John Stockton’s longevity wasn’t just about his unprecedented availability. Sure, only missing 22 games in a 19-year NBA career – 18 of those after knee surgery at the start of the 97/98 season – is impressive. But what’s even more impressive is the level Stock played at, even in his penultimate season in the NBA.
At the age of 39, the Hall of Fame point guard started in all 82 games for the Jazz, averaging 31.3 minutes per contest. Stockton led Utah to 44 wins and the 8th seed in the West, making the Playoffs for the 18th consecutive time in his career.
Stockton finished the season averaging 13.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 8.2 APG on .517/.321/857 shooting splits. He had a similar output in the Playoffs, but the Jazz still lost a four-game series to the Sacramento Kings. Yet, Stock’s run throughout the entirety of the 01/02 NBA season was unprecedented for a 39-year-old — especially his last 25 games of the regular season.
John turned 40 in the midst of the stretch but showed no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, he took his game to the next level, averaging 16.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 9 APG, and 2 SPG, shooting 55% from the field and 82% from the charity stripe.
His most impressive performance during the stretch came in Utah’s 108-101 win over the Golden State Warriors when Stockton put up a game-high 26 points, along with 9 assists and four steals. He shot 7-for-11 from the floor, converting all of his 11 free-throw attempts, overshadowing future All-Star Gilbert Arenas in the process.
Stockton’s individual excellence didn’t translate into wins as much as he wanted to, as the Jazz went 12-13 during the stretch before losing to the Kings in the first round of the ’03 NBA Playoffs. However, the fact he played that good that late into his NBA career is seriously impressive, and no other point guard was able to reach the same standard ever since.
Perhaps Chris Paul will be able to do it. Twenty-eight games into the 20/21 NBA season, at 35, the Suns point guard is putting up 17 points and nearly 9 assists per game, on incredible shooting efficiency. It seems like his game will continue to age gracefully, and assuming he stays healthy, the 16-year veteran might have a realistic shot of challenging Stockton’s productivity that late into one’s NBA career.
Until then, the Hall of Famer remains the measuring stick for every NBA point guard out there.