“I’m not going to say there’s never a time when a point guard should volume score, but there really hasn’t been a time in the last 30+ years where a guy has done this on a truly great offensive team. Point guards by their definition are supposed to look at themselves simply as one of 5 weapons on a team, and if they call their own number too much they probably aren’t making optimal use of other talent” – Doctor MJ, realgm
I wanted to expand on this comment over on realgm quickly. Derrick Rose is shooting 21 times a game and averaging nearly 26 points per contest from the point guard position. But he is shooting too much? What is the role of a point guard in basketball?
Most basketball offenses start with the point guard. He brings the ball up the court and directs the offense. Sometimes he passes to a player who will draw attention himself and start applying pressure to the defense, say, a great low-post scorer like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Any point guard can do this — it does not take Magic Johnson to dribble the ball up the court, lob it inside to a giant, and go stand in the corner.
Sometimes, teams run more elaborate offenses. They are interactive, involve constant picking and moving from all five players, and any number of players is a viable option. NBA coaches like to call this “Stuff.” Some “Stuff” doesn’t demand a central figure to quarterback and make proper decisions — the Flex offense, for example, interchanges the roles of essentially all five positions once it starts to “flex” in motion. The famed Triangle offense just needs an initiator, not a classic PG.
However, sometimes complex offenses do utilize 2 or 3 players off the ball and place a decision-making responsibility on the shoulders of the point guard. Boston’s offense is very much like this, using Rajon Rondo as the Captain up top while Ray Allen flies off screens, Kevin Garnett picks, pops, or slips (a lob option they have nearly perfected by now), and Paul Pierce dances around for space, mismatches or angles off of curls and looks for open spot-ups. All the while, Rondo can penetrate or use an on-ball screen from any of his 4 teammates.
Watching it can be harmonious – frankly, it’s beautiful when it works. But it’s extremely different from what Rose does at times, or in yesteryear Tiny Archibald did when he led the league in scoring and assists (with fairly good team production as well). Rose is a scoring weapon first, so he drives by his man frequently, and when that isn’t an option, he uses a screen to penetrate and create havoc. Rose has the ball a lot, attacks a lot, and dishes off for assists from that position. The ball is in his hands a lot, and that’s how he ends up with 21 FGA per night.
Conversely, Rondo shoots it just under 10 times per game. Of course, he’s on pace to break the NBA assists per game record, dishing out 14.9 apg after 11 games. Most of Rajon’s assists are of the decision-making variety described above. Rose’s — and this is somewhat of a crude classification — are mostly from attacking as a scoring weapon. When the pullup jumper or finish at the rim isn’t there, he lays it off to (hopefully) an open teammate from the defense collapsing.
Here are the Offensive Ratings (points per possession) of the two teams thus far:
- Boston 109.7 (7th of 30)
- Chicago 106.8 (16th of 30)
Chicago is just below league average, which isn’t too damning because Rondo’s offensive weapons are far superior to Rose’s currently. But it is yet another example of a point guard shooting the ball a lot with fairly remarkable individual stats and fairly unremarkable team results. Furthermore, while Rondo’s passes might seem more functional and systemic (they are), note the importance of each player thus far:
- Rondo: +13.5
- Rose: +17.9
Which means Boston’s offense has been 13.5 pts better/100 possessions with Rondo. And Chicago’s has suffered even greater with Rose out of the game. A credit to both player’s value, particularly Rose’s, and perhaps a hint at how potentially inept his team would be offensively without him (his backup is journeyman CJ Watson).
The two greatest offensive dynasties in NBA history have been run by Steve Nash and Magic Johnson. Neither shot the ball more than 15 times per game at any point during those runs, save Magic in 1987.
In the simplest terms, the job of the point guard is to maximize the offensive production of the sum of the parts on the court. Sometimes that might mean shooting himself, sometimes that might mean feeding Kareem in the post endlessly, but usually — and especially if the PG himself is talented — it’s creating open shots for others.
In this regard, an interesting PG in the last 30 years is Kevin Johnson. (Note: he’s No. 25 on the above list). He had great offensive success. But he was a point, somewhat like Steve Nash, who had the ball in his hands a lot. He attacked a lot. He scored a lot. He never attempted more than 15 shots per game in a season.