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The Importance of the Point Guard in modern basketball

Stephen Curry wins the MVP, how important is the point guard position in today's evolving game?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Leaving a Legacy

What is the most important aspect of a basketball team? Is it a rim protector? Is it a shooter? Is it the Coach? Or is it a point guard?

Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, "Pistol" Pete Maravich, Oscar Robertson, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Steve Nash, and Bob Cousy are names that come to mind when describing some of the best point guards to ever play the game.  They were electrifying, dynamic, unselfish, and they were multi-dimensional on both ends of the floor. They were players you thought were untouchable, players who could not be stopped and had the biggest impact on any game they were in. To this day these players legacy on the league they helped grow into the modern NBA can be seen in the play of this generation's floor generals.

"Point guard play at any level has to be great. Right now we are seeing some of the best point guard play in some time."

Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, and Mike Conley Jr. are a few active point guards we've all come to know and love. People in and around the NBA have said to make it in the league you have to excel in one area at an elite level. Whether this is as a defender, a shooter, a facilitator, a shot blocker, or even have an overall athleticism and size that can't be matched, to play in the league, and stick, you have to show you can be above average and consistent in a certain area, while being effective in others.

The greats, both past and present, are versatile. They are multi-talented superstars, and are the heart and soul of their respective teams. Without them, their teams would suffer and not have the success we've been witness to. Point guard play at any level is paramount to a team's success. In this moment we are seeing some of the best point guard play in NBA since mid to late 80s. They have flash, poise,  purpose on every possession, the stage is never too big or too small, they demand greatness of themselves, they compete, never afraid,  playmakers, a love for the game, and they never stop adding and improving to their skill set.

What I love about a great point guard is vision and an ability to create pace. We hear the words vision and pace talked about a lot, but they sometimes can be overused. Many players can see the floor, and make the right play, but few have the ability to see the play happen beforehand, and have the ability to turn that visualization into reality. They can set up a player, change speeds, and they know what their defender will go for. Is it a hesitation dribble, an in and out, or between the legs/behind the back blow by to get to the paint? The best know where every one of their teammates is on the floor at all times, and where each defender is as well. They see breakdowns, they see mismatches, they see a slip to the rim or a back-door cut, and  the ability to look you in the eye, make a pass to where only they knew where it was going, and  the perfect delivery to their guy in the numbers.  It's rare, but those are the most intriguing players you hope to find and have on your roster.

MVP Conversation

Stephen Curry was voted the league MVP this past week and as you watch him, you never want the game to end. He's exciting, he's talented, and he makes everyone around him better. James Harden and Steph were the front runners in the MVP race this season, some arguing Harden as the most valuable to his team. I would even put Chris Paul into the conversation as well but Curry was the best player on the best team in the league this regular season.

In an article written by Ben Hoffman of the New York Times, he references the win share statistic which tries to determine how many wins one player contributed to his team's overall record. Harden led the league at 16.4, Paul was second with 16.1, Curry third at 15.7, and the 'brow Anthony Davis finishing 4th at 14. If you remove Harden from this Rockets team, it would lower their win total to 39.6, dropping them out of playoff contention. The Rockets lost Chandler Parsons in free agency, and played much of the year without Dwight Howard, meaning Harden carried the load throughout the season. Looking at the New Orleans Pelicans barely making the playoffs you can see the importance of Anthony Davis, who led the NBA in player efficiency rating. Davis was the best two way player in the league, yet did not receive a single first place vote.

"He's the quarterback, he's the most valuable, and he's the biggest difference maker to a team."
Is the point guard position the most important position on a basketball team? If we use Stephen Curry, you have to take in to consideration the Warriors first year head coach, and former NBA Champion, Steve Kerr. This team is different with him at the helm, as opposed to Mark Jackson. Yes, Draymond Green has come into his own as one of the best defensive players in the game, and is a stretch 4 who can move. Add in All-Star guard Klay Thompson, one of the best defensive rim protectors in Andrew Bogut, an underrated forward in Harrison Barnes, and a strong bench consisting of Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Moe Speights, and Shaun Livingston and you end up with a 1 seed overall in the NBA Playoffs this year. The Warriors won 67 games this year. If you remove Steph from the equation, they win 51.3 which still puts them in the playoffs as a competitive team in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry is a superstar, he's a highlight reel, the best shooter this game maybe has ever seen, and the most exciting player to watch in the NBA, but is he the most valuable player?

Advanced statistics, metrics, and analytics aren't perfect. The reality is, the game of basketball is a team sport. To gain a better perspective of how valuable a player is to his team, win shares shows what a team is overall with and without a superstar caliber player compared to his supporting cast. One NBA executive told me Russell Westbrook is "an alien to advanced metrics. You can't compare his athleticism and talent to anyone we've ever seen in the game before." This description is being ascribed to, in some people's estimation only the 4th best point guard in the league. This is the era we are now in, and this is where teams are looking to build their team around. He's the quarterback, he's the most valuable, and he's the biggest difference maker to a team.

Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook are considered the top point guards in the NBA. An argument can be made they are some of the greatest athletes in the world. They are the greatest athlete's at the most important position in sports, maybe ever. To put this into perspective, John Wall, Mike Conley, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Tony Parker, Jeff Teague, and the one time MVP Derrick Rose are considered NBA superstars. The game is no longer evaluated as "big." Five of the top 10 in win shares were point guards, the most in 40 years. In addition, 7 of the top 10 offensive plus/minus player in the league this year were point guards.

The sport has shifted from a traditional fundamental style to a more athletic, combo guard position.
2015 Duke Blue Devils featured Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, 2014 Connecticut Huskies featured Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and the 2013 Louisville Cardinals featured Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. These are the past 3  NCAA National Champions and all three teams had 2 elite level point guards that carried their teams from the regular season, to the National Championship. We are in a new era, where the now little guys stand out as the most important piece of building a team. A point guard is perhaps the most specialized role of any position on the court. The point guard must understand the game plan, they must create scoring opportunities for themselves and others, and they must control tempo. Size which was so valued in the mid 90s has become secondary to speed, quickness, ball handling, vision, and basketball IQ.  The sport has shifted from a traditional fundamental style to a more athletic, combo guard driven league. These elite level players at the point guard position are changing the game, and their abilities have their teams reaching new heights.

In coming articles, I'll dive deeper into how the point guard is changing and impacting the college game, as well as other key pieces a team needs to find success and how this relates to our Missouri Tigers.