Many argue that the point guard is the most important position in basketball. Like the quarterback in football, the point guard helps orchestrate the entire game for his team. In basketball, the point guard is essentially an appendage of the coach.
When you have a coach like Sean Miller, an excellent point guard during his playing days, you can obviously expect his lead guards to carry a lot of responsibility.
The good news is that Arizona is in pretty good shape with TJ McConnell leading the way. McConnell was the best point guard in the Pac-12 conference last year, and will likely draw attention as one of the best point guards in the entire country next season.
With all the talent Miller has assembled on the 2014-15 roster, a pass-first, chemistry building leader like McConnell is the perfect fit. And his ability to dig in on defense makes him all the more valuable to have on the floor.
But McConnell, as great as he is, can’t play 40 minutes per game, nor would we want him to.
And in order for Arizona to achieve their National Championship hopes, they will need steady play from the point guard position when McConnell is not in the game. Last season, the offense looked stagnant and listless when McConnell was on the bench, but that cannot be the case if the Wildcats hope to be in the hunt for a Final Four.
So who will step up and provide the steady hand at backup point guard?
The most likely candidate is freshman Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Though small in stature, Jackson-Cartwright is an excellent floor general and offensive facilitator in the mold of McConnell.
With great speed and ball-handling ability, Jackson-Cartwright could step in behind McConnell and provide Arizona with high level play-making. His ability to create for others could be crucial in sustaining the Wildcats’ offensive rhythm without McConnell.
Jackson-Cartwright is a cerebral, coachable player who doesn’t need to score points to be effective, another reason he is an ideal fit on a team as stacked with talent as Arizona.
But Jackson-Cartwright is also inexperienced, and may lack the physical maturity to defend at a high level. If Jackson-Cartwright cannot prove to be an adequate defender, he may not get the opportunity to play the backup PG role this year.
Another potential backup to McConnell could come from sliding Gabe York over from the shooting guard position. With incoming freshman Stanley Johnson coming in, playing York at point guard may be the best way to keep him involved in the rotation.
But York would need to transform his game to become the type of point guard Arizona needs running the show.
York would need to become much more confident in his ball-handling and decision making, which have not always been steady.
And as a tremendous shooter, York would need to learn how to balance his own scoring opportunities with setting up his teammates. Playing the role of scorer for most of his career, that could be a difficult transition for York.
We can classify this discussion under “good problems.” Arizona will be a finely tuned machine with McConnell on the court, there’s no question about that.
How the Wildcats cope with him off the floor is still in question, but they are certainly equipped with the talent in the backcourt to make sure there is no drop off. As we get closer to the start of the season, the battle for the backup point guard spot is poised to be one of the more interesting storylines to follow.