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The evolution of the NBA player


Since basketball was invented over 120 years ago, it has constantly developed. The game was played in gymnasiums with peach baskets and has come a long way since those early days. Not only has the sport evolved, but so have the players.

Bigger is better

In the 1950s, the average height of an NBA player was around 6 ft 4, which is still taller than the average person. Jump to 2010s, and the average height has soared to 6 ft 7 following a steady rise after the ‘50s. Coaches quickly realized that having taller players gave them an advantage over their opponents, so tall guys were highly sought after.

This steady rise in height grew from the NBA being founded in the ‘40s through to the 1980s where it plateaued. It became increasingly popular to have a team full of giants, and it changed the way the game was played.

The evolution of the NBA player

Dunking for glory

With average player heights at an all-time high come the ‘80s, the game had changed. Now most players on the court were capable of dunking with ease, so players needed to have good dribbling skills, but importantly the explosive power to break defenses. Players like Michael Jordan were reigning supreme thanks to their athleticism and ability to drive to the basket time and time again.

Jordan was now the standard by which all other players were being judged, so everyone adapted their games to match his. Jumping and dunking were essential attributes for most basketball players, and smaller players who relied on skill were being shunted to the sidelines. This remained the main tactic in the NBA for most coaches until the end of the 1990s, and one man in particular broke the mold.

The evolution of the NBA player

Skills to pay the bills

In the late ‘90s and ‘00s, Allen Iverson was a short guy in the land of the giants. At 6’0” he was the shortest player ever to win the MVP award, and he was the blueprint for how the game is played today. Being much smaller than his teammates and opponents, Iverson had to be the biggest player on the court in other ways.

He played with heart, but his main attribute was his unrivaled skill in the point guard position. Iverson is the reason why players like Steph Curry have been able to thrive in the NBA as coaches were no longer afraid to put a smaller guy in.

Curry is a different kind of player, one with a wide range of skills and a talent for hitting three-pointers. Thanks to players like Iverson and Curry, coaches in the NBA are happier for their teams to throw for 3, with the taller guys being used more for offensive rebounds. Dunking is still popular, but the giants are being used to tap in rebounds.

The evolution of the NBA player

NBA has grown from the early days of the league and after 40 years of tall dominance, smaller players are becoming more popular. Teams need to be able to mix things up, and the recent success of the Golden State Warriors is proof that NBA players have changed.