Arizona Basketball

Risky recruiting moves impacted Arizona’s lack of a pure point guard





Although he starts at point guard, Mark Lyons is the UA's second-leading assist man

Although he starts at point guard, Mark Lyons is the UA’s second-leading assist man

Arizona senior Mark Lyons can play the position, but he is not a pure point guard. Arizona coach Sean Miller, who was a pure point guard while at Pitt, banked on Lyons to run that spot for the Wildcats after Lyons played the off-guard position for three years at Xavier.

A pure point guard plays with an unselfish style, sets up teammates for scoring opportunities, distributes the ball while penetrating and keeps the defense honest with scoring opportunities off the dribble either driving to the hoop to score or draw fouls. Lyons flickers from time to time, handling that role, but to be successful at that position it must be a constant flame.

Steve Kerr, one of the best point guards the Arizona program has produced, hired former NBA point guard Terry Porter to coach Phoenix when Kerr was the Suns’ general manager. Porter, now a Minnesota Timberwolves assistant, gave the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this definition for a point guard:

“You have to be a leader,” said Porter, a two-time NBA All-Star. “You can’t worry about yourself. You’ve got to have a pretty good feel for your personnel. Then, you have to be vocal at times. You’ve got to be willing to take some grief. I got yelled at by guys on my team for not passing it to them and things of that nature. You just have to say, ‘Hey, I didn’t want it to be a turnover.’ That falls on your shoulders because if you make a turnover, coach is yelling at you. He’s not yelling at the other player.

“You have to know everybody’s position. You also have to know everybody’s weaknesses and strengths because you’re delivering the ball to them. The point guard is setting everybody up. He’s got time and score and tempo, how the matchups are, who he wants to try and attack. There’s a lot on his shoulders in terms of how the game is being played.”

Not only has Lyons been a work in progress at point guard this season, he is Miller’s fourth starting point guard, after Nic Wise, Lamont “MoMo” Jones and Josiah Turner, in the coach’s four years at Arizona.

The Wildcats’ previous four starting point guards before Miller’s hire in 2009 — Jason Terry, Jason Gardner, Mustafa Shakur and Wise — spanned a total of 12 years.

Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell will likely be Miller’s fifth starting point guard in five years next season.

Continuity at basketball’s quarterback position is not essential — look at what Larry Drew II is doing at UCLA in his lone season in Westwood — but it helps to have experienced point guards who are natural at that position.

Jones, Turner and Lyons started their first seasons at point guard with Arizona and Miller. Drew had 53 starts with North Carolina in three seasons before transferring to UCLA.

If Turner, a five-star recruit, played to his potential and did not run afoul and leave after one season, he would be near the end of his second season with Arizona. Turner and Nick Johnson, a proven backcourt at the AAU level, would be more in sync with two seasons at the collegiate level.

Miller and his staff took a risk with Turner, who was kicked off his team his senior year in high school at Sacramento, Calif. Miller targeted Turner despite Jones being in the midst of helping the Wildcats to an Elite Eight appearance in 2010-11. Jones transferred to Iona at the end of that season, citing the need to be closer to his ailing grandmother in New York, but he realized Turner was destined to start.

After the Turner experiment failed, Miller was in search of an immediate fix because of a lack of talent at the position. Backup Jordin Mayes was beset by two injuries to his left foot and started only 16 games in his first two seasons.

Lyons became available after completing his undergraduate requirements at Xavier. He left the Musketeers after he reportedly wanted to play the point guard position, but coach Chris Mack had other plans. Mack’s foresight looks like 20-20 now.

Sean Miller is starting his fourth point guard in as many years

Sean Miller is starting his fourth point guard in as many years (ESPN screen shot)

Jones is now the NCAA’s third-leading scorer averaging 23.2 points per game, but he also is not a pure point guard with 107 assists compared to 102 turnovers. Lyons has 89 assists with 77 turnovers with the Wildcats. Johnson has numbers more typical of a point guard — 91 assists and 53 turnovers.

The same situation occurred in Arizona’s Elite Eight season under Miller with off-guard Kyle Fogg leading the Wildcats with 99 assists with only 55 turnovers. Jones had 93 assists with 72 turnovers. Derrick Williams’ Pac-12 Player of the Year performance was enough to overcome the UA’s lack of a pure point guard that season.

Jones also had memorable performances including a game-winning shot at Stanford as a freshman in 2010, 27 points in the UA’s triple-overtime win at Cal in 2011 and 16 points with six assists and no turnovers in Arizona’s Sweet 16 win over Duke in 2011.

Lyons, a New Yorker like Jones, similarly has produced game-winning performances this season against Florida, ASU and Stanford.

This team does not have a Derrick Williams, but it has balance and more resources, elements Arizona sorely lacked when Williams had to carry the team with a broken finger in 2011.

Now Miller and his staff are counting on the Wildcats’ balance to carry them through their pure point-guard deficiency. Instead of a broken finger as an obstacle, the Wildcats have a broken psyche, losing four of their last seven games after starting 20-2.

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner

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