In 1947, Bob “the Harrisburg Houdini” Davies became the first point guard to win the NBA MVP. Ten years later, Bob Cousy duplicated the feat by being the next small man to win the highest award in a “tall man’s league”. What was established moving forward was the realization that in order to be successful in basketball, somebody has to deliver the package to the guys who know what to do with it. Since that point in time, play of the point guard equals success of the team has evolved from theory to law.
Fast forward to 1981. Coach Mike Krzyzewski secured a commitment from Macklin High School star Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins was Krzyzewski’s first and arguably greatest point guard. Dawkins was joined by another point guard great in Tommy Amaker, and together they led Duke to its first Final Four since the Bill Foster days, and the first of 11 (and Kounting) for Krzyzewski. Between Dawkins’ tenure, and the current reign of the Chef, Quinn Cook, Krzyzewski has coached numerous point guards who have been great leaders and players, most of them have lead Duke to a coveted spot in the Final Four.
Arizona is known as Point Guard U, but it could be argued that in the past 33 years, Duke has best produced point guards in NCAA Men’s basketball. Duke has given us Dawkins and Amaker, Quinn Snyder, Bobby Hurley, Jeff Capel, Steve Wojciechowski, William Avery, Jason Williams, Chris Duhon, Kyrie Irving, Quinn Cook and to a degree, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer who handled the bulk of the ball handling duties in Duke’s 2009 -2010 title season. Point guard play defines K’s success as he was a former point guard under the domineering Bobby Knight. Krzyzewski realizes the value of ball control, and limitation of turnovers. He realizes that the guy who touches the ball the most should be one of your best leaders and one of your best talents. If you look back at some of Duke’s most successful years, the head of the offense was THE guy for Duke.
To highlight this success, let’s look at Duke’s 4 title seasons. In 1991, Duke was led by Bobby Hurley, the greatest assist man to ever play NCAA basketball (1,076 career assists). During the ’90 – ’91 season, Hurley averaged 11.3 ppg (4th best on the team), 7.7 apg, shot 39% from Coach K’s beloved 3-point line. He also put solid pressure on the ball on defense, averaging 1.2 steals per game. In 1991-1992, Hurley posted a solid 12.9 ppg, again fourth best on the team. He also gave Duke 7.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Probably one of the most important stats of that season was Hurley’s 2.41:1 assist to turnover ratio. Hurley had great command of the ball, and that precision helped Duke to back to back titles.
In 2001, Duke had two of its greatest point guards running the show. A sophomore Jason Williams and freshman Chris Duhon, alternated the 1 for Duke. And unlike so many of those unsuccessful dual quarterback scenarios that play out in football, Duke’s offense that season was seamless. Williams posted an obscene combination of numbers in his 21.6 ppg and 6.1 apg averages while Duhon gave Duke 7.2 ppg and 4.5 apg. Both players also pilfered the ball 2.0 times per game each.
In 2010, Duke was lead by the two headed monster of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. Scheyer assisted on 25% of that team’s baskets, scored 18.2 points per game and posted a 3.1:1 a/to ratio which is huge because he broke the single-season minutes played ACC record (1,470). He even went five straight games to start the season without turning the ball over. Smith dished 3 assissts per game (responsible for 17% of the team’s baskets) and scored 17.4 points per game from the scoring guard role.
All of those great players led Duke to the mountaintop in college basketball. This year, Quinn Cook is bringing a renaissance back to Duke, as a playmaker whose magic with the ball parallels these Duke greats. Duke has been highly successful this season thanks to the play of Cook. He has shown the ability to score when necessary (see: crunch time v. Louisville or 27 points v. Clemson; 11.8 ppg). He also is making the assist an art form, on the way to 6.2 apg. Cook is also assisting 33% of Duke’s buckets on a team that makes 27 field goals per game. Couple Cook’s numbers with the fact that only 2 Duke point guards under Krzyzewski have not experienced a Final Four (Wojo and Greg Paulus), and the future looks very bright. Can Quinn keep up his terrific play? If so, history suggests that Duke is in for great things this season, and it all starts with the point guard.