Traveling across the country during the July exposure period has confirmed a belief that I have had for a long time; your team is as only good as your point guard.
Like with most things, there are exceptions to the rule but most teams can go only as far as their point guard allows them. One of the things that I have found most disheartening is the belief that the smallest kid on the team must play the point guard. There is an old saying that point guards are born not made. Even though I disagree with the finality of the statement, I do understand and agree with the heart of the saying. Point guards are a special breed and being small does not automatically ensure that you are capable point guard. Here are some attributes and examples of great point guards.
- Tough as Nails- A point guard must be physically and mentally tough. The physical demands of a PG are many. All positions of basketball endure the pushing, pulling, grabbing, holding, elbows, pokes and prods of a defender but none have to stay composed while doing so like a point guard. A point guard handles the ball more than anyone on the court and as many has 70-80 possessions a game. When getting outside of San Antonio, point guards must endure intense pressure for the entire game. They are also expected to be physically strong enough to impose their will on the court. A good defensive team will try and force a point guard away from what they want to do and a good PG must be strong enough to position her body in ways where she can get to where she needs to get in order to facilitate the offense.
- Intelligent- Intelligence is defined in may ways. Here is one definition that I feel applies to the ability of a good PG. "ability to adapt effectively to the environment, either by making a change in oneself or by changing the environment or finding a new one …intelligence is not a single mental process, but rather a combination of many mental processes directed toward effective adaptation to the environment.” This definition emphasizes the need for a good PG to be highly skilled. How can one effectively adapt to conditions on the court without the skill set do so? Ability implies ableness. A great PG must have the tools to fix the problem but more importantly, know when and how to fix the problem. Just because a PG can dribble and shoot does not mean that they know WHEN to dribble and shoot. A good point guard has what the old heads call "Basketball IQ". Show me a point guard that does not watch basketball, does not know its historical figures and history and I will show you an ineffective point guard. To be a great scientist, an aspiring scientist must study Einstein, Galileo and Darwin among others. I am surprised at how many so-called PG's do not watch the game and know the great PG's that have come before them. These PG's are the opposite of intelligent.
- Skilled- I have already touched on the need to have the tools(skills) required to be a great PG but I must expand. Great PG's are usually the most skilled players on the court. The must not only have to know how and when to dribble, they must have the ability to do so against extreme pressure. They must use an effective dribble to put pressure on the defense and "touch the paint". A great PG must have the ability to shoot well enough to keep the defense honest. PG's that can't shoot will always face smart defenders that will dare them to shoot and not allow them to use the dribble to break down the defense. A good PG understands high percentage shots and having an inability to shoot will decrease her ability of getting her team "good shots". A great PG must be able to defend on the ball and off of the ball. As the saying goes, " You are who you can defend". If a PG can't stay in front of an opposing PG, they are a liability to their team. Also, a PG that does not understand off-ball positioning will miss great opportunities for steals. It is no coincidence that some of the best PG's in history are on the all-time steals list. Lastly, a skilled PG must see plays before they happen. When processing data, they must analyze all the information, hit enter and come up with the solution before others. When this happens, a beautiful pass resulting in a good shot for their teammate will happen. Having the ability or skill set to not only see the appropriate pass but complete it, is one of the attributes of a great PG.
- Unselfish- A great PG must be unselfish. They must understand that they are in many ways akin to a song writer and their job is to make stars out of their singers. They must be able to go through a ton of pressure and struggle only to deliver the ball to a teammate who will get the glory for putting the ball in the basket. A great PG understands that they are the musical conductors and the beautiful sounds of the orchestra is their reward. The conductor must make sure that each musician is involved and sounding her best. When all the musicians are in a position to succeed and are involved with the melody, a conductor(PG) is satisfied and CAPABLE.
- Supremely Confident- Show me a point guard with low self esteem and I will show you an impersonator. Point guards are the kids that KNOW they are good. They are not worriers they are warriors. A great Point Guard has a certain swagger that allows them to put their teammates at ease in times of trouble. Anyone that has played the game has known when they are in over their head. Any basketball player knows the look. The look of a player that is scared as opposed to the look of a player that is supremely confident. Not only is a great PG confident, they are confident in their ability to make everyone else look good. They are confident that they can lead others into success. Great PG's are the best salesman in the world. They inevitably turn the ball over(screw up) more than any other player on the court but all that rejection does not discourage them. They must make that sale(play) despite the competitors attempts and preventing them of succeeding. They must also sell their teammates on their ability to lead them and convince them that they should follow.
Thick Skinned- Great PG's have thick skin. They are the most criticized players on the court and under the most scrutiny. They must be able to accept constructive criticism but ignore the naysayers. The are sure to get the blame for the woes of the team(at times rightfully so) and not allow it to render them ineffective. Simply put, great point guards are tone deaf. They here only what is needed for them to succeed. They hear the negativity but use it only as food for motivation. No other player disappoints their coach more than the PG for the simple fact that a PG is regarded as an extension of the coach on the floor. They must implement what the coach intends. This leads to a constant relationship of immediate feedback, a lot of it negative. Whether a coach is a yeller or not, the point guard will be constantly told what SHOULD have happened and what they SHOULD have done. This constant "should have" instruction is still ultimately criticism and very few people on earth welcome constant criticism. This is a major reason why thick skin is needed to be a great point guard.
Now here are some examples of great Point Guards and the attributes that they have.
- Tough as Nails- Gary Payton was known as the "Glove" in his playing days. His defensive ability and tenaciousness made him surely a future first ballot Hall Of Famer. Payton was known for being physically and mentally tough. Payton would not back down from any assignment. Whether it was guarding the bigger Magic Johnson or the smaller John Stockton, Payton would welcome the challenge. Payton led his 1996 Supersonics to the NBA Ship' against the mighty Michael Jordan and his Bulls. Payton and the Sonics lost in 6 games but it was Payton's nastiness that stared down Jordan and gave a valiant fight. Payton was raised and coached by a father that drove a car with the license plate inscribed with the moniker " Mr. Mean". When studying lives of tough point guards, one will find a tough father and or coach in most cases.( Bobby Hurley, Magic Johnson, John Stockton)
- Intelligent- Magic Johnson was as smart as any player ever to play the game. He knew when to get a player the ball and how to deliver it. He knew that finding an open AC Green at the three point line was not a good pass. He understood that for AC Green to be successful, he needed to get him shots in areas in which he could succeed. Magic was intelligent enough to keep Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy happy and inspire players like Byron Scott and Micheal Cooper to be their best. One of the most telling plays of Magic's career and evidence of his intelligence happened in the Western Conference finals. The Lakers were up by a couple of points and the opposition needed to foul to prolong the game. Magic secured a long rebound and instead on holding the ball and allowing the opposition to foul, he hoisted the balls high into the air and on to the opposite end of the court. My young mind did not immediately fathom that Magic had just allowed the clock to expire while the ball traveled in the air. This play was simple but brilliant. Magic had came up with a solution before anyone else could do anything about it.
- Skilled- Oscar Robinson is the epitome of versatility. The Big O is the only player in NBA history to average a triple double. He could shoot, handle the ball, rebound and score with the best of them. The Big O was the prototype big guard and changed the game. His game inspired players like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to be great passers at their terrific sizes. Cynthia Cooper was one of the most skilled players in the history of women's basketball. Her superior skill set allowed her to play into her late 30's while capturing 4 WNBA Ships' and earn two league MVP awards(at the young age of 34 and 35 years old). Cooper could score as well as facilitate.
- Unselfish- John Stockton is one of the most unselfish players in history. His unselfishness allowed Karl Malone to thrive and leave the NBA as the second all-time leading scorer in history. Stockton relished playing in a small market for the Utah Jazz and reportedly negotiated his own contracts. Players like Thurl Bailey, Jeff Hornacek and Byron Russell experienced their most success while playing alongside the unselfish Stockton. Sue Bird is another great example of unselfishness. By far one of the most skilled players in the world, Bird put her personal talents behind for the sake of the team while winning two NCAA titles at UCONN. Playing with fellow WNBA stars ,Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi, Bird sacrificed personal stats for the chance to win it all. Her unselfishness did not go unnoticed as she became the #1 in the WNBA draft.
- Supremely Confident- I must again mention Magic Johnson here. We all have heard the story. During Magic's rookie year, he helped his Lakers to the NBA title against a very good Philadelphia 76ers team. During the Finals, Laker captain and NBA all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar severely sprained his ankle and had to miss a vital game. The young, brash and supremely confident, Magic Johnson sat in Kareems' designated seat on the plane ride to Philly and said " Have no fear, the Magic man is here". Magic went on to play center the next game in the place of Kareem and finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists in leading the Lakers to a win.
- Thick Skinned- Tony Parker spent his first couple of years in Pops' dog house. It has been well chronicled that Pop would ride Tony to no end in hopes of him developing into the star player that he is. If Tony had not been thick skinned and had taken everything personal, he would not be one of the top PG's in the NBA today. I am not putting Rajon Rondo in the same category as the previously mentioned guards but he obviously has thick skin. His coach(Doc Rivers) and his teammate(Ray Allen) have criticized him publicly on may occasions. His General Manager has attempted to trade him numerous times and yet Rondo still thrives. His thick skin allowed him to take the shots from the Boston fans and media and lead his team to a NBA title.
Great PG's are few and far between. Good PG's are also not very common. At no level is it more evident than in amateur basketball that "a team goes only as far as their point guard allows them to."