The Atlantic Coast Conference has a long, storied history of producing great point guards from Mark Price and Kenny Smith, to Kenny Anderson and Bobby Hurley, and on up to Chris Paul. Heading into the 2013-14 season, which point guard has a chance to join that elite company as the best in the league this season?
There are some strong candidates across the conference this year, though the crop could have been even stronger had Shane Larkin and Michael Carter-Williams not decided to enter the NBA Draft at the conclusion of last season. Still, when you have players like Olivier Hanlan, James Robinson, Marcus Paige, and Tyler Ennis you’ve got one heck of a strong group of floor leaders. And we haven’t even mentioned the two guys who have perhaps the best chance to emerge as this year’s top general.
Pittsburgh‘s Robinson should make an easy transition as the Panthers jump from the Big East to the ACC this season, as last year he boasted the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the more physical Big East. He’s a strong point guard who rarely gives the ball away, but since this is his first year as the main man for Jamie Dixon‘s club, we’ll have to hold off before anointing him the league’s best one guard.
Then you’ve got Hanlan, a dynamic scorer for Boston College who was the league’s Rookie of the Year a season ago. The big, athletic Hanlan can hurt you in a variety of ways, but with him the question remains: is he really even a point guard? He can certainly play the position, but he plays as more of a combo guard alongside Joe Rahon. While Hanlan is one of the most exciting players in the ACC, he’s not exactly a guy who jumps out at you when you’re talking about the best distributors in the ACC.
However, if you want to talk about guys who can really distribute the rock and will no doubt be among the conference leaders in assists, look no further than Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis. The 6-foot-2 guard is going to log heavy minutes for a top 10 team, is a tremendous passer, and his poise and leadership have already earned him heaps of praise from Jim Boeheim. In fact, Boeheim calls him the most ready freshman point guard he’s ever brought in, which is certainly high praise indeed. But until we see what Ennis can do in a real game against outstanding NCAA Division I talent, he’s not ready to hold the torch as the league’s top floor leader.
So who is the best point guard in the ACC? Frankly, as we head into the season it boils down to two guys who put up nearly identical numbers a year ago. One is a newcomer to the league, and the other plays for the league’s most prestigious program (sorry, North Carolina). Of course, we’re talking about Notre Dame‘s Eric Atkins and Duke‘s Quinn Cook. Last season Atkins averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 assists against 2.1 turnovers per game. Cook put up 11.7 points, 5.3 assists and just 2.2 turnovers per game. Like we said, nearly identical.
How do we break the tie, then? Cook is a better free throw shooter, while Atkins is a better shooter from long range. Both players had guys help share the ball handling duties last season. Cook had Seth Curry, and Atkins had, and still has, Jerian Grant. So at the end of the day, you have to look at who has the higher ceiling, and which player can do what a point guard is supposed to and lead his team to the highest of heights. Notre Dame is going to be a very good team with the potential to make a run at the Sweet Sixteen or even the Elite Eight. Duke, however, has a chance at a national title, and much of that will rest on how well Cook handles his duties at the point.
It’s an awfully close call, almost too close to give one player the edge over the other, but due to the fact that he can hurt you offensively in a wider variety of ways we have to give Cook the slightest edge over Atkins.