Alec Wintering is Portland’s freshman point guard, but to the Pilots, he’s a 5-foot-11 problem solver.

Portland’s offense was an ineffective mess the past two years. The Pilots ranked among the country’s bottom third in nearly every offensive statistical category. To most watching the team, the chief problem was apparent: no point guard.

Opposing defenses were able to cheat, often choosing not to defend Portland’s point guard because, why bother?

Enter Wintering, a freshman from North Carolina whose high school coach was former pint-sized NBA guard Muggsy Bogues. Wintering isn’t a prolific scorer, but he has become the lynchpin of a Portland offense that is suddenly one of the best in the West Coast Conference.

With Wintering, the Pilots have gone from one of the country’s worst teams in turnovers to top 50 in assist-to-turnover ratio. Portland is averaging 78 points a game, 17 more than a year ago, and rank among the country’s top 30 in 3-point shooting percentage.

The Pilots (13-11, 5-7 WCC) lean heavily on Wintering, who leads the team in minutes played this WCC season.

“Our point guard was a critical missing piece, so he sort of completes the puzzle. He may not average a lot of points, but people have to guard him and worry about him,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said.

To say Reveno scoured the country and found his point guard solution 3,000 miles from campus isn’t quite accurate. Wintering has known about the Pilots since he was in seventh grade through a connection with former Portland point guard T.J. Campbell.

The two met in Arizona, where Wintering lived at the time. When Wintering became a high school freshman, word began leaking back to Pilot coaches that they ought to look at this kid. They kept in contact after Wintering moved to North Carolina, and saw enough to where Reveno offered a scholarship during the summer before his senior season.

Wintering had options, but the combination of his long-standing UP connection and knowing there was opportunity to play right away was appealing.

“I liked the offense they were running and I wanted to help bring some wins back here,” Wintering said.

Wintering played his final three years at North Carolina’s United Faith Christian Academy, where Bogues was his coach as a junior and senior. The smallish Wintering could relate to Bogues, who at 5-3 is the shortest player in NBA history.

“He taught me a lot of tricks of the trade being a smaller guard, things that go unnoticed but help playing the position, like how to get up shots against bigger guards,” Wintering said.

Bogues also emphasized defense to Wintering, which has proven to be a boost for the Pilots. Reveno said Wintering’s defense “is an area that surprised me in how far it’s come along.”

Reveno says Wintering’s 5-11 height isn’t a factor in the WCC, which of late has been a size-challenged league at the point guard position.

“Alec’s quickness and his floor sense and ability to run a team and be a true point guard, I don’t think a few extra inches would necessarily make him a better point guard,” Reveno said.

Though Portland desperately needed a point guard heading into this season, Wintering wasn’t a shoo-in to start at the outset. Junior David Carr, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, was expected to make a run. But Carr was slow to recover, allowing Wintering to go with the Pilots on an overseas trip to Spain last August.

The team clicked with Wintering. He started Portland’s opener against UC Davis, and hasn’t missed a start since.

“I thought at a bare minimum, he’d have a good freshman year, and an outside chance he’d have an extraordinary one. He’s somewhere in between. He’s made the most of his opportunity,” Reveno said of Wintering, who is averaging 8.0 points and 4.4 assists a game.