Teaching your players to be true point guards
Editor’s Note: Shaka Smart wrote this article for Winning Hoops in 2002. At the time, Smart was the coordinator of basketball operations for the University of Dayton.
Good point guards are hard to find. Sure, every team has a player or two who’s capable of bringing the ball up or who may be able to initiate the offense, and they might even make some good passes from time to time. But how many pure point guards do you see during the course of a season?
So what qualities are essential in a true point guard?
Defining the point
Clearly, there’s not one prototype for a successful point guard. Magic Johnson proved that. But there are several traits that link all the great ones at that position.
I once heard former Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl say that the greatest compliment you can give a player, is to say that he makes everyone around him better.
True point guards are selfless and willing to sacrifice individually in order to get the most out of their teammates. This can mean anything from turning down a shot, to drawing the defense to get a teammate a great look, to recognizing when to get the ball inside or knowing when to slow the pace down in order to get their team under control.
As the coach on the floor, a pure point guard always has the best interests of the team in mind.
Composure under fire
Another essential attribute is composure. As the floor leader, your point guard must be under control at all times. Especially when the pressure increases during crunch time, the point guard must be a calming influence on teammates and exude confidence that assures them that success is attainable.
Point guards who play with composure always seem to know the next move to make. Being under control allows a point guard to stay one step ahead of the defense and know where teammates are at all times.
Efficiency is a must
Everything a point guard does should be for a purpose. Players at other spots have a larger margin for error, but a true point guard excels at sweating the small stuff.
Finding a scorer when and where he or she wants the ball, feeding a post player in the perfect position, keeping teammates in proper spacing on offense and making sure match-ups are correct on defense, are all examples of little things that make all the difference in a game, but rarely make the newspaper.
While efficiency is hard to measure, statistics like assist-to-turnover ratio, points per shot, and free-throw percentage can all serve as indicators that will help you gauge your point guard’s performance.
Developing the point
It’s rare that players enter a program (no matter what the level) having mastered the essentials of the point guard position. Point guards, more than players at any other position, must be bred. This means development of not only the physical skills and fundamentals of the position, but also the mental and verbal capabilities necessary to be a floor leader.
When your point guards work out, it’s important that they perform position-specific drills. Bringing the ball up against pressure, for example, represents an important point guard skill.
Drill your point guards by having them bring the ball up against a tough defender (or two) and make the proper pass that initiates the offense you’ve called. Even though this drill seems basic, it combines the two most essential point guard fundamentals of all: ball handling and passing.
Shooting the ball is a great skill, but for point guards, having a strong, steady handle and the ability to deliver the ball where it’s supposed to go are paramount for success.
One of the best ways to develop a player’s handle is the two-ball workout. Put your point guards through a 10 minute full-court routine three times a week, increasing speed and difficulty as they gain confidence. Besides improving hand quickness and sharpening dribble moves, the two-ball workout serves as a great way to strengthen a player’s off hand. A point guard that can only dribble one way is a severe limitation.
Passing is another skill that must be continually drilled. Again, the key lies in players being able to make strong, accurate passes in game situations. Delivering the ball off penetration, for example, represents a skill that can be a tremendous offensive weapon, but one that few point guards have actually mastered.
Set up drills that work on having the point guard beating one defender and hitting a teammate for a shot as a second defender steps up to help. Stress the little things (coming to a jump stop, making a two-handed pass, etc.), as they make all the difference.
In addition to fundamental development, it’s important to put point guards in leadership roles in practice situations to give them experience running the show.
From time to time in team scrimmages, let your coach on the floor be just that by allowing the point guard to call the plays, set the defenses and even call time-outs to rally the troops. This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to critique your point guard’s on-floor decisions and make any necessary adjustments.