It’s not really a secret that the Boston Celtics have a rich history. You don’t get 17 NBA Championships without a storied past filled with legendary players. For the most part, however, it’s not the point guards we talk about when discussing Celtic greats. Larry Bird, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, Dave Cowens, Paul Pierce, etc. The list goes on. Well, we’re forgetting about those guys and focusing on the five greatest point guards in Celtics history.
Note: only a players contributions to the Celtics are considered here. Doesn’t matter what they did before or after while they were on a different team.
5. Nate “Tiny” Archibald (’78-’83)
3-Year Peak (’79-’82): 13.6 ppg, 48.5% FG, 8.0 apg,
Accomplishments with team: 3 All-Stars, 1 All-Star MVP, 1 All-NBA 2nd team, 1 Title (’80-’81)
As we briefly discussed yesterday, Tiny came over to Boston in the back part of his career after dominating the league for a while. He initially appeared out on shape an unmotivated but quickly turned it around and helped lead the Celtics to a championship.
His numbers in green don’t jump off the page, especially when compared to the numbers earlier in his career, but he stepped up big in the ’80-’81 season by making the All-NBA 2nd team and leading the Celtics to a title. Tiny will be remembered for his quickness and play-making ability, as he helped shape where the point guard position was heading.
4. Rajon Rondo (’06-present)
3-Year Peak (’09-’12): 12.2 ppg, 10.8 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.2 spg, 48.1% FG, 18.0 PER
Accomplishments with team: 4 All-Stars, 2 All-Defense 1st teams, 2 All-Defense 2nd teams, All-NBA 3rd team, All-Rookie 2nd team, 2 assist titles, 1 steals title, 1 championship (’07-’08)
The Celtics current point guard has a chance to jump all the way to the top of this list if he stays in Boston for the rest of his career and continues to put up the uniquely dominant numbers he has thus far.
Rondo has gone through many phases and can be quite frustrating at times but there isn’t another player in the modern NBA capable of putting up the box scores he produces. He’s lost a bit on defense, and the Celtics overall ball movement problems can certainly be blamed on him to an extent, but Rondo is still an elite point guard.
Rondo’s contributions already make him one of the best guards in team history and he’s still just 28 years old.
3. Dennis Johnson (’83-’90)
3-Year Peak (’84-’87): 14.9 ppg, 6.7 apg, 3.6 rpg, 51.1% TS
Accomplishments with team: All-Star, 3 All-Defense 2nd teams, All-Defense 1st team, 2 championships (’83-’84, ’85-’86)
The starting point guard on the greatest Celtics team of all time, DJ made folks forget about some early struggles by developing into one of the greatest defenders and clutch players in the history of the league. Much like with Archibald, the Celtics traded for Johnson a little later in his career after his statistical prime. That didn’t matter, because Red Auerbach was looking for defense in the backcourt. He knew he had Larry Bird to shoulder the offensive load.
DJ’s most impressive moments as a Celtic came during the 1984 NBA Finals. The 6′ 4″ Dennis Johnson guarded the 6′ 9″ Magic Johnson, limiting him to 17 points or fewer in the last 4 games. DJ was also responsible for Magic committing a slew of back-breaking turnovers. After those finals, many fans began to refer to Magic as “Tragic Johnson.”
The clutch steals, jumpers, and finishes from DJ are infinite. He is simply one of the headiest players the NBA has ever seen.
2. Jo Jo White (’69-’78)
3-Year Peak (’70-’73): 21.3 ppg, 5.4 apg, 5.3 rpg
Accomplishments with team: 7 All-Stars, All-Rookie 1st team, 2 All-NBA 2nd teams, 2 championships (’73-’74, ’75-’76), Finals MVP (’75-’76)
Jo Jo White, the Celtics record holder with 488 consecutive games played, is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. How many Finals MVP’s have slipped through the cracks of history to the extent White has?
After starring at Kansas, White actually had an obligation to serve at least a year in the military before turning pro. He did so. As a Marine. Jo Jo White credits this as the reason he was able to stay so tough and in such good shape throughout his career.
White made 7 straight All-Star appearances and did so despite not being a natural PG. He came into the league as a scorer, and while he remained a scorer to some extent, coach Tom Heinsohn put him at point guard and asked him to adjust his game. Based on his accomplishments, it’s safe to say White did so successfully.
1. Bob Cousy (’50-’63)
3-Year Peak (’57-’60): 19.1 ppg, 8.5 apg, 5.0 rpg
Accomplishments with team: 13 All-Stars, 2 All-Star MVPs, 10 All-NBA 1st teams, 2 All-NBA 2nd teams, 8 assists titles, NBA MVP (’56-’57), 6 championships (’56-57, ’59 through ’63),
The people who say that Cooz wouldn’t have been good if he played 20 years later are 100% correct. He couldn’t shoot worth a damn. He wasn’t a good athlete by modern standards. But the way Cousy lead fast breaks, did dribble moves, and passed completely changed the NBA. He was the first basketball player to take pride in running a team, and he single-handedly made the sport a faster-paced and higher scoring game.
Cousy’s accomplishments and impact go far beyond the stats and number of titles, which are still very impressive and cement his legacy as one of the great guards. He as also the first player to do stuff like dribbling behind his back, no-look passes with one hand, and push the ball up the court. Cousy was a street-baller on a professional court.
Because of these tricks, he earned the nickname “Houdini of the Hardwood”. If you can’t tell, that happens to be what this site is named after. Any NBA historian will tell you that Bob Cousy probably couldn’t play today, but that he is still one of the greatest and most important players in the history of the league.
For what it’s worth, if this list was expanded to 6 the next guy would be KC Jones.