One of the great fringe benefits of working on "NBA Countdown" is getting to talk extensively with Magic Johnson. When we're not on camera, Johnson, Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry and myself are sitting in the green room watching various NBA games on several televisions. During this time, Johnson shares with us stories about his playing days, and the thing that stands out the most is his unselfishness.
Anyone who watched Johnson play could tell he was an incredibly unselfish player, but hearing him speak about his mentality on the court drives the point home even more.
For instance, he talks a lot about how he would often start off games feeding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over and over again in the post until the defense adjusted to stop him. Or how he would continue going to James Worthy or Byron Scott when they had the hot hand. Johnson says he really only tried to score when he needed to.
That last point is driven home by the fact that his career high for a game was just 46 points. That came during the 1986-87 season when Abdul-Jabbar sat out a few games with an eye infection. And of course, who can forget the game which I believe is the greatest individual performance in NBA history -- his 42-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist masterpiece in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, when he was a rookie. Abdul-Jabbar was injured in that game as well.
While Johnson is generally recognized as one of the top five players of all-time (second only to Michael Jordan on my list), many observers believe he could never have been a great scorer. But the fact is, he chose to limit his scoring, relegating himself to the Lakers' third offensive option for most of his career, because his team was better when he got everyone involved. As evidenced above, he could score (he shot 52 percent for his career) when he needed to.
Not many point guards have this mentality anymore. Rarely do you see a point guard in today's game consistently feed a teammate until the defense stops him. Sure, some of today's point guards want to get their teammates going, but they'll do so while making sure they score their 20 points as well.
When I look at the Western Conference playoffs, I see only one point guard who I would say has the same mentality as Johnson had during his playing days: Chris Paul. And that's why, even though the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers are seen as the only legitimate contenders out West, I still give the Los Angeles Clippers a shot to upset the Western Conference party.