A Combo Guard Is...

The term "combo guard" is thrown around a lot when discussing perimeter players. But what *is* a combo guard? Phog.net's Kristi Chartrand dug in and found out what a number of experts think, including Kansas head coach Bill Self.

As most of you remember, a few weeks ago an article I posted on Bill Self’s philosophy involving combo guards sparked quite a message board debate. Who better to solve a raging debate than the experts themselves? Phog.net called upon several of college basketball’s writers and recruiting gurus to sort through the confusion. After sharing their combo guard definitions, we had a little fun with a list of current NBA and college players to see if all the experts would agree on who is or isn’t a combo. Lastly, when it’s all said and done, Jayhawk fans want to know what their head coach thinks. Self shares his insights on combo guards, and guys who fit the mold.

First, I will start by posting the various definitions of a combo guard I received from our four experts. I will not say who provided which definition because I want this to be about WHAT is said and not WHO said it.  

After garnering initial responses like, “good question, I’ll sleep on that one”, and “I’m not sure there is an exact definition,” our panel finally came up with some insightful descriptions on combo guards.

Our first definition from expert #1 went like this:

“Generally, I look at a combo guard as somebody who is close to equally capable of playing the one (running the offense) or playing out on the wing and looking to score. Not many guys are equally adept at both. More often than not, guys that are being listed as combo guards are really short shooting guards. (or a lot of times scoring PG's get listed as combos).”

Definition #2 according to our 2nd expert:

“What is a ‘combo guard?’ A combo generally is a guy who isn't a good enough spot-up shooter to play strictly on the wing and doesn't have the pure point guard skills (passing, distributing, setting up teammates) to be considered a pure point. The least of these players are recruited as backups for both positions; the best of them get a lot of attention toward trying to turn them into point guards.”

Definition #3 is one of the simpler definitions commonly used:

“A combo guard is a player who could play both the point and a shooting guard.”

And finally definition #4 which, according to this expert, is two-fold:

Combo guard (positive definition); “Player who has the ability to get you into your offense as a point but also has the skill set to take over the two guard slot and bring shooting and scoring.”

Combo guard (negative connotation); “Player who isn’t big enough to b e a shooting guard but not talented enough as a run your team guy to be a point. Might not be a great shooter/score and is in position limbo.”

Interesting definitions and they range from the simple to complex. Maybe there really isn’t an exact definition and it’s subjectively defined by each person involved in the game.

Definition number 4 brings up a interesting point. If a player is a combo guard in the negative sense, could those types of players cause more harm than good?

“Combos are everywhere. Having one or two of them is not a bad thing but having a team of them leads to some issues,” according to scout.com National Recruiting Director, Dave Telep. “You need guys who have defined roles in the end, especially at the point. You need someone to take over in the backcourt and two combos might lead to a bad combo unless one of them clearly is the point man.”

That explanation tells you the reason why Self, though he likes his perimeter players to be interchangeable, always proclaims he needs “at least one player with point guard skills.”

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News ventured a guess as to why we hear the term so often in hoops today.

“It's a function of guys who grow up as the best players on their team, handling the ball but needing to score points,” said DeCourcy. “Daniel Gibson and Darius Washington are excellent examples of that; they call them "scoring point guards" but what they are, in fact, is scoring guards trying to convert themselves into a point guard mentality. It's not easy to do.”

Well now that we’ve established some “expert definitions”, let’s see if our panel can agree on who’s a combo guard and who’s not. Now some on this list are pretty cut-and-dry yes or no. Others? Not the case. Check out the results. I also included my vote on all of these so there will be five total votes for each player.

Combo Guard? Yes No Other
4
1
0
5
Marcus Hatten
2
2
1
5
0
0
5
2
3
0
5
Donte West
3
1
1
2
2
1
4
0
1
Daniel Gibson
4
0
1
Darius Washington
4
0
1
5
0

So there you have it. We all basically agreed to disagree. The other column is for a couple of stragglers who answered with a “maybe” and another who labeled players as “wing guards” instead. As you can see it would appear to be a subjective opinion depending on each person’s definition. Randy Foye, Daniel Ewing, and Kirk Hinrich are unanimous selections as combo guards. Conversely, Felton, Nelson and Paul fail to meet all of our criteria. In between the two there are some gray areas. If the experts can’t agree, then the coaches would probably differ on this one too.

That being said, now we’ll shift our attention to what’s really critical to any Jayhawk fan – what Head Coach Bill Self thinks. Self offered Phog.net several definitions and explanations.

“A combo guard doesn’t mean they have to play point guard. A combo guard means they have point guard skill and can be effective off the ball,” said Self.

Expand on that one Coach.

“A guy that can play with the ball in his hands and can play off the ball. I mean that’s what a combo guard is. Just because a player doesn’t bring it up doesn’t mean he doesn’t have point guard skill.”

So when you’re looking at the college basketball landscape, don’t be fooled by a player who possesses the skill but doesn’t get the opportunity to play both positions. A perfect example of this is former Arizona Wildcat, Gilbert Arenas. Arenas played the two for Lute Olson but now plays the point in the NBA for the Washington Wizards. Jeff Boschee played the point at times for Kansas early in his career but moved over once guys like Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Miles entered the mix. He “still possesses point guard skills.”

“Just because that’s where a school utilizes them doesn’t mean that’s where their talents lie,” stated Self. “Some schools need tall guys to play in the post and when they get away from them they might be face up guys. Coaches coach a style that gives them the best chance to win.”

Most of us agree that Duke loves to play on the perimeter with three interchangeable players as much as any school in America and few could argue with the rate of success.

“You just play your three best perimeter players. Jason Williams didn’t play the point. Chris Duhon did,” Self stated. “But does that mean that Jason is not a point guard?”

But it’s not just a successful formula for Coach K.

“I guarantee you any coach would excel playing three combo guards on the perimeter -- guys that can all pass, dribble, and shoot,” said Self. 

So the next step was to throw a list of names at the 3rd year KU coach.  

Daniel Ewing. “He’s a combo guard.”

Ben Gordon. “Absolutely. He’s a perfect example of a combo guard”

Kirk Hinrich. “Yes.”

Deron Williams. “I call him a true point.”

Raymond Felton. “I’d call him a combo.”

Dee Brown. “He’s a combo.”

Luther Head. “Yep.”

Jason Williams. “Yes.”

Daniel Gibson. “I would call Daniel Gibson a great guard. He’s a combo though he can play either one.”

Now some would argue a couple of the names listed above would be better labeled as “scoring point guards”. Coach?

“A scoring point guard is a combo guard,” according to Self. “Combo guards are guys that allow you to play positionless.” And that’s a guy like KU’s incoming freshman Mario Chalmers according to two of our experts.

But can being a combo guard have a negative connotation? I presented Self with the scenario described above where a player might not excel at the skills required to play either the one or the two. 

“That’s if you’re playing 1,2,3,4,5,” Self continued. “A combo guard is one that isn’t quite comfortable at either spot. Or you can go, a combo guard is one that can play either spot.”

So there you have it. You’ve heard from the experts. You’ve heard from your head coach and now it’s up to you to formulate your own definition.


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