How to be a great point guard
Basketball has evolved. Altered lines and timing rules have sped up the game. Today’s athletes have evolved too with mixed traits of roles once more defined. Athletes need to be more adaptable. Some argue gone are the legit centre or pure shooting guard days. Versatility means players require broad skills to cover every floor spot. The day of the one dimensional player may be gone, but it begs the question. Is the traditional role of point guard still relevant to today’s game? It has been said “true point guards are hard to find”. These are the floor generals and play makers. Let us look at 10 traits great basketball point guards possess.
Once you have finished reading, we would love to hear your thoughts. What do you think makes a great point guard? Do you think their role is still as relevant in today’s game as a decade ago? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Scan the floor
Point guards tend to have awesome court vision. But how do you develop peripheral vision in a player? Ozswoosh Academy and Rookie’s Programs teach “Look at the ring, see the court”. Looking at the rim means athletes are always a threat (to shoot). This approach ensures a player’s eyes are up and off the ball. Seeing the court is a skill that can be taught. We ask athletes to expand their central vision. Challenge them to see what is on the periphery as they bring the ball up the floor.
But we are all built differently and knowing what another person is actually capable of seeing is impossible. One great trait an awesome point guards possesses is the skill to scan the floor. Upon first receiving an outlet pass the great point guard’s head pans the paddock like a security camera, checking and mapping where everyone is, including the defence. From there they make one of their most important decisions. Dribble or Pass?
Kick ahead ~ positive penetrating passes
A good PG knows kick ahead or positive passes (i.e. attacking/penetrating passes going towards the basket) result in assists. They also know their assists come from safe decisions. Success is measured in their assist to turnover ratio. The assist to turnover ratio is a basketball statistic used to evaluate the ball control/handling skills of a player. Determined by dividing the total number of assists a player has by the number of turnovers committed in the same game. Passes around the perimeter on reversal, while not threatening, move the defence, but it is the on point penetrating pass which is deadliest for a great PG.
Good passers are usually good ball handlers. Great point guards are safe with the dribble. They possess safe handles to dribble penetrate, draw defenders and move the defence to get their teammates open looks. Dribble penetration and kick outs or dumps/lobs are all tools of the trade and are viewed as safe options when moving the defence. (See GSW Passing Assist Analytics). A higher assist to turnover ratio means a player who passes well and is safe in delivering the ball to their team mates in a position to score.
Youth coaches teach “pass first dribble second, as it is the quickest way to move the ball around the court”. We say, “Avoid using your dribble where a safe pass is possible”. It is worth noting a high volume of assists does not necessarily make player A better than player B. It is, however, something coaches pay attention to when recruiting great point guards.
Basketball IQ ~ “Buy in, before you stand out”
Great point guards have something in common with great scorers (see 7 secrets to basketball shooting success). They possess great basketball IQ and are students of the game. The best point guards trust their coach and become an extension of staff. They are effectively “the coach on the court”. An ideal outcome for a great coach-point guard relationship is where the PG makes like minded decisions or change ups in game, as the coach would without prompting. Based on their mutual understanding of how they need the team to play. Both trust each other’s decisions.
Great point guards adopt a “buy in before you stand out” approach. They see it as their responsibility to help the coach get the team on the same page (i.e. playing together). They help their teammates understand the team’s play book and system and their roles in it. The best point guards say to the coach, “Coach, tell me what we need the players to do and I will help get it done.” Great point guards are key to getting other players to “buy in”.
Study people ~ know their tendencies
Great point guards are aware of three things – patterns, strengths and weaknesses. Basketball scouts call them tendencies. All athletes have them. The greatest point guards know and understand the limitations of their opponents and their team. They exploit weakness in opponents and work to their team’s strengths. They understand a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so too, a team only as strong as the weakest player.
Patterns are habits built in to a player’s game, their comfort zone so to speak. Average players tend to go with what is comfortable. They may only take shots from the same spots on the floor, they may prefer different types of cuts off screens or have limited shooting range etc. What is comfortable may be viewed as a strength, anything outside that, a weakness. Knowing tendencies helps a point guard turn opponent’s strengths into weaknesses and a teammate’s weaknesses into strength. They help their team identify their weaker areas and find ways to improve. Again, they help their coach teach on the floor. In short, they make their teammates better both in training and in game.
One play ahead
When you think about the best point guards, there is one trait that separates the best from the bunch. The great ones see one or two plays ahead. Always reading the floor, the substitutions, the defensive alignments. They understand relationships and the strengths and weaknesses of their team and the individuals within it. The play makers are always thinking one play ahead, how to get their team working together for the next bucket or how they will get their next bucket? Pace or Poise? They work to control tempo.
The greatest of the great also remember situations and scenarios. Almost like a video-graphic memory, they can remember who was where when, when a play went down. This aspect of their game gives them an advantage over average point guards. They come to recognize patterns at both ends of the floor which builds situational memory improving their reaction when they see that situation unfold again.
Protect the rock
While assists are important, great point guards also understand possession. In our sport they know, the more your team has the ball, the greater the chance you have to win. They also understand points per possession and what shot type is best. To them, turnovers are counter productive. Every possession lost by turnover is one less chance to score, and one more chance for their opponent. Protecting the rock and being safe with it, while a team responsibility, often falls at the feet of the point guard.
Great point guards avoid turnovers like the plague. Pass selection becomes key here. These players avoid certain types of passes like bounces passes across the top of the 3 point line (wing to seam or seam to seam), or cross court passes that can easily be picked off when the opponent is in defensive transition. Understanding the difference between a safe pass and a dangerous pass. They attempt risky passes sparingly.
Read the defence
While many think a point guard’s role is all about running the team’s offence and being a play maker, the key to success is their understanding of defence. Point guards can see defensive alignments and assignments coming down the floor. They are looking for open players first, mismatches second and forced mismatch opportunities third. This is where they or other teammates work with each other to break down the defence early, usually in transition. The floor general shifts into a poised phase of play once all positions are defended. Checking defensive alignments and calling a play to create an advantage-disadvantage situation. This is to run a play that results in a 1 on 0 (i.e uncontested open shot) or 2 on 1 scoring opportunity.
Mental toughness and resilience
Great point guards are usually mentally tough. Why? Because like a coach, a lot more responsibility rests on their shoulders compared to their teammates. Why? Because they are the play makers, tasked with making their team better. They, like great scorers, need to have a “Next Play” mentality. If something goes wrong, they don’t dwell on it, they move on to the next play. They work to reduce mental gaps in play. There is no time to stop and reflect in game. Mental toughness is how you deal with problems and adversity and develop the ability to bounce back quickly (i.e. resilience). Staying focused improves performance. Great point guards can regulate their emotions, manage their behaviour and act in a positive manner despite adverse situations. They foster a growth mindset within themselves and their team.
Lead by example
Great point guards lead by example expecting no more of others than of themselves. They focus on things they can control, and avoid worrying about what they cannot. They see opportunity in adversity and know by experience they can help turn the game around and it is this resilience which separates them from the pack. Great point guards are leaders who work to gain the respect of their teammates in order to get them working together. This means they are often effective communicators and can be clear in a short amount of time. They are usually tactful in their approach and talk to their colleagues in a positive and constructive way. Actions speak louder than words, so brilliant point guards lead by example.
Great scorers when needed
Great point guards, while often seen as unselfish, also know when it is their time to step up. Given their IQ and ability to read the game, they tend to have great shot selection. Due to mastering their body through ball handling and passing, they tend to be highly adaptable and versatile in the ways they score. Floaters, runners, lay-ups, euro steps, along with many other open court foot fakes see them add scoring value to their team as the need arises. In today’s professional game with point guards like Stephen Curry, John Wall, Chris Paul, Isiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook, it is not hard to find examples of great point guards with many if not all these traits. To see how the 2017/18 NBA class of PGs is shaping up, check out the NBA’s Top 15 PGs Rankings.
The 10 Traits Great Basketball Point Guards Possess are not exclusive to point guards. If you consider the world’s best players in any position, they usually have these traits. There are probably a great deal more things, point guards or play makers do well. If you are looking to contribute more to the success of your team then some of these attributes would be desirable in any athlete tasked with the role of running the team from the floor. For this playing position knowledge is power.
Feel free to comment below. Do you think there is still a place in the game for a true/pure point guards? Or are they too gone, replaced by great players taking on a point role? Before giving your response you may like to check out this article, to give you more food for thought.
By Coach Rowe
Ozswoosh Academy Principal