The Evolution of the Point Guard
This worked well for a while, until the league outlawed hand checking in the late 90s. This made it harder for a point guard to stay with his man in the open court, and allowed the offensive guard to get basically wherever he wanted on the court to start the offense. The hand check put the defensive first point guard on life support, the allowing of illegal defenses (what, you want me to call them “zones”, ok fine) put him out of his misery.
These zones changed the way the game was played in so many ways, but one of the most significant is that it made playing lock down perimeter defense not just difficult, but even worse, completely pointless. Now it’s better to use your backcourt defenders to funnel the offensive ball handlers into the waiting traps of teammates. Where once help defense was a necessary evil, a contingency plan in case your defenders couldn’t keep their man in front of them, it’s now become the go to way to stop a dominant scorer like Lebron James or Kevin Durant.
And here’s where it all comes full circle. These zones, while taking away the best weapon a point guard used to have in his arsenal, were also the catalyst that put the Darwinian metamorphosis of the position into hyper drive. They may have taken away the ability of the point to play dominant defense, but they also opened the floor for score first players to take over games on the offensive end. That sound you’re hearing is Stephon Marbury crying that he was born 10 years too soon.
Shoot first guards used to be a hindrance on their teams simply because, unless they were wide open due to double teams, any shot they took would have been better taken by one of their more capable teammates. But not now. Now spreading the floor, swinging the ball to get the defense out of position, then letting Derek Rose explode to an unguarded basket is an above average offensive possession.
So where does that leave us with the point guard position? Well, passing is less important than ever, the ability to explode through holes in zones the key skill to being successful. There are still some throw backs, Chris Paul may be the best pure point left in the game and Deron Williams is having a good bounce back year in Brooklyn. But, in the end, these types of players may end up being the last of a dying breed. A breed that used to flourish in the days of one on one, isolation type basketball.