Top 50 NBA players from last 50 years: John Stockton ranks No. 24


Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast, “What’s Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is ranking the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player No. 24, John Stockton.

John Stockton’s career highlights:

  • 10-time All-Star
  • Two-time first-team All-NBA, six-time second team, three-time third team
  • Five-time All-Defensive second team
  • Nine-time assists champion
  • Two-time steals champion
  • All-time assists leader
  • All-time steals leader

John Stockton giveth, and he taketh away.

The Jazz icon might not be regarded as the very best passer or thief in NBA history, yet he collected more assists and steals than anyone ever has and likely ever will.

Remove his two best seasons from the equation, and he’d still hold comfortable leads in both categories over Jason Kidd, who ranks second despite logging about 2,400 additional minutes. Stockton’s more celebrated teammate was known as the Mailman, but the slender point guard always delivered for Utah, too.

“No one will ever catch him in assists,” Wright said. “I don’t think anyone will ever catch him in steals.”

John Stockton is No. 24 on Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years

The most prolific passer in league history, Utah Jazz legend John Stockton is a nine-time assist champion. He was also an elite defender, with five NBA All-Defense appearances and 3,265 steals (also first all time). Stockton never won a championship, but he and Karl Malone will forever be known for having one of the most effective connections in NBA history.

Not in just 19 seasons. Stockton played in every game for 17 of them, and he never stopped producing. He collected at least 10 assists in 863 games, which nearly equals Magic Johnson’s career appearances. Stockton dished out at least 20 dimes 34 times.

Only 17 times has a player averaged 12-plus assists per game in a season. Stockton has eight of them, including a record 14.5 in 1989-90. The nine-time assists champ owns the four-highest single-season totals and seven of the top nine. He also holds four of the top 14 spots for steals.

From 1987-97, Stockton averaged 12.8 assists and 2.6 steals. He also scored a bit more in his prime than some might recall, registering 15.6 points per game on 52.4% shooting during the aforementioned decade. 

While Stockton never finished higher than seventh in MVP voting, he was much more than simply Karl Malone’s sidekick. The fellow Dream Team member is one of the best point guards of all time. 

“Does he have any great playoff games though?” Wright said. “Just a handful. A lot of really solid ones.”

Two of his better ones came in the 1988 conference semifinals against the eventual-champion Lakers. Stockton topped 20 points and 20 assists with five steals in Games 5 and 7, only Utah lost both and therefore the series. A year later, Stockton dropped 34 and 16 with six steals and two blocks in Game 3 of the first round against the Warriors. The Jazz were swept in that series. 

The majority of Stockton’s other notable games also came in early rounds. His best series was the 1997 Western finals versus the Rockets, with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley looking to make a final Finals run, and Malone and Stockton aiming for their first. 

Stockton was the oldest of the hallowed bunch. He’d also underperformed in each of his three previous conference finals appearances. Facing an aging, overmatched Houston backcourt, Stockton averaged 20 and 10 and hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to clinch the series. 

And that’s as good as it got. Stockton was just OK in an ensuing Finals loss to the Bulls and really struggled in their rematch the following year. The Jazz won the second-most games in the 90s and made the playoffs in all of Stockton’s 19 seasons. Only Malone played in more playoff games without winning a ring. 

The undersized workhorse made his last All-NBA and All-Star teams after turning 37. He retired at 41 with career averages of 13 and 10 in the regular season and postseason. His 3.72 assist-to-turnover ratio is second-best to Chris Paul’s. Stockton missed just 22 games total.

“He had amazing consistency,” Wright said, “and amazing longevity.”

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