Stephen Curry or Magic Johnson? Here are the straight facts from the NBA’s recent GOAT debate

Mary Raleigh
11/09/2023

Damian Lillard is still a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. James Harden is still on the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster, though he might be out $100,000 now. The last NBA game was played more than a month ago (and that’s only if you count summer league) and the next NBA game won’t be played for more than a month (and that’s only if you count preseason).Stephen Curry or Magic Johnson? Here are the straight facts from the NBA's  recent GOAT debate - ESPN

With no big trades to grade and no on-court action to break down, the late-summer NBA discourse has once again turned to one of the fanbase’s favorite narratives: the GOAT debate.

However, this time it’s not LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan (though somehow Jordan is involved, as is often the case with all things NBA). This debate is about the greatest point guard of all time, and it boils down to Stephen Curry vs. Magic Johnson.

It all started earlier this week, when Curry was a guest on “Gil’s Arena,” the podcast hosted by former NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas, who posed this question to Curry: “Are you the best point guard ever?”

“Yes,” Curry said. “Yes. It’s me and Magic, that’s the conversation?”

“Magic’s résumé is ridiculous,” Curry added, “so the fact that we’re even having that conversation is a place I never thought I’d be in.”

Tuesday on ESPN’s “First Take,” Stephen A. Smith backed up Curry’s opinion.

 

On Wednesday, the debate took on new life when Jordan, who played with Johnson on the 1992 Dream Team, texted his thoughts to Smith.

“Although greatest of anything is always a debate, I beg to differ on greatest point guard of all-time,” Jordan wrote, according to Smith. “Magic Johnson is easily the best point guard of all-time. Steph Curry is very close, but not in front of Magic.”Magic Johnson vs. Steph Curry: Statistical comparison of the 2 GOAT NBA  point guards

Jordan went on to call Curry the “best shooter of all-time,” a title Curry himself had been reluctant to claim until 2021 when he broke Ray Allen’s record for most career 3-pointers made.

As for greatest point guard of all time, both Curry and Johnson have strong cases.


The case for Magic Johnson

Jordan said in his message to Smith, “you must define point guard to really have a serious debate” and if you define point guard as primarily a passing role, Johnson excels where Curry does not.

When Johnson retired the first time in 1991, he was the NBA’s all-time assists leader with 9,921. After a brief comeback in 1996, he finished his career with 10,141 assists, a total that ranks seventh in NBA history. His 11.2 assists per game still rank as an NBA record. And that’s just the regular season. Johnson also dished out 2,346 assists in the postseason, more than 300 more than the next player on the list (LeBron James).Stephen Curry is on track to pass Magic Johnson as the greatest point guard  of all time - Basketball Network - Your daily dose of basketball

Curry, by comparison, has been far less prolific in setting up his teammates. His 5,740 assists rank 45th in NBA history, and he’s averaged more than eight assists only once in his 14 seasons.

Johnson also has three MVP Awards to Curry’s two, three Finals MVP Awards to Curry’s one, and five NBA championships to Curry’s four. In the 12 seasons Johnson played before being forced to retire because of a positive HIV test in 1991, his Los Angeles Lakers never missed the playoffs, and reached the NBA Finals nine times.

When ESPN did its ranking of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team in the 2021-22 season, Johnson ranked fourth overall, behind a shooting guard (Jordan), a forward (James) and a center (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Meanwhile Curry ranked 16th — though that was before his fourth title and first Finals MVP Award.


The case for Stephen Curry

First, it should be noted that Curry, 35, is still active, and has plenty of time to move up various NBA statistical lists — though he can’t move up the career 3-point list, because he’s already at the top. He also holds four of the top five spots on the NBA’s single-season 3-point list, and is the only player in NBA history to make at least 400 3-pointers in a single season.

Speaking of lists in which Curry stands alone, he remains the only player to win MVP honors unanimously, something he did in 2015-16, when he led the Warriors to a record 73 wins in the regular season. Curry’s career scoring average (24.6 PPG) dwarfs Johnson’s (19.5), and he’s already far surpassed Magic in total career points (21,712 to 17,707). Curry won scoring titles in 2015-16 and 2020-21, averaging better than 30 points per game in both seasons.

As Arenas pointed out during his podcast discussion with Curry, the Warriors’ star has also spawned a generation of imitators and changed how the game is played beyond the 3-point arc.3 reasons Stephen Curry has impacted game more than Magic Johnson

“I can witness and watch every kid trying to be Curry,” Arenas said. “The influence you have on the game from the position as a player. … I look at the stats and I say ‘Magic then Curry,’ but when I look the kids in AAU, it’s like ‘nah.'”


The numbers to know

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