Mar 5, 2021; Richmond, Virginia, USA; Saint Louis Billikens guard Yuri Collins (1) drives to the basket as Massachusetts Minutemen center Tre Mitchell (33) defends in the second half of a quarterfinal in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament at Robins Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Saint Louis Basketball’s Yuri Collins is the best point guard in America. Before you go throwing a fit or hurling other players’ names at me, hear me out. I said he is the best point guard in America. I didn’t say the best player, nor the best guard. He’s the best point guard in the country.
First some definitions. Many players carry the title ‘point guard’ but are truly more ‘combo guards’ or scoring guards that just happen to have the ball in their hands a lot. A true point guard is a distributor that makes his teammates better and makes their jobs easier.
The Bob Cousy Award is given each year to the player that “’truly embodies the style and reputation of the ‘Houdini of the Hardwood’.” Collins was named to the preseason watch list for this prestigious award.
There are worthy competitors on that list and many are truly point guards, but many are not. There is a Jerry West award for the best shooting guard, but many of these players flirt so much with each position that it is difficult to pigeonhole them as a shooting or point guard.
While Busting Brackets is a big fan of the other 19 players on the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame list, there is one that embodies the truest form of the classic point guard. Full confession, I live in St. Louis and get to see Collins up close and in person. Before you claim a St. Louis bias on my part, St. Louis native Caleb Love (North Carolina) is also on this list and is truly a great player.
However, as a point guard, Love is more Penny Hardaway than he is John Stockton. During UNC’s magical run to last year’s national championship game, the Tar Heels got better when Love was off the ball rather than quarterbacking the offense. This is no shot at Love who I was privileged to watch during his high school career. He is an elite player.
After leading all college basketball players in assists last season (7.9 per game) and amassing nearly 600 helpers during his first three seasons, Collins is among the nation’s elite distributors. The 6’ Collins plays with flare and what seems to be a supernatural calm as he runs the Billiken offense.
Other nominees in last year’s top ten ‘dimes’ list are Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler (6.9) and Oklahoma’s Grant Sherfield (6.4) who were third and fourth. No other competitor landed in the top thirty in a point guard’s primary task.
Comparing numbers is difficult. ‘Power conference’ guards perhaps play stiffer competition during league games, but players like Collins and Oral Roberts guard Max Abmas, UAB’s Jordan Walker and Liberty’s Darius McGhee are the top of every other team’s scouting report.
However, if a player doesn’t average at least four assists per game, we have stripped him from ‘point guard’ status. That eliminates six of the twenty players on the HoopHall.com list. Abmas, McGhee, Love, Oregon’s Will Richardson, TCU’s Mike Miles, and Duke’s Jeremy Roach fail that test.
That leaves Collins and fourteen others to contend for the Cousy Award. We must give props to UCLA’s Tyger Campbell who handed out a microscopic 1.3 turnovers per game last year and Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens yielded just 1.7 per contest. However, they both averaged three fewer assists than the Billiken Collins
Saint Louis is off to a 5-1 start and Collins is, once again leading the country with a per-game assist rate of an unheard of 10.6 per contest. While scoring isn’t his first thought, he has improved his scoring touch from 11.1 to 12.8 points per game.
Wheeler at 8.2 and Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa (7.8) are nipping at Collins’ heels.
Memphis Tiger Kendric Davis is another player on the watch list. When SLU and Memphis faced one another earlier this season, Collins’ Billikens prevailed, and the two outstanding point guards went head-to-head all night.
Davis was outstanding in defeat racking up 18 points and four assists. Collins was just better. Collins scored 22 points and delivered nine dimes during the Billikens’ 90-84 victory.
Head coach Travis Ford’s post-game comments were telling.
“I truly believe Yuri Collins is the best point guard in America,” said Ford. “Because we all know he can get assists, that’s what he’s known for. I keep saying some nights he’s going to have to go out and score. He controlled the game for us tonight and had to guard their best player (Davis).”
Point guards captain their team’s defensive schemes and Collins is great there too. The Atlantic Ten not only named Collins to its preseason all-conference team but also placed him on its all-defensive team.
There are great players competing for this year’s top point guard notoriety. Six of them landed on one of Blue Ribbon’s top four all-American teams, but when you factor in what a point guard is tasked with doing, Saint Louis University’s Yuri Collins is the best point guard in America.