The Point Guard: Role, Responsibility, Requirements, Modern PGs

The history of basketball final tournaments thought us that the lack of fast or tall players or good three-point shooters could be compensated, but if the team doesn’t have a right point guard, the whole strategy and court action will not be transferred well enough from practice to game.

What does a point guard do?

  • Leads the team
  • Organizes the team on the court
  • Closely cooperates with the coach – the coach sends messages to his team via point guard. He is like a helmsman, making decisions that are of great importance for the team to function well

It’s the player who needs to feel the game – to feel all the weaknesses of an opponent and find the best solution to punish those weaknesses.

Playmaker organizes plays (both offensive and defensive). He transfers the ball and decides which action to play. Also, he reorganizes players, tells them which side to go, who they cover or open, etc. In short, the point guard’s task is to think.

What characterizes a good point guard?

The key element of being a top-class playmaker is the pass – that can be converted into assist. Since his primary task is to get other players going and creating open shot situations, the feeling for basketball is of crucial importance. To make an assist, a point guard needs to have a good court vision, he needs to know both teammates and opponent, and he needs to have solid timing. These are just the basics.

If a player has the feeling for the ball, there’s a strong possibility he also has a good shooting form (Lonzo Ball is the exception that proves the rule). As far as this is concerned, I agree with the view that a playmaker doesn’t have to be the first shooter on the team, nor needs to take a large number of shots.

In technical terms, it’s the player that has to be:

  • Strong on the ball,
  • Quality dribbler with both hands (ambidextrous), and an
  • Excellent passer.

The ball is in its hands most of the time. He is the player who must be able to deal with the opponent’s aggressive pressure and organize the offense.

More point guard fundamentals

From a psychological point of view, it’s necessary to be cold-blooded. What does it mean? Well, someone who has a bad temper, who often enters verbal duels with opponents and judges, simply can’t be a good leader. Of course, we have such examples as well, but on a global scale, point guards are usually the ones who calm the rest. Just imagine JR Smith2 running the team! It’s hard, isn’t it?

The playmaker needs to possess emotional stability and mental strength to be a top performer. He has to have calmness, especially in stressful, competitive conditions when it matters the most – in critical moments of the game. Whether he takes the last shot or passes the ball to a teammate, all eyes are on him in those final moments.

It’s the player who plays basketball with a lot of confidence and tries to transfer that confidence to his teammates. He has to be highly motivated and loaded with positive energy. It’s expected that he prevents any panic among the teammates. Of all five positions in the starting five, the point guard position is the most demanding.

Recognizing and anticipating situations in the game are one of the most important features of top point guards. The greatest players in the NBA became great because of those two features. They had (or still have) the ability to recognize and predict.

The perfect examples in the history of the NBA of what a playmaker should be like are Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, while the best example of currently active players is Chris Paul. He possesses all the features I’ve mentioned. Those who watched him a few times will understand. Those who don’t understand, do it, there’s plenty of videos on YouTube to learn from them.

Modern point guards

Damian Lillard

From a tactical perspective, every modern playmaker should be dominant in 1 on 1 basketball. When I say 1 on 1, I mean creating the space for an extra player by splitting the first line of defense, which usually leads to an assist for a teammate (if the bait is successful) or to his shot (or finishing around the rim).

From this one on one game, whether it’s a position or a transition game, the player takes a large number of personal false, which is especially important if the opponent team has used the bonus. Which leads to another characteristic a good point guard needs to have – free point shot accuracy (over 80%).

Along with the 1 on 1 game, the point guard has to know how to play 2 on 2, pick N roll and pick’n’pop situations. The basic prerequisites for playing well 2 on 2 games are high-accuracy shooting, excellent court vision and the ability to read the defense. If a player doesn’t have a good shot (especially 3-pt shot, then the 2 on 2 game doesn’t make sense because of the zone defense. The opposing team moves away from the ball and goes under the block which makes it impossible to establish pick N roll.

The point guard needs to be capable of opening all four pass lines, depending on how the defense defends pick N roll. We already know he needs to have a feel for the assist, but that especially concerns on deep passes to the center under the hoop, in the paint. He alone takes a lot of responsibility regarding the creation of the offensive plays on the court. That creation, the ability to create an extra player and making the difference in 5 on 5 games, defines the difference between average and top class point guard. These are also the most expansive and most paid players in the NBA and Europe.

Wrapping up

When I was a kid, I played basketball for my middle school, and one day I heard a statement that at the moment seemed genius. Today I still think it is. That quote stayed in my memory until today. It went something like „Scoring makes only one person happy, passing makes two.“ I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps I would just add that the happiest here is the coach if his playmaker thinks this way. The coaches need to try hard to teach the players the understanding of an assist and a team game. Extra pass must be the primary tool of teamwork.

Of course, every modern playmaker must have a certain number of points in his hands and the ability to get points when the team needs it most. It’s definitely not good that point guard is the best scorer on the team because that says much about the teamwork or better – not having one in the team. But again, he must be prepared to take the responsibility and with his points earns coaches and teammate trust.

As far as defense, a point guard needs to be defensive leader of his team, capable of changing the defensive rhythm and making pressure on the opponent’s playmaker. He actually arranges the transition from one defense to the other and vice versa. It is well known that a good number of easy points in transition come from good defense, and the most important player here is, of course, point guard.

From everything written, it is clear how important a point guard is in today’s modern basketball and how much effort and dedication coaches need to create such a player.