A point guard, like all player positions in basketball, has specific characteristics that are essential for them to help guide their team to a victory. The Basketball Handbook by Lee Rose describes a point guard as a coach on the floor, who can handle and distribute the ball to teammates. It also states that the more speed a point guard has, the more likely he will be able to create separation and space off the dribble, which allows the point guard room to work. Point guards should also be vocal floor leaders, and should discuss rule interpretations with officials. A point guard must always know the time on both the shot clock and the game clock, the score, the number of timeouts for both teams, and whom to foul late in the game.
A true point guard's job is to create scoring opportunities for his team. The role includes passing and running the offense: setting up plays on the court, getting the ball to the teammate that he feels is in the best position to score, and dictating the tempo of the game. After an opponent scores, it is typically the point guard who brings the ball down court to begin an offensive play. For this reason, passing skills, ball handling, and court vision are pivotal. Point guards are often evaluated more on their assist totals than on their scoring. Still, a first-rate point guard should also have a reasonably effective jump shot.
If a point guard has more size (height, muscle) compared to the prototypical point guard, it is considered a plus, but size is only secondary to knowledge of the game and skill. Among the taller players who have enjoyed success at the position is Magic Johnson, who was 6'9" and won the National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Award three times in his career. Other point guards who have been named the NBA MVP include Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Allen Iverson, and Steve Nash.
The point guard is almost always positioned on the perimeter of the play, so as to have the best view of the action. This is a necessity because of the point guard's leadership obligations. Many times, the point guard is referred to by announcers as a "coach on the floor" or a "floor general". In the past, this was particularly true, as several point guards such as Lenny Wilkens served their team as a player-coach. This is not as common anymore, as most coaches are now solely specialized to coaching and are non-players. Some point guards are still given a great deal of leeway in the offense, such as Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns. Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni allowed him to freelance often when leading the Suns' offense, even letting Nash call his own plays at times. Even point guards who are not given this much freedom, however, are still extensions of their coach on the floor and must display good leadership skills.
Along with leadership and a general basketball acumen, ball-handling is a skill of great importance to a point guard. Generally speaking, the point guard is the player in possession of the ball for the most time during a game and is responsible for maintaining possession of the ball for his team in the face of any pressure from the opponents. Point guards must be able to maintain possession of the ball in crowded spaces and in traffic and be able to advance the ball quickly. A point guard that has enough ball-handling skill and quickness to be able to drive to the basket in a half-court set is also very valuable and considered by some to be a must for a successful offense.
After overall ball-handling, passing and scoring are the next most important areas of the game for a point guard. As the primary decision maker for a team, a point guard's passing ability determines how well a point guard is able to put his or her decision into play. It is one thing to be able to recognize the player that it is in a tactically advantageous position, but it is another thing entirely to able to deliver the ball to that player. For this reason, a point guard is usually, but not always, more skilled and focused on passing than shooting. However, a good jump shot and the ability to score off a drive to the basket are still valuable skills. A point guard will often use his or her ability to score in order to augment his or her effectiveness as a decision maker and play maker.
In addition to the traditional role of the point guard, modern teams have found new ways to utilize the position. Notably, several modern point guards have used a successful style of post play, a tactic usually practiced by much larger centers and forwards. Working off of the fact that the opposing point guard is in all probability an undersized player with limited strength, several modern point guards have developed games close to the basket that include being able to utilize the drop step, spin move, and fade away jump shot. Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons is a notable example of a player that frequently uses this style of play.
Another important task for a point guard on the defensive end is to be a help defender. Whenever the player that the point guard is tasked with defending is away from the ball, a point guard will usually allow distance to accumulate from his or her assignment in order to help his teammates with their assignments. Gary Payton and Walt Frazier are often considered among the greatest defensive point guards in NBA history.