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Combo Guards, AAU Showcases and the True PG Personality

A Conversation about Point Guards with Brian McCormick

If you're a loyal TrueHooper, you've certainly run across the work of Brian McCormick, a former AAU player and current coach, now writing on BMac's Blog.  Brian is a heck of a writer and his perspective is particularly invaluable when it comes to understanding young prospects and their transition to the NBA.   On that note, his recent post Can your combo guard run the point? is a perfectly appropriate question for us here in Blazers Land.  To date, we've heard answers from a lot of people. 

Jerryd Bayless: Yes. (Dead Sure)

Nate McMillan: Yes. (Sort of sure, but hoping)

Pretty Much Everyone Else: Not sure. (Shrugging shoulders and crossing fingers)

To answer the question, "Can your combo guard run the point?" Brian reminds us of an important basketball truism in his essay, The Personality of a Point Guard:

When evaluating a player, the personality is as important as the skills and position, especially for a prospective point guard. The point guard has to enjoy setting up his teammates more than he enjoys scoring himself.

In other words, if your brain isn't hard-wired to hook your brothers up... you are not a "true" PG and off to the combo-guard scrap heap you go.  More from Brian on true point guards:

He is the person who likes to make others around him look good. The Bengals’ Chad Johnson, for instance, would not be a point guard regardless of how well he can dribble, pass and shoot. Point guards cannot worry about statistics. Point guards need to understand the personalities of their teammates and be able to relate to teammates so they know when a teammate is frustrated because he is working hard and not getting the ball or when a teammate is scared to shoot in a big moment. A point guard’s role is to make his teammates look good, to make their jobs easier, which takes a certain type of personality.

My belief in the absolute importance of a point guard is something I've only mentioned in passing on BE so I thought I would delve a little deeper tonight. I hooked up with Coach McCormick via email; my thought streams are tagged "BG"; his are in blockquote.

BG: In your essay, you gave your high school team as an example of players being played out of position to the detriment of their PG skill development. From what I've seen, AAU ball seems like an even bigger culprit. Coaches have every reason to turn the ball over to the biggest/most skilled; a true offense be damned. Would you agree?

I don't like to argue AAU vs. High School because I think some AAU coaches are better than some high school coaches and vice versa. My mentors are/were AAU coaches, while the high school coaches I played for and coached under were very poor in many ways. I think it all depends.

However, I think the summer system of exposure events and showcases, which includes high school, AAU and other governing bodies, emphasizes the more athletic, more dynamic, more aggressive players over the true point guards.

BG: Would it be going too far to say that modern AAU ball (the last 10 to 15 years, when the true exposure system has blossomed) has never produced a top flight "true" point guard? CP3 isn't exactly a combo guard but he also can get his own shots in bulk and looks to do so in crunch time. This tendency is something that was surely reinforced by his AAU days. Outside of Paul, who is the closest to being a true PG these days?

Several years ago, there was hype over who was the best high school point guard: Telfair, Livingston or Darius Washington. None is a real point guard, although the jury is still out on Livingston. But, Washington nor Telfair is a true PG.

I do, however, believe Paul and Deron Williams are point guards. They are facilitators. However, they can score, just as Magic or Nash can score when needed. If Paul played with more scorers, I think he could average 15 assists a game if he wanted. Michael Conley, Jr. might be the next closest, just going off his time at Ohio State. If he develops in the NBA, I think he possesses the qualities and personality of a PG, which is somewhat surprising considering his dad was an individual sport athlete. I think Rondo is close to a true PG, as well, as he is willing to subjugate his game for the good of the team.

BG: I hear you on Paul/Williams.  People (myself included) forget Stockton could get his own points when necessary too; it's funny how that part of his game gets left out of the equation sometimes.  I guess there is a traceable lineage going back 30 years or so if you include Stockton/Kidd as well.  Here in Portland we are big on Terry Porter, he had some of the soccer attacking midfielder to his game that you mentioned in your essay... it seems like the early-mid 1990s had a rush of them (Mark Jackson) and then their was a noticeable fall off  until CP3/Williams.  Call it the Iverson effect?

Anyway, it also seems like we are seeing an influx of truer point guards from overseas?  would you agree with that premise?  if so, do you think the emphasis there is different somehow?

It is interesting, since many never believed a European could play PG in the NBA. I don't know if it has more to do with the way teams are selected at younger ages, or the more global development of players. However, while I love Parker and Calderon, it's not like the NBA is flooded with international PGs, as its questionable whether Udrih is a true PG.

 BG: So what about the Blazers' new pick Bayless? He was an AAU regular. At his press conference he claims he will be a point guard; so does Coach McMillan (who knows a PG when he sees one). Yet, as you mentioned in your essay, Bayless's skills and demeanor make him the prototypical combo guard. Do you have any thoughts on what Portland fans can expect from Bayless short-to-long term?

I don't think Bayless is a PG. However, I think he found a good fit because I think Roy is a facilitator. With more options around him, I think Roy will be happy to be a 15/8 guy who can go for 25-30 when needed, rather than being a 25ppg scorer. I think Roy is one of the unique talents in the league; I'm not saying he is one of the best, although I do think he is a perennial all-star and I had him #1 in the draft, but he is unique in his ability to be a facilitator and a scorer, like a Paul, Williams or even LeBron James, to an extent. More than Paul, I think LeBron and Roy are the arguments against my thesis, as each shows evidence of being a scorer, and James even played WR in HS, but also has the characteristics of a facilitator.

BG: Is it already "too late" for a 19 year old like Bayless to become the kind of true PG that you defined? History (Jarrett Jack) would seem to indicate yes.

I don't necessarily think it's too late for Bayless to develop the skills of a PG. But, my thesis is that personality - which is basically unchanging - is as important as the skills, so Bayless, imo, will never be a true PG in the facilitator sense. But, like I said, I think the combination of Roy and Bayless is more than adequate, especially in the NBA game which is built around stars and isolation plays. I think, best case, Bayless is a PG in the Chauncey Billups mode - Billups is one example of a player who has worked hard to play a different position and still excel or a player who was completely miscast in college, where he was asked to score in bunches. Worst case, he is a Stephon Marbury-type that gets his stats because he has the ball a lot, but fails to make his teammates or team better and is not exactly a facilitator.

BG: Your "personality" theory seems to come down to a classic nature/nurture thing. given the sheer volume of reps that young players get in year-round game conditions, it seems like whatever natural personality a player starts with, if it is allowed to go unchecked, can become so deeply ingrained over the course of a few years that it most likely cannot be undone. And it seems like this occurs at a very early age, arguably 14 or 15 years old if not earlier.

And in the current system it's so easy for the personality to go unchecked... elite players can simply transfer teams... transfer high schools... find the coach/program that suits his personal style... or what he thinks his personal style should be. there's always a coach willing to turn a team over to a talented guard. especially for the elite players-- the reward cycle is there constantly: "I don't need to pass, i can score by myself "... Given that background, by the time a player like Bayless hits the league, I am inclined to think that he doesn't have much of a chance to become a true PG.

Your Conley example is also interesting to contemplate: one might argue that Oden's presence was a constant check upon Conley's personality, ensuring that his natural skills never took over and he remained in the facilitator role.... obviously most combo guards that make the league are not blessed with that kind of counterweight in their formative years.

In the end, it seems impossible to prove exactly when (at birth? seventh grade?) or how (natural instincts? skill level compared to his teammates or the opportunities available to him?) a "personality" is formed... but the end result is that by the time a player reaches the L, even at 19, a distinct personality does exist, and whatever it is, it is extremely difficult to change.

Agreed. In my personal experience, I had a good big guy in my class when I started to play ball in 5th grade. So, he was always the scorer and I was the facilitator, even though my coaches played me at SF one year and SG one year because I was the best outside shooter in my class. However, both coaches eventually switched me to PG, my natural position. So, I had a check in that respect. However, I started playing soccer in 1st grade with no natural check and still developed the role of a facilitator even though I played as a forward. I don't think I moved to midfield until around 4th grade, but I know I never scored a goal. I would always pass to a more open player than take a shot on goal. Even in junior high, the only time I tried to score was on corner kicks.

So, in some ways, by 1st grade, my personality was set to some degree and even though almost every coach tried to change me in some way, I never strayed too far from it.

So... a few questions to think about: When do you think a player's "personality" develops? Is the AAU exposure system to blame for the current glut of combo guards? Do you still hold out hope that "Pay Up" can become a "True Point Guard?"

-- Ben (

PS Huge props to Brian McCormick taking the time to drop some knowledge.