The art of the traditional big man is perceived to be in decline. The days of a post player dominating the paint, blocking shots, rebounding like a machine, whilst shooting 50% from the charity stripe and limiting jump shots to 12 feet seem to be behind us. These days big men are almost required to have a three-point shot in their back pocket and be as nimble as a guard to stay relevant.
One case in point is Brook Lopez, who, whilst being fairly immobile, has a plethora of post moves at his disposal. However, the game has forced him to shoot the three to stay a part of the offense. In his first eight seasons he made 3/41 from deep, yet in the 2016/17 season he made 134/387. And he’s not the only one; Al Horford, Marc Gasol and even DeMarcus Cousins all have similar trends in their career stats.
The suitability factor
Conversely, look at those players who have resisted the three-point addition and see how their careers have transformed. Obviously, there are other factors at play here but take Dwight Howard or Greg Monroe. Both players are monsters on the glass and are capable of blocking shots, but their offensive post artillery is simply not enough to keep them in the game at key moments.
The pace of the game and how big men are required to be mobile to keep up should also be taken into consideration. The reason why the poor shooting and embarrassing free throw shooting of DeAndre Jordan still have value is because of his athleticism and mobility. And without Chris Paul throwing up lobs to him this coming season, it’ll be interesting to track his effectiveness this year. Both Howard and Monroe are arguably better basketball players than Jordan but it’s the 2016 Olympic gold medalist's suitability to today’s game that gives him more value.
With all this slander on the traditional big, there are notable exceptions that deserve a mention. Zach Randolph is one veteran who has mastered his craft and even at the grand old age of 36 is still vital to his team's offense. His post prowess, heavy-set foundation and grind mentality is unmatched in today’s game.
Point guards rule the roost
So, the question is posed: has the art of the traditional big man been lost and have they just become a wingman to the guards?
The league as it stands is all about guards, specifically point guards. Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have all transitioned to the point in this overloaded position. Bar a small number of superstar wing players like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, point guards dominate the league and even LeBron and others play point at times. Like the swingmen, big men with their added three-point shots and necessary mobility are having to mold their game to imitate that of their backcourt counterparts.
We’ll have to see what kind of player Jordan is without Paul, but this extreme example of the big man wing man dynamic seems to be growing in the league. Out of the 30 teams in the league, four were led in points per game by big men, while the rest had a guard ahead of them. The tall timber is clearly playing second fiddle in the offense in modern NBA.
The next evolution
Big men are mainly adding the three-point shot to their repertoire, not necessarily replacing their post game with it. As the paint opens up and the pace continues to increase, the importance and dynamic of slowing the pace and taking advantage of the space in the paint could be the next development of the game. This could be a key tool to hold back the explosive modern day offense that has been pioneered and mastered by the title-holding Golden State Warriors.
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