By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
College basketball is a labyrinth of different styles of players. And no where is that more personified than at the point guard spot. Because of the college system teams can be so different one to the next, whether it be because you have a heavier underclassman or upperclassman team, your coach is new, your big men can’t catch the ball, you have teammates who want to look good for the NBA Draft, the strength of schedules can vary greatly or many other factors.
Being a point guard in college can often have a special meaning. Not only are you growing personally at a big time of change in your life and your basketball game but you are also tasked with helping others during the same process. With players so young, coaches can have trust problems with them. So a steady point guard can do wonders for a college coach trust issues but it also means he might be relied upon to play almost the whole game, all season long. This puts immense pressure on certain players but allows you to see how they play with so much responsibility, who they trust as teammates on the floor, and how consistent they can be.
Tuesday night in Berkley, California the University of California (Cal) Bears squared of against the University of Nevada. Both teams are led by senior point guards: Justin Cobbs for Cal and Deonte Burton for Nevada. But even though they are both seniors and pro prospects they are in very different situations. Whether you believe the chicken or the egg came first, they’re very different players because of the situation or because they helped create their current situation.
Cal is balanced with six capable scorers and is a team that made it to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament last year. They currently sit at 7-3. Cal’s two starting upperclassmen bigs, David Kravish and Richard Solomon, play a majority of the game and both average almost a double-double. Kravish is a mobile, active, cutting big who usually shoots a really high percentage and can be counted on for hustle plays near the hoop like offensive rebounds and blocks. Solomon is more of a center and a back to the basket post-up threat. Solomon is great at getting position in the paint and provides an easy pass and scoring option. On the wing is the super exciting freshman slasher Jabari Bird who can really run in transition and shoot threes. Also add in Tyrone Wallace who can play backup point to give Cobbs rest or play right next to him, Jordan Matthews is a young scorer, and Ricky Kreklow provides veteran defense. People on this team know their roles and they are coached by one of the best college guys out there in Mike Montgomery.
Nevada is different because they’re reliant on just couple guys on offense and are coming off a 12-19 season which ended on an eight game losing streak. They currently sit at 4-6. The second best offensive option behind Burton is 6’8″ quirky swingman Jerry Evans Jr. Evans is a decent slasher and shooter but can only create shots for himself. Michael Perez is a deadly outside shooter who can sometimes make plays for others. Their bigs are a mixed bag with Cole Huff, Ronnie Steven Jr, and Ali Fall. They provide some rebounding options but little in the way of rim protection and post scoring. Nevada is coached by David Carter, who is 74-58 in four prior seasons and who has been with the program overall for 15 years.
So that’s a snapshot of their situation. It enables or forces these point guards playing styles. And in the end trust with a point guard is crucial. From coach to point guard and from point guard to teammates. Cobbs seems to be comfortable with both and Burton doesn’t.
Justin Cobbs, California: Floor General
Introduced as “The General” in introductions, I could not think of a more suitable nickname. Cobbs is an incredibly steady player who always looks and plays calmly. He leads Cal in scoring (14.0 per game) and assists (6.6 per game). His job is to control the pace of the game and be an opportunistic passer and then scorer when the offense breaks down later in the clock. He rarely goes inside the paint, instead patrolling the perimeter and mid-range areas looking to distribute or find space for a pull-up jump shot. He’s very willing to give the ball up, especially in transition.
Sporting a 3.1 assist/turnover ratio, Cobbs is a hard guy to take the ball from and has solid court vision accompanied by good height for a point guard (6’3″). He’s a caretaker of the ball. His weapon out of the pick and roll if not passing is the pull-up midrange shot.
With his team up seven and under four minutes left (Nevada had just go on a run to cut the lead), Cobbs wound the shot clock down and then hit an open pull-up two, followed by a catch and shoot three the next time down to give Cal a double-digit lead and basically seal the game. He’s captain steady and in that moment was also clutch.
Euro Fit: Cobbs is a guy that looks like he could be comfortable in a lot of different situations. He needs to improve his three point shot but is a willing passer and teammate. That is always welcomed and I could see a coach trusting Cobbs earlier than a lot of other American point guards out of college. Think of the way Dru Joyce runs Oldenburg or Mike Green at Varese and now Khimki. Cobbs could be similar.
Deonte Burton, Nevada: High Risk/Reward
Burton is averaging 23.3 points per game, which ranks him 8th nationally, and chips in 3.1 assists per game. He is the starting point for almost everything Nevada does on offense. With only two other guys as real scoring threats and no true backup at the point, Burton’s has the ball in his hands as much any player in the country. He’s a read and react player, thriving off of violent dribble moves and powerful drives to the hoop. Has a really strong inside-out dribble and combined with his strong upper body and deceptive quickness can get by a lot of college guards fairly easily. Once he gets around the basket Burton is an excellent finisher too. He has decent touch around the hoop and has serious hops to be able to play above the rim.
As a point guard, the ball really sticks to Burton. He’ll come down and dribble for 15-20 seconds sometimes without making a pass. And while he can be a train in transition and the open court, he can be bottled up in the half court. Rarely ever making a cut off the ball and mainly driving to his left, he doesn’t always make his defender work hard.
In one sequence late in the first half when the game was close, Burton attacked the basket and produced one of the college slam dunks of the year. It was like a plane crashing down to earth he jammed it so hard. Burton was extremely pumped after this, banging his chest and then was intense on defense. The next time down Burton dribbled around for about 15 seconds and then jacked up a three a couple feet behind the arc that missed. The next possession after that he got double teamed on a pick and roll not far from mid court and he coughed up the ball which led to an easy fast break basket for Cal.
It was an odd sequence, especially for someone who’s supposed to be leading the team. One guard trusts his teammates and one feels like he has to do everything himself.
Euro Fit: Burton is on a lot of NBA Draft boards so he might not even make it across the Atlantic but if he did, a mid-level domestic league where he can score and have the ball a lot would be an easier transition. Burton reminds me a lot of Jeremy Pargo. A physical beast who is really tough to keep out of the lane and can finish over anyone. Pargo enjoyed great success with Maccabi Tel Aviv in his second European season. Pargo played with better college teams in Gonzaga and knew how to function in a lesser role on a good team and that is something that we will have to wait and see with Burton.
Here are two other senior point guards on the West Coast that I’ve seen in person and who could potentially be pros in Europe.
Stephen Holt, St. Mary’s: Converted Combo
Used to play shooting guard next to ball dominant Matthew Dellavedova but moved to point guard for senior year with Delly now in the NBA. He’s a really solid ball handler who isn’t super dynamic going to the basket but is a great control dribbler and rarely turns it over. Last year he averaged 1.5 assists and 1.4 turnovers a game. This year with the ball in his hands a lot more, he’s averaging 5.7 assists and 1.7 turnovers. He hasn’t missed a beat adapting to being St. Mary’s main ball handler and shot creator. It should be noted St. Mary’s have not played that tough of a schedule so far and once in WCC play against better guards he could be bothered more.
Before converting to point guard full time, Holt’s greatest strengths were as a catch and shoot guy and he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the WCC. He’s continued to shoot well (43 3PT%) and is still the Gaels go-to defender. As he continues to learn the nuances of pick and roll, Holt looks like an intriguing player at either guard spot for the next level.
Euro Fit: Because he has always been a calm and under control player, the transition to the point has been relatively easy for Holt. In Europe, where a lot of two point guard or small guard lineups are used, he should find a role pretty easily. Another guy who probably won’t carry you scoring wise but play more of an all-around contributor role like Brian Roberts did in Brose.
Cody Doolin, San Francisco: Opportunistic Distributor
Really intense game and reminds me some of Brad Oleson but Doolin is more of a point guard. Always very fiery and focused on the court. Best skill is his court vision. He’s always looking to put his teammates into positions to score. He doesn’t need to hold on to ball and will fling a pass at any moment. Terrific in transition and has a real eye for the alley-oop.
The question marks are his athleticism and shooting from distance. He’s always been a consistent free throw shooter (career 78.5%), so there is promise with his shot. The other question that’s popped up recently could be with his team (University of San Francisco) or him, as Doolin left the team a couple weeks ago after some controversy within the team. He was the team’s best player, so this is a major blow, but also six players have transferred out of San Francisco in the past two years. That’s a lot.
Euro Fit: He’s available right now as he left his college team. Because Doolin has such an eye for passing, he could definitely find a team and teammates who want to play with him. Plying his craft in Legadue, Belgium, or somewhere where he can get touches and help run an offense will be key for his Euro development. But this is a guy who could fit into a few different roles with his skill set.