Why you should care

There’s a fine line between “utility player” and “Renaissance man.” 

For decades the prevailing beat in the NBA has been specialization. A power forward is expected to defend; point guards are supposed to shoot and assist. And renaissance players are about as rare as Charles Barkley.

Nowadays, though, front offices are singing a new tune and seeking out versatile players who can check a bunch of boxes. Can he guard multiple positions? Check. Is he versatile enough to switch on pick-and-rolls? Check. Is he a taller player who can shoot the three – or a small player who can post up down low? Check and check.

Call it the Draymond Green Effect. When the Warriors drafted the power forward from Michigan State, expectations were low — at 6-foot-6, Green was smallish(!), and as a 22-year-old college senior, he was oldish(!!). Worst of all, Green was considered a “tweener” — a player who didn’t fit clearly into one position. He was seen as a better fit for the college game than the NBA game. The Warriors picked him in the second round. Nobody would have guessed that in just a few years, Green would be the key to unlocking the most magical offense in NBA history, which broke the Chicago Bulls’ regular-season record with 73 wins this season before coming short of the championship in the NBA Finals. Green, an egoless player who can play all five positions, fits perfectly into his franchise’s scheme.

Not fitting into a defined slot has become an asset in an increasingly positionless league.

Thanks in part to Green’s success, the NBA has changed. Not fitting into a defined slot has become an asset in an increasingly positionless league. What does that mean? The way of thinking originated in European play and has drifted into the NBA and even down to American youth basketball. Among teenagers vying for Division I scholarships, versatility is considered one of the most important assets, says Don Showalter, who has won seven gold medals as head coach for USA Basketball youth division teams. In fact, the very players once disparaged as positionless are now “multiple-position players,” says Ryan Blake, an NBA consultant and draft and scouting expert. What was once considered bad is now considered good. Up is the new down.

Which raises the next question: How do you find the next Green? After all, they don’t come around that often. It takes a creative mind to see the potential and a general manager who’s willing to take a risk. There’s hope in Providence sophomore Ben Bentil, a power forward who can shoot the three and score in the post. Green’s college coach, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, tells OZY that one of his players, senior Denzel Valentine, is like a scaled-down version of Green, someone who might be able to guard three positions at the NBA level and is adept as a passer and a 3-point shooter.

Another multi-position player, DeAndre’ Bembry, might be a first-rounder. Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon fits the Green mold as well: At 23, he may be one of the oldest players in the draft, but he can do it all — defend, shoot and play point guard, shooting guard and small forward. Perhaps most important, Brogdon’s basketball IQ is through the roof, which is one of the least appreciated parts of Green’s game.

Positionless players aren’t “tweeners” anymore. They’re “swings,” turning a negative into a positive. “We always talk about Steph [Curry],” Showalter says. “But a huge part of [the Warriors’] success is Draymond.”

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