The Evolution of the Point Guard
But lately we’ve seen an explosion of point guards who break our traditional mold. Players like Derek Rose and Russell Westbrook are taking the shoot first label and turning it on it’s head. But, to understand where we are in the evolutionary line of the point guard, we have to take a look at how we got here.
The duties of a typical point guard used to be easily defined. He would get the ball past half court, start the offense by either swinging the ball to one of the wing players or clearing out the floor for a big man to post up. Then he would space the floor and spot up to shoot, giving just enough of a threat to hit a wide open jump shot. Think Derek Fisher.
The thing was, this was mostly out of necessity because of the built-in deficiencies of a traditional point. If he was taller, and therefore able to drive into the lane and finish amongst the bigger defenders, he wouldn’t be a point but he would be one of the wing players. Really, the only thing that made one point a better scorer than another was how good they were at hitting open jumpers when the defense was forced to double off them.
The other way an old school point could drive offensive production was an ability to break down a defense with ball handling and superior passing skills. This was what defined a great point guard. Playmakers, we would call them. Especially when the pick and roll became a staple of the game, you could build a formidable offense around a point guard that had the ability to get in the lane and dish the ball off to those with the ability to finish at the rim. Being able to break down a defense, plus being able to hit the outside jumper if the defense just sagged into the lane, gave your team a chance to win. Think John Stockton.
So while you could build a team around the skills of a traditional point guard, you needed to surround him with other players who could handle the bulk of the scoring load if you were going to be successful.
There have been exceptions, as there always are. Most notably Magic Johnson, the best point to play the game, but I don’t really count him because he was 6’9” with the body of a power forward. He truly broke the mold, and if anything was decades ahead of his time. In truth, he wasn’t actually a point guard, he was a wing player who happened to dribble the ball up the court. The other exceptions, players like Isiah Thomas or even Pistol Pete Marovich, are really just examples of players with traditional skills, just at an incredibly exceptional level.