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The Making of a Master Point Guard: How Exactly Does Strength Matter for Great Point Guards?

In honor of Steve Nash Internet Day, Phoenix Stan of both Swish Appeal and Bright Side of the Sun put out a call for submissions for articles about anything "Nash related". Since the 35-year-old Nash is currently putting together among the greatest point guard seasons in NBA history, not to mention his two-time NBA MVP career, I decided to contribute by exploring an answer to a question that has always fascinated me: What makes a great point guard?

When I asked the women’s basketball coaches in Seattle for Thanksgiving tournaments last week what makes a great point guard, most of them gave the standard list of attributes that might now seem so cliché as to minimize the complexity of playing the position.

"Demanding, vocal, lead the offense, lead the defense, make free throws," said College of Williams & Mary coach Debbie Taylor. "Make good decisions, but own their team like it’s their team and make sure everything happens the right way and they’re taking control of what’s going on on the floor."

Beyond just possessing skills and speed, it comes down to having what many people would summarize as being a "floor general", which not only requires basketball skills, but also interpersonal skills.

"I think your point guard has to be a floor general – you gotta know what the coach is thinking," said Sacramento State University coach Jamie Craighead. "They gotta know how to get everyone inv line with what they want to do. And then obviously, they gotta be someone who can communicate what they want and I think we got that in those two kids."

And perhaps the trait of a point guard discussed most is their willingness to play for the betterment of their teammates.

"In the end, they’re willing to make the play and make the best decision for the team – unselfishness is huge," said Eastern Washington University coach Wendy Schuller.

However, something that is often ignored as we think about what makes a great point guard – often the smallest and least physically imposing player on the court – is the role of conditioning in allowing them to play their game and make the plays that great point guards make.

Have a high conditioning threshold – if the PG isn’t in shape and is expected to play big minutes and minutes at the end of the game, they will break down mentally once their body breaks down, so it is huge for them to be in great shape.

As highlighted by trainer Brian McCormick, a major factor in the early season success of Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash this year is his conditioning, in particular his strength.

Physical Conditioning: Steve Nash’s Resurgence
Steve Nash is on top of his game again, leading the fast-breaking Phoenix Suns to one of the best records in the NBA thus far. The reasons for his success are many, but Toronto Raptors’ Head Coach Jay Triano credits his physical conditioning:

Obviously, as a 35-year-old player who many people assumed would be over-the-hill by this point in his career even before he played a game in Phoenix has to have a good work ethic or he wouldn’t continue to perform.

Brad Steinke: The incomparable Steve Nash
One of the big reasons Nash is playing so well is Nash himself. No one takes better care of himself, not only in off-season conditioning, but the way he conducts himself during the season as well. His diet is impeccable and after most games he goes through a grueling ritual of going between ice bath and hot tub — giving his aching back and legs the chance to bounce back the next game better than ever.

But how exactly does strength translate into point guard performance on the basketball court?

When I asked University of Washington coach Tia Jackson about the play of sophomore point guard Sarah Morton’s improved play this season, she described increased strength as one of the primary factors.

"She looks good huh?" said Jackson during comments to the media two weeks ago. "I think the biggest transition for her and what we needed from her is that she put on some strength. It’s one thing that you have the skill set but it’s different when you’re going against a physical defender. And we have this terminology of going east and west on the court vs. north and south – if you’re getting knocked around and you’re doing a zig-zag drill up the court, then you’re not making that move that we need for you to make to get up the court."

Among the things that make a point guard like Nash great is the ability to dribble "north and south" through the defense, to draw defenders and distribute the ball to open teammates. While "court vision" is certainly necessary, the confidence to drive through the teeth of often taller defenders comes from strength and conditioning work, at least for Morton.

"Everyday along with running I would be in the gym lifting weights," said Morton, describing her off-season strength and conditioning program. "I’d be shooting extra and all those things combined with my strength trainer has helped me tremendously – I’m able to take hits without falling off balance or learning to jump stop and go into the defense instead of fading away and trying to avoid the contact. And that’s kinda how I’ve played because I’ve always been little, so I’ve always been trying to kinda go away. And now it’s cool to see that if someone gets hit, I’m not the one that ends up on the floor – I’m standing and I’m like, ‘Whoa! Dang, this is crazy’."

Of course, there’s more to the game than strength alone – although both Jackson and Morton have spoken about the importance of improved strength, Morton has also spoken of the need to be more consistent and Jackson has described how the sophomore has a tendency to try to force herself through narrow lanes, which can lead to turnovers.

Despite growing pains, the conditioning allows Morton to use the skills she possesses more effectively.

"She can see the floor better because she’s breaking down defenders; she can get to the hole in the open court, which is fun for us; she can do it in the half court and her vision is pretty impressive," said Jackson. "Now you can kinda see the Morty we all knew about, she just needed to get her body frame where it needed to be so she could sustain the hits."

It’s probably safe to say that even casual NBA fans had some idea of what Nash was capable of prior to this season. However, when considering the factors that led to his resurgent play as a point guard this season, his ongoing strength conditioning has to be considered among the most important.

And it’s a principle that we can reasonably say applies to both 35-year-olds and college sophomores playing the position in both men’s and women’s basketball, professional or collegiate.

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