Stock vs. Isiah

One of my favorite things to do when looking at old basketball stats is to compare players with different reputations and see if perception agrees with reality. Sometimes, it does — any way you cut it, Michael Jordan was miles better than contemporaries like Dominique Wilkins or Clyde Drexler. Other times, though, it’s not so clear-cut — I present to you the case of Isiah Thomas v. John Stockton.

When they sit down to rank the “best point guards” or what have you, most people place Thomas slightly ahead of Stockton, primarily citing Isiah’s 2 championships (against Stockton’s zero) as the ringleader of the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” of the late 1980s. It seems to make sense, right? I mean, Thomas was brash and cocky, an in-your-face competitor who grabbed the spotlight in the game’s biggest moments; conversely, Stockton was unassuming and deferential, sometimes viewed as merely a cog (along with Karl Malone) in Jazz coach Jerry Sloan’s pick-n-roll machine. So on the face of it, it looks pretty obvious that Thomas’ career was superior to that of Stockton.

I’m here to challenge that assumption, however.

Don’t get me wrong, Isiah Thomas was a great player. He earned first- or second-team All-NBA honors 5 times, led the league in assists twice, and had many indelible moments in the crucible of the playoffs (remember his MVP performance in the 1990 Finals, or his 25 3rd-quarter points on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 of the ’88 Finals?). In fact, in the postseason — when most players’ numbers decline due to the increased strength of opponent — Isiah’s numbers actually improved markedly, from 6.78 career regular-season WS/3000 min. to 8.68 in the playoffs. Face it, the man was tough, and he was one of the clutchest scorers in NBA history.

But why is it a foregone conclusion that his body of work outpaces that of Stockton? Stockton led the league in assists 9 times in a row from 1988-1996. With 15,806 career helpers, he’s easily the league’s all-time leader — he has almost 5,500 more than runner-up Mark Jackson. Eight times he was 1st- or 2nd-team All-NBA. He made the All-Defensive team 5 times; he led the league in steals twice. In a rarity for a guard, his career FG% was .515 (by comparison, Thomas’ was .452). He missed out on the mythical 20,000-point club by a mere 289 points. Perhaps Stockton’s most amazing trait, though, was his durability: while Thomas played 979 career games and was oft-injured late in his 13-year career, Stockton suited up for 1,504 contests (3rd all-time) and missed only 22 games in 19 seasons!

You probably came here for the advanced statistical point of view, though, so here it is: Stockton had 205.4 career Win Shares (3rd all-time) in 19 years, for an average of 10.8 per season; per 3000 minutes, Stockton generated 12.9 wins for the Jazz over the course of his career. Eight times he finished in the league’s top 5 in Win Shares, his career offensive rating of 120.5 (which he accomplished while taking on 21.9% of Utah’s possessions when on the floor) ranks 4th in NBA history, and he had a career DRtg of 104.0 in an era where the league’s average was 106.7. By contrast, Thomas’s 80.3 career Win Shares ranks 88th all-time, and he averaged 6.2 per season; his career WS/3000 min. mark is 6.8. Only once (1984-85) did Isiah finish in the top 5 in WS, and he had a career ORtg of 106.3 and a DRtg of 106.8 in an era where the league’s average was 107.5. The only facets of the game where Isiah was superior to Stockton were his shot-creating ability (Thomas did take on 26.5% of Detroit’s possessions while on the court) and his rebounding (Thomas’ 5.3 career rebound rate is marginally better than Stockton’s 5.0), but in every other area — TS%, assist ratio, steal rate, etc. — Stockton kills Isiah in terms of regular-season numbers.

Oh, but what about the playoffs? After all, that’s where Isiah really made his money (and Stockton always failed)… right? Um, not quite. Stockton had 21.2 career playoff Win Shares; Thomas had 12.2. Stockton’s career playoff WS/3K rate: 9.94; Thomas’ rate: 8.68. Turns out that in the playoffs, it’s the same story as above: Isiah is superior in shot-creation and rebounding, but fails to outpace Stockton on the shooting, passing, and defensive fronts.

So why do people almost universally consider Thomas to be better than Stockton when they give their all-time point guard rankings? Stockton was more durable, more consistent, a better pure PG, more productive (both cumulatively and on a per-minute basis), and was even better in the playoffs, where Stock played a remarkable 182 career games. It is true that the Jazz never won an NBA crown with Stockton at the helm. It is also true that Isiah led Detroit to 2 rings. But hey, Robert Horry has 7 career rings, and no one is suggesting he’s better than Karl Malone. In other words, in light of the overwhelming evidence I’ve laid out above, isn’t it about time we reconsider the Stockton-Thomas debate?

About Neil Paine

I work for I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on December 5, 2008, in Analysis, History. Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. How, in fact, do Karl Malone and Robert Horry compare in career playoff WS/min?
    And generally, when will we see WS/min (in whatever denominator) on the stat pages?

    Regarding Isiah’s rings, recall that the ’89 finalist Lakers pretty much lay down and died — at least the guard corps did. The ’97-’98 Bulls (vs Utah) pretty much didn’t.

    Those Det teams of 1989/90 were fairly unbeatable, known as the deepest team in the league. In both title years, Isiah was one of 8 Pistons going >20 mpg and was #4 in WS.

  2. Here’s a column I can get behind. Thanks for this reminder of just how awesome Stockton was. There are few untouchable records in sports, but I’m pretty sure Stockton’s assist record is one of them.


  3. Amen,

    John Stockton = most underrated star in NBA history

  4. It’s because Stock is white.

  5. let me start by saying that i am a lifelong celts and bulls fan and grew up watching ball in the 80’s, so isiah is literally my least favorite player of all time. i live in new york now and just watched him run the knicks into the ground. if anything i’m hugely biased against him, but i don’t honestly think you can say definitively that stockton is the better player.

    i’ve debated this one about 100 times, and if you go by numbers, stockton wins hands down. however (you knew that was coming, right?), measuring how good a point guard is solely based on numbers can be misleading. you don’t pile up assists by allowing adrian dantley or mark aguire or vinnie johnson to isolate and score one on one. you don’t pile up any stats by moving off the ball and allowing joe dumars to abuse a mismatch when teams switch their best defensive guard onto you. but you do allow those players to play to their strengths, and you do win games. it’s not as though isiah couldn’t put up the big numbers when he was featured.

    as far as skills go, the very point that we have to concede to isiah, shot-creation, can be the deciding factor in a win or a loss. remember stockton basically single-handedly defeating the Rockets in game 6 of the 1997 western conference finals? he scored something like 8 possessions in a row. that take-over scoring ability was one of isiah’s trademarks. he had iverson-like scoring potential but instead played a pg’s role only taking over in spurts. to good effect (if not for an injury to isiah in ’88, the pistons might very well have won 3 rings in a row).

    and then there’s leadership. no one questions stockton’s commitment, dependability, decision-making, or crunch time play, but was he the caliber of team captain that isiah was? that was quite possibly the most disfunctional group of players ever to win anything in the NBA. rodman had a huge chip on his shoulder as a completely unheralded div 2 player, and he was a social misfit who as yet had no celebrity to release his pent up frustration. isiah kept him focused. laimbeer was almost universally disliked for his abrasive nature and brazen egotism. isiah embraced him as a co-leader and made sure his voice was heard (this info from a david halberstam book). salley? aguire? mahorn? tons of attitude and ego, yet they functioned like a machine. it takes a pretty powerful personality at the head of that group to guide them successfully.

    i’m not saying zeke’s definitively the better pick either. he’s nowhere near as efficient and isn’t as good a set shooter. to play next to ball dominant wing men (jordan / bryant types), i’d much prefer stockton. on a team without a great scoring wing, you’d probably be better off with thomas. the point is: as much as we can glean from metrics and stats, the game is more complex than player efficiency rankings and total win shares (though those are helpful tools), and proper context of player production needs to be established when considering these figures.

  6. And John Stockton isn’t crazy.

  7. Stockton was a great player no question about it, funny enough a lot of the things Isiah gets called out for being dirty, cocky, d***head. Stockton played exactly the same way. I’m sure at there size you need to play a certain way to be successful.

    The measure of what a great player has changed from the 80s till now. In the 80s if you didn’t win a title you were not considered the best. After Jordan ran roughshod over the league and left many a hall of famer Ewing, Barkley, Stockton, Malone, Payton (ring chasers need not apply) without a title, seems like the media wants to say those guys were great too even if they didn’t win it all.

    I’m sorry I disagree, they were HOF’s obviously. But guys like Isiah who basically willed his team to two titles deserve to be held in a higher regard. Also when Zeke matched up with Stockton he usually tore him a new one. The 44 he dropped on his head after he got left off the dream team (travesty), he was well on his way to doing it again in SLC, till big brother K. Malone decided he didn’t want to see his little buddy get lit up again, and gave Isiah a gash that took 40 stiches to close.

    Lucky for Stock

  8. In any team sport, titles are a ridiculous measure of excellence. Old-school Michael Jordan couldn’t win a title with this current Thunder team. Showtime Magic Johnson couldn’t win a title with Memphis.

    Kobe has been unable to win a ring without Shaq, and Shaq only won one in Miami because he had Wade. Robinson needed Duncan, Duncan needed Ginobili and Parker… no one can do it alone.

    And sure, Thomas scored all over Stockton, but so what? Do we measure point guards by points scored? Thomas was a much better shooting guard than Stockton, and Stockton was a much better point guard than Thomas.

  9. Amen, brother! This is my new favorite article ever. I’m going to marry it, make love to it, and raise little paper children with it. Thanks you.

  10. Stockton is a punk and Isiah is a man. If you ignore what Isiah has become today, and remember what he was, there is no question.

    Zeke baby Zeke!!

  11. Mike G – that was an astute question.

    Karl Malone Playoff WS/Min = .0029 = 8.7 WS3K
    Robert Horry Playoff WS/Min = .0027 = 8.1 WS3K

    by contract

    Tim Duncan Playoff WS/Min = .0044 = 13.2 WS3K
    Charles Barkley Playoff WS/Min = .0041 = 12.3 WS3K

    (surprised Chuck’s playoff WS/min is that close to Timmy’s)

  12. dickey simpkins

    I always thought it was interesting how casually people dismissed Stockton because of Malone. So, it’s a bad thing to have two superstars on one team? Does MJ get any less credit because Scottie Pippen was on his team? Stockton’s job was to get Malone the ball, and he did it beautifully for over a decade. Unlike his HOF counterpart, he never seemed to shy from the big moments (obviously this is a knee-jerk reaction, but judging by the stats it seems to back it up).

  13. In certain sports titles hold lesser value agreed. But in basketball where one player can carry a team such as Jordan did before his team matured around him and LeBron in today’s game, I think it would be ignorant for that not to be counted in the equation.

    Again the point of the game is to win championships, and for all Isiah’s faults off the court, no little man has ever been the best player on his team and won a championship let alone two titles except him. There is a reason why they call it a big man’s game.

  14. Agreed Issac. Maybe this is a completely different argument, but let’s switch their roles. Do you really think that Stockton wins a title let alone two with the Pistons? Maybe Isiah wasn’t the truest PG in the set up and just get assists sense. Why that is a true definition of a PG I don’t know. In my opinion a PG get the team to play to the best of its ability. To piggyback of Jason J’s point, Isiah did what was needed. When another player had a better match up, he deferred. But when the Bad Boys needed a bucket, who did they turn to? You could never say the same thing about Stockton.

  15. I’m afraid that’s incorrect, Tommy. Stockton was routinely turned to when the Jazz needed a bucket, but not only to shoot it (97 against the Rockets and ’99 against the Kings right off the top of my head) but the way he ran the offense you had to respect his shot with the knowledge that he could and WOULD get the ball to the open guy. That’s how it works as a PG obviously, and I’m sure with Isiah it was similar, but this article was about best POINT GUARD, not best player. Nobody can question Isiah’s skills, he was certainly a more explosive and skilled player. But as a POINT GUARD, the heart of the TEAM offense, nobody can match Stockton (IMO), and certainly not Thomas. The all-time assist number is commonly dismissed or overlooked, but I think it’s because it’s almost unreal. Mr. Assist himself, Chris Paul, at his current average (which it wouldn’t stay at forever), would have to play 14 more seasons to beat it.

  16. I’m a lifetime Pistons fan, and it always bugs me a little to hear people say that Thomas, and Thomas alone, willed the team to two championships. He was always the most passionate, the featured player on offense, and a fantastic playmaker, but statements like that do a great disservice to the balance the team had offensively (the majority of the starters plus Vinnie were comfortable taking big shots, by the way) and they tend to mask the team’s main strengths: lockdown defense and ferocious rebounding, two things Isiah wasn’t a huge part of.

    As for the Stockton, I’ve always thought the most remarkable thing about him was his longevity and consistency. Other point guards had higher peaks, but Stockton did what he always had for essentially 15 years, and he probably could have been doing essentially the same things well into his 40s.

  17. Thomas didn’t meet Michael Jordon in his prime in the finals. Take out Michael and Stockton has two rings.

  18. Jazz09, Isiah and the Pistons were the last team to beat the Bulls, they basically taught Jordan how to win and once he got by that obstacle, Jordan took off. As far as comparison, no comparison, Isiah was not only the franchise player, he was the go-to-guy when they won the rings. He never had Karl Malone to pass the ball too and bail him out of certain situations. Teams geared to stop him and Dumars. Stockton was always the second fiddle to Malone. Pretty simple.

  19. I don’t think anything related to intangibles helps to distinguish the two – they were both “winners” in the intangible sense.

    Anyway, if I were picking one or the other for a team, I’d take Stockton. Yes, Thomas was the better scorer. Stockton did just about everything else better.

  20. Magic Johnson..

  21. A lot of good points, but one idea keeps coming out and then being ignored: amazing assists. I think anyone who doesn’t appreciate the power of that one stat in Stockton’s favor can’t really understand the game. With basket-making, “first-fiddle” stars get the points, and by default, all the glory. But the “second-fiddle” guys who make those baskets possible are magicians: they can see the whole floor, read the flow of the offence and defence to perfection, understand the physical and mental ability of various players to carry-through (so that the assist actually becomes an assist!)–and all this without turning over the ball, losing their head, or succumbing to the temptation of just taking the shot rather than trusting somebody else to come through. An assist-man may be “second-fiddle,” but in fact he’s the play-maker and the true leader of the team: not only does he have to be unselfish enough to give the ball up, he has to trust his teammates and earn their respect to where they trust him to make the right play and get them the rock. Whether you go by pure stats or all of the intangibles, the assist-leadership of Stockton, which only an elite few of the GREATEST point guards can even approach, is beyond compare. What a quiet, content-to-be almost invisible, “second-fiddle” stud he was!

  22. It’s hard to compare them because they were such different types of point guards (and in such different situations)…Alot of it is fashion too.In that era people were still more infatuated with the idea of superstar scorers which is why Malone got two MVP’s…These days point guards are more appreciated – Steve Nash won the MVP’s and got the credit not Amare or Marion.If Stockton had played in todays NBA he would have been more appreciated and perhaps considered the number one player on the team.As it is we now have revisionist history based on this change in ‘fashion’ and the fact people are anti Thomas.

    While Stockton was a unique and amazingly durable player the fact that Thomas was the key man on back to back pistons teams puts him ahead of Stockton who was surrounded by talent and good coaching his entire career and never got over the hump…and it wasn’t just becasue of Jordan’s bulls.

    Rightly or wrongly,championships are a hugely important part of the criteria that great players are measured as does being the unquestioned number one guy on your team.Stockton was in a lot of big games and his team lost at a lot of crucial moments – compare that to Jordan or Thomas who simply made things happen…the jazz never got it done in those moments becasue they never had a guy that could stamp his mark at the very biggest moments – sure Stockton (and even Malone) made some clutch shots.But they never made it happen in that special way.After all those seasons of competitive Jazz teams this can’t be considered a coincidence and no true great is going to start making excuses about bad luck or the fact they had to compete against Jordan!

    This undefinable quality to will a team to victory with that extra something is the difference Its not about stats or skills.It doesnt show up on the stat sheet but is measured in the championship column.

  23. I disagree about the titles Dan, it was just because of Jordan and the Bulls (well, mostly Jordan); what other team from the East would have beaten Utah in those two finals?

    As for playing in a “weaker” era as Yep Yep suggests, you have got to be kidding! The West was absolutely loaded throughout the 90s: Phoenix (with Barkley and KJ), Houston (with Hakeem), Trailblazers (with Drexler, Kersey, Robinson), Sonics (with Payton and Kemp), San Antonio (with Robinson), I’m sure I’ve forgotten a team or two. But Utah had go through wars to get to the Finals. It was never easy.

  24. Whoever wrote this article and believes this nonsense is a punk!

  25. Sic, so I guess we can say in 1988 the only western team who can beat the Pistons was the Lakers ( Magic, Worthy, Jabbar, and Scott) so take them away and we would of won 3 finals. Heck, in 1991 when the Pistons lost to the Bulls, I don’t think the Lakers could of beaten the Pistons either, make that 4 rings? Heck if the Bulls didn’t have to face the Pistons, they may of won 8 rings. Hopefully you get my point, Stockton and Malone had a chance to win the ring and neither of them got there team over the hump. Not only did Isiah have to beat an era dominated by Magic and Bird but he also had to beat the Bulls with Jordan even though they were the young Bulls, Jordan was still Jordan.

  26. this is to sic’s reply teams were good but they could play half court ball they were run n gun teams lakers of the mid 80’s and the spurs of today west conference teams that could do both stockton thrived in in a era where guys started just wanting to dunk the ball instead of learning the fundies Stockton had this over these players but when the league was full with these players he was good but not great because people like zek magic mark price could be spoken with Stockton if that is the case zek was a winner Stockton was good h.o.f’er good debate question

  27. Why is Duncan better than Malone and Barkley? Why is Olajuwon better than Ewing and Robinson? Why is Jordan better than Gervin and Vince? It’s the championships. Ultimately, players are judged on their performances at the highest stage and winning the highest award. It wasn’t mentioned that Isiah didn’t have a top tier player like Karl Malone. The Robert Horry argument doesn’t hold any weight. He was a role player, not a principle on any team. Isiah and Stockton were principles who made plays for others. Great players made plays for Horry. Stockton was a great player as far as wins, statistics, professionalism, and durability. He’s definitely in my top 5 point guards ever, but the rings separate him from guys like Magic, Isiah, and Cousy.

  28. “It’s because Stock is white.”

    Exactly what I was going to say.

  29. Seriously, great article. Stockton was indeed better than Isiah, I’m convinced now.

    For the fools who credited Isiah for keeping Rodman focused, you go and tell that to Rodman. God damn, you can’t judge a player for his influence on other players, because you just can’t measure that! How do you freaking know it was Isiah and not the coach or even Rodman himself? Rodman was pretty good on the Bulls too, remember?

    About the rings, basketball is a team game. Stockton could give the ball to the open man every time and that still won’t bring you a championship if the open man misses the shots. Hey, it’s pathetic to blame Stockton for the not so good role players that the Jazz got around him and Malone for the greatest part of their careers (including their primes).

    And at last, numbers indeed can be misleading. But not the ones that were presented here. They basically prove that even taking into account the huge career Stockton had (he was good when he retired, but already really far away from his prime) he still produced more on a minute basis than Isiah both offensively and defensively, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

    The Pistons’ titles only prove they were the best team that year and that’s it. Not always does the NBA has the same number of really great teams and not always do the best teams have the highest standard of greatness.

  30. Zeke’s greatness is overestimated largely because Dennis Rodman’s is so underestimated. I can see no excuse for leaving Rodman out of the HOF.

  31. Isiah was the franchise player and was the go-to-guy. He was the only true superstar on his team and he was the main go-to-guy when they needed to make the big shots. Stockton was smart player who thrived in the Utah system much like Deron Williams is doing now. Stockton never won the ring even with Karl Malone on his team so I’m not sure how anyone can even make the comparison. When Isiah was at his peak, he was a better player without question.

  32. You guys act like Zeke wasn’t a great assist guy too! 9.3 apg career avg, with a single season best of 13.9 apg. Stock had career avg of 10.5 apg, career best of 14.5 apg. Stockton was better at getting assists, but not that much better. On the other hand, Zeke WAS that much better as a scorer; 19.2 career ppg vs. 13.1 ppg for Stock. The gap only grew in post-season play; 20.4 ppg vs 13.4ppg. A full 7 points per game!

    Also, being a scorer likely took away from zeke’s assist totals too; if he had been a specialist like Stockton, who never looked to score, his assists would be higher. I think it’s fair to ask if Stockton’s pursuit of assists was as selfish in it’s own way as a scorer trying to get points.

    Finally, Zeke never had a teammate nearly as good as Malone, yet he won 2 titles in the most competitive era in NBA history, against Bird’s Celts, Magic’s Lakers and MJ’s Bulls (BTW, MJ was a much better player in the late 80’s/early 90’s than when the Jazz played him in the finals).

  33. To me it’s no contest. Stockton has always been the most underrated star in NBA history for me.

    Stock > Zeke

    @TC (Per 36mins) Stock was 15pts – 12asts – 2.5stls at 60.8 TS%, while Isiah was 19pts – 9asts – 1.9stls at 51.6 TS%

    Stock: Ave 21.8 Max 23.9
    Isiah: Ave 18.1 Max 22.2

    “Consistency and longevity determines greatness”

  34. D54, the problem with judging stats on a per minute basis is that you end up punishing players who play more minutes. But how many minutes you play is a good measure of how valuable you are to your team. There’s an implicit assumption with per min. stats that a player’s production would increase proportionally with an increase in minutes, but there’s no evidence to support that; if there was, bench players with big per min. stats wouldn’t be on the bench! Per game stats show what a player really did, while per min. stats are somewhat hypothetical.

    As for shooting %, if Stockton had been forced to be his team’s primary scorer, as Zeke was, his FG% and 3Point% would probably be much lower; it’s easy to hit a higher % when all your attempts are spot up jumpers against single coverage.

    Switch Isaiah from 89 with Stock from 97 and the Pistons don’t win the title. On the other hand, Malone and Zeke together might have beaten the Bulls

  35. There are (primarily) four ways to judge two players against each other: # championships, stats, head-to-head matchups, opinion. Rings depends in every sport on a team being the best in the final round a particular year. So we can’t really count that as a measure in this case (see Horry arguments, others who would be among the greatest is Kerr, Harper and Horace Grant, is Bill Russell 5,5 times the player Wilt was?).

    Stats is somewhat influenced by teammates depending on which stats you choose. Today we have more refined stats that are better at off-setting pace, matchups and teamplay as well as measuring more subtle things like defense. Head-to-head is out of the equation also because teams play against teams even though certain individuals matchup and players have different roles on different team despite being each others matchup. Opinion is what makes sport tick but this is highly biased through media and this is where Stock is at a great disadvantage thanks to being very, very low key, playing in low media market. In those two aspects Zeke enjoys the upper hand and this explains why Zeke is a bit overrated (while still being an all-time great)and Stock is the most underrated player in NBA history.
    Let’s focus on the most objective way to determine this case: stats, but first a little sidenote on championships.

    The guy that says that MJ was better late 80’s is so lost. Never has a team in history enjoyed a more dominant 3 year span like Bulls 96-98. (Check up the numbers yourself, point diff, wins – ridicuolus). And besides some of us still remember Ron Harper making a 2 pointer after and Eisleys long 3 being waved of by Bavetta, both calls went against Jazz for a total of 5 points in the 6th gm ’98 which was decided by one…
    These two possessions is nothing but cold facts that are easily evident if you have slowmo on your old vcr. If you look at all-time teams the ’97 jazz rank among the very best offenses ever, yet the were stopped in their tracks by the powerhouse bulls.
    When we go back to late 80’s we see in ’88 the c’s came apart, cavs & bulls too young and pretty much noone else in east. Only one 60 win team which indicates parity, which means that to be the best in this year you don’t have to be that great.
    ’89 lakers were 11-0 only to go 0-4 we scott & magic went down, old kareem less depth the before whcih means that 11-0 i west only says bad comp. East had cavs and not much else and they were taken care of by bulls, only one 60 win team in the league this year.
    ´90 were without doubt the toghest year of the three with por, lal, chi challenging det and jazz & spurs also sporting good teams.
    I don’t like these argument though since they are based on speculations and not what actually happend.

    Therefore we move to the most accurate way to solve this dispute, namely stats.
    The thing is when it comes to stats you can choose any possible stat except scoring per game & scoring per minute as well as drawing fouls and it´s a nocontest in favor of Stock. PER, ORTG, TS%, DRTG, WS, DWS, total career, per game or peak season it does not matter. If you don’t trust me look for yourself

    True as some have noted above that it is easier to produce efficiently in lesser minutes, but this makes it sound like Stock played significantly fewer minutes. Stock played 4,5 mpg fewer than Zeke and this comes from being a backup to Ricky Green for his first 3 years and Sloan monitoring his minutes a little bit closer his last 6 years. This 4,5 mpg does in now way come close to offsetting the enormous advantage Stock has in the statistical categories.
    If this is an argument then you must also count for how much easier it is to put up big per game numbers the fewer years/games you play and Stocks advantage in keeping his production over 1,54 times as many reg sea games as Isiah is huuuge.

    If I’m allowed to throw in my two cents of opionion as a closer I would like to inform you that I personally know two persons who played a few years with Zeke in Detroit and they have told all kinds of stories about ridicuolus (in the good way) stuff he did (also quite a few not so nice stories off-court), and to me it is still a no-brainer in this case. Aside of the objective measures mentioned above, Stock is a superior as a leader (you don’t have to be in the newspaper to be a leader), screener, defender, hardnosed player(despite his style of play injured in only two seasons of 19!) and not the least playing the right way like larry would say.

  36. Isiah won two rings being the main go-to-guy, Stockton played within a system where Deron Williams is putting up the similar numbers. Isiah beat Bird, Magic and Jordan to win his rings, Stockton had Karl Malone who is by far better then any player Isiah played with and he still couldn’t win the ring. As for the story of personally knowing two players, who cares, the guy was a winner. Did Isiah have a huge ego, of course he did but he won the rings. Did Jordan have the same problem, yep, of course, he wanted to win. If you need specifics, maybe you should talk to Steve Kerr and Scottie Pippen about Jordan someday.

  37. I hate that I joined this debate so late. Everyone makes great points (except for the folks who admit to or show a clear bias). I have gone back and forth with this debate personally, and publicly at sports bars. One point everyone ignored (i think, apologies if i am wrong), is that Zeke won at every level, against the best at each level, many of whom are part of the community we all refer to as the best/greatest of all time. And, at each level Zeke was the team leader, often the go-to-guy late in games, the floor general and emotional spark. Please remember that he played under the General and beat UNC to win an NCAA championship in 1981. Then helped re-build the Detroit Pistons into a championship team.

    I know stats are important, but they often lie too, or can be misleading. Zeke’s importance as a PG can never be measured with stats only. Many “winners” are victims of the stat game after they retire. Stockton’s longevity and efficiency are very important and can’t be dismissed. But on the floor, running my team, early in the season or late in the playoffs, I want the proven winner – and that hands down is Isiah Thomas. No disrespect to Stockton, at all. Winners role model and teach others how to win – sometimes at all costs. A great player with great stats may not be able to do this as effectively, despite the numbers.

    I like that some of you guys mention race. This matters. Becasue stats can be used to inflate or diminish a player’s worth, we see white players getting props on stats when not winning rings (Stockton for example) and black players losing props for not winning a ring despite hellish stats (Dominique). I also like that some of you guys mention “character” issues. This matters less but I do think there is a right way to play. Stockton and Zeke both played PG the right way, I think. But, none of this -character, stats…etc. – matters as much as winning rings. Maybe I’m a throwback.

    One last note – Zeke torched or beat several guys on that top ten list to win a ring. This has to matter.

    Give me the rings over the numbers any day. Last I checked, we play to win!

  38. How sad we went from Stockton vs. Isiah to Terry Porter is > Isiah if future blogs. There is no player more people have bias against than Isiah. It’s too bad he has become such a loser since leaving basketball that people try every angle to discredit his playing days.

  39. Nobody here has some kind of “bias” against Isiah (as a Celtics fan, I’m actually appreciative of him keeping the Knicks a non-factor for the better part of a decade). No, the only thing that’s “discrediting” Isiah is his own statistical profile. I love how people keep coming here and accusing me of being biased… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you want me to respect you as a player, to give you your props? Then give me the numbers, give me the objective evidence. That’s all you have to do. There’s no bias against personality, playing style, height, weight, race, creed, or age… Just bring me the production, and you’ll get your plaudits. It’s as simple as that. When I criticize a player, there’s no bias there — except bias against substandard numbers.

  40. Neil,well judging by your comments then Wilt had better stats over Russell so I suppose he’s better? Heck, you can make an argument about a lot of players are better then Russell then. Is that what your telling me?

  41. Neil better stats? How about ppg, asssist pg, and steals pg? Thomas wins hands down in playoffs and regular season in ppg. He is damn close in assists and steals regular season. And playoffs he is better steals and about an assist less per game. His shooting percentages arent as good but they are hardly allen iverson throw it up and see if it hits material either. And none of the stats take into consideration clutch. This debate is a joke. Stockton was a great player, nice player. But he was no Thomas. Ill take a dominant player for 12-13 seasons and two championships over stocktons career anyday. And by the way he wasnt oft injured late in his career. You seem to struggle to make your case for stockton. Using stats like win shares per 3000 minutes and comparing Horry to Malone. It speaks volumes for your case. This pistons of this era have the only players with winning records of MJs bulls, Birds Celtics and Magics Lakers in the playoffs. And Thomas was by far their best player, leader and clutch performer. Stockton cannot say the same.

  42. Chris Paul’s favorite player was Isiah Thomas. Chris Paul, Gary Payton, Derek Rose and Billups combo will equal what Isiah was. While Steve Nash and Mark Price and Deron Williams will describe Stockton’s game. Isiah can create. Stockton is a textbook guard. he is the guard from “Double Dribble” While Isiah would be more of a guard from NBA Live.

    Isiah is more diverse, Isiah is quicker, he is a better defender, a better score, has a bigger personality, has beaten Jordan, Magic and Bird; the list goes on and on… and I haven’t even mentioned his All Star MVP, NBA MVP and Finals MVP awards. In Isiah’s Prime you could debate that he was better than everyone. You can’t say the same for Stocton.

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