Ball Control

Ball pit

Picture by acockle via Flickr

Gearing up for the men’s basketball European Championships, an estimated 60,000 Lithuanians flooded streets in cities across the basketball-crazy Baltic EU state Monday in an attempt to set a new Guinness world record for dribbling.

Via “60,000 Lithuanians dribble for new record” by the Associated Foreign Press

Lithuanians clearly know it and surely you do, too: dribbling is an important exercise in the execution of basketball. As you also may have heard, keeping possession of the ball is extremely important as well. For without the ball, how can one score a basket? It is with this mind-blowing question that we find the intersection of dribbling and possession known as ball control. Yes, ball control. Ball control is what separates fancy pants, too-much-mustard-on-the-hot dog dribblers like Rafer Alston from truly competent and adroit floor generals.

This is not to say that turnovers are the sole measure of how competent a point guard is, but it is surely a good indicator when taken into proper context.  Using Basketball-Reference, I was able to narrow down a list of guards who averaged at least 27 minutes per game, 4 turnovers per game.

27 guards show up on that list including such great PGs as Maurice Cheeks, Fat Lever, Doc Rivers, Terrell Brandon and Derek Harper. Leading the group in assists per game however is Muggsy Bogues with an average of 7.6. Burning the oil on both ends, Bogues is also 2nd-lowest in turnovers at 1.6. Clearly Bogues was the master of ball control.

Surely, being only 5’3″ tall was hugely helpful in the turnover department. Opposing players had a devil of a time trying to poke the ball away from Muggsy. But to attribute his poise to merely his height is insulting. After all, there are millions of men who are short in stature but only one has done what Muggsy has. That’s because the height was augmented by Muggsy’s dazzling physique that made him a powerfully lithe body not easily bullied away from the ball.

All of this however, merely explains the low turnovers.  Between 1990 and 1995, Muggsy was second only to John Stockton in assists in the league. How to explain his amazingly high assist total? The eyes. As Muggsy has said himself, he learned how to dribble without needing to look at the ball, so he could constantly be on the lookout for seems, cutters and angles for passing. All of these skills combined to give Muggsy the lowest turnover-to-assist ratio for a starting PG in NBA history. Simply put: No one took care of the ball like Muggsy.

So the next time, you get into a discussion about best dribblers the NBA has ever had (a real hellraiser in sports bars, I know), don’t just get stuck on Tim Hardaway’s crossover, Bob Cousy’s Houdini tricks, or Steve Nash’s figure-8s through half-court sets. Remember that stellar dribbling, outstanding handles sometimes involve just taking care of the rock.

 

PS – Jose Calderon is the closest match to Muggsy. Maybe I have to rethink this…

Seth Carstens