On Point: NBA’s Best Players All Trending Towards One Position

Dan O'Shea

Basketball fans are spoiled by the incredible talent in the league, whether their favorite players are all crammed on a few rosters or not. High scoring affairs and ridiculous highlights may make basketball more fun to watch, but it comes at the expense of traditional style of play. The staple of floor general point guards and low-post monsters have come and gone, leaving us with a plethora of hybrids as far as the eye can see. People may call this a positionless league, but it’s the exact opposite. Stars in the league are morphing into the same role: ball-dominant point guard.

It’s easy to cast positions aside in the league today based solely on the amount of freak athletes that stomp around the league. It’s like a UFO crash-landed on the planet about 30-years ago, made no national news, and allowed these aliens to carve out a life for themselves on this planet. Instead of curing cancer or making strides to impact human life, these extraterrestrials decided to pick up a basketball, dominate the NBA, and ruin the position hierarchy that has existed for years.

It used to be pretty simple to figure out. If you were small, you ran the point. If you were huge, you played center. If you could shoot, guess where you played? Shooting guard. Now, it’s become a world where if you’re the best, you run the show.

Giannis and LeBron are perfect examples of the trend of setting fire to the old system and letting your best players take charge. LeBron is built like a one of those giant refrigerators with “ice” on the door, and Giannis is so big and freakishly athletic that he performs Michael Jordan’s famous dunk at the end of “Space Jam” on a nightly basis. If you put them in the NBA 20 years ago, there’s no shot they play point guard.

Yes, we’ve seen larger players like Magic Johnson run the point, but it’s different for a number of reasons. The creator of the Show Time Lakers was a player who could get to the rim at any time just like Giannis and LeBron, but he was still the prototypical floor general with some added flash. Plus, he has mostly been the only exception to the rule.

Big men always dreamed of a world where they can be like Magic, and now we’re living in it.

“It was always the running joke when I was growing up: point guards want to be big guys, and big guys want to be point guards; Now we’re actually seeing that happen.”

Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale

It may seem weird to see players built like the Greek Freak or LeBron bringing the ball up as the team’s point guard on a regular basis, but it shouldn’t be. Success is found in many different ways and forms of execution, yet you can see success in its simplest form in the waning moments of any game in any sport. You get the ball in the hands of your best player. Just because there are 40 minutes left in the game doesn’t mean that idea should change, and teams are beginning to realize that by using their transcendent stars as their decision maker.

It’s easy to think two incredibly gifted small forwards can handle it, but this isn’t just limited to that kind of player. Anyone who has the ability to take over a game with the ball in their hands can, and will be put in that role. Just look at James Harden last season. He was by far the best shooting guard in the NBA until he switched to point guard in Houston and elevated his game to a new level.

Houston’s bearded hero managed to keep his 29 points per game average and steady field goal percentage while increasing his assists from 7.5 in 2015 to 11.2 per game last season. It’s breaking basketball down to its simplest form and just getting out of the way of these stars when they have the ball in their hand.

People expected that to change for Harden when Chris Paul got shipped to Houston prior to his knee injury, but The Beard himself couldn’t have explained the situation better. There wouldn’t be a point guard. Just two guys who dominate the ball equally.

This feeds into the idea that there are no positions, but just looking deeper into Harden’s words show that isn’t true. Going out and making plays in order to help your team be better is the mantra of any player, but it relates closest to the point guard position. The offense normally surrounds the best player on the team, so allowing him to control the play from the beginning is the easiest way to achieve that.

We’re seeing teams use it to a smaller sample size like DeMar DeRozan in Toronto, but just by looking at some of the future stars in the league, it’s apparent this trend is going to continue to go in this direction.

This isn’t something that should really shock anyone. Yes, the point guard touches the ball more than the majority of players on the court due to how offenses are set up, but it goes deeper than that. For many teams, the point guard is often the best player on their roster. Out of the top 15 qualifying players with the highest usage ratings in the league last season, eight were point guards. That isn’t even including Wade, LeBron, or DeRozan who played point guard at times.

Looking even further into the point guard driven league no matter what actual position you play, the same thing extends to big men. We’re talking about dudes who are much closer to the prototypical big than LeBron and Giannis, yet they still display the same skill sets. Look at someone like Anthony Davis who is widely considered one of the best players in the league. He was a point guard in high school until he hit a ridiculous growth spurt. Sure, he blocks shots out of the air on a nightly basis and can bang in the paint like a big, but his point guard-driven skills are what separate him from other players at his position.

You could say this is a prime argument about why this supports the positionless league idea, as players like Kristaps Porzingis, Demarcus Cousins, Karl Anthony-Towns, Joel Embiid and more have shown the ability to stretch out and shoot, but it goes beyond scoring. Being able to control the ball at any time as you cross half court make you a creator. You’re the one who gives shooters open space, paves lanes for cutters, and force help defenders to come over due to your ability to tear apart a defense. In what way is that not a point guard?

It doesn’t have to do with players like Embiid being the heart of The Process or Porzingis turning into a grown ass man in front of our very eyes. Their rise to the next level of stardom goes hand in hand with their ability to create, just like a point guard does.

In the end, we have seen the death of traditional positions as we know it. There will always be players who fit the mold of the old regime, but this is an adapt to survive kind of league. If you ever want to take your team to the next level, you have to put your best player at point guard, and let them run the show.