Because the offense starts with them, point guards generally have a disproportionate impact on their basketball teams ... much as quarterbacks have a disproportionate impact on their football teams.
That's why it's only a slight exaggeration to say that "As Trae Golden goes, so go the Tennessee Vols."
Check it out:
Game 1: Golden hits 10 of 14 shots (5 of 9 from 3), finishing with 29 points, 9 assists and 2 turnovers as the Vols hammer UNC Greensboro.
Game 2: Golden hits 5 of 11 shots, finishing with 12 points, 11 assists and 3 turnovers as the Vols dump Louisiana Monroe.
Game 3: Golden hits 4 of 8 shots, finishing with 13 points, 2 assists and 3 turnovers as the Vols push No. 6 Duke before bowing by 10.
Game 4: Golden has a terrible night shooting (3 of 19) but posts 7 assists, 3 steals and just 2 turnovers in a double-overtime loss to No. 8 Memphis.
Game 5: Golden hits 6 of 8 shots (4 of 4 from 3), finishing with 17 points, 7 assists and 2 turnovers in a blowout of Chaminade.
Game 6: Golden hits just 4 of 11 shots, scores 12 points but manages only 1 assist and 3 turnovers in a loss at Oakland.
Game 7: Golden hits 4 of 8 shots, posts twice as many assists (6) as turnovers (3) and limits superstar Ashton Gibbs to 7-of-21 shooting with 4 turnovers as the Vols scare No. 17 Pitt before losing in the final seconds.
Game 8: Golden goes 1 of 9 from the field, finishing with a season-low 7 points, 4 assists and 3 turnovers in a shocking home loss to Austin Peay.
Game 9: Golden hits 4 of 8 shots and posts 5 assists but commits a season-high 5 turnovers in a loss at College of Charleston.
To recap: Golden played reasonably well as the Vols won three of their first five games but has played poorly in three of the last four ... all losses.
Some fans are clamoring for backup Wes Washpun to play the point but the freshman simply isn't ready. He was so erratic in Game 8 versus Austin Peay (0-for-3 shooting, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and 2 fouls in 10 minutes) that he never left the bench in Game 9.
Basically, the Big Orange is unlikely to snap out of its slump until Golden snaps out of his. That's simply because the point guard plays a vital role in his team's performance each time it takes the floor.
"That affects it a lot," head coach Cuonzo Martin recently noted. "That's how you run your offense. That's how you influence everything you're trying to do. For me, the key with our point guards is not how many shots you're making or missing; it's running the team and executing what we're trying to do."
Golden did a good job of executing in Games 1-5, averaging 6.8 assists and just 2.4 turnovers per game. Over the past four games, however, he has averaged 4.0 assists and 3.5 turnovers per contest.
Because Golden is making the transition from high school shooting guard to college point guard, few fans expected much from him heading into the 2011-12 season. When the stocky sophomore came out smoking in Games 1-5, however, he raised the bar ... perhaps higher than it should be. After all, he's still getting on-the-job training at the point.
"He's learning at a high level against pressure situations," Martin said. "The biggest thing for him — and it's the toughest thing right now to go through — is pressure. Guys are really pressuring him, and you still have to be able to run the team. You have to go get the ball and run the offense as a point guard."
When the Vols work together offensively they are OK; when they freelance they are horrendous. The freelance futility was especially noticeable as they were outscored 20-2 during a key second-half stretch of Wednesday's loss at College of Charleston. As the point guard, Golden needs to take control at such times.
"You have to demand the ball. I don't know many teams that can execute offense without their point guard setting it up and running the team," Martin said. "He has to take the pressure and embrace the pressure, but also play well on both ends of the floor."
Like many players, Golden's defensive effort seems tied to his offensive efficiency. When his shots aren't falling, his defensive intensity tends to suffer.
"I think so, because he's a guy who's built to score the ball and shoot the ball at a high level," Martin said. "But in order for him to be successful in this program at a high level he has to be able to defend, especially as a point guard. You have to be able to defend your position because everything flows through that guy."