11 thoughts on “Who is Better–Isiah Thomas or John Stockton?

  1. Isiah was one of my favorite players, but when Smith and Williams expressed disgust (in a way that made me laugh at times) at Kellerman’s claim that Isiah is better by “a hair,” I didn’t share their level of outrage. My first reaction is to say that they’re different players. Stockton is a perfect representation of a classic 1–similar to the way Ray Allen is a perfect example of a 2.

    Now, to me, Isiah is a 1–in that he can play the role of a classic 1 quite well–but he’s also a 1 in the modern sense–namely, a scorer–and, when he wants to be, a dominant scorer as well.

    From this you could say Isiah is better–maybe way better. I’m hesitant because they almost are different positions–and not only that, but we could argue that Stockton is the best 1 to play. (By the way, I think his scoring was a little underrated. He could be clutch and he could penetrate and score better than some think–but I’m not saying he’s in Isiah’s league in terms of scoring.)

    Having said that, I do believe the point about Stockton having Malone is a valid one. You could argue that this diminishes Stockton’s status a bit. On other hand, I would argue that this could diminish Malone’s as well. Here’s why I say this: Stockton and Malone might have been able to execute the pick-and-roll better than anyone else. I feel like this one play contributed to a ton of points and assists. Take away their ability to execute this, and I think neither would be seen as great as they are. If this is true, this kind of diminishes their stature in my view. Generally in basketball, greatness depends on the ability of a player to create their own shot and almost be unstoppable. (And a player would great low post moves would constitute “creating their own shot” in my view.) My sense is that Stockton and Malone, independently of each other, really didn’t have that type of ability…Well, maybe Malone….The reason I hesitate on Malone is I feel like he wasn’t as great in the post. The 15 footer or turnarounds—yeah, he was really good at those–but I wouldn’t say he had great back to the basket moves, although maybe I’m forgetting how good he was.

    Anyway, Stockton and Malone they should also be seen as one entity–a symbiote, almost. They both needed each other, especially via the pick-and-roll, in order to be great.

    Whether that makes Isiah way better than Stockton, I’m still not sure.

    Oh, here’s a good comparison: Would you say Tim Duncan is better than Dennis Rodman? My reaction is very similar to the debate above. Yeah, I’d say Duncan (or even McHale) is better, but I’m a little reluctant to do that–it seems inappropriate on some level, because they’re pretty different. In a way, Rodman is almost the perfect 4–or at least he gets to the essence of what I’d want in a four–namely, rebounding and defense. (I guess if he could consistently hit open 10-15 footers he’d be perfect 4.) You want to say Duncan is only a hair better? I wouldn’t go crazy over that.

  2. You are right Stockton and Zeke were different players. But sort of what you were alluding to, when referring to Malone, Stockton needs players around him, where Isiah could carry his team a little bit more. For that reason I have to give the edge to Isiah. If they switched teams, my guess is both wouldn’t be as good as the other as they are so different, though.

    You think McHale is best four of our time right? Just the way you wrote it, one could interpret you to think Duncan is better. Rodman is too one dimensional to be in the conversation with those two guys I think.

  3. For that reason I have to give the edge to Isiah.

    Right and that was my position; it’s what I was telling my brother, who agreed with the Stephen A.’s and Jay Williams’s outrage. But when I think about the two players switching team, Isiah’s greatness would still shine through, whereas Stockton’s game–particularly his stats–might not be far less impressive. It’s hard to say, though.

    You think McHale is best four of our time right? Just the way you wrote it, one could interpret you to think Duncan is better. Rodman is too one dimensional to be in the conversation with those two guys I think.

    I sort of see McHale and Duncan on the same level. I suspect McHale would look better if he played during Duncan’s time, and Duncan might not have looked as good (not to say that he wouldn’t be great), nor played as long as he did.

    Yes, both are more well-rounded than Rodman, but my point is that well-roundedness isn’t really a premium in the 4 position. If you are super good at rebounding and defense, that’s the two main attributes you’d want in a four. And sometimes being a good scorer could actually be a detriment, especially if you have a good 5. Also, KG might be more well-rounded, but I’d take Rodman over him in a heartbeat.

    1. You right, a person that is well-rounded doesn’t mean their better. But when comparing guys that are both great, then it has to count for something especially when one is lacking a lot in one area. Plus I didn’t get the sense you were saying who is a better 4, but who is a better player overall. If we were picking players to make a team, I might go with Rodman over Duncan especially if the other person took MJ. Rodman was one of the few guys I saw that could at least slow down MJ. But I still would have problems saying Duncan is only a hair better than Rodman.

    2. Being well-rounded or multi-skilled, or fulfilling a position or role almost perfectly–which one is more important? That might be at the heart of this; and I don’t really have a clear answer–I don’t know if there is one. I do tend to think people under-appreciate being good at a specific position, while the value of being multi-skilled seems more evident.

      So when we talk about Rodman versus Duncan, I might have been clear about who is the better player or who is the better 4. But those two questions are related–or at least probably shouldn’t be separate. A player who is terrific at playing their position is something valuable and special. A player at the same position, who can do more, isn’t necessarily better.

      By the way, one way to see this is to think about tweeners. Someone can be super talented and skilled–but if they are a ‘tweener–their value, or even their ability to last in the league, diminishes. I think A.I. was that type of player, and if it wasn’t for Larry Brown moving him to the 2, and AI successfully being able to play that position, he might not have been so successful. Stevie Francis might be another, although he had less success. (If he played now, he’s have more of a chance.)

      I think Charles Barkley is hurt by being a tweener, too–and I think Barkely is a great player. The fact that he doesn’t really fit the role is a big reason why I would choose Duncan, McHale, maybe even Rodman over him–although in other ways I could argue Barkley better (than Rodman, anyway).

      The question that I don’t have a good answer to is, why are positions or roles so important? What’s interesting is that, for positions, the qualities aren’t chosen by coaches or players. It’s more like the coaches discover or recognize the existence of the positions. I suspect it has to do partly with the nature of most offenses. Additionally, the positions have to do with a way to achieve balance and for the team to be well-rounded. Scoring is important, but you can’t have five gunners. Traditional 1s and 4s usually are more role-playing positions. 2s and 5s are more the central scorers–one from the perimeter and the other in the post, respectively. 3s can be a key scorer, too, but they can also be utility, jack-of-all-trades type of players, too (e.g., Scottie Pippen, Michael Cooper, Nate McMillan, Luke Walton, etc.).

      By the way, the great thing about the original Dream Team is that several of the players were great at their position–but also transcended their position to. I’m thinking of Magic, Bird, and Jordan. Barkley and Mullin may have been tweeners, but they were multi-skilled. Maybe a shorter answer would be they were greater scorers and really good, if not great, passers as well–which is remarkable.

      1. The biggest “What?” in the whole write up was mentioning Luke Walton. I think he average less then 20 minutes a game, would be my guess. I think of him closer to a jack-of-no-trades more than jack-of-all-trades.

        I think once Gregg picked his all-time starting five and it was the best team he could put on the floor, not the best five best guys in their position or five best guys period. I’m not sure if I picked Duncan over Rodman, but Rodman would be higher in that conversation if choosing to create a team. My thing was, you only have one ball, you cannot have or don’t need to have five scorers. I also highly considered Klay Thompson, because I wanted a knock down guy that can play D. So I get what you saying about guys fitting a position or guys playing a role on a team. But if I am to choose the best five guys or best five by position, I cannot have Klay or Rodman. To me, that would be a stretch.

  4. The biggest “What?” in the whole write up was mentioning Luke Walton. I think he average less then 20 minutes a game, would be my guess. I think of him closer to a jack-of-no-trades more than jack-of-all-trades.

    I don’t know about his minutes, but I think he was a valuable player–more valuable than the stats suggest. That’s the nature of these players. In college, I would mention Michael Cooper for the ’88 Seton Hall team or Alex Jensen for Utah in the late 90s. They could defend, pass, make the open shot, get a rebound–they’d do little things to enhance the whole team. Their stay can make them a kind of “glue guy” for the team.

    I think one of the things that distinguishes this type of player is that they’re not great one-on-one players–they can’t create their own shot.

    Robert Horry is another one.

    I think once Gregg picked his all-time starting five and it was the best team he could put on the floor, not the best five best guys in their position or five best guys period.

    Wait, this is a little confusing. Did you mean he picked the five best guys, regardless of position? So he could have had three centers?

    But if I am to choose the best five guys or best five by position,…

    Are you treating these two categories as synonymous? What I’ve been suggesting is that the definition of best player is being muddled by being being great at a position. That is, if you’re paragon of a position that can almost mean you’re the best player….Well, not really, but it kind of moves in that direction.

    Now, if you’re saying, choose the five best guys and ignore positions or how well a player plays their position, then I get that–and yeah, Rodman and Thompson woudn’t make the list. But all-time best starting five factors in positions–i.e., the best 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I think that becomes murkier. For example, on one level no one would choose Rodman and Dumars for the first Dream Team, but if you wanted to make the best team, I think I could make a case for having them on–maybe not as a starters but as for players coming off the bench. Robinson, Rodman, Pippen, Jordan, and Dumars has the makings of being the most dominant defensive team ever, and a not too shabby offensive one, either. Get Larry Brown to coach this group, and I think I might put them up against any of the other great teams. The point is, I wouldn’t choose them as the five best players.

  5. If you’re having difficulty adding YouTube videos, it might be because you’re trying to use the embed code. In an original post, all you have to do is paste the link. WordPress automatically embeds the video and sizes it correctly. It’s kind of a new thing.

    On well-roundedness: Does it matter more in a league with a hard salary cap? I sometimes think that if baseball had a hard cap (and Oakland often puts teams together as if it does), versatility would be at more of a premium, but I’m not sure. How long has the NBA had a hard cap? Does it go back to the mid-90s?

    1. Generally, I have a lot of trouble with the original post–not just with posting videos, but using html code. It’s really a mess. That’s why I write short OPs and basically using the next comment post as an OP.

      On well-roundedness: Does it matter more in a league with a hard salary cap?

      I didn’t know the league had a hard or soft cap. I tend to not think of the cap as being a factor into choosing the all-time best player(s). Being well-rounded or versatile is definitely a criterion one could use, but I feel like some are putting too much weight on it. 2s or 3s tend to be the most versatile given their position. If you have to play out on a the perimeter ball handling, passing and outside shooting are going to be more important. 2s and 3s 3s are often required to do things near the basket, too. In other words, the nature of the position involves versatility. If you’re a great 3, you’re almost certainly well-rounded by definition of the position.

      1. The editor in the original posts is a WYSIWYG editor, so don’t type any html or it will appear in the post the way you write it, with all that markup language.

        There are buttons (and the usual keyboard shortcuts) for things like text style, lists, and even dividing bars. Some html doesn’t have commands in the editor (such as tables) and I haven’t found a good way to deal with that yet, but I’m sure it’s there. Just ask if there’s something you want to do and you can’t find it.

        Edit:
        Oh, I forgot to say there’s a way to toggle to html editor. When you’re composing a new post, click the three dots in the upper right corner. Midway down the menu you’ll see the option to switch from visual editor to code editor, and there’s even a keyboard shortcut for the toggle, if you want to do this kind of thing on the fly. I’ve done it and it works fine.

    2. I’ve fiddled with the making the first post, and I still haven’t gotten the hang of it, so I just post most my thoughts in the first comments post.

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