In response, former star Gilbert Arenas said that LeBron James could actually be considered the greatest point guard ever, and his reasoning was interesting.
IF YOU THINK MAGIC JOHNSON IS THE BEST POINT GUARD EVER…
LEBRON JAMES HAS THE SAME CASE. pic.twitter.com/spcdzHc56r
— Gilbert Arenas (@GilsArenaShow) August 23, 2023
“Magic was a small forward/shooting guard coming into the NBA,” said Arenas. “His first four years, he was the shooting guard. Norm Nixon was the point guard. When they moved Norm, they gave the ball to Magic because it was better played by a guy at that size. So, he was your small forward who guarded the small forward but had the ball in his hands, and because he did what he did like Joker (Nikola Jokic) does, they called him the point guard. That’s where point forward comes in from.
“So if we want to use, and I always did this to people just to f— with ’em, if you’re going to use Magic as the best point, I’m going to use LeBron. Now LeBron’s the No. 1 point guard, and you could be like, ‘Oh LeBron ain’t a point,’ well he’s led his team in assists every f—— year. So he has to be the best point guard of all time. So if you’re going to play with Magic, because LeBron was 2.0 of Magic Johnson. Coming into the NBA he was Magic Johnson with Jordan-like jumping ability. That was the frame — you can’t now take him out of it, because he’s then surpassed all of these stats. So if you’re going to try to use Magic as the point guard, then you have to throw LeBron as the best point guard.”
Both Curry and Johnson helped change the NBA game and how it is played from a philosophical standpoint. Curry has made being a volume 3-point shooter en vogue, both from an individual and team standpoint, while Johnson made playing fast-breaking, team-oriented basketball the norm in the 1980s.
Johnson likely had an even greater impact, as the league was struggling when he entered it in 1979. Ratings were low, the NBA Finals were shown on tape delay and players had a reputation for being lazy, me-first drug users. Johnson changed all that, and by the mid-1980s, the NBA took off like a rocket ship.
But the problem with Arenas’ reasoning is that Johnson was arguably not a point guard for only the first four years of his career, while James has officially played the point for just two of his 20 seasons thus far. James did play a lot like Johnson did during that time, transforming the Los Angeles Lakers into a fast-breaking squad that won it all in 2020, but it was a drop in the bucket when it came to the totality of his career.
Like Johnson, James’ versatility has been one of his greatest strengths, but he has by and large been a forward over the years. After the Lakers restructured their team in February by bringing in D’Angelo Russell, James has been advancing the ball upcourt a lot less than he has in the past, and the emergence of Austin Reaves has accelerated that development.
The more accurate question is whether James is the greatest small forward, or just the greatest forward, in NBA history. If he isn’t the greatest small forward ever, that honor likely goes to Larry Bird, Johnson’s archrival throughout the 1980s.