Who’s Better: Jason Kidd Or Gary Payton?

Everyone is looking up at someone; there is always a standard set before you that you strive for in everything. Artists want to make the next Mona Lisa, politicians want to be the next JFK and point guards strive to be the next Magic Johnson.

A friendly debate sparked one day over who was the better all-time point guard, Jason Kidd or Gary Payton. Not a conventional argument, as most do not see Payton with the likes of John Stockton, Oscar Robertson or Magic, but the debate got so intense (me for Kidd, my buddy for Payton) that I had to look into it. After a few hours of digging, that turned into a few days of research and data collecting, there is a legit debate.

In order to settle the debate, I created four major categories that go as deep as possible so the verdict would not flawed: Statistics, Best Season, Playoff Success and Historical Impact. These categories show who was best by numbers, peaks, seasons and all-time rankings. Here we go…


When you want to compare two players, the first thing everybody goes to is the stats. With these two, it is a style contrast that leans heavily one way for Kidd and one way for Payton.

Without a doubt, Payton was the superior scorer of the two. But what was surprising was how efficient he was with the ball. Every member of the all-time leaders in assists has more turnovers than Payton, except Robertson, who played before they officially recorded turnovers as a statistic. Payton was known as a great low-post scorer who would bully his opponents in the paint, and as the best perimeter defender of his era. He made a career off of those two things, being efficient with the ball and found himself near the top in every statistical category after retiring.

Kidd is equal the defender, less proficient a scorer and has turned the ball over more than everyone ever except Karl Malone, Stockton and Moses Malone. He also is the best passer of his era, best rebounding guard ever and statistically the most decorated point guard (not including championships). Point guards are to lead, facilitate and defend. Between Kidd and Payton, there is no question who was more focused on being a great point guard.

They were equal the defensive presences, making nine NBA All-Defensive Teams each and finishing next to each other in steals.

Kidd’s career PER is 18.3 to Payton’s 18.9, again showing the statistics are basically a wash between the two. Both did what they were best at great, and minimized their weaknesses to lead their respective squads.


Best Season

Gary Payton: 1999-2000 (45-37) 24.2 PPG 8.9 APG 6.5 RPG 1.9 SPG 44.8 FG% 34 3PT% 73.5 FT% 41 Double-Doubles 2 Triple-Doubles

Payton strived to new highs during the 1999-00 season, having a career year statistically across the board. His individual success did not rub off on his teammates though, as the Sonics were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Jazz.

Jason Kidd: 2001-2002 (52-30) 14.7 PPG 9.9 APG 7.3 RPG 2.1 SPG 39.1 FG% 32.1 3PT% 81.4 FT% 44 Double-Doubles 8 Triple Doubles

During the 2001-02 season, Kidd finished second in the MVP voting (to Tim Duncan) and led his team to the NBA Finals. It was a bittersweet season ending in defeat to the Lakers, but most talking heads believed Kidd was the season’s MVP.

Again, a point guard has three main functions – lead, facilitate and defend. In Payton’s best season, his success was individual. That year he won seven less regular season games, nine less post-season games and finished sixth in MVP voting to Kidd. Nobody saw this great season as a great season, that is the major difference here between Kidd and Payton. On Kidd’s best day he is getting teammates involved and doing everything he can to win. On Payton’s best day, he is a scoring machine who facilitates at times.

Edge Kidd

Playoff Success

These numbers are skewed for a number of reasons in the direction of Payton. At the end of Payton’s career, he joined two teams that reached the NBA Finals, one of which (2006 Miami Heat) won it. So in the books, he won more games (29), more series, has a higher winning percentage and has a title to his name.

Payton was the best player on a team he took to the Finals (1996) that ultimately lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. That was more Payton being an impact on a team and getting them to the Finals. That year, he had Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, Nate McMillan, Hersey Hawkins and young Eric Snow. A solid cast of All-Stars and a few who could have been Hall of Fame members on talent alone.

On the other hand, Kidd took two putrid Nets teams to the NBA Finals in back-to-back years. In those two trips, they won a collective two games (swept by the Lakers), but Kidd was the sole reason they were there. From a pure numbers perspective, Kidd took his game up a notch in the playoffs while Payton saw a significant decrease in production. Kidd’s teammates that year included Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Lucious Harris all of which have had less of an impact in the NBA.

Take the two post-prime trips to the Finals from Payton, and the resume is a lot closer from a win/loss standpoint:

Edge Payton

Historical Impact

When you get into the all-time ranks and numbers list, these two are closer than you think. While Kidd is far and away ahead in certain categories, so is Payton.

The clear edge for Kidd is in assists (11,438 to 8,966) and a small lead in steals (2,447 to 2,445), where historically he is ranked second and third all-time respectively. Always known as a pass-first point guard, Kidd has the ability to retire far enough ahead of the pack in assists (will not catch Stockton) and steals (should be No. 1).

Then you have Payton who scored more (21,813 to 16,665) and had a better grip on the orange (3,030 to 3,797) with less turnovers. He is well ahead of Kidd in both of those categories with no threat of being caught. As a scorer, Payton was much more dynamic and prolific.

Pretty even overall.

The Trump Card comes in two forms. The first is rebounding, where Kidd all-time has more boards than big men like Chris Webber, Alonzo Mourning and Kevin McHale. Despite Payton’s physical nature, athleticism and size, he never was a major impact on the boards throughout his career. Kidd is arguably the best under 6-6 rebounder ever, and is currently 55th all-time in rebounds, first among point guards who played in the era where rebounding was tracked. Payton is 187th all-time and fouth among point guards.

The second is miscellaneous statistics, but they back Kidd as well in a large way. He has 485 double-doubles and 107 triple-doubles compared to Payton’s 260 and 15. Kidd is third all-time in triple-doubles, and among the greats in double-doubles.

All-Time Numbers: Kidd is second in assists, third in steals, third in triple-doubles, fourth in turnovers, 55th in rebounds and 80th in scoring

All-Time Numbers: Payton is fourth in steals, eighth in assists, 18th in turnovers, 26th in scoring, 187th in rebounds

Edge Kidd

The Verdict

So in the end, Kidd wins out 2-1-1 (push on statistics) as the better point guard via the categories established and the historical data. On the Mount Rushmore of point guards, it appears he has a spot reserved.

Who do you think is better?

Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @NBADraftInsider.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.