The Los Angeles Lakers have been known for their big men historically, but the franchise has had its share of dynamic backcourts that contributed to the Lakers’ winning ways. Legends like Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Kobe Bryant have garnered all the attention when discussing the most effective guards in team history, but lesser known players also have made an impact. Here’s a look at those players.
10. Jerry West – Frank Selvy – Hot Rod Hundley (1960-1962)
Jerry West’s rookie season found him sharing the backcourt with Frank Selvy, a journeyman nearing the end of his career. He made an All Star team with the Lakers in 1962. Hundley similarly had a star crossed career after being drafted 1st overall in 1957 by the Cincinnati Royals. He made consecutive All Star appearances in 1960 and 1961. Together they reached the 1962 Finals where they lost in 7 games to the Boston Celtics, with Hundley infamously missing a last second wide open jumper that could have won the series.
9. Jerry West – Dick Barnett (1962-1965)
Barnett was the Lakers’ first attempt at finding a longer term partner for West. The Lakers made two Finals appearances in 1963 and 1965. Barnett was traded to the New York Knicks and went on to have many successful years, making an All Star team in 1968 and winning two titles. West had become one of the league’s most dominant players but had yet to breakthrough to a title.
8. Kobe Bryant – Gary Payton – Derek Fisher (2003-2004)
The Grand Failed Experiment! The preseason buzz of uniting Payton and Bryant, two future Hall of Famers, and the best all around guards in the game at that time, was destined to disappoint. Payton unfairly got the bulk of the blame, as he never got comfortable in the triangle system. For the year he averaged 14.6 ppg, 5.5 assists during the regular season, but his shooting collapsed during the playoffs and he was routinely replaced by Derek Fisher in crunch time. Kobe Bryant led the team in scoring but his off court problems contributed to a dysfunctional team that never fully gelled. With all their problems the Lakers still made the Finals, getting wiped out in 5 games by the Detroit Pistons.
7. Jerry West – Archie Clark – Gail Goodrich (1966-1968)
Archie Clark and Gail Goodrich were both young guards platooning next to Jerry West. Clark made an All Star Game with the Lakers in 1968. Goodrich showed promise but wasn’t yet the scorer he would become. The Lakers made the NBA Finals in 1968, losing yet again. Clark was traded to Philadelphia as the principal trading chip to attain Wilt Chamberlain. Goodrich was claimed in the expansion draft by the Phoenix Suns where he immediately became an All Star in 1969.
6. Eddie Jones – Nick Van Exel – Kobe Bryant (1996-1998)
Sigh. The only trio of one backcourt to all make an All Star Game in the same season in NBA history. Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel, both age 26, and Kobe Bryant, age 19, along with Shaquille O’Neal took over All Star Weekend in 1998. It felt like the beginning of a dynasty – and it was in a sense – but this threesome was quickly broken up. Van Exel and Jones had led the “Lakeshow” during the gap years between Magic/Worthy and Shaq/Kobe. The Lakers won 61 games in 1998 making the conference finals, but were eliminated for the second straight year by the two time West champion Utah Jazz. Bryant’s dominant personality and skill pushed the front office to reconfigure the team around him. Fans will always wonder what would have happened if this group stayed together.
5. Kobe Bryant – Derek Fisher – Jordan Farmar – Sasha Vujacic (2007-2010)
The second Kobe Bryant era championship run was built around outstanding depth. Bryant won his first MVP in 2008, but had a great deal of help. Derek Fisher returned to the Lakers after a few years away and provided leadership and clutch shooting. Farmar and Vujacic together pumped in 18 points combined a night off the bench in 2008. They reached three consecutive Finals, winning two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010. While not stars, they were perfect role players alongside the greatness of Bryant.
4. Jerry West – Gail Goodrich (1970-1974)
West and Goodrich were teammates earlier in the 60’s but this partnership was different. Goodrich went to Phoenix and became a bonafide star. Together they reached 3 NBA Finals in 4 seasons, finally winning their first title in 1972. The ’72 Lakers were considered the best team ever at that time with a league record 69 wins and 33 game winning streak. In 1973 West made 1st team All NBA for the last time and in 1974 Goodrich made it for the first time. Both players were inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
3. Kobe Bryant – Ron Harper – Derek Fisher – Brian Shaw (1999- 2002)
Phil Jackson came to LA with one objective – to win championships. The Lakers had underachieved the previous 3 seasons and change was needed. Jackson brought in Ron Harper, a former star and role player with 3 peat champion Chicago Bulls. Brian Shaw was also brought in to provide veteran leadership. Derek Fisher was demoted to the bench but increased his production. Kobe was just coming into superstardom. Statistically there are better combinations, but this group provided numerous clutch plays in winning 3 consecutive championships. Harper retired after the 2001 championship
Maybe one of the most underrated backcourts of all time. Norm Nixon was first team All Rookie in 1978 and had the first of 5 consecutive seasons being in the top 5 in assists. He was an All Star in 1982 Michael Cooper came the following year and developed a role as versatile defender. Magic Johnson changed the course of the league as a 6’9″ point guard becoming an All Star in his rookie season. In the first few years together, Nixon and Johnson shared playmaking duties and were both among the leaders in assists. Cooper made numerous All Defense teams. The Lakers made 3 Finals over 4 seasons, winning it all in 1980 and 1982. Nixon was traded before the start of the 1983-1984 season.
1. Magic Johnson – Byron Scott – Michael Cooper (1983- 1990)
Arguably the greatest backcourt ever. Norm Nixon was traded for shooting guard Byron Scott at the beginning of the 1983-1984 season and “showtime” was born. Scott was the perfect partner for Magic Johnson. He was able to defend point guards. He was an incredible finisher on the fast break and an outstanding 3 point shooter.He was the leading scorer of the 1988 championship team. By the mid 80’s Michael Cooper had become one of the greatest reserve players in history. He was the backup point guard, one of the NBA’s first elite 3 point shooters, and the best defensive player in the NBA, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1987, the only reserve ever to do so. Magic during these years was at his peak winning 3 MVP’s. He had the right teammates to fit his strengths. The Lakers made 5 NBA Finals, winning 3, including a repeat in 1987-1988.