For a college coach, the point guard isn’t just the most important position to evaluate, it is also the most difficult. While most coaches would agree that they want a guy with leadership skills, high basketball IQ, and ability to make his teammates better, it can be much more difficult to turn those theoretical qualities into more tangible characteristics -- especially when they're bouncing from gym to gym during the month of July.
Here’s a look at five skills or traits that play big roles in a point guard’s ability to succeed at the next level and an example of someone who thrives in that area:
Defense - Anthony Barber (Hampton, Va./Hampton)
Offense is too often prioritized above defense, but never more often than during the summer evaluation period. How many coaches do you hear saying, “I’ve got to have that guy, he never gets screened” or “this kid is terrific, he never gets beat off the dribble”? At the point guard position, the ability to defend the ball is even more crucial than at any other position on the floor because it’s where the possession starts. When the point guard gets beat, the defense has to rotate, and when a team is beat from the top of the floor those rotations are going to be long and costly, making it almost impossible for the squad to do anything other than scramble for the rest of the defensive possession. Conversely, a point guard who can keep the ball in front of him and steer the ball to the wing doesn't put his team in long closeout situations and is able to flood the court by establishing the help side defense.
Size - Roddy Peters (District Heights, Md./Suitland)
Speed and quickness are much more commonly associated with point guards, but often times size can be even more important. Superior size allows point guards to see over top of the defense, opens up passing lanes for the ball to be delivered and even contributes to a guard’s ability to create his own offense at the end of the shot clock.
Strength – Andrew Harrison (Richmond, Texas/Travis)
A player’s strength is often associated with his ability to finish at the rim, and while that may be true, for point guards there are other values that may be less recognizable but are just as important. Having a strong body is a major asset when attempting to handle the ball and pass against defensive pressure. It enables a point guard to physically hold off his defender and protect the ball, while smaller guards can be out-muscled or pushed outside the scoring area. Physical strength is similarly important when playing pick and roll because smaller guards can get bumped off the screen or the line of their drive and bigger guards are able to dictate the direction of the play and establish their desired angle.
Foresight – Derrick Walton (Detroit/Chandler Park)
As the saying goes, the best point guards “see the play two (or more) passes ahead.” What that literally means, is that the smartest point guards see opportunities in the defense early and know what to do with the ball as soon as they get it. They will also make a specific play because they can see what it may indirectly lead to. For example, they’ll throw it to the top of the key knowing it will open a high-low angle or they’ll look to penetrate and pitch going through a specific lane because they know the likely rotation will result in an open 3-point shot with just one extra pass. These qualities are very hard to keep statistics on but are one reason why more and more teams are now keeping track of “hockey assists” or the pass that leads to the assist.
Communication – Demetrius Jackson (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian)
To use another cliché, point guards are supposed to be the “coaches on the floor”. That means they’re directing traffic, running the show, and essentially playing a leadership role on both ends of the floor. While different point guards certainly have different styles, a non-verbal point guard is going to have a much harder time establishing himself as the leader of the team. Additionally, communication is crucial to team defense, and always a point of emphasis among coaching staffs. Being vocal doesn’t always come naturally to every player, and if the point guard is struggling to talk on the floor, it’s a good bet other players will follow suit.