Steve Nash vs. John Stockton Career Comparison: Who Is The All-Time Greater Point Guard?

There is no question that Steve Nash and John Stockton are two of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Both players played the majority of their careers with one franchise, as Nash is one of the top-5 Phoenix Suns players ever while Stockton is one of the top-5 players in Utah Jazz history. The accolades of both players are certainly impressive, as Steve Nash is one of the only players to win back-to-back MVPs and John Stockton is the all-time leader in total assists and total steals in NBA history.

When discussing the greatest point guards of all time, the same names come up. Other than Magic Johnson, who was simply a special player that cannot be compared to anyone, Steve Nash and John Stockton are always mentioned in the conversation because they were two of the most talented playmakers in NBA history. John Stockton owns the NBA’s unbreakable assist and steals records while Steve Nash is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who was one of only thirteen players to win back-to-back MVP awards.

Nash and Stockton will often be compared in a class of their own, but which superstar point guard had the better overall career? Nash was a clever basketball player with some of the best shooting and passing intangibles ever, while Stockton knew where his bread was buttered and created one of the best duos ever with Karl Malone. But is there a separation between them in overall career success? To try to distinguish between the two most dominant point guards of all time, it is time to compare the careers of both players by their most important accolades.

NBA Championships

Steve Nash: 0

Finals Record: 0-0

John Stockton: 0

Finals Record: 0-2

Whenever a debate between two all-time great players comes up, NBA championships are often the first thing that comes up. After all, winning is what matters most and the greatest players of all time must be winners of the highest order. Both Steve Nash and John Stockton never won an NBA title, even though Stockton made the Finals twice and Nash never played in the Finals once in his Hall of Fame career.

Despite competing on some great teams including the Dallas Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki and the Phoenix Suns squads that had Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, Nash could never reach the NBA Finals. That goes to show how difficult it is to make the NBA Finals, regardless of a player’s elite talent. Meanwhile, Stockton made the Finals twice although they came in losing efforts.

Stockton lost his first Finals appearance against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and had to endure defeat to the Chicago Bulls once again in 1998. Stockton averaged 12.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 8.8 APG for the Utah Jazz over 12 games in the Finals, strong numbers for a player that was mainly required to play defense and feed superstar Karl Malone in the offense.

Unfortunately, Stockton had to run into a dominant Michael Jordan in his prime and had to settle for an 0-2 Finals record. In terms of rings, the most dominant player with more of them will normally have the edge in all-time rankings, but neither star has a Finals chip to show for their talent. Stockton might have an advantage with his two Finals appearances, but it should only matter if there was a victory.

Advantage: Even

Finals MVP Awards

Steve Nash: 0

John Stockton: 0

Once again, neither player has an advantage when it comes to Finals achievements. The superstar Canadian point guard never made the Finals, although he came closest four times in his career with his four Conference Finals appearances. The first came in 2003 with the Mavericks, in a losing effort to the San Antonio Spurs. Nash ran into the Spurs again in 2005, when the point guard competed with the Suns, in a losing effort once more. Falling to the Mavericks in 2006 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, Nash came close but never close enough.

Stockton went deeper in the postseason than Nash, making five Conference Finals and two Finals appearances. But none of those postseason runs resulted in a Finals trophy, let alone a Finals MVP trophy. Even if Stockton went deeper in the playoffs than Nash did over his career, he still does not have a Finals MVP which does not give him an advantage over his Canadian counterpart.

Advantage: Even

NBA MVP Awards

Steve Nash: 2 (2005, 2006)

John Stockton: 0

The MVP Award is also another major achievement that comes up in debates about the greatest players of all time. This award shows who the best player is throughout an entire regular season, and in the case of both of these players, it shows how often they were the best player in the league. Even though Nash receives criticism for “stealing” at least one MVP award from Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal, he still has two straight awards to his name. The superstar was the architect for the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns and had two excellent seasons in terms of being a primary scorer and playmaker for his team. In the 2005 season where Nash averaged 15.5 PPG and 11.5 APG on 50.2% FG, 43.1% 3-PT FG, and 88.7% FT, there was no doubt he was the best point guard in the league although Shaquille O’Neal finished a close second. The following season, Nash put up 18.8 PPG and 10.5 APG on 51.2% FG, 43.9% 3-PT FG, and 92.1% FT. Making the 50-40-90 club was a major reason Nash won the MVP over a dominant Kobe Bryant (35.4 PPG) and LeBron James (31.4 PPG). But Nash did enough to convince voters he was the MVP two times in a row, and that is etched in stone.

Meanwhile, John Stockton was never the best player in a single season at any point in his career. That was because Stockton’s job was to play a secondary role in favor of Karl Malone, and feed The Mailman because he was the most physically dominant player on the team. Stockton probably sacrificed his own accolades for the sake of team success, which is why he has more Finals appearances than Nash. But Stockton was never going to win the MVP award over the likes of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Hakeem Olajuwon among others, which means Nash has a major advantage.

Advantage: Steve Nash

All-NBA Teams

Steve Nash: 7 (3 First Team, 2 Second Team, 2 Third Team)

John Stockton: 11 (2 First Team, 6 Second Team, 3 Third Team)

Steve Nash played at a high level for a very long time, a reason why he has made 7 All-NBA Teams by the end of his career. There was no doubt that in his prime, Nash was the most electric point guard in the NBA and made the All-NBA Team almost every year. In terms of pure offensive firepower, Nash was one load to handle, and making 7 All-NBA Team appearances including 3 First Team are very impressive. But Nash does not have the longevity at an All-Star level that John Stockton had.

John Stockton was an All-NBA stalwart as soon as he became an All-Star-caliber player in his fourth season because his numbers and production were certainly impressive. After averaging in single-digits in scoring and assists over the first three years, Stockton averaged 14.7 PPG and 13.8 APG in year four while making the All-NBA Second Team. He made a total of 11 All-NBA Team selections because he started off as a star player sooner than Nash did, and had more longevity thanks to the presence of Karl Malone.

Stockton’s 11 All-NBA Team appearances are undeniably great, and he has a big advantage over Steve Nash in that regard. Nash has more First Team appearances, but his longevity as a star slightly set him behind the Utah Jazz All-Star guard.

Advantage: John Stockton

All-Star Teams

Steve Nash: 8 All-Star Appearances, 0 All-Star Game MVPs

John Stockton: 10 All-Star Appearances, 1 All-Star Game MVP

As soon as Steve Nash started getting more comfortable on an NBA court at age 27, he was already one of the best and most dominant players in the game. The point guard made 2 All-Star Teams as a member of the Dallas Mavericks alongside Dirk Nowitzki but would make an impressive 6 All-Star Teams in 8 years with the Phoenix Suns. An elite scorer and shooter, Nash was a spectacular player during his All-Star run although he never placed himself in a position to win the All-Star Game MVP.

Similarly, John Stockton became an All-Star stalwart as soon as he started getting comfortable on the court. Between the 1989 season and the 1997 season, Stockton made a whopping 9 straight All-Star Teams. After two seasons of failing to make the All-Star Team, Stockton would become an All-Star in 2000 at age 37 when he averaged 12.1 PPG, 8.6 APG, and 1.7 SPG. Obviously, Stockton was better earlier than Nash was, which gave him more All-Star selections. Adding in an All-Star Game MVP award, Stockton has another advantage in individual accolades.

Advantage: John Stockton

All-Defensive Teams

Steve Nash: 0

John Stockton: 5 (5 Second Team)

Steve Nash was never known as a lockdown defender, mainly because he was such a dominant offensive force that terrorized defenses for years. Rather, Nash was often taken advantage of in defensive situations because he lacked the speed it took to move his feet to keep up with quicker or more athletic guards. Despite standing 6’3”, Nash was often a defensive liability and that was the case as he aged as well. Averaging a career 0.7 SPG, Nash could come up with the ball on some occasions but he lacked the gifts of being a lockdown defender.

John Stockton’s defense often went underappreciated because of the monster assist statistics he put up. In many ways, Stockton was a defensive irritant because he was a master at poking the ball away and also playing passing lanes. The talented two-way point guard made five All-Defensive Teams in his career, all of them coming as a member of the Second Team. Ranking first all-time in steals and holding a career average of 2.2 SPG, there is no doubt that Stockton was a better defensive guard than Nash and his All-Defensive Team appearances prove this.

Advantage: John Stockton

Total Win Shares

Steve Nash: 129.7

John Stockton: 207.7

Win Shares is a statistic that tries to allocate a team’s wins for each player on the roster. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owns the single-season record for Win Shares with 25.4 during 1971-72 on a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 63 games. Stockton’s career win share total is extremely solid at 207.7, which ranks 6th all-time. In fact, the only players ahead of him are widely regarded as top-12 players of all time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, and Michael Jordan.

Nash’s career win shares are nowhere near as high, meaning he was less directly responsible for his team wins than Stockton was. As great as Nash’s Phoenix Suns teams were, they were not as consistently great as the Utah Jazz were during the 1990s. Nash’s win shares statistic ranks 38th among NBA players and 41st overall, which is still great but not on the level of a top-6 player like Stockton. Overall, yet another statistical category goes the way of John Stockton.

Advantage: John Stockton

Career Player Efficiency Rating (PER)

Steve Nash: 20.0

John Stockton: 21.8

Player Efficiency Rating, better known as PER, is a statistic created by John Hollinger that’s goal is to give each NBA player a comprehensive rating. Hollinger’s PER metric is unique because it combines a player’s positive and negative contributions on the court. The PER category is not that close, as Stockton is ranked 42nd all-time in PER while Nash is ranked 79th.

Stockton’s ability to rack up assists, steals, and also shoot the ball at a strong percentage is the main reason he ranks top-50 in PER. The Jazz legend was incredibly adept at creating scoring opportunities for his superstar teammate, Karl Malone, and that boosted his efficacy on the floor as a floor general. Nash’s 20.0 PER rating is nothing to sniff at, although he was not as adept at coming up with steals as Stockton was and does not have the eight total seasons whereby the Jazz guard averaged at least 12 APG during a season. Once again, John Stockton has a significant advantage.

Advantage: John Stockton

Final Score

Steve Nash vs. John Stockton 1-5

In the end, it is hard to argue that John Stockton had a better career than Steve Nash on an individual level. There is no doubt that both players are two of the most dominant guards in NBA history, and they will continue to get compared as the top-5 list of all-time point guards is discussed.

But Stockton had a longer career which spanned an extra season and also had 3 extra seasons averaging at least 10 PPG when compared to Nash. Of course, John was fortunate to play alongside one of the greatest players ever in Karl Malone which helped his assist numbers. His all-time assist and steals numbers will be hard to be surpassed, and the Jazz legend’s All-NBA Team and All-Star Teams usurp that of Steve Nash’s.

Luckily for Steve Nash, anyways, his name is often mentioned among the top-5 point guards ever because of his valuable back-to-back MVPs so their legacies will be close. Nash was more of an individual talent, capable of going off on offense better than Stockton and also spearheading one of the best offensive teams in history in the Mike D’Antonio-coached Phoenix Suns. In terms of this comparison, Nash has to accept that Stockton had a better career because along with 2 NBA Finals appearances, All-Star, All-Defense, and All-NBA appearances, the assist and steals numbers favor the Jazz legend forever.


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