When asked to become the head coach for a Christian academy middle school boys’ basketball team, I had reservations because I had never coached a team before at any level. I had played actively through my mid-30s and knew the game from the court view but not from the coach’s perspective. Despite the lack of experience, I gladly accepted the coaching challenge as a parent of a player for a team in need of a coach.
After finishing the year with a 7-7 record with six losses by seven points or less, I feel like that if I knew at the start of the season what I learned during the season, our middle school team could have just as easily finished 13-1 instead of .500. Winning isn’t the most important thing about basketball at the middle school level, but it certainly is a driving force for players and coaches at every level.
Much of the success for the team and their potential to be even more successful was driven by the point guard. The lack of a point guard makes it hard for any team to succeed, but even with a player skilled in the primary facets of point guard play (dribbling, driving and passing), a team needs a point guard who can finish at the basket to keep a defense honest. Here are the five keys to help a point guard develop into the engine that runs the team.
The ball handling part of the point guard equation is an acquired skill, but it certainly helps when a point guard has some natural ability given to the position. Cultivating the ball handling dimension of the point guard is best accomplished through live play calling against a defense in practice, and the point guard learns much faster if he has to contend with the quickest, most experienced defenders available — even if that means the coach plays defense against him for the best possible instruction.
The live play-calling practice forces the adaption to defenses, whether man-to-man or zone. It also provides real-time coaching that will help the point guard craft his recognition of what plays to call based on the defense, as well as how and when to reverse direction for optimal effect. Ball handling drills that stress the use of either hand, as well as spin and reverse dribble drills, certainly help a middle school point guard prepare for the situations he will face in games, but there is no substitute for going up against a live defense that will force him to adjust quickly and execute based upon what the defense gives him.
Knowing when to drive is one of the most important attributes of a point guard. Obviously, when the opening is there, the point guard should take it, but more often than not, the going is much more difficult than that and the point guard must work to create his own opening.
The two tools the point guard has to use to penetrate and force a defense to collapse upon him are the crossover dribble and the pick play. Teaching the timing to know when to crossover helps the point guard catch a defender off balance. Showing how to run a defender into a perimeter pick helps the point guard free himself to either pass or shoot off the dribble with enhanced results.
Point guards who penetrate effectively have to develop passing skills. Knowing when and where to pass has to be developed live for best results. Communication with both post and wing players is important for the point guard to establish because he has to have players move without the ball to create the space needed for an open shot to materialize when he draws defenders to him.
Teaching a point guard how to recognize where his teammates will be open and how to deliver the ball to them in ways that they can handle the pass and finish the play is vital instruction for the point guard to help his team put points on the board.
By the nature of the position, the point guard is the pivot for both the half-court offense and transition play. The most important parts of point guard play are ball handling, penetration and passing, but a point guard who can finish when needed is a complete player who can dismantle a defense in multiple ways.
Live play-calling practice helps develop the scoring component of the point guard, but practicing the repertoire of off-balance shots in the paint like runners, floaters and fade-away jumpers without a defense present can help the point guard improve his shooting percentage and keep the outcome of the game in the hands of the most skilled offensive player on the court.
Live play-calling practice and game action are the ultimate tests of patience for the point guard because success is not always immediate. The point guard has to learn when he shouldn’t unnecessarily press a defense with penetration or forces passes that his teammates can’t convert into productive shot attempts.
Understanding when to bring the ball back out to the point to set up the offense again requires patience that has to be taught and stressed if a point guard is going to develop to the best of his ability.
When a point guard puts all five of these keys together, the offense opens up for himself and all of his teammates, which gives his team the best chance to win.