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What is a Point Guard?

RamblingSpur hypothesized in a recent Fanpost that Richard Jefferson could be our 3rd point guard behind Tony and George. It got me thinking, "what is a point guard and what do they do for the Spurs?"

Admittedly, the role of the point guard is something I have been thinking about for quite some time. In fact, I believe I had a long discussion about it with Mike Lisboa from BSotS in Las Vegas.

I believe there are three separate roles the Spurs ask of their point guards. Well, three separate roles that they can ask their point guards to fill. In reality, you could have three separate people doing them. But, at any given time, these three things have to be getting done on the court. Sometimes, we ask the point guard to do them.

Point Guard Defense

This is the most boring and obvious one. Somebody has to defend the other team's point guard. Depending on the offensive strengths and weaknesses of the other team's point guard, we can put several different people on him. In the past, we have used Bruce Bowen against point guards for stretches and our PG has had to cover somebody else. I don't think we would have ever considered Bruce our point guard in these situations.

In a matchup with the Lakers this year, we could put Manu on Fisher if George is the other guard and he could spend time on Kobe. Or, in the past, we could have played Brent Barry against Fisher and Manu against Kobe.

My point is: you have to consider the defensive matchup when you talk about your point guard.

Create Offense

Brandon Roy creates offense. As do Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, and LeBron James. Gilbert Arenas creates offense too, usually for himself. These guys all are used as an offensive catalyst on the perimeter. All of them can dribble. All of them can pass. All of them can shoot. However, this doesn't make them point guards. They are offensive initiators. It is their ability to beat their man and create shots for themselves and others that makes them exceptional.

Many teams use their point guard as the creator of their offense. Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Jameer Nelson come to mind. This is where the term "point guard" gets mixed in with "scoring guard". However, a point guard doesn't have to create offense to do their job. Derek Fisher is the Lakers point guard and he's effective. Kirk Hinrich is a competent point guard. Jason Kidd is a very good point guard also.

Ball Handler

I believe the primary role of a point guard is to get the ball across half court and to get the team into their half court offense. It sounds simple, but I don't believe it is. The ability to do only that task is what kept Jacque Vaughn in the NBA for 48 years. What happens if you don't have somebody that can get that task done? I'll tell you what happens. Beno Udrih happens.

Yes, our good buddy Beno. Every Spurs fan who was around in 2005 remembers the Finals and what happened to Beno. I'm not here to say Beno folded. I'm not going to say that Beno was a terrible ball handler. I am going to say that it is the best example of the value of having a good ball handler. Ok, not a good ball handler. Beno was a GOOD ball handler. It's an example of NOT having an elite ball handler.

In the 2005 Finals against the Pistons, Detroit had Lindsey Hunter on their bench. Hunter's specialty was his harassing defense. When the Spurs took Tony Parker out of the game and went to Beno, the Pistons put Hunter on Beno for full court pressure, and their defense cranked up the intensity. In short, Hunter was a better defender than Beno was a ball handler. The result was that the Pistons got turnovers and layups, and the Spurs got routed nearly every time Udrih took the court. (This is one of the main reasons that full court pressure is so much more prevalent at lower levels of competition. The ball handlers aren't nearly as good.)

The Spurs were unable to get the ball up court and into their offense successfully. Obviously, a team can't score if they can't do this. How did the Spurs solve this problem? Some people might say they made Brent Barry the point guard. But that's not what they did. Or, at least, is was only part of it. What they did was come up with a rule. That rule was: If Tony Parker is not in the game, then whoever is NOT guarded by Lindsey Hunter has to bring the ball up. Or, to put it another way, our second best ball handler is now our point guard because Hunter is better than our best ball handler when that best ball handler isn't Tony Parker.

Now, to be sure, Lindsey Hunter is an extreme case. However, it's not just individual man-to-man pressure that a point guard has to handle. They also have to handle traps both full court and half court. At times last year, George Hill struggled with all three. Full court man-to-man. Full court traps. Half court traps. When he struggled, we ended up with Bruce bringing the ball up court or a turnover. Neither of which is conducive to the Spurs scoring.

Why don't teams do this against Tony? Well, a couple reasons. One, Tony is a very good dribbler. He is very difficult to trap because of both his handle and quickness. Because of this, he can frequently beat the trap on his own, which puts the Spurs in a 5 on 3 situation. If the other team puts full court man-to-man pressure on Tony, Tony is usually fast enough to blow by his man which leads to a 5 on 4 situation. In short. Tony is dangerous offensively. The Spurs run a lot of very high screens to be able to have him shake his man and attack a big at the free throw line. Why would the other team GIVE them this situation by employing a full court press? The answer is, they don't.


So, when you ask "Who is the team's third point guard?" or, "Is Marcus Williams a point-forward?" then I want to know what you expect them to do.

For instance, in RamblingSpur's post about using Richard Jefferson he says that Manu and Roger can play off the ball. My question is, why have Jefferson bringing up the ball when Manu and Roger are better ball handlers? The only reason to have Jefferson getting the ball up court is if Manu and Roger are facing exceptional defenders or traps they can't handle.

In the case of Marcus Williams, who is he covering on defense? Can he handle the ball against Artest or Kobe? Can he handle a trap? I don't know the answer because I haven't seen him try. I'm just saying the point guard has several roles and you have to consider how they fit into each of them and which teammates are on the floor.