Friday, August 29, 2008

Where have all the point guards gone?

In their weekly email the other day, the Santa Clara coaches had a note from Steve Nash, who played at SC, about the importance of a point guard: "A point guard sets the table for everybody; he makes other players believe in themselves."

Unfortunately, there are few young players who play the PG position with Nash's mentality. In fact, I read a good story last year in the NY Times on the dearth of point guards.

"Great guard play wins games in March, or so the cliché goes. [But point guards] have become more the exception than the rule in recent years. Coaches, N.B.A. scouts and talent evaluators say there are a variety of reasons why the pass-first point guard seems to have gone missing.

But the primary reason they point to is that a generation of players weaned on Allen Iverson crossovers does not value passing as an art.

Before the N.B.A. established an age limit last year, high school stars — especially the taller ones — were flying to the pros, leaving the college game virtually void of talented big men. The impact of the draft rule has been obvious during this N.C.A.A. tournament, which has showcased players 6-foot-9 and above, like Ohio State’s Greg Oden, Texas’ Kevin Durant and North Carolina’s Brandan Wright.

But the less publicized and perhaps even more meaningful trend in the college game has been the absence of pass-first leaders at the point-guard position the past few years.

Traditional point guards like Bobby Hurley, Kenny Anderson and Mateen Cleaves, who dominated past N.C.A.A. tournaments, have become as rare in college basketball as thigh-hugging shorts. Since 2000, the number of players averaging more than seven assists a game has decreased from 11 to 2."

So where have all the point guards gone?

According to coaches and experts quoted in the NYT article there are a couple of key explanations:

1. An increased emphasis on scoring: "In an era of highlight dunks and a college 3-point line that has been called too close to the basket, the craft of running a team and distributing the ball is not viewed as being glamorous." Said Sonics assistant GM Troy Weaver: “I think Allen Iverson messed up the game. All these little guys dribble around instead of passing the ball.”

2. The need to "get noticed": "Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said that many talented high school players avoided playing point guard to bolster their exposure to college coaches. Many guards, he said, believe the only way they can get noticed is by scoring points."

3. Negative perceptions of PGs: The article quotes Grizzlies PG Mike Conley who says, “If you’re not a scoring point guard, people don’t think of you as highly. They don’t think of you as the type that’s going to make an impact in college because you’re not trying to score 20 points a game. You’re more trying to get 10 assists.”

Coaches agree that playing the PG position requires not only a particular skill-set, but a certain mindset. Said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who's coached point guards T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson, and D.J. Augustin:

“They see things a little bit differently. The ones that I’ve been around have been very, very unselfish.”

Unfortunately, most young players today don't share Nash's "table-setting" mentality. In the words of Milan Brown, coach at Mount St. Mary's: “No one wants to set the table anymore. Everyone wants to eat.”