Elite Guards 101

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C.J. McCollum, Guard / Portland Trail Blazers - The Players' Tribune

The intensity and importance of each possession. That’s the thing about the NBA that doesn’t always translate to television. I got to experience that first-hand when I injured my foot early in my rookie season with Portland last year. When you’re on the court, your adrenaline takes over and you tend to get lost in it. When you’re watching from the bench, you can pick up on everything — where guys like to shoot the ball from, how teams defend the pick-and-roll, which big men are good at hedging the screen and so on. You’re able to pick up on so many more things. I guess that’s one positive I can take from being sidelined.

Now, I can already hear the Twitter commenters saying, “If you know all this stuff about elite guards, then why is it so hard to stop these guys?” Because in the NBA, even if you know everybody’s game, most of the time there’s nothing you can do about it. Almost every time down the court, the shouts from the bench are, “Great defense, better shot.” Welcome to The League. Here’s my perspective on how four elite guards perfect their game.

Chris Paul, LA Clippers
I already knew some things about Chris because I went to his point guard camp when I was at Lehigh University. When he comes off ball screens, he prefers to cut against the grain back to his right hand.

CP also loves to take this side-dribble hesitation shot that is pretty unique to his game. Watch how he subtly creates space for himself to shoot.

Defensively, when he’s chasing guys in transition or trailing a guy in the pick-and-rolls, he taps you on whichever side he’s not going to reach on. So let’s say he’s coming from behind you and you’re dribbling the ball with your right hand, he’ll tap your left hip or your hamstring twice so you think he’s over there and then he’ll reach on the opposite side. He’s got so many great tricks.

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Steph Curry, Golden State
He’s tough. He’s got everything from the underhand scoop shot to the floaters, not mention the transition threes. I noticed during the FIBA Championships that he has one of the best shot-fake side dribble shots I’ve seen. Obviously, the shot credibility helps. When he goes left, he likes the right to left crossover as a setup move leading to a variety of finishes including the underhand scoop and floater. Watch the extension on this crazy floater over Serge Ibaka.

Steph also has a variety of dribble moves he uses to create space for his pull-up jumper. His game is so versatile, it’s hard to even pick up all the things he does well. If you get caught up counting the makes and misses with Steph, you’re going to drive yourself crazy.  Steph hits some of the toughest shots you’ve ever seen. Watch him hit the underhand scoop with his left here.

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Tony Parker, San Antonio
The mid-range master. I got to see a lot of him this past year. He always finishes with his right hand. He never uses his left around the basket, even when he’s at the basket on the right side.

Tony is another guy that utilizes the floater around the restricted area of the paint. The Spurs run a continuity offense a lot where the ball handler has a half a second to make a decision on pass or shoot. Parker gets a little more leeway. He likes to turn down ball screens and go into his one dribble pull-up, especially going left. He’s one of the fastest guys in the NBA, and as a young guy, you know you can’t touch him or it’s a foul. Nine times out of 10, the benefit of the doubt is going to the All-Star.  Parker is also one of the best guards in the league at giving the ball up and coming off a baseline triple screen.  It keeps the defense moving and allows him to catch the ball on the move in space. Parker also loves the spin move, especially in transition.

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James Harden, Houston
James is always going left. I think I’ve seen him do one right-handed layup in three years. If he goes right, he’s coming back to the left hand. He’s a guy who uses his body extremely well. A deadly iso player whose arguably the best two guard in the league in pick-and-rolls.  James has mastered the through-the-legs step back. If you look at the highlights, he’s made a couple guys buckle with it. Harden throws his body around a lot and is a master at drawing fouls. It could be considered borderline flopping sometimes, but he’s a vet who knows how to get to the line.

Let’s zoom in! Watch how smoothly he goes between the legs.

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Ready for Part 2? Click here for John Wall, Kyrie Irving and more. Hit me up on Twitter @CJMcCollum to let me know which players you’d like to see broken down.

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