Why you should care
Because the NBA’s cycle for most dominant position keeps turning.
On June 22, Adam Silver will call the names of five point guards in the lottery of the 2017 NBA draft, signaling an injection of new blood into the league’s most dominant position.
Look forward to 2018, and you could see a draft that’s even better for big men who just might replenish the position that once dominated the NBA.
In the current NBA, only four forwards or centers have made at least one All-Star appearance under the age of 26.
That’s a testament to a lack of talent, given most college studs enter the NBA by the age of 19 or 20. That means even five or six years into their pro careers, they’re not producing enough to be one of 24 All-Stars. Outside of the Sixers’ Joel Embiid, the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the up-and-coming stars are arriving in bunches at smaller positions. The NBA has become a league dominated by guards and shooters.
And yet teams covet the do-it-all franchise center above all else. That’s exactly what incoming Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton could be. “He’s pretty much a star. He reminds me a bit of Joel Embiid, just in terms of how skilled he is as a center,” Ricky O’Donnell, SB Nation’s college hoops editor, tells OZY. Jaren Jackson, heading to Michigan State at age 17, can do it all too. Wendell Carter is more of a throwback power forward who will bring post ups and a developing perimeter game to Duke.
Teams also covet an athletic center who can defend in space, protect the rim and finish lobs. Mitchell Robinson of Western Kentucky fits that mold. As does Robert Williams, a freak athlete at Texas A&M, and graduating high schoolers Mohamed Bamba, a 7-footer with a scary wingspan who could be the next all-time defensive center, and Michael Porter Jr., a 7-foot guard who will likely play up front in the NBA.
Look around the league and you’ll find plenty of franchises that could use these types of forwards and centers. No longer are the top center prospects built like Shaq and Yao Ming. This is part of a growing trend that O’Donnell and Corey Evans, a national basketball analyst at Rivals, see in high school and the AAU. Big men are spending more time developing a perimeter game, following the NBA. “Everything’s a trickle-down effect,” Evans explains. “They want to play more like Karl-Anthony Towns. They don’t want to be like Tim Duncan anymore.”
This new perimeter skill set is important for fitting into the modern NBA, but it needs to be a balancing act. Guys who spend too much time jacking up threes aren’t developing other skills that turn them into All-Stars — still an elite benchmark. The 2018 group fits where the league is going better than perhaps any class to come before them. “The next two years, we could be looking at the best young big men to come into the NBA,” says Evans.
If so, it could start a revolution that once again makes the big center the league’s most dominant position.