As much as the positional revolution is a reflection of basketball progress and modernity, it also symbolizes something very basic and quite fundamental. Positionality is basketball’s existentialism, as looking into the nature of on-court roles is the closest the sport ever comes to pondering how the players as we know them have come to life. When a person steps onto a basketball court they become a player, and more specifically, a shooting guard. Or a center. Or a wing. Or a scorer/D2. They become something else and something more, and trying to understand that transition is a fascinating endeavor.
Fascinating enough, in fact, that the recent swell of discussion over positional freedom has sparked plenty of interesting writing in our little corner of the basketball world.
- Last week, Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell honed in on the D1. After all, is any player in the league really capable of keying in on an opponent’s premier, quicker, point guard-type player? While I think the same could be said of the elites at every position, Blanchard’s point is well-taken, and his alternative system — which focuses on three different defensive styles (disrupt, deny, contain) — provides some delectable food for thought. Something to consider, though: Do Blanchard’s defensive positions really signify defensive function? Or are they merely stylistic descriptors? Does that even matter? Those classifications are a terrific exercise regardless, even if they aren’t best served as positions.
- Matt Moore, writing at NBA FanHouse, chose to examine the revolution with Tyreke Evans as one of its foci: “An example? Tyreke Evans. Evans can attack the basket, snare rebounds, has terrific length and instincts defensively, and knows how to find his teammates (despite calls he’s a terrible passer, he averaged five assists his rookie campaign, with little to no weapons on the Kings). But because he’s tall and has better scoring ability than passing ability, he’s “not a point guard” which automatically makes him a shooting guard. Except he’s not a shooting guard. He’s best with the ball in his hands, setting up and creating within the offense. Hence our problem…So what’s so important about this discussion? At the scouting level, it means that players that could be very real assets for teams are either ignored or devalued based on their inability to fit our more traditional 1-5 positions. Unless they are super-freaks like LeBron James, we struggle with how to really implement them into systems (and even James has positional problems due to him consistently playing the small forward position, which has restrictions). From an evaluation standpoint, we assign negative values to players like Tyreke Evans, who are incredible stars, simply because they don’t fit our traditional model.”
- Bethlehem Shoals took Moore’s take and ran with it, not only echoing the valuation of Tyreke Evans’ significance, but asserting that “point guards are the gateway to positional change.” The point guard designation carries with it the most specific and sacred responsibilities, so it’s no wonder that Shoals — and Blanchard, and Moore, and myself — see it as such an elemental part of a potential shift.
- Kevin Arnovitz’s take, inspired by Kobe Bryant’s endorsement of positional evolution, preaches pragmatism. Not necessarily in the way that we talk about players or positions (in order to even engage in this discussion, your head needs to be at least brushing with the clouds), but in the way that a post-position (or at least post-traditional positions) world would need to function: “In short, pro basketball is ripe for a positional revolution — but like every revolution, those challenging the status quo must be ready to govern once they take control.”
Ay, there’s the rub. All of these scribes — and the many others who have tackled the revolution in the past and will hopefully continue to do so in the future — agree that we need a change, but what then? The point of our union is obvious, but moving from ideological consensus to actual implementation comes with a million hang-ups along the way. The easiest part of the transition is in the works: more and more people are beginning to understand and think about how terribly limiting traditional positions can be. From here on out? It gets exponentially more difficult. There are already numerous ideas for various positional frameworks (including the Scorer/Rebounder/Creator — DX system that will tentatively be utilized here), but determining their utility, viability, and all the while creating a system that is somehow new, informative, and accessible is no simple task. Yet as a collective of thinking fans, it’s our task.