Kobe Bryant has been sitting on the sidelines, nursing his injuries and watching the games. He left an observation about the NBA for Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.
Championship teams of the past have centered around strong big man play. Wilt, Russell, Kareem, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan, are just few of the names that have not only created a winning championship year, but a championship window for multiple titles.
The Chicago Bulls circumnavigated that traditional thought. They used the triangle offense to maximize post play through their wing players. The flexibility of the offense, having five moving players that are interchangeable, allowed the flexibility to give Michael Jordan higher percentage looks at the basket. Instead of dribbling in from the 3-point line for dribble penetration, he would face up in triple threat position from 20′ and in, or receive the ball in the post and drive for a higher percentage shot. The offense worked well for them, but it still required two elite NBA caliber defenders in Pippen and Jordan, and an elite defensive “big-man” in Dennis Rodman for the 2nd set of championships.
Pau Gasol helped get Bryant get over the hump into his 2nd set of championships as well. He was the hub of the triangle offense, and created easier isolation looks and higher percentage shots off of curls, screens, backdoors, and lob plays.
Bryant basically states that the NBA is getting soft. It is, in a sense that, perimeter defense seems a lot stronger at the NCAA level than the NBA level. Most guards with any amount of skill are able to attack the basket from the 3-point line and put defenders at their mercy. Centers and power forwards are doing the same. The new crop of NBA players, such as DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Chris Bosh, all have the ability to attack from the high-post with straight line drives and get to the basket.
But there is something to be said of the traditional center. Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan are still traditional post players that carry championship teams. Duncan’s window may be coming to an end, but his abilities still allow him to play well beside Tony Parker. Roy Hibbert plays solely with his back to basket on offense and protects the paint. Watching the Indiana Pacers is like watching a 1980’s team, full of discipline, and executing at a high level. Those guys play for elite teams.
Still, I can’t help but think that the new NBA is composed of so many elite level point guards and wing players, that small ball works because of it. There’s so much speed, quickness, and activity on the floor, that transition play looks reminiscent of the 90’s Sonic teams, constantly scrambling and forcing turnovers. Kobe Bryant may not care much for it, but he still has the old school tricks in the post that keep Hibbert and Duncan successful to this day. His play with the back to the basket from multiple angles creates easier isolation shots than all the high-stepping, multi-crossover, pull-up fadeaway shots that Nick Young takes. Granted, Nick Young is playing very well, but even he’s learning from the master, Kobe Bryant.
Just because small ball works now, doesn’t mean it’ll last forever. Elite teams have always had at least a dominant guard and a dominant bigman. That is the Laker way, and that’s how it has always been.
It’ll be strange to see if Mike D’Antoni can fit into that idea, not the other way around.