The NBA is changing rapidly. Everyone can see it, from the frequent three point shooter hoisting the ball it from five feet beyond the arc to the common big man running the floor like a gazelle on steroids. You can’t follow professional basketball in the modern age and pretend otherwise. The real question is, how much is changing? And more importantly, how much is going to get left behind?
Any Joe Schmo on the street could predict that the traditional big man is now becoming obsolete. After all, ever since the three point shot became more of a common thing, general managers are looking for big men who can shoot from the outside. They’re looking for big men who can practically do most things that guards can do, albeit slower than the guards do them.
However, where rapid change takes place, there must also be the desire to preserve certain things. We don’t mean preserving tradition for the sake of preserving it, because at some point there are some things you just can’t teach. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much the league is changing. There will always be those traditional big men who do traditional big men things. You know, like block shots, grab rebounds, and post up on the low block. The things that we rarely see anymore.
Joel Embiid is a great example of a modern big man who is giving us nostalgic reminders of what a big man is supposed to look like – or at least, what they were once supposed to look like. And yet, he can also shoot the three ball, so maybe he isn’t as old school as we thought. You can’t teach height, and you can’t teach size. As much as they want to make the NBA into a guard’s league, at the end of the day, basketball is still a big man’s game.
Still, new players continue to emerge out of the woodworks that defy everything we ever thought about the game. Physically freakish players who make us really wonder where this game is going. LeBron James, a 6 foot 8 forward who’s as strong as a big man, and as skillful as a guard. Kevin Durant, a 6 foot 11 monstrosity who’s shooting and running like a guard, even though he’s insanely tall. Don’t even get us started on the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But it doesn’t stop there. Zion Williamson, a freshman at Duke University, is a player like most people have never seen before. Zion, like LeBron, is the epitome of the future of positionless basketball in the NBA. He stands 6 foot 7, weighs 285 pounds, runs, shoots, and passes like a guard, can jump like Mike, and is virtually unstoppable in the paint. He’s projected to get picked first in the 2019 draft.
Zion is a reflection on how the league is changing. Conventional positions are no longer very important. Big men are bringing the ball up the court. Guards are defending big men in the paint. General managers are looking for players that are “switchable,” meaning that they can easily switch who they’re guarding while on defense.
The signs are all here, and we might as well accept it. But hopefully we can retain at least some of the traditional basketball culture we’ve always loved in the process.