"They're harder to come by than centers, if you want to be honest about it," says Williams.
"Above all," says Washington Coach Dick Motta, "he must be completely unselfish. And that lets most of the players in the NBA out."
The place to find the best point guards is at the top of last season's list of assist leaders. Phil Ford, 6'2", of the Kansas City Kings, the North Carolina star who was the second player selected in the 1978 college draft, takes an outlet pass from Center Sam Lacey and barrels toward midcourt, dribbling the ball behind his back once to shake off his defender. Then he launches a perfect bounce pass to Forward Scott Wedman, breaking to the basket from the wing. Two points. In his first pro season Ford pumped new life into the previously dormant Kings, led them into the playoffs, and was voted the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
Norm Nixon, 6'2", of the Los Angeles Lakers, a little-known plugger at Duquesne despite having smashed all that school's assist records two years ago, brings the ball across the 10-second line and sets up on the point—that is, the top of the free-throw circle—while three teammates run their defenders into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in hopes of forcing a defensive switch that will leave Abdul-Jabbar matched against a relative midget. The defense doesn't fall for the strategy; four men collapse around the giant center, leaving Nixon with the ball. Swish goes a 20-footer. Nixon's .542 shooting percentage in 1978-79 was the highest among guards, and this season he may have to become the shooter if Johnson takes over the point.
John Lucas, 6'3", of the Golden State Warriors, the multitalented lefty who in 1976 gained the distinction of being the first pure playmaking guard ever chosen No. 1 in the entire draft, dribbles with his eyes on the action developing around the Warriors' basket. Phil Smith, his backcourt partner, moves down low, swings across the baseline and moves off a double screen into the left corner. The instant he's open, the ball is in his hands as the result of perfect anticipation and a lightning-quick pass by Lucas. Just as quickly the ball is emerging from the bottom of the net.
Now here comes Kevin Porter, 6' even, in his seventh season, the old man (29) of the group. He is back in the uniform of the Bullets after two stints in Detroit and part of a season in New Jersey. He is coming up the floor hard, an intense, burning look in his eyes. He executes his trademark stutter dribble and the flashy high-kicking goose step. His defender is thrown off stride, and in a blink Porter is by him, soaring right down the middle of the lane, deftly penetrating the no-little-man's-land around the basket with the ball held high for a layup attempt. The big guys converge on him, with visions dancing in their heads of Commissioner Larry O'Brien's signature tattooed on Porter's face as the basketball caroms off it. But—aha!—Bob Dandridge is momentarily left open, and instead of shooting. Porter dishes the ball to his right. Dandridge is literally presented with an easy layup. Two points.
It is, of course, an assist for Porter, just as it was for Lucas and Ford. Nixon took the shot, but don't make the mistake of thinking that he didn't perform as a good point guard should.
Phoenix Coach John MacLeod doesn't employ a point guard, but instead wants all his players to share the ball and the passing duties equally. "Players who fire from 15 or 20 feet when they have a teammate wide open underneath are obviously selfish," says MacLeod. "But the hungry passer who ignores a wide-open 12-footer because he'd rather have the assist is every bit as selfish."
There are many people in the NBA who are not Kevin Porter fans. Atlanta's Brown flat out calls him "a loser." Porter attracted much attention last season when he piled up 1,099 assists, shattering Tiny Archibald's 1972-73 record of 910, and his average of 13.4 assists per game also surpassed Oscar Robertson's 11.5 in 1965 and was far better than Cousy's best average, 9.5, in 1960.
Ironically, these big numbers led many NBA people to call Porter selfish, because he controlled the ball too much.