Quietly as the NBA has put more of an emphasis on small players and three-point shooting, the big men in the league have been strengthening for a revolt. Up and down the NBA, talent of player’s 6’11 or taller has been exploding after years of complete ineptitude.
For the first time since 2011 for example, the NBA champions leading scorer in the playoffs and postseason was a big man.
Furthermore, let’s look at the conference finals. Anthony Davis was dominant for the Lakers as previously mentioned but who else was represented in pro-basketball’s final four.
Well, Denver’s best player was centre Nikola Jokic and for Miami, Bam Adebayo was the best player for them against Boston. The only team that didn’t have a great centre was the Celtics. Guess which of those four fanbases has spent the entire offseason on the trade machine looking at centres?
To be clear, I’m not saying the league is going to go to a place in the ’60s where the big is the only thing that matters in trying to win a title. What I will say though is this:
As the league continues to bring in more and more athletic freaks that are bigger and better than we’ve seen before, the best bigs will become more and more valuable. As team’s across the league load up with demigods and freakshows, the only way to take them out in the playoffs will be to guard them.
Essentially, as we get more Giannis, AD, Jokic and Bam’s in the NBA, the more monumental it will be to have someone to at least pretend to guard them. This isn’t the middle of the 2010’s anymore, the big-men are back.
Look at 2014 All-NBA player’s that were 6’10 or taller. The league’s best were Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson. If you want you can also count Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant but Durant isn’t exactly a big by any definition other than height and Griffin is 6’9.
This season by contrast saw Giannis, Davis, Jokic and Gobert make it with players like Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Adebayo missing the cut. To put it simply, the league has restocked.
Many thought that that 2014 All-NBA big man debacle was the future of the sport. Yet here we are six years later and many of the best players in the world stand 6’10 or taller.
What’s happened is what happens in any walk of life.
As the game has evolved, the bigs have been forced to adapt or be eliminated. Instead of eliminating them from the sport, what we’ve gotten is a the most skilled group of giants the league has ever seen.
Towns by most people’s estimation had a down season last year. That down season saw him average 26.5 ppg/ 10.8 rpg/ 4.4 ast on 50.8 fg%/ 41.3 3fg% / 79.6 ft% shooting splits. The fact he put up those type of numbers and was probably about the eighth best big in basketball should tell you how load this part of the league is.
For me, this type of new era has me all kinds of excited because of the diverse team you now have to put together.
Take for example the 2018-19 Raptors. At the trade deadline, they traded for Marc Gasol with the sole purpose of re-affirming their big man depth knowing it was probable they’d have to beat Embiid and Giannis to just get to the finals. Of course what ensued was Gasol’s defence being instrumental one on one against Embiid and then as the foundation of the wall that ruined that Greek Train.
For a team that featured the likes of Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam (all of whom were all-star level players) and still had Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and others to say they still had a hole in their team should tell you the reality of this league. It appears that the days of having an irrelevant centre on the minimum may be over unless you’re the juggernaut Warriors.
Centres matter now in a massive way. Some are of the Jokic, Bam and KAT ilk that you run your offence through. Others like Gobert are a walking top ten defence by themselves. Then you even get guys like Embiid, Giannis and Davis who are dominant scorers and defenders.
As I said, the league asked the biggest athletes in the world to adapt and what’s come out is the most uniquely skilled group of seven footers we’ve ever seen.
Although I doubt we see a run of big men MVPs, the position is far, far from dead. It’s in fact one of the league’s deepest. They were faced with death and adapted accordingly.
The evolution of the world’s greatest sport continues.