated their abilities throughout the regular season and finish with an NBA best 63-19 record. The expectations were great, last year they came one win shy of the NBA Finals and now they entered the Play-offs with the best record. The 1994 play-offs started in the same fashion as the regular season ended for the Sonics. 2-0 lead over the 8th seeded Denver Nuggets, but Dikembe Mutombo and his company hadn’t said their last word. They managed to turn the series around and finally beat the Sonics (3-2) in a dramatic game 5 in front of their crowd. This was the first time that a number 8 seed eliminated a number 1.

In 1994-95 season the Sonics tried to get over last year’s humiliation and did fine by recording a 57-25 record in the regular season. They entered the play-offs fourth in the west and played against a young and not that strong Lakers team. They were the definite favourites, but they managed to lose 3-1 after winning the first game of the series by a 25 point margin. The Seattle Supersonics in the second round of the play-offs was becoming an anecdote within the NBA’s cycles.

1995-96 Redemption

New arena (Key Arena) for the Sonics meant a new beginning. Hersey Hawkins joined the team in a trade that sent Kendall Gill to Charlotte. The fans were cold because of the way the last two seasons ended. Everybody around the world had gone mad with the second coming of the chosen one (MJ) and the basketball version of the ‘Beatles’ (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Kukoc), so nobody was paying attention to the western side of the US territory. It was the perfect moment for a full-out attack. The Sonics played the usual good and spectacular basketball during the regular season. They recorded a second NBA best record with 64-18 that season (Bulls recorded all-time best 72-10) and they were first in the West. But that was not something new, nobody had forgotten 1994 Play-offs. This time everybody was doubting, many were betting against the Sonics in the 1st round and in favour of the Sacrament Kings (8th in the West). Sonics won the first game, okay everybody had seen that before, and then they lost the second game in Seattle. That was it everyone was sure now that the Sonics were going to be eliminated again. Sonics’ players thought otherwise and defeated the Kings in the next two games at Sacramento (3-1). In the second round the Sonics were Super indeed, as they swept (4-0) the Champs (Rockets) and qualified, for the second time in the 90s, to the Western Conference Finals. The finals of the West were no easy task the Utah team was a well-prepared team and eager to win a championship. The Sonics finally showed the world what they were made of and beat the Jazz in a really tough series 4-3. Seattle was celebrating the fans around the world expecting a great series between the two best teams of the regular season. It was not like that though, as the ‘Beatles’, sorry the Bulls took an early 3-0 lead in the series and the rest were just a typical procedure. Sonics tried and won the two following games at their arena but that was all the Bulls celebrated their fourth title in front of their home-crowd (4-2).

1997 – 1999 The end of the 90s era

Seattle had finally been recognized as a top team after their great performance in 1996 play-offs. They had another good regular season (1996-97) and finished 2nd in West (57-25). In the first round of the play-offs they faced the new Barkley-less Phoenix team and won the series after 5 games (3-2). In the second round Sonics played against the Rockets, that had their own big three (Olajuwon, Barkley, Drexler) and after a bad start in the series they found themselves trailing 3-1. Sonics found the strength and courage to tie the series to 3-3 but after a tough game 7 they finally lost and got eliminated (4-3). In that same season the Sonics management made a great mistake by acquiring the ex-Bullets’ center Jim McIlvaine in order to have another big man that could help Shawn Kemp, they paid big money for a player that haven’t proved his worth and that created some internal problems to the team as other players that had helped the team wanted to be compensated. One of them was Shawn Kemp. So, at the beginning of 1997-98 season Shawn Kemp asked for a new bigger contract and he demanded the money of a superstar, as it was expected. The management of the team didn’t agree and Kemp demanded a trade. The trade took place and Kemp headed to the East (Cavaliers) as the Sonics landed Vin Baker from the Bucks in a three-team deal. In my view this was the beginning of the end for the whole Sonics organization. Baker was a good and young player and had an immediate impact on the team, the fans loved him and with a great scoring season from Gary Payton the Sonics had another over-60wins season (61-21) and finished second in the West behind Utah. They beat the young Timberwolves in the first round (3-2) and played against another young team with a lot of potential (Lakers) in the second round. L.A. proved to be an obstacle for the Sonics that couldn’t be overcomed, as Shaq and his company prevailed in five games (4-1). After the elimination George Karl announced that he wants to walk away from the team and this is what happened as he left to join the Bucks. The retirement of Nate McMillan was one more sign of the end of an era for the Sonics. The next season (1998-99) was a disaster as the Seattle team didn’t qualify for the play-offs (25-25) and this how the end of this great team has started the next decade Seattle was a mediocre team because of the many mistakes of the owners, the state and the management of the team that finally led to a re-allocation in Oklahoma at 2008.

All-90s Supersonics Team

Name Position Seasons Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Gary Payton p.g. 9 16.3 3.8 6.8 2.3 0.2
Ricky Pierce s.g. 3.5 18.5 2.4 2.6 1.1 0.1
Detlef Schrempf s.f. 6 16.6 6.3 4.0 0.9 0.3
Shawn Kemp p.f. 8 16.2 9.6 1.8 1.2 1.5
Michael Cage c. 5 7.1 7.8 0.9 1.0 0.6
Nate McMillan p.g. 9 5.6 3.8 5.1 1.9 0.4
Dale Ellis s.g. 3.5 15.0 3.0 1.4 0.8 0.1
Derrick McKey s.f. 4 14.8 5.3 2.4 1.2 0.9
Sam Perkins p.f. 5.5 11.1 4.2 1.4 0.9 0.5
Ervin Johnson c. 3 4.0 4.4 0.4 0.4 1.1
Hersey Hawkins s.g. 4 12.8 3.9 2.7 1.8 0.2
Dana Barros p.g. 4 8.1 1.3 2.0 0.7 0.0

http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/OKC/

Requiem for Seattle Supersonics

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10. Indiana Pacers

IndianaPacers

Win (%) Play-offs 2nd Round Conference Finals NBA Finals Titles
56.47 9 4 4 0 0

Indiana Pacers were undoubtly one of the best teams of the 90s. They were not a great regular season team, as you can see their winning percentage is not that good, but they were real fighters when they had to, at the play-offs. A really hard team with  a fanatical home crowd. They were made 9 play-offs appearances and they played four times in the Eastern Conference Finals and lost all four of them.

The definite superstar of the Pacers throughout the 90s was Reggie Miller and all the 90s Pacers’ teams were built around him. He was drafted at 1987 and since then the Pacers team never looked back, they created a contender team with Miller as they cornerstone and they finally made the NBA Finals even at the beginning of the next decade (1999-00 season).

1989-1992

During the first three years of the 90s, the Pacers were not a recognizable force in the league, their winning percentage was around 50% and they qualified for the play-offs, as 7th seeded team in East, in each one of those seasons. They didn’t do well in the play-offs either as they were eliminated by the Pistons (3-0) and by the Celtics two times in a row (3-2, and 3-0) respectively. Pacers were a very young team back then with Reggie Miller, Rik Smits and Detlef Schrempf been playing in the league for less than 5 years each one of them. The Pacers experienced star was Chuck Person that averaged 18.8 points in those three seasons, he was not a bad player but he was not a player that a team could base its hopes for success as he was a bit colourful (not in a bad way) and inconsistent. From the way they played against the Celtics in 1991 play-offs you could understand that something good was starting in Indiana.

The New York Rivalry and the Best Pacers Team (1993-1999) 

The next three years of the 90s were not the same for the Pacers, they made some changes (Chuck Person was traded to Minnesota) and their young stars were getting mature enough to pursue higher goals. In those three years the Pacers played two consecutive times at the the Eastern Conference Finals (1994, 1995) and lost both of them. But there is only one thing that can characterize this era for the Pacers, the battles against the New York Knicks. Their battles and the spectacular performances of Pacers’ star, Reggie Miller characterized the whole NBA play-offs at 1994 and 1995.

1992-93 was the last season of Pacers’ head coach Bob Hill and they made they performed the usual way during the regular season (41-41) and they made it to the play-offs where as number 8 seed had to play against a powerful Knicks team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Pat Riley as the head coach of the Knicks at that time had created a tough team that was looking to face and beat the Chicago Bulls. Pacers’ were not ready to face the Knicks and were defeated 3-1.

1993-94 was the first season with Larry Brown as a head coach of the Pacers and Detlef Schrempf (that was an all-star and NBA’s sixth man last year) was traded to Seattle for Derrick McKey. This created scepticism amongst the Pacers fans and criticism on Pacers’ GM (Donnie Walsh) moves. However, Brown and the Pacers had their standard regular season (45-37) and qualified as number 5 seed for the play-offs. In the first round they swept the young Magic team (3-0) and in the second round the ambitious, first in the East, Hawks team (4-2). In both of the rounds their opponents had the home-court advantage. Their success in the first two rounds brought them, for the first time in the 90s, to the Eastern Conference Finals where the team that eliminated them last season, was waiting. The New York Knicks were not afraid of the Pacers (they had no reason to be) in fact they were arrogant and did not see the Pacers coming. One of the greatest play-offs series that I had the opportunity to watch took place and found the Knicks winners at the end (4-3) but the Pacers had also won the respect of their opponents and every NBA fan around the world. A remarkable moment was the performance of Reggie Miller during the fourth quarter of the 5th game, where he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter and won the game for the Pacers in Madison Square Garden that gave them the lead 3-2 in the series. Knicks were able to bounce back after that and win the next game in Market Square Arena (Indianapolis) and the last game in New York.

1994-95 was a different season for the Pacers, the fans had expectations, themselves had expectations after last year’s great play-offs run. Larry Brown had done a great debut at Pacers’ bench and was preparing the team for greater things. The arrival of Mark Jackson made the Pacers even stronger, a good point guard that would be able to find Reggie Miller off the screens was the missing piece of the Pacers’ puzzle. 1994-95 was the first 50-win (52-30) season since the Pacers joined the NBA. This was a sign for what is going to follow. They qualified as 2nd seeded team for the play-offs and swept the Hawks (3-0) at the first round in a furious way that it seemed like they were anxious to face their rivals at the next round. I believe that Pacers would be really disappointed if Knicks didn’t qualify for the 2nd round and didn’t give them the opportunity for a revenge. This time was the eastern conference semi-finals but it seemed like it was the NBA finals, a great series again. This time though the Pacers did it, they won 4-3 (Knicks had home-court advantage) and the two teams showed from the first game (pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4, pt5, pt6, pt7, pt8, pt9) at Madison Square Garden that this was going to be a great battle, as nobody that has seen that game will never forget Miller scoring 8 points in the last 16.4 seconds of the game to erase a 6-point Knicks’ lead and steal the win for the Pacers. The Pacers were not able to utilize this great success and were defeated (4-3) in Eastern Conference Finals by the young and filled with talent Orland Magic team (Hardaway, O’ Neal), after a really tough series.

The next two years 96 and 97 were not that good for the Pacers, they had many injury-problems, they qualified for the play-offs in 1996 but eliminated in the first round by the Hawks (3-2) and stayed out of the play-offs (the only time during the 90s) in 1997.

1997-98 was the start of a new era for the Pacers with Larry Bird as their head coach and it was their best season during the 90s. This team was the best team that Pacers had during the 90s and it was almost the same team that reached the NBA Finals in 1999-00 season. Larry Bird took a good team and made it great, it is a shame that he coached only for three seasons. He brought the veteran Chris Mullin and found a way to put Jalen Rose in the mix. Pacers recorder 58-24 (their best record in the 90s) and qualified third for the eastern conference play-offs. They eliminated the Cavaliers 3-1 in the first round and in the second round met again with their fierce rivals New York Knicks. But this time the Pacers were by far the best team of the series and eliminated the Knicks easily (4-1). It was clear that Pacers were ready to play against the Champs (Bulls) but nobody expected them to be such a difficult challenge for the great but aging Chicago Bulls. I will use a phrase that the presenter of the Chicago Bulls Dynasty documentary used “Pacers’ team has been built to defeat the Chicago Bulls”. It was like that, they were tough, experienced, talented and had the most difficult home-court with fanatical support from their crowd. Indiana was always a basketball state (except from a racing state) and the fans were and are crazy for their professional basketball team as any other basketball team within their state. That Eastern Conference Finals series was just great the Bulls were so good but the Pacers were coming back at them all the time.

Game Result Series (CHI-IND)
1 Indiana at Chicago 79-85 (1-0)
2 Indiana at Chicago 98-104 (2-0)
3 Chicago at Indiana 105-107 (2-1)
4 Chicago at Indiana 94-96 (2-2)
5 Indiana at Chicago 87-106 (3-2)
6 Chicago at Indiana 89-92 (3-3)
7 Indiana at Chicago 83-88 (4-3)

One more time Reggie Miller’s heroics kept the Pacers alive as he scored 13 points in the last 4 minutes of the 3rd game of the series and scored the decisive three-pointer at 96-94 win in game 4. But even this well-organized and hungry for success team was not able to beat the Chicago Bulls and the Pacers did not reach the NBA Finals once more.

The last shot for the 90’s Pacers to reach the NBA Finals was the 1998-99 short season (50-game season because of the lock-out). They qualified for the play-offs with the second best record in the East (33-17 tied with Miami Heat). They marched to the Eastern Conference Finals after they swept both the Bucks (3-0) and the 76ers (4-0) to meet their rivals once again. They were the hot favourites against a renewed New York team (Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby) that qualified last for the paly-offs but had upset Miami (3-2) and Atlanta (4-0). Pacers had the home-court advantage, they seemed unbeatable as they have destroyed their opponents in the first two rounds and nobody believed that the Knicks could surprise the Pacers and eliminate them (except from myself that I had foreseen, before the play-offs, that that Knicks’ team was good enough to reach the NBA Finals and I have witnesses on this one). Pacers lost the first game (at home) but won the second where Patrick Ewing got injured and did not play for the rest of the play-offs. This was their best shot, Ewing-less Knicks should have been an easy target for that Pacers team, but they didn’t except that the aged Ewing was actually slowing down the young Knicks team and they found out in the worst way as they were able to win only one more game of the remaining and finally be eliminated 4-2 by a great team effort from the Knicks in both sides of the court that defensively was able to contain Reggie Miller and provide multiple scoring options offensively and this how the story of the 90s Pacers ends.

Indiana Pacers was a really good team of the 90s but their inability to reach the NBA Finals and compete for the title brought them in the 10th position of the top ten ranking for the best teams of the 90s.

All-90s Pacers Team*  

Name Position Seasons Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Mark Jackson p.g. 4.5 8.5 3.8 8.2 1.2 0.1
Reggie Miller s.g 10 21.0 3.1 3.2 1.2 0.2
Detlef Schrempf s.f. 5 16.7 8.1 4.0 0.8 0.3
Dale Davis p.f. 8 9.3 8.8 0.8 0.7 1.4
Rik Smits c. 10 15.4 6.2 1.2 0.4 1.2
Vern Fleming p.g. 6 9.2 2.7 4.2 0.8 0.1
Jalen Rose s.g. 3 9.4 2.1 2.0 0.8 0.2
Chuck Person s.f. 3 18.8 5.4 3.6 0.7 0.2
LaSalle Thompson p.f. 6 5.3 5.1 1.1 0.6 0.6
Antonio Davis c. 6 9.0 6.6 0.7 0.5 0.9
Derrick McKey s.f. 6 10.5 4.7 3.1 1.2 0.6
Travis Best p.g. 5 7.4 1.6 3.3 0.9 0.1

 http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/IND/

* The rules for the selection of the all-90s teams can be found at the about page.

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1. John Stockton

John_stockton-arton33443-240x290

John Houston Stockton (born March 26, 1962 in Spokane, Washington).

John Stockton was drafted by the Utah Jazz at 1984 (no.16 overall) and played for them till the end of his basketball career. When I say he played I mean really played, this guy was, amongst other things, one of the iron-men of the league as he missed only 22 games throughout his career (played 1504 out of 1526). Imagine that in his last season (41 years old) he started at all of the 82 games that Jazz played that season.

Stockton remained loyal to the Jazz and spend his entire career there. Why not? Himself and his buddy Karl Malone created one of the best dynamic duos in the history of the NBA and led Utah to two NBA Finals and three more times to the Western Conference Finals throughout the 90s. It is a pity though that this great team never won a championship (you probably guessed right, they played against the Bulls).

He may never won a championship but he recorder some pretty impressive numbers and he was always considered one of the best players in the league, even though some of his critics believed that he wouldn’t be able to achieve all that if it wasn’t for Malone. Anyway, there are always some people that criticize and that’s all that they do.

I believe that Stockton’s individual ability was unique, he could make all of his teammates better. His teaming with Karl Malone benefited them both and probably Malone was the luckiest one. I cannot imagine any big guy in the game basketball that wouldn’t want to play alongside John Stockton. This short white guy that didn’t look like a basketball player and definitely an NBA superstar, is the all-time NBA leader in assists (15806) and steals (3265). He also holds the record for assists per game over a single season with 14.5 in 1989-90. 

Stockton led the NBA in assists per game 9 consecutive times (1987-88 to 1995-96) throughout his career and 7 of them was during the 90s. They could have been ten but in 1996-97 season he came second. He also led the league in steals per game two times (1988-89, 1991-92) and was named an all-star 10 times, 9 of them in a row (1989-1997) and one time in 2000 (in 5 of them he has been voted as a starter by the fans). He has also been named co-MVP, alongside his teammate Karl Malone, in the 1993 NBA all-star game that held in Utah. 

Additionally, he has been named in the All-NBA first team 2 times (1993-94 and 1994-95), 6 times in all-NBA second team (3 of them during the 90s) and 3 more times in the All-NBA third team (all 3 of them in the 90s). As a great defender, that he was, he has been named in the second all-defensive team 5 times (4 of them in the 90s).   

Stockton made a lot of great performances throughout his career but I had to pick one, I would pick the last game (game 6) of the Western Conference Finals in 1997 against a great Houston Rockets team (Olajuwon, Barkley and Drexler). At that game Stockton played 38 minutes, scored 25 points and gave 13 assists. 9 out of his 25 points came at the end of the fourth quarter, in fact it was the last 9 points of the game that the whole Jazz team scored. So, at the end of that game the score was tied at 100-100 and John Stockton had his version of ‘the shot’ (although the original version came next year and in irony was against Stockton’s team) in the final seconds of the game, hit a three-pointer and Jazz qualified (4-2) for their first ever NBA Finals appearance. The rest of the story is the same for every team that faced the Bulls in an NBA Finals series at the 90s (lost 4-2 in 1997 and lost again 4-2 in 1998 even with home-court advantage this time). 

The NBA, the fans and the coaches showed their respect, recognition and appreciation on Stockton’s abilities and achievements many times, as he has also been selected to play for the original ‘Dream Team’ in 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona and in ‘Dream Team III’ that played in 1996 Olympic Games held in Coca-Cola city (Atlanta). Furthermore, he has been named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history and has recently inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame (2009).

For all the above reasons I believe that John Stockton was the best point guard that played during the 90s. He is the best play maker I have ever seen since 1989 that I follow the league. I believe that he is for sure one of the best that ever played the game and he deserved an NBA title, but that is another thing because there are a lot of great players that never won a title and this doesn’t make them less great but it certainly stigmatizes their careers.

  Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Career 13.1 2.7 10.5 2.2 0.2
1989-90 17.2 2.6 14.5 2.7 0.2
1989-1999 14.9 2.9 11.9 2.3 0.2

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/stockjo01.html

John Stockton Retrospective 1/6
John Stockton Retrospective 2/6
John Stockton Retrospective 3/6
John Stockton Retrospective 4/6
John Stockton Retrospective 5/6
John Stockton Retrospective 6/6

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2. Gary Payton

gary%20payton

Gary Dwayne Payton (born July 23, 1968 in Oakland, California).

Drafted by the Seattle Supersonics (some of you have not even seen this team play and its same. I do not have something with Oklahoma team but I believe that everyone that has seen the Sonics, wants them back) at no.2 of 1990 NBA Draft.

Gary Payton show just a little of his abilities during his first two NBA seasons and many believed that he was overrated, shouldn’t be a number two overall draft, will never play at a high level and so on, so forth. But they were wrong he was determined to prove his worth and based on his mad defensive skills, his anticipation and smart play, led the Sonics and developed as one of the dominating point guards of the 90s.

I was one of those guys that didn’t give enough credit to Payton’s abilities and style of play. He was not a spectacular player by himself and his style of play was a beat unorthodox for my preferences. It was not just me though, everyone of us that loved basketball whenever we talked about the Sonics we were always admiring and discussing the achievements and dunks of the other half of the Sonics’ team core, Shawn Kemp. This situation occurred until the 1995-96 season where most of us understood that the reason we loved the Sonics was Gary Payton because it was his ability that made that team so exceptional and took the best of Shawn Kemp.

The critics stopped and changed their minds, they have started know to praise Payton’s game. He became “the glove” a nickname that followed him through his career because of his defensive skills. He was named 6 times in the all-defensive first team throughout the 90s and shares with MJ the record for selections with 9 in total. He also led the NBA in steals in 1995-96 season and he is the only point guard in the history of the NBA that ever won the award of the Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, also he was the only guard that won this award through the 90s. Kevin Johnson once said about Payton’s style of play “you think of guys with great hands, like Maurice Cheeks and Derek Harper. Gary is like that. But he’s also a great individual defender and a great team defender. He has all three components covered. That’s very rare.”

Gary Payton and the Sonics was one the best teams of the 90s but they only reached the Finals once (1996). They had a great run in 1993 where they finally got defeated by the Phoenix Suns, after a superb series (4-3), in Western Conference Finals. This blog will definitely present the Sonics’ team of the 90s.

In 1996, this was the year of the Bull in the NBA astrology, Michael Jordan has returned from his short retirement (although it seemed to us like a century) and the Bulls recorded NBA all-time best 72-10 during regular season. Everybody was talking about the Bulls and all the eyes were on Chicago, Gary Payton’s Sonics were at the same season recording a franchise best with 64-18. The Sonics finally reached the finals, but it was impossible to run away from destiny. The destiny for the best teams from the west during the 90s had the name Chicago Bulls. Sonics lost 4-2 and Gary Payton never reached the finals again during the 90s.

As it was expected, Gary Payton was guarding Michael Jordan throughout the Finals. To be more accurate at the beginning of the series Payton was guarding Pippen but at the second half of the series it was ‘the glove’ trying to catch the ‘air’. He was the most difficult opponent that MJ faced in a Finals series, as he actually held him to 27.3ppg. It is important to mention that Bill Walton, commentating for NBC at the time, said Payton “outplayed” Jordan during the second half of the series. “(In Game 4, Jordan had his) lowest output in a Finals game, much of it with Payton guarding him. Though afterwards, Jordan refused to give Payton credit, saying ‘No one can stop me, I can only stop myself. I missed some easy shots.’ The truth is, Jordan finds the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year (Payton) annoying. He views the (young Payton) as impudent, and he would love to have a big game at (Payton’s) expense.” (NBA on NBC Preview, Game 5).

Payton and George Karl did a great job on MJ but unfortunately, for them (and myself, as I was supporting the Sonics in this matchup), it was not enough. In 1996 he was selected as a replacement for Glen Robinson for the Dream Team III roster (if you ask me, he should have been the initial choice and not a replacement).

‘The Glove’ was also known for his trash talking ability, (those that play the game of basketball understand the importance of trash talking in affecting opponent’s psycology and game in general). This characteristic of his resulted in many suspensions, fines and technical fouls but this never bothered him, it was a part of his personality an innate ability.

  Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Career 16.3 3.9 6.7 1.8 0.2
1995-96 19.3 4.2 7.5 2.9 0.2
1990-1999 16.3 3.8 6.8 2.3 0.2

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/p/paytoga01.html

Gary Payton

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3. Kevin Johnson

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Kevin Maurice Johnson (born March 4, 1966 in Sacramento, California).

KJ was my favourite point guard of the 90s era. In my view he was the prototype for the point guards that we now watch in the league. Players whose height is less than 1.90cm (almost 6-2) and dunk the ball in any possible way, score more than 20ppg. and run the game as well. That type of player was Kevin Johnson, those of us that had the opportunity to watch him play will never forget the unbelievable dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon (I am sure that neither Hakeem will ever forget).

Kevin Johnson  has been drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers at number 7 of the 1987 NBA Draft where he played as a reserve of, no.7 of this list, Mark Price. Of course KJ came from the bench for the Cavs for less than four months as he was traded to the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline date of the same season (25 February 1988).

He played for the Suns for the rest of his career and he was always a starter and their franchise player. From the moment he joined the Suns he was lucky enough to team up with some other notable players. During the first season of the decade (1989-90) himself alongside with Tom Chambers, Jeff Hornacek, Eddie Johnson and Mark West led the Suns to the Western Conference Finals where they lost 4-2 to the Portland Trail Blazers.

At that same year he made his first all-star appearance, as a reserve for West, and he was named in the second all-NBA team. Next year he was a starter for the West all-stars and had one more appearance in all-star game in 1991-92 season. He has been named in second all-NBA team four times in total (three of them during the 90s)  and one time in the third all-NBA team.

Kevin Johnson is one of only two players in NBA history (Magic Johnson is the other) to have twice averaged at least 20.0 points and 10.0 assists per game over the course of a season while shooting at least .500 from the field. His other accomplishments are equally astonishing as his team was the only one that has defeated Magic Johnson’s Lakers and John Stockton’s Jazz in the same post season, in 1990 and he is the Suns all-time leader in assists, free throws made and attempted.

He was too good and he made his teammates better, he was spectacular and a joy to watch but his team was lacking something in order to make the next step and reach the Finals. That was a player with a character and a winner attitude as a hunger to win it all. This player was Charles Barkley, that came to Phoenix on 1992 and made a great impact. The Suns finally reached the NBA Finals where, as usual for the Western Conference winners, lost to the Chicago Bulls 4-2. KJ played again exceptionally well and even tried to guard the ‘best of the best’ during that series. In Game 3 of that series KJ played 62 minutes in a triple-overtime thriller, which is a record for minutes played in a play-offs game. Kevin Johnson said about that game that “without a doubt it was the most physically and mentally draining game I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone on the team played with passion and energy, and we pulled out a win in perhaps one of the greatest games in NBA Finals history”.

There is an incident that happened that season which, I will never forget and I guess KJ will probably remembers that now and laughs, although it was not that funny when it actually happened. Charles Barkley, after nailing a game-winning shot to beat the Blazers 115-114 in the third to last game of the regular season,  jumped on his teammate Kevin Johnson to celebrate. The thing was that Barkley outweighed KJ by about 70 pounds and wound up injuring Johnson’s knee. KJ missed the final two games of the regular season and the playoff opener against the Lakers (a game they lost).

That was the only trip that KJ took to the NBA Finals but the injuries never let him alone, he faced many more injuries serious and not that led him to retire on 1999 and made a short comeback for the 2000 play-offs.

I really liked they way Johnson was playing the game and I believe that he inspired many young talents of his era. I also loved his Converse shoes, (Kevin Johnson Converse React Juice) as a kid.

  Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Career 18.9 3.5 9.6 1.6 0.3
1989-90 22.5 3.6 11.4 1.3 0.2
1989-1998 18.8 3.3 9.3 1.5 0.2

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/johnske02.html

Kevin Johnson

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4. Tim Hardaway

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Timothy Duane Hardaway (born September 1, 1966 in Chicago, Illinois).

At number 4 of the top ten point guards for the 90s I have chosen “Mr. Crossover”, Tim Hardaway. Tim, was selected by the Golden State Warriors at number 14 of the 1989 NBA draft. Hardaway with Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond formed the “run TMC” of the Golden State Warriors at the beginning of the 90s which was a real joy to watch.

This Hardaway of the 90s was a real point guard, a player known for his ability to crossover his opponents with inconceivable quickness and his ability to score. Those two abilities of him were so exceptional, amongst the point guards of his era, that his even great ability to run the offence for the team that he was playing was always overlooked.

Haradaway, was named an all-star five times, 3 consecutive for the West (1991-1993) and two consecutive for the East (1997-1998) but started only once, at 1997 for the East. He started his career at the Golden State Warriors where he played from 1989-90 season until 1995-96 (22 of February 1996) when he was traded to the Miami Heat and those were the two teams that he played during the 90s. While he was playing for the Warriors he has also been selected as a member of “Dream Team II” that won the World Championship in Canada at 1994.

He was always ranking amongst the top ten in assists, throughout the 90s and he has been named in All-NBA first team once (1996-97), three times in All-NBA second team (1991*92, 1997-98, 1998-99) and once in All-NBA third team (1992-93). He was also a member of the All-Rookie team at 1989-90 season.

Hardaway belongs in a special group of players as he is one of only seven players in NBA history that averaged more than 20ppg. and 10apg. in a single season. In fact Hardaway achieved it twice in his career 23.4ppg. and 10.0apg. in 1991-92 season and 21.5ppg. and 10.6apg in 1992-93 season, both times as a Warrior.

He had very good seasons with the Warriors but they have only reached as far as the second round of the Western Conference Play-offs. When he went to Miami he teamed up with Alonzo Mourning, Jamal Masburn, Dan Majerle and coach Pat Riley. At their best season (1996-97) they recorder 61-21, 3rd best in the NBA and 2nd in Eastern Conference, but they were unlucky because although they reached the Eastern Conference Finals they had to overcome the Chicago Bulls. This was impossible (lost 4-1) and this was the closest that Tim Hardaway ever got to an NBA title.

I have always liked the way Tim Hardaway was playing the game of basketball, the way he dribbled was unique and many of us were trying to replicate his game and learn how to dribble the ball by watching him play. I believe that players like Tim Hardaway revolutionized the game, he brought something of his to the game and moved the whole game forward. The killer crossover is now a move possessed by the majority of the good point guards of the NBA but even now the way that he was doing it remains unique.

  Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Career 17.7 3.3 8.2 1.6 0.1
1991-92 23.4 3.8 10.0 2.0 0.2
1989-1999 19.4 3.6 9.0 1.9 0.2

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/hardati01.html

Tim Hardaway

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5. Anfernee Hardaway

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Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (Born July 18, 1971 in Memphis, Tennessee)

With “Penny” Hardaway we start the final countdown of the top ten point guards of the 90s. Hardaway was and still is, one of my favourite players. He was considered by many, as the next “Magic” Johnson, then Michael Jordan picked him as his successor but fate had other plans for him. I could pick him, easily, in the top ten of the unluckiest players of all-time. Even if he never reached his full potential, even if he never won a championship, he was one of the most impressive and talented players to watch. There is a list of active well-known NBA players, including Lebron James, Tracy Mcgrady, Gilbert Arenas, Joe Johnson and Tyreke Evans, that idolized Hardaway.

Penny was not the usual type of point guard, in fact I loved it when he shifted to the shooting guard position as he was a superb scorer. Even though the consecutive injuries have crippled him and never showed what he was able of, I consider myself lucky that at least I had the opportunity to watch the show that he gave at the 1996-97 season play-offs against the Miami Heat, where even though his team lost (3-2) to a much better Miami team he averaged 31.0 ppg., 6.0 rpg., 3.4 apg., 2.4 spg. and 1.4 bpg. in 5 games starting as a shooting guard and almost won the series for Magic by himself.

At the beginning of his NBA career, fate was not that bad to him; he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors at number 3 of 1993 NBA Draft and he was immediately traded to Orlando for the number 1 draft pick Chris Webber. This trade brought Hardaway to play alongside another promising youngster, that has made his debut a year before, known by the name Shaquille O’Neal. The combination of these two turn almost instantly the Orlando Magic from just an expansion team to a force to be reckoned with, in the Eastern Conference.

Penny Hardaway was too tall for a point guard, 6-7, but he was a really smart player with mad skills that made him able to play both guard positions and even some small forward exceptionally well. He played in four consecutive all-star games (three of them as a starter) from 1994 to 1998 for the Eastern Conference and he was named a “Dream-teamer” as he was chosen to play for the US Olympic basketball team at 1996 alongside the elite of NBA stars of that era. He has also been voted for the all-NBA first team, two times (1994-95, 1995-96), one time for the all-NBA third team (1996-97) and he was a member of the all-rookie team in 1993-94 season.

He played only for the Orlando Magic during the 90s and then he was traded to the Phoenix Suns, later to the New York Knicks and finished his career as a player of the Miami Heat. As a member of the Orlando Magic team he played at the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets in 1994-95 season, where his team lost 4-0 to the Rockets team but a remarkable moment in Magic’s way to the finals was the elimination of the Chicago Bulls at the second round of the Eastern Conference Play-offs (Michael Jordan had returned from his first retirement almost 20 games before the play-offs).

The downfall of Penny Hardaway started during 1996-97 season, when he started having injury problems that proved later impossible to overcome. 1997-98 season was the beginning of the end of what would have been a great career, as a devastating knee injury left Hardaway out for the largest part of the season and he never became his old self after that injury. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to watch this player in his prime and I would love to watch him play even now if he decides to return to the game of basketball but it is really a shame because if he didn’t get hurt I am sure that he would be one of the best players of all-time and probably the best shooting guard of the league other than Michael Jordan (Bryant has got nothing on the healthy Hardaway).

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Career 15.2 4.5 5.0 1.6 0.4
1995-96 21.7 4.3 7.1 2.0 0.5
1993-1999 19.0 4.7 6.3 1.9 0.5

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/hardaan01.html

Penny Hardaway

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