The New Confederates

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 22, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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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.

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Lost? Start here, turn left there, and make a slight right here. Keep going.

  • William Head

    Taking this discussion back to the Mavs:
    While I definitely agree that different players' versatility makes present player classifications like PF and SG fairly vague, I think there is credence to the on court assignments they represent. And while much of the talk has centered around a consensus (of sorts) that the 5 defensive position/assignments are more obvious than what to do with the offensive positions, I would like to use our Dallas Mavericks as a prime example of why the 5 position/assignments are just as obvious on offense.
    First, the basis of Cannon's original article: ball is basically scoring & keeping yr opponent from scoring.
    And while players transcend the age old roles, the game itself does not change. The court is still the same size, occupied by the same amount of people (10), who are all relative in size to each other (for the most part).
    So while players may change the look and feel of the game, the reality is that the game is still the game.
    To this end:
    Yr premise that you can take a list of the elite PFs and fail to discern a common bond is disproved simply by removing Dirk from that list.
    If we agree that Rashard Lewis is playing out of position (a luxury he can afford b/c he's always got Howard cleaning up his lapses, and a role he might not even have this year with Matt Barnes' minutes at the 3 moving on to LA), then all of the other elite PFs either set up on the low block or excel at catching lobs in a pick and roll set.
    Sure guys like Garnett and Aldridge shoot a lot of face up 18 footers (like Dirk) but it's almost exclusively baseline face up stuff, suggesting that they are still working (by extending) the low block (think Rasheed Wallace when he was good).
    Here is where you mention that most of Amare's js are from 15-18 ft. free throw line extended, to which I would counter that A) those are not the best shots his team could have gotten on that possession B) he gets those open looks b/c of his prowess to attack the rim, shooting it mainly to make a defense come out and respect him so he can go back to power dunking on their melons again, and C) I fully expect his shooting % to take a dip this year without Nash & co spreading the floor for him.
    But the common denominator for all of the elite PFs (besides Dirk) is that they force the defense to put a premium on protecting the rim and/or the low block position as a primary focus, even if it means overcompensating or creating weaknesses elsewhere.
    This is crucial b/c the pertinent detail is the (general) position on the court that they occupy, and the part of the defense that they compromise. The idea that a defense must collapse down on a dominant post presence (thus opening up the perimeter) is the reason PF is such a star studded position.
    Back to Dirk:
    When you value his contribution on the offensive end, you are doing his team a disservice by calling him an elite PF, b/c it suggests that he is hurting the opponent from the place on the floor that a dominant PF likes to occupy, when in reality, he is attacking from the top down. This is crucial b/c the defense has to react the same way they would have to react to a wing player with a dominant midrange game; the defensive focus is fundamentally different, and so are the rotation principles.
    Because here is sort of the crux:
    You can call a player whatever name you want, there are limitless possibilities, but the places on the floor and the ways he can hurt you are bound and pretty much accounted for by now. And since NBA defensive principals thrive in a 5 man setting, any one player no matter how transcendent, will only succeed when the other offensive areas on the floor are also talented enough to keep whatever spacing is necessary open.
    To this end, as a Mavericks fan, it becomes obvious that while Dirk is an elite scorer, the reason we put so much emphasis on our center is b/c we recognize the glaring need for a dominant low post presence.
    This has always seemed rather stupid to me. Why not just move Dirk to the low block or low block extended, use the double down to start a rotation and attack people like a regular basketball team.
    Then he could just be a regular elite PF (no weird mental asterisk) and some of these moves would pan out.

    /officially a rant. thank you

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