A fact that has long been known in the underground surfaced during the playoffs last season: Pound for pound, the best pick setters in the league are a pair of scrawny guards, the Jazz's John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek.
Ask NBAers which players set the most effective picks, and you will wind up with a long list of bulked-up big men. Power forwards such as the Jazz's Karl Malone, the Knicks' Charles Oakley and Buck Williams, the Pistons' Rick Mahorn and the Grizzlies' Otis Thorpe were mentioned often, with centers Patrick Ewing of the Knicks and Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers not far behind. Those players are 6'8" or taller and 225 pounds or heavier. But somehow Stockton (6'1", 175) was mentioned more often than any other player, and Hornacek (6'4", 190) also made the list with ease. "I wish my fours and fives would set picks as effectively as those two little guys," says a Western Conference coach. 'They won't flatten you like Mahorn or Thorpe, but they won't set a lazy screen, like Shaq or [the Rockets'] Hakeem [Olajuwon] will from time to time."
The Jazz, particularly Stockton and Hornacek, created quite a stir in the playoffs last season with their system of back picks, which they learned from the master, Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who in his playing days with the Bulls created the best picks ever set by a guard. Utah's Western Conference final opponents, the Rockets, complained especially loudly. Says Hornacek, "Maybe John and I should be the ones complaining. The big guys punish people with their screens. We pretty much just get punished."