The New NBA

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As someone who has watched professional basketball for many years I can’t help but notice the change in the game. The game is no longer for big men. It is now a game where players must be able to defend as many positions as possible and shoot the three. The change is due to the three point shot.

For many years the center was the key to a team’s success. Teams with the first pick in the draft invariably took centers. These centers had the ability to post up and score. I remember the excitement the Knicks had when they won the first choice in the draft lottery and selected Patrick Ewing. The first pick in those drafts were centers, if they were decent . Centers without great talent were selected first as well. LaRue Martin and Pervis Ellison come to mind. Michael Jordan in the ’84 draft was taken after two bigs. One, Hakeem Olajuwon, was a star, and the other, Sam Bowie, had a career plagued by injuries.

The modern NBA wants bigs that can shot the three and defend on the perimeter. It’s rare to see a big post up his defender today. We just watched Dallas defeat Phoenix in the playoffs without a true center. It’s somewhat surprising that Phoenix didn’t put Deandre Ayton on the block and try to utilize his size advantage.

That was then, this is now

If you were to look at the teams that won the last round, their bigs could defend any position. Al Horford, Bam Adebayo, Maxi Kleeber and Dwight Powell were those players. Golden State didn’t always use a big. These guys didn’t drop on the pick and roll making it more difficult for teams to get an open three. Brook Lopez was exploited because he dropped in pick and roll coverage against Boston. This hurt Milwaukee because most of today’s NBA players can shoot the three when wide open.

Players like Draymond Green, Marcus Smart, Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker are valuable to their teams because they can guard just about anyone. There were times in the Milwaukee series where Marcus Smart, with a decided height disadvantage, guarded Giannis. If you are a wing that can’t defend coaches will find you and go after that matchup. Witness Boston going after Grayson Allen in the just concluded layoffs.

Building a team in today’s NBA requires wings that can defend and shoot the three. If you are a weak defender your opponent will find you and make you pay. No longer do teams crave the big man. The teams still alive in the playoffs feature good wing defenders and strong team defense. Bigs that can protect the rim defensively are more important than bigs with post up skills. So if you are building a team in today’s NBA the place you start with is wings that can shoot and defend.

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