Something struck me earlier this season and it's really been driving me crazy as I've watched the playoffs unfold. Centers and point guards really don't seem to matter. Actually, let me rephrase that. Good centers and point guards matter, but neither is essential to putting together a winning team anymore.
Before you call me crazy, take a look at this. Eight teams remain:
- Atlanta - Sub-par point guard play up and down their roster, no legitimate center.
- Orlando - Jameer Nelson is a very good player, I do not believe he's even an average point guard in terms of distributing the ball. Dwight is a stud, though I do believe Nelson's PG play is holding him back, possibly significantly. (Some of this blame has to fall on Stan Van Gundy, but I'm not sure of the ratio).
- Boston - Rondo is a legit PG and Perkins is a legit defensive center
- Cleveland - Mo Williams is a joke of a PG, in the traditional sense. I guess you can call Varejao a solid defensive center, but Shaq and Z are nearly meaningless at this point.
- Utah - Deron Williams is awesome in every sense of the word as a PG. Even when they're healthy, though, Okur is a novelty center whose main role is stretching the floor and pulling the opposing center away from the hoop.
- Lakers - Derek Fisher couldn't guard me at this point. Basically his entire worth is his veteran savvy and hitting an occasional wide-open three. Bynum and Gasol are both legit centers.
- San Antonio - Parker and Duncan are both still legit.
- Suns - Nash is the best distributor I've ever seen. Robin Lopez may turn out to be an effective center, but he's been MIA and only started 31 games this season.
8 teams. 4 legit point guards, in the true sense of the position. 4 legit centers, in terms of being actual centers who defend the paint at a minimum, let alone contribute some offense on the low blocks. The Hawks and the Cavs really have neither.
If the question is, do you really need a true PG, or a defensive center to win a championship anymore, I guess the question is probably no. The more interesting aspect of this recent development is why teams don't seem to need these fundamental roles to be filled in traditional ways.
Cleveland doesn't really need a traditional PG because they have a 6'8" guy who handles and distributes better than most PGs in the league. That's an easy one to figure out. Atlanta has Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, but neither of those guys are what I'd call exceptional playmakers. They're also probably going to get swept out of the playoffs in short order so I don't think we really need to dissect how they succeeded in the regular season.
Los Angeles and Orlando both rely on their offensive systems. Fisher merely brings the ball up, makes the first pass in the triangle and cuts to the corner to get things started.
Orlando is a different story, they really should be utilizing Dwight Howard more effectively, but they seem loathe to do so. Nelson should have at least a couple assists to Howard rolling to the hoop or establishing deep post position early in the shot clock every time down the floor, but he rarely looks for Howard on the roll and he ignores him early in the shot clock on the blocks. The Magic are content to run the clock down before dumping the ball to their big man, hoping for doubles (and the ensuing open threes) rather than easy looks at the hoop at the rim. Part of this is on Van Gundy, but Nelson has to shoulder some of the blame as well. Whether the system is the way it is because of Nelson's limitations, or Nelson's limitations make their offense run the way it does is a debate we may never know the answer to, but from watching Orlando play for years, I think it's mostly Nelson's game.
As for the teams who lack centers, again Atlanta is an enigma. They get solid play from Horford who's clearly out of position at the five, I guess that's good enough in the regular season. Utah uses Okur's offense and strong play by their PFs (Boozer and Millsap) to offset his defensive deficiencies. Cleveland has a ton of big bodies to throw at you, even if most of them are stiffs on the defensive end. Again LBJ helps in this area by playing much bigger than his frame when he needs to. Phoenix has traditionally used pace to negate big men, in theory, though this year they found a guy who could do the dirty work and keep up the pace in Lopez.
Overall, though, I think the answer to why is versatility. Players these days have the ability to cover big and cover small, and the teams who go deep into the playoffs have a number of these players. Lamar Odom, Kobe, LeBron, Boozer, Millsap, Manu, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson. All of these guys bring extra things to the table, strengths which make up for the relative weakness at key positions.
So what does all of this mean to the Sixers? Well, I think it means quite a bit when you look at the roster. Iguodala and Jrue both fit this mold. On the defensive end, they can cover multiple positions and do it well. They both rebound very well for their positions. Iguodala can handle the ball and distribute like a PG when it's needed. I'm not sure anyone else on the roster is really versatile. Any of the past three Sixers coaches would lead you to believe Thad Young fits this mold, simply because he "can" play the four, but he plays the four in name only. He doesn't rebound well enough, he doesn't defend well enough, he doesn't block shots. He's basically a three playing out of position.
Do you guys see this multi-positional, or really if you break a basketball team down into needed skills, do you see anyone else currently on the roster contributing more than is expected for his position is any skill? I don't. Not even close, really.
The next time you take a look at the draft, keep in mind the multi-dimensional players on the teams who are still playing meaningful basketball. In today's NBA, especially when you're talking about a lottery pick, I don't think you can simply ask "Can this guy play the position in the NBA," you have to look for the guys who can play that position and more. A small forward who can rebound. A PF who blocks shots. A SG who can guard threes. Extreme specialization is dying a slow death.
For the Sixers, in particular, I believe they need defensive versatility in the front court more than anything else. If they don't get Wall or Turner, their #1 priority has to be Derrick Favors, by any means necessary (short of trading Iguodala or Jrue). If they're stuck at #6 and the top five are off the board, Aminu is my guy.