In the middle of the 2015-16 season, when the Golden State Warriors were obliterating friend and foe, it was considered smart to say that the NBA, which has always been about size, was shifting towards small ball as Curry wannabes were in their driveway launching up three pointers with regularity and ignoring everything else about the game. It was a repetitive narrative to say that the NBA had traded size for perimeter shot making and that it was a guard’s league. Big men had no place. When Kyrie Irving sunk a three pointer to win the title for Cleveland in June of 2016, he put an exclamation point on the small ball exceptionalism. Big men were toast. Seek jobs elsewhere.
The NBA cooperated with this script by eliminating the center position on the All-Star team ballot because, frankly, what big men would qualify in the absence of Shaq and Garnett and Duncan?
Two years after Curry’s near perfect 2015-16 season, the small ball NBA has reverted back to form as three starters for the All-Star team are (7-1) Joel Embiid, (6-10) Anthony Davis, and (6-11) DeMarcus Cousins.
Add to the list as a probable non-starter (7-0) Karl Anthony-Towns and (7-3) Kristaps Porzingis.
Big men with talent- meaning athleticism, skill around the rim, inside-outside scorers, passing ability- will always have a place in the NBA and will often tilt the wheel.
Outside of LeBron James, the free agent of 2018 that everyone will try to get will be DeMarcus Cousins who can score from a variety of distances, run the floor, pass out the double team, drop 40 or 50.
But here is where small ball has it’s point. Without a point guard that can space the floor with his three point shot making and his ability to get to the rim and pass off the dribble, a big man is superfulous.
The New Orleans Hornets have the two best big men in the game in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. They are putting up sick, sick numbers (over 50 points and 22 rebounds) but their team is only two games over .500 because they don’t have complimentary guards who are consistent shot makers and defenders.
It’s a ying and yang thing. You need quick guards. But you need as a compliment the bigs to protect the rim, block shots, score. It’s why Cleveland is in a funk.
The Best Bigs (Centers) 2017-18
DeMarcus Cousins: 27 years old. 6-11. #5 pick. 25.2 points. 12.6 rebounds. 35 Double-Doubles. 41 points (Sacramento). 40 points (Denver). 23 rebounds (at Sacramento). 22 rebounds (at Dallas, Denver). 103 Defensive Rating. 22.8 PER.
Joel Embiid: 23 years old. 7-1. #3 pick. 24.0 points. 10.9 rebounds. 19 Double-Doubles. 46 points (at Lakers). 101 Defensive Rating. 23.3 PER.
Karl Anthony Towns: 22 years old. 7-0. #1 pick. 20.2 points. 12.0 rebounds. 40 Double-Doubles. 23 rebounds (at Boston). 124 Offensive Rating. 23.9 PER.
Nikola Jokic: 22 years old. 6-10. #41 pick. 16.2 points. 10.4 rebounds. 16 Double-Doubles. 41 points (Brooklyn). 116 Offensive Rating. 22.5 PER.
Andre Drummond: 24 years old. 7-0. #9 pick. 14.5 points. 15.1 rebounds. 30 Double-Doubles. 22 rebounds (at Boston). 21 rebounds (Indiana, San Antonio, Washington). 99.0 Defensive Rating. 23.5 PER.
Hassan Whiteside: 28 years old. 7-0. #33 pick. 14.5 points. 11.8 rebounds. 16 Double-Doubles. 22 rebounds (at Orlando). 21 rebounds (at Washington). 115 Offensive Rating. 98 Defensive Rating. 25.6 PER