OPINION: The Age Of NBA Point Forwards, Not Point Guards
There’s a notion that we’re currently in the age of the point guard. You’ll see Bleacher Report write articles about it and even NBA 2K’s video game announcers discuss it. But it’s an utterly absurd idea to think that this is the age of the point guard.
NBA Point Forwards Making Bigger Impact Than Point Guards
Sure, you’ve got Steph Curry, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and Damian Lillard all dribbling the ball downcourt. And yes, the NBA is seeing a record amount of three-point attempts, which happen to be shot mostly by guards.
But basketball has always been built around the point guard. They’re most likely to be involved in a play due to the fact that the traditional role of a point guard has been to distribute a ball. There’s nothing like them. Maybe the closest thing is how a quarterback will usually hand off the ball to a running back. But a point guard is credited with assists or performing a pass “that leads directly to a field goal,” unlike a quarterback on a run. The quarterback has no real effect on that. The point guard as a position, then, will always seem to have a bigger role in a game than say, a center. Though a center is typically the defensive anchor, you don’t control where the ball is on that side of the court. A player can play on-ball defense only as much as he’s allowed to. That’s fundamentally different from the offense, where how much you play on-ball is up to you.
And the NBA has always been dominated by point guards. Before Curry, there was Steve Nash. Before him, there was Allen Iverson. Before him, there was Magic Johnson. Before Magic, there was Jerry West. Before the logo, there was Bob Cousy. There were always star point guards. There will always be as long as there is basketball.
What there is today is the point forward. The point forward is defined pretty simply. It’s a forward who assumes the ball-handling duties of a point guard. The first time this position was played is with Larry Bird, who took on the role during the flow of games for the 1980s Celtics. Some might also point to Magic Johnson as an example but that leaves out the fact that he only played power forward for one season in 1996 because of weight he had to put on as he fought against HIV. But we didn’t see the point forward as a real position until the 2010s. Now, it’s the position that defines this generation the best. I’d argue that out of the last seven NBA championship-winning teams, five have been led by a point forward. The only teams that don’t are the 2014 Spurs and the 2015 Warriors.
The point forward position became what it is today for two reasons. One, big guys realized that they wanted some of the attention too after seeing ballhandlers A.I. and Michael Jordan get all the spotlight. Two, coaches became more willing to let big guys handle the ball, creating free-flowing offenses and allowing their teams to pick up the tempo.
To say that the NBA is in an age of point guards is ridiculous. But to say it’s in an age of point forwards is not. Watching the game today and seeing Ben Simmons, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo run offenses prove it. They’re spectacles, things the game has never seen before and things it may not see again. To not realize that is to not realize what basketball is. The point forward is an invasive species to this game but it’s an adaptable one. It will survive.