Often called the “leader of the offense” and compared to the quarterback in American football, the point guard is one of the most demanding positions on the basketball court. Playing point guard requires great ball handling skills, good scoring ability, and a thorough understanding of your team’s strategy. However, this versatile position also allows you to play a pivotal role on the court by leading the offense’s scoring efforts. Being a point guard is hard work, but also one of the most rewarding positions a basketball player can have.
Learning the Role
Bring in-bounds balls up court. At a very basic level, the point guard is responsible for moving the ball up the court, keeping it in his team’s possession, and setting up offensive plays. This means passing the ball to his teammates to start the plays, and, when possible, scoring on his own. The point guard usually gets the ball when it’s passed in-bounds at the beginning of an offensive possession. Generally, he’ll bring the ball up court to the defense’s key, then stay around the perimeter of the three-point line to set up plays.
There are exceptions to this, of course. For instance, if the defense is running a heavy full-court press (that is, they’re guarding every offensive player even before they cross the half court line), the point guard may not have the liberty of being able to bring the ball up court all by himself. In this case, he may need to pass it off to a teammate fairly quickly.
Keep the ball in your team’s possession. As the point guard moves the ball up the court, he’ll usually keep dribbling it until a play begins. As he gets closer to the net, he’ll come under heavier and heavier pressure from the defense. Usually, by the time he gets to the three-point line, he’ll have one man guarding him and will be unable to keep going forward without opening himself up to heavy defensive pressure. As the point guard nears the hoop, he must be careful not to give the defense any chances to steal the ball. Note that it’s generally considered a bad idea for the point guard to stop dribbling the ball before he needs to (for instance, at the very start of a play). If the point guard stops dribbling, he can’t move again without getting a penalty called on him, which means the defense only needs to guard against him passing or shooting, giving them a much easier job.
Make a pass to an open teammate. One of the point guard’s most important duties is to make passes to teammates who have a good chance of scoring. In general, if the point guard sees a teammate near the hoop or around the perimeter of the key who isn’t being well-defended, he should pass to him so that he’ll have an unobstructed shot. A good point guard should have lots of assists at the end of most of his games — these are signs that he’s been passing the ball to the right people to rack up his team’s score.
If you’re open, go for a jump shot or layup. While it’s important for the point guard to set other players up to score points, he shouldn’t be any scoring slouch himself. If the point guard sees that all of his teammates are tied up with defenders but there’s an opening for him to score, he’ll want to be able to attack the hoop by going for a layup or shooting a jump shot. If the defense sees that he can’t do these things very well, they may leave him relatively unguarded and concentrate on the other players, making it harder for the team as a whole to score.
A point guard with an excellent three-point shot or jump shot is especially valuable. With this ability, he has the potential to score from virtually anywhere around the basket, which means that the defense will almost always have to use a man to guard him. This makes it easier for the other people on the point guard’s team to score!
Be ready to play defense after the shot. Whether or not your team’s shot makes it into the basket, the point guard should be ready to get on defense as soon as the ball’s in the air. Unless the point guard has seen an opening and has driven to the hoop for a layup, he’ll probably be positioned somewhere at the top of the key or along the three point line. This gives him a crucial advantage on defense — because he’s usually the furthest from the hoop, he’s also usually one of the best-positioned players to set up an early defense should the ball change hands.
Beware the fast break — if you see a defender blow past you on the way to the other basket as soon as the ball goes in or his team gets the rebound, follow him! You may be the only player on your time who isn’t tied up near the basket, so you’re the only one who can keep the other team from scoring easy points.
Stay at the perimeter of the action. Though a point guard may sometimes make plays right up to the hoop, often, his “default” position will be at the “top” of the action — usually at or near the three point line in front of the basket. This gives him a good view of both teams’ players, which is important for spotting scoring openings and setting up plays. It also gives the point guard the easiest, most direct path to the hoop if the defense fails to guard him.
Of course, the point guard shouldn’t feel limited to this zone, either. If an offensive play demands it, the point guard should feel versatile playing in any area of the court, including under the hoop.
Direct the other offensive players to complete plays. As mentioned in the intro, the point guard usually acts as sort of a “leader” for the offense. Since he usually starts off with the ball and stays at the perimeter of the action, he’s in a better position than anyone else to tell his teammates what to do to score. It’s very common for a point guard to use verbal commands, hand signals, and “codewords” to give his teammates directions. For instance, on a given play, he might call out the name of a play that the team has practiced before or direct a teammate to make a break for the hoop with eye contact and a quick motion of his head.
The point guard’s commands should always serve to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. If he’s not looking for an open teammate to pass the ball to, he’s trying to get his teammates to make an opening so that either or someone else can score.
To get an idea of the sort of directions a good point guard gives, watchone in action. The next time you watch a basketball game, keep an eye on the point guard. You should see him constantly surveying the court, barking out orders, and giving nonverbal cues to his teammates. For instance, it’s very common for a point guard to ask for a screen by making eye contact with one of his teammates and gesturing toward the defender in front of him.
“Feed” your teammates the ball with quick, effective passes. When a point guard sees a teammate with an opportunity to score, he wants to get the ball into his teammate’s hands as quickly as possible so that the teammate can score before his opportunity passes. For this reason, point guards need to keep their passing as efficient as possible. Point guards should use fast, forceful passes to get the ball to their teammates. They shouldn’t use passing motions that require a wind-up motion — this gives the defenders a hint that a pass is on the way.
At the highest levels of basketball, point guards sometimes use no-look passes, behind the back passes, and complicated fake-out moves to great effect. However, unless you’re experienced with these sorts of moves, don’t count on them during a game. Never attempt a flashy or showy pass when a simple chess pass will work just as well.
Be wary of passing the ball into (or through) a crowd, even if the person you intend the ball to go to is open. The more defenders your pass sends the ball near, the bigger chance it’ll be intercepted.
Know when (and how) to shoot. As mentioned above, it’s a big bonus to the offense if the point guard is a credible scoring threat. If the defense believes you have the ability to score, they’ll guard you, freeing up your other teammates. The best way to be a scoring threat to the defense is to score points when you can. If the defense leaves you unguarded, punish them for it.
For instance, let’s say you pass the ball to a teammate, but they’requickly covered and can’t shoot. If the defender who was guarding you follows the ball, you’ll want to get the ball back from your teammate right away so that you can shoot — odds are that your teammate can pass you the ball faster than your defender can run back to you. Note, however, that this requires both you and your teammate to be aware of what the defense is doing.
If you’ve got a defender in front of you when you’re trying to shoot, one way to open up a clear shot is to use a pump fake. Basically, you want to try to start your normal shooting motion, then suddenly stop it. Plant your feet, bend your knees, grab the ball with both hands, and bring it up to your nose as if you’re about to shoot. If done well, your defender may jump to block the shot, giving you the opportunity to quickly blow around him or time your shot so that you make it just as he’s hitting the ground.
Control the tempo of your possession. Because the point guard has the ball for much of the time that it’s in his team’s possession, he can essentially control how “fast” the game moves. If he takes his time getting the ball up the court and taking a shot, he’s said to be “slowing the game down,” whereas if he immediately sprints up the court or passes to an open teammate for the shot, he’s said to be “speeding the game up.” Both can be smart choices depending on the circumstances of the game. Below are just a few examples of situations that might lead you to speed up or slow down play: Your team is in the lead after a few successful fast breaks, but your teammates are looking tired. In this case, slow the game down to give them a chance to recuperate during your possession — you’ll probably be better off in the long run even if you don’t score points immediately.
Your opponents are visibly tired. In this case, look for an opening for a fast break to speed the game up and score some easy points — the defense doesn’t get to decide the tempo of the game, so take advantage of their fatigue!
You’ve started a fast break, but your opponents have gotten up the court before you and are guarding the basket. In this case, don’t drive into a crowd of defenders — instead, stay at the perimeter and wait for your teammates to catch up.
Stay at the perimeter, guarding the other point guard. Just like on offense, the point guard usually stays at the perimeter of the key or near the three point line on defense. This positions him well to guard the opposing team’s point guard, essentially playing the reverse of the role that he played on offense. This allows you to put the pressure on the opponent’s point guard that’s needed to prevent him from simply shooting or driving to the hoop as soon as he get up court.
As on offense, however, there are plenty of cases in which you’ll need to move from this default position depending on what the offense does. For instance, if the point guard passes the ball to a teammate and then moves toward the hoop, you’ll want to stay on him, denying him an easy path to the basket. In this case, there’s a chance that he’s looking to get the ball back under the hoop for an easy lay up, so stay between him and the hoop.
Use a strong defensive stance. It’s a common saying in basketball that defense is 90% heart, 10% skill — in other words, the strategy is simpler, but your physicality is more important. To be the most effective defensive player you can be, be conscious of the way you’re using your body to guard your opponent. Below are some general defensive tips for point guards: Stay low. Keeping your shoulders low and your hips back while you guard an opponent makes it easier for you to react to his motions — especially if he tries to blow around you.
Keep your hands ready. Most defensive players keep at least one hand upwhen their opponent is within shooting range to block his shots. Many also like to keep one hand low to block passes and make steal attempts.
Stay about an arm’s length from your opponent. If you’re too far away, your opponent may be able to get a shot off before you block him, but if you’re too close, he’ll have an easy time blowing around you.
Have quick footwork. Use choppy, short steps like a lineman in football.The quicker your steps are, the quicker you’ll be able to react to an opponent’s change in direction.
Guard passing lanes. Since you’re guarding the opponent’s point guard, you’ll need to be on the lookout for lots of passes. It’s almost impossible to block every pass, and if you try to, your opponent will quickly learn to fake you out and go to the hoop. Instead, try to be aware of where the other offensive players are so that, when you see a pass coming, you can get in front of your opponent’s pass right as he’s making it for an interception attempt. The balance between pass-blocking and guarding the point guard is a tricky one, so point guard who are good on defense are highly prized.
Because he’s facing away from the hoop, it’s usually harder for a defensive point guard to have a good idea of what’s happening on the court than an offensive one. You may take quick looks behind you and to your sides to get a sense for the offense’s positioning, but don’t take your eyes off of your man for too long or he’ll be wide open for a shot.
Prevent the offense’s fast breaks. As noted above, sometimes, the point guard is the only defender who’s in position to defend against an opposing team’s fast break. In this case, try to stay between the ball carrier and the hoop. Don’t let him get ahead of you or he’ll have an easy time scoring. Be ready to follow him all the way to the basket — most fast breaks will end with a layup attempt.
Fast breaks are extra-hard to defend against if two offensive players are coming at you at once. In this case, you’ll want to avoid committing too heavily to either player. If you do, he’ll pass it to the other one and you won’t have time to react before he scores. Try to stay ahead of both players and between them and the basket. Balancing your attention between both players slows them down and gives the rest of your team time to catch up. If one player stops dribbling before he’s very close to the hoop, be ready to box out the other player and go for the rebound. If either player has an easy shot near the hoop, be ready to block it.
Being a Team Leader
Know and understand your coach’s plan. Compared to the other players, the point guard usually has a special relationship with his coach. The point guard is responsible for running the coach’s offensive plays on the field but also must have the knowledge of the coach’s overarching game plan necessary to call plays on the fly when needed. For these reasons, a point guard will need to understand the coach’s offensive playbook better than anyone else on the team (and will need to be able to execute the coach’s instructions as he gives them during the game).
In addition, since he’s usually in control of the ball at the start of the play, the point guard is tasked with performing certain special duties like calling a time out. Knowing when to do these things requires him to be aware of both his coach’s plan and the circumstances of the game (especially late in the game when time outs and other stalling tactics are common).
Have great communication with your teammates. A point guard who can’t communicate with his teammates on the court can be a major liability to his team. Point guards should be able to use their voice and body to direct their teammates to set up scoring opportunities, execute plays, and so on. A big part of developing these communication skills is putting in lots of practice as a team so that every member knows what sorts of signals to expect and how each member communicates as a player.
The point guard may want to talk to his teammates and agree on a system of signals, codewords and so on to keep his team’s strategy secret on the court. For instance, if the point guard raises a fist when he’s at the top of the key, this can be a signal for the small forward to cut back the three point line and get ready for a pass.
Lead by example. Because of your unique position, your other teammates (especially inexperienced ones) may look to you to “set the tone” for your games and practices. A good point guard takes the game seriously, puts in hard work at practice, listens to his coach, and seeks to improve his game outside of practice. Just as importantly, he also encourages his teammates to do the same. By earning the respect of his teammates through work and dedication, the point guard can improve the team’s communication and help develop valuable on-the-court camaraderie.
Learn from the NBA’s greatest point guards. Professional basketball has no shortage of great point guards — some are all-time league legends, while some are active players today. Watching these point guards dominate the court can be inspiring, humbling, and educational for amateur point guards looking to up their game. Here are just a few NBA point guards who are considered to be some of the best to ever play the position:
Be able to fake! This is helpful as a point guard if they have hard defense when you come down the court.
Practice, practice, practice.
Know the fundamentals and rules of basketball before you step on the court! For a quick refresher, see How to Play Basketball.
Don’t hog the ball! Point guards should be looking for opportunities for their team to score, not just to improve their own stats.
How to Improve at Basketball
How to Do a Crossover in Basketball
How to Rebound in Basketball
How to Get a Basketball Scholarship
How to Be a Good Basketball Team Player
Sources and Citations
Cite error: tags exist, but no tag was found