Recently, I began working as a marketing/sales rep at a local brewery based out of Baton Rouge. As expected, there are plenty of first time introductions and societally mandated small talk.
In many of these instances, a semblance of a sports knowledge serves to my benefit. Using the single grossest metaphor I can devise – casual sports talk is excellent conversation lubricant.
Speaking with a client last week, nearing a break in dialogue, he offered a rather bland, overplayed NBA take: “the big man in modern basketball is dead.” Instead of showing him the wallet sized photos of my children, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, I decided to channel my inner Tyler Withers (@TylerIAm): I’m not here to argue.
But Brian, on the infinitesimal chance reading this, I’d like take this here opportunity to assess the ways in which you are ludicrously incorrect.
How anyone could be located within a 100 mile radius of Anthony Davis and speak a sentence like that into existence is beyond comprehension. Now that AD turned 25 last month, he can rent a car to come push you down a flight of stairs.
Davis and Cousins (RIP in Peace) lead an absurdly young cast of talent set to help drive the NBA narrative over the next generation.
Understandably, as a front court player, it’s more difficult to function as a primary option without possessing the ‘facilitator’ moniker. It’s also no secret to which way the league is shifting. *queue Mike D’Antoni cackling maniacally in the distance*
Cleveland‘s small ball featuring Kevin Love at Center, Golden State‘s “Death Line up but oh yeah we replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant“, Houston‘s “Capela + alllll the shooters” come to mind when thinking about the future stylistic progression of the NBA. But it’s becoming difficult to understate the necessity of two things, especially in the playoffs: exploitation of mismatches over a multi-game series and the ability to get a stop when necessary/in crunch time.
My dad always used to say “You can’t teach height.” Looking back, it was a lovely patronizing caveat to my 6’8″ lumbering ass, as I was thrice cut from the high school basketball team. But when speaking of actual athletic people (more so people that make athletic people that make athletic people look unathletic) in the NBA, height and wingspan are correlated prerequisites for success.
LeBron wouldn’t be LeBron if he were 6’4″. DeMarcus Cousins at 6’6″ is DeJuan Blair. Acute nimbleness, unfathomable athleticism, attached to an 80″+ frame, combined with an absurdly fine tuned skill set is nothing short of nightmare fuel for opponents.
As the NBA currently sits, there is a class of about 25 big men whose roles, from an external perspective, are being holistically diminished in the public eye. Order them in whichever way you want (I’m not here to argue), but the All-NBA potential big men list looks something like the following:
-Kristaps Porzingis (22), Karl Anthony Towns (22), Nikola Jokic (23), Joel Embiid (24), Anthony Davis (25), Rudy Gobert (25), DeMarcus Cousins (27), and LaMarcus Aldridge (32).
Six of the eligible eight players lead their team in scoring. Boogie was 2nd behind Davis and Towns was 1.1 PPG behind Jimmy Butler. In no other position group are you going to see the standard of excellence set at age 25 or younger. The transcendence of these particular players lies in the ability to adapt their game to a modern format before the end of their first contract. All of them border 7 feet tall (or above) and are a legitimate threat to score within 25 feet. As the late, great Kimbo Slice said so eloquently: “I HAVE EVOLVED.”
No, I do not consider Giannis a big man. Honestly, there isn’t position for human Inspector Gadgets, but that is the only one he accurately falls under. Yes, I’m of the Brad Stevens (although he spells it wrong) school of thought that there are three positions in basketball: guard, wing, and big man.
Behind the group of All-NBAers, there is still a smattering of quality, even perennial All-Stars. A large portion of this group is nearing the end of their prime, but it provides an interesting juxtaposition with the previously mentioned big men. There are plenty of All Star games left in this group and likely a championship or two, but it showcases the head and shoulders talent gap between those players at their respective ages. They include:
-Andre Drummond (24), Hassan Whiteside (28), DeAndre Jordan (29), Blake Griffin (29), Kevin Love (29), Al Horford (31), Paul Millsap (33), and Marc Gasol (33)
Horford lead the NBA +/- for a majority of the season. The Cavaliers often looked helpless with LeBron on the bench with Kevin Love out. Denver is hitting stride behind Jokic and the return of Millsap. The jury is still out on the water down daiquiris version of Anthony Davis/DeMarcus Cousins (Blake Griffin/Andre Drummond) will pan out in Mo-Town. Outside of Love, none of them are likely all-timers, but these are all “trans-generational” players. Someone who could function at any era of the NBA.
No, we don’t need to talk Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, or Dwight Howard. I won’t be banging down your door to speak the praises of Nikola Vucevic. I will save my Nikola Mirotic hot takes for other eyeballs.
But all the preceding advocacy for the youth progression of the modern big man still doesn’t include this abundance of talent under the age of 24: Lauri Markkanen (20), Aaron Gordon (22), Kyle Kuzma (22), Myles Turner (22), Bobby Portis (23), Dario Saric (23), Clint Capela (23), Julius Randle (23), and Jusef Nurkic (23). There’s also a real life, basketball sentient, cyborg available in this year’s draft.
Without focusing on the fact that 3-5% of UPS’ current staff could have played in the NBA Brian was referencing, the amplitude of front court skill that will continue to be thrust into the limelight is something to marvel. The development of this physical artistry could begin to slightly alter the current trajectory of the league’s stylistic preferences in the coming years.
Even as the league continues to shift towards small ball and increased pace, the operational mindset in the professional world translates well to the business of basketball: when they zig, you zag.