DALLAS -- The Deron Williams Skills Academy, which is sponsored by Nike, provided point guards with intense position specific training. Nike youth director Jeff Rogers and his energetic staff did a great job organizing and coaching. The coaches emphasized mental and physical skill training in addition to ballhandling, shooting, passing and defense. For example, a point guard is the coach on the floor and can't show weakness because his teammates will follow his lead. He also must be in better physical shape than anyone on the team.
The players also had an opportunity to interact with Utah Jazz PG Deron Williams on and off the court. Williams demonstrated how to master the three most important dribbles a point guard needs to be affective: rhythm, speed and power. The rhythm dribble is used in order to flow into a jump shot when the defense backs away or plays off. The speed dribble is used in order to beat the defender to the lane. Lastly, the power dribble allows the point guard to back down and move the defender where he wants to in order to set up a scoring move. Williams also discussed all the hard work and commitment it takes to become a college and NBA point guard.
After attending the Skills Academy there was no doubt that the point guard position is what determines how good or bad a team will be. Point guards must be productive on a consistent basis for a basketball team to be successful and considered great. For example, the 2009 NCAA National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels had high-level talent at every position, but clearly struggled at times when Ty Lawson was not in the lineup or didn't play well, despite having great depth and a tremendous inside attack. Lawson, who I consider a true point guard (a player that can only play the point guard position) was great at pushing the ball in transition, getting others involved with his penetration and court vision, attacked the rim off the dribble and became an improved shooter. I believe true point guards are born, not made. Size, talent, leadership qualities and instincts are not something that can be coached. A true point guard already has these qualities, coaching simply helps the player develop his skills and learn the game. There is a saying in the coaching profession: you can make a point guard a shooting guard, but it is very difficult to make a shooting guard a point guard -- which I agree with 100 percent.
Combination guards (a player that can play the wing and point positions) are serviceable and are good to have for depth purposes, but most tend to be missing something like the instincts needed to get others involved and make teammates better because they are used to playing off the ball where their success depends on a true point guard. High-level point guards have knowledge of the game and understand the system they are executing. Ballhandling, passing and court vision are at the top of the list, but what takes a point guard to the next level is his ability to shoot the ball. A great point guard must be able to score when he has to. The ability to make open shots, free throws in crunch time and create scoring opportunities with the clock winding down takes a point guard's game to an elite level.
There are different types of point guards: scoring, pass-first and playmaking but the great points are a combination of all three types.
What we look for: The scoring point guard is the most dangerous because he demands attention from the defense due to his ability to put the ball in the basket. A scoring point can't be played off of to help on a more dominant player and he will require the opposing coach to game plan a way to stop him. Scoring points have the ability to go coast to coast, finish at the rim, hit the mid-range pull up or floater to avoid charges, knock down the open three, create shots and put the game away with free throws in crunch time.
1. Josh Selby, 2010 (Baltimore, MD., Lake Clifton), Committed to Tennessee
Selby does everything on the floor in attack mode. He has great size and length. Selby pushes the ball with great pace, thinking score all the way. He can get in the lane at will and finish above the rim in transition or with an acrobatic layup over or around defenders. He can hit the mid-range jumper when the defense backs off or knock down the open three with deep range. He will penetrate and drive or draw and kick when the defense collapses on him. Selby can flat out score from the point position.
2. Joe Jackson, 2010 (Memphis, TN., White Station)
Jackson, like Selby, is always thinking attack and score first. He has lightening speed and quickness with the ball and will finish above the rim in traffic -- regardless of the size of the defenders. He has the ability to score at the rim in transition before the defense can get set. He has terrific body control and can finish on a consistant basis because of his ability to hang and absorb contact. At times, he is charge prone because he wants to get all the way to the rim even if the defense is set. He must be ready to knock down the mid-range pull up or floater to avoid the charge situation. Jackson is a good, not great, three-point shooter and when he is in the flow and making perimeter shots his ability to slash to the basket is next to impossible to get under control.
3. Marquis Teague, 2011 (Indianapolis, IN., Pike)
Teague pushes the ball with great pace and can score in bunches. He attacks in transition with one of his many favorite dribble moves being a right-to-left crossover, once he gets near the lane. Teague is also good at changing speeds and directions to get defenders out of position. He has a nice mid-range pull up and can knock down the open three although he needs to improve his shot preparation, which will help him get his jumper off quicker. He is a willing passer when he gets in the lane, but Teague can get in a scoring groove and break the game wide open.
What we look for: This type of point guard's mind set is to create scoring opportunities for teammates by getting the ball into their hands when they are open and in a position to score. The pass-first point guard considers handing out assists more important than scoring, although, he may have the ability too. Passing with either hand over or around defenders, having the ability to penetrate, seeing the play develop before it actually does and making the right decision must be strengths of a pass-first point guard. Also knowing the strengths and weaknesses of teammates help determine where and how to get them the ball, which keeps turnovers to a minimum.
1. Kendall Marshall, 2010 (Dumfries, VA., O'Connell), Committed to North Carolina
Marshall is a true leader and tremendous passer in any situation. In transition, he advances the ball with the pass or dribble. He does a great job of rewarding teammates that run the floor by simply getting them baskets. He can pass with either hand at high speeds or slow down and run the offense. Marshall has great court vision and regularly sees the next pass before it happens. He has a feel for the game and understands the strengths and weakness of his teammates. He is an average all-around shooter at best, but can knock down clutch free throws. Marshall controls the game with his excellent decision making and passing.
2. Jamal Branch, 2011 (Humble, TX. Atascocita), Committed to Texas A&M
Branch is a smooth, under control lead guard. He advances the ball quickly down the floor at times before he even takes a dribble. At 6-foot-3, he has the size to see over smaller defenders and deliver the ball right on the money with either hand. Branch constantly probes the court for gaps and seams to attack. He creates a situation to get a teammate the ball where he is in a position to score. He has good, but not great speed and quickness, but uses his size well. He needs to look to knock down the mid-range jumper and floater more often when the defense recovers to keep defenses from playing him only for the pass. He can make the open three with time and space, but his release is slow. Branch has all the tools and talent to be an impact guard as a freshman with steady improvement.
3. Isaiah Epps, 2010 (Plainfield, NJ. Plainfield), Committed to Pittsburgh
Epps likes to score the ball from three with left-handed jumpers off the catch or dribble, but his passing is very underrated. He is quick off the dribble and does a great job penetrating the lane. He has excellent court vision and does a great job at drawing multiple defenders and finding the open man. Epps is a pinpoint passer at high speeds and has great snap on the ball. He must add strength in order to absorb contact in the lane, but his ability to get the ball to the right player at the right time is excellent.
What we look for: A playmaking point guard is a like surgeon. He regularly operates in the lane and dissects the defense with his ability to attack and constantly probe in search of scoring opportunities using his outstanding ballhandling. The dribble move list should include changing speeds and directions in addition to crossovers, behind the back, between the legs, hesitation and spins -- just to name a few. The playmaking point guard must be able to execute these moves with both his strong and weak hand flawlessly. He also must be a master at breaking full-court pressure, running the offense and then make the right decision once he beats his defender. The playmaker has to be able to escape traps, turn the corner on pick and rolls and have the understanding to never pick up the dribble until he knows what he is going to do with the ball. A great playmaker creates a defensive mistake, reads it and finds the open man. However, he must be ready, willing and able to make the scoring play himself.
1. Brandon Knight, 2010, (Fort Lauderdale, FL., Pine Crest)
Knight uses his quick first step, blazing quickness, size and strength to get where he needs to go on the court. He seems to favor going right to score and left to pass in most situations although he can get to the rim affectively both ways. The problem for defenders is that they may know he's going right and they still can't stop him because they are not as talented or they don't know how to take away his right hand. Knight is a more confident shooter and shot extremely well from three and on pull-up jumpers during drills and live play. He is an unselfish penetrator and can make something positive happen in transition or in the half court on a consistent basis.
2. Austin Rivers, 2011 (Winter Park, FL., Winter Park), Committed to Florida
Rivers is so skilled and smooth he can manufacture scoring plays for himself or others at will. He has a high basketball IQ and does a tremendous job using foot and ball fakes in order to move the defender and get him out of position. He pushes the ball and weaves through traffic effortlessly. He can set the offense and direct traffic. Rivers is a streaky three-point shooter, but has a big time stop-and-pop pull up and floater. When the play breaks down, he understands it is time to make a play and he usually makes the right decision.
3. Phil Pressey, 2010 (Dallas, TX. Episcopal)
Pressey is an attacking lead guard who can get in the lane at will. He can also take the outlet pass and be at the rim before the defense recovers. He will challenge defenders of all sizes. He likes to score with runners and floaters. He has excellent body control and hang time for a small guard. He tends to over penetrate at times and loses vision in the trees, which results in a turnover or blocked shot. But Pressey also makes more than his share of lane finishes. He has a nice pull-up jumper after he creates space with his quickness and he can knock down the open three. When the clock is winding down, he is in full attack mode looking to score first and kick out second. A small, but fearless playmaker.
Most skilled floor generals
What we look for: Being a good floor general means having the ability to bridge the gap between the coach and the other four players on the floor. Floor generals make sure the game plan is executed in a high-pressure environment and knows how to get teammates to perform without them taking criticism personal. The floor general must be the tone-setter on both ends of the floor with his energy and effort. He must run the offense and not only know his position, but the responsibility and roles of the other players on the floor with him at that particular time. Poise, composure and earning the trust of your teammates are essential as well. A good floor leader must also be ready to take advantage of scoring opportunities or create one, when needed.
1. Ray McCallum, 2010 (Beverly Hills, MI., Country Day)
McCallum is a true point who knows how to play. He takes what the defense gives him and when he has advantage over his defender he takes what he wants. McCallum advances the ball in transition on the pass or dribble and if the break is not available he does a good job of getting the team into its offense. He is the son of Detroit-Mercy head coach Ray McCallum and has been around the game his entire life. He simply leads by example. McCallum is a streaky three-point shooter, but he can get to the lane and create for teammates, knock down the mid-range pull up or slash to the rim and finish with his length. He has an excellent feel for what needs to be done on the floor and when to do it.
2. Gary Franklin Jr., 2010 (Santa Ana, CA. Mater Dei)
Franklin is a strong lead guard who pushes the ball and can really score the ball. He was also considered for the scoring point category because he can knock down deep threes and mid-range jumpers with regularity. He is great at driving, drawing and kicking when he can't get all the way to the rim. He loves to attack right and throw a bullet pass to a shooter on the weakside across his body. He does a good job of setting up the offense, but in most cases he is looking for his offense first. He does make good decisions and did a good job at the academy following the coach's instructions, which helped him land in this category. He has good size at 6-2 and does a good job of penetrating and passing through contact.
3. Andre Stringer, 2010 (Jackson, MS, Forest Hill)
Stringer is another lead guard who can score from deep with his three-point shooting, but displayed at times the ability to penetrate and find open teammates when he got deep into the lane. Stringer has improved his decision making and ability to distribute the ball. He has a tendency to over penetrate, but was much better at the academy. Stringer could have easily fallen into the scoring guard category as well because he can score in bunches, but his willingness to run the team earned him the spot as a floor leader -- although the title may be new to his game.
Best combination guards
What we look for: A combo guard usually is a player that is a good ballhandler, passer and shooter with a high basketball IQ or feel for the game that can play both the wing and the point, although the point is not a natural fit. They usually lack one or more of the major necessary skills that would put them in the category of a true point. For example, a combo guard might be able to run the offense but can't get others involved because he is not as good of a penetrator or lacks court vision. He could be a good ballhandler but struggles against pressure when he has to handle the ball for long periods of time. He might lack the speed and quickness to push the ball for easy baskets. Combos provide depth in times of foul trouble or injuries.
1. Cory Joseph, 2010 (Pickering, ONT, Findlay Prep)
Joseph is a good ballhandler and passer, although at times he struggles to beat quicker, on-ball defenders which makes him more of an side-to-side penetrator. He seems to favor running the wing, but is capable at running the offense from the point. He has good size at 6-3 and can finish in the lane with his length. What makes Joseph special is his ability to knock down open shots with three-point range. He can spot up in transition, come off screens and space to the open area on the side of dribble penetration. Joseph is solid all around, but is not a true point.
2. Taran Buie, 2010 (Albany, NY, Bishop Maginn), Committed to Penn State
Buie can help at the point in a pinch by pushing the ball and setting up the offense, but seems to be just as quick to run the lane and look to score which is his strength at this stage of his game. He can drive, draw and kick with excellent quickness, but he likes to score from the wing. In transition, he can get to the rim or stop and pop from three. He can pull up in the lane, but will need to tighten up his handle under full-court pressure to get quality minutes at the lead guard position.
3. Dion Waiters, 2010 (Philadelphia, PA, Life Center), Committed to Syracuse
Waiters is a good passer with matching court vision, but his strength is power driving the lane and scoring through contact. He is a streaky three-point shooter and must continue to improve. Waiters is terrific at attacking from the wing and spinning off defenders in the lane. He can take the outlet pass coast to coast and initiate the offense, but this talented guard is more comfortable off the ball and playing in attack mode thinking score first.
Reggie Rankin is a recruiting analyst for ESPN Scouts Inc. He was an assistant coach at seven schools for 13 seasons, most recently at Dayton.