Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
After a whopping eight days of voting, the first returns for the 2012 NBA All-Star game have come out, and I bet that if you haven’t heard that news, and didn’t click that link, and haven’t watched basketball for two years, you’ll still be able to tell me who the leading centers in both the East and the West are.
Oh, no, sorry: Yao retired. Your second guess? Yep! It’s Bynum.
The East is even more predictable, with Howard not only leading the “race” for the starting center position but also pulling in the most votes of any player. Good thing he wasn’t traded to the Lakers before the season, though: the motley crew of 5-men trailing Howard include a player who is routinely sitting fourth quarters in Joakim Noah, an offensive non-entity in Tyson Chandler, a man averaging 21 minutes and 3 points a night in Joel Anthony, and a legitimate star who is charitably listed at 6’10” and just went down for the season with a torn pectoral in Al Horford.
My point is, the pickings for the center position are slim. Even in the West, runners up Marc Gasol and Nene are only impressive when graded against the extremely generous “True Center” curve (don’t get me started on the lunacy of DeAndre Jordan having the second-most votes at the position). If the Western centers were competing for roster spots against the myriad qualified power forwards of the conference, none of them would stand much of a chance. Even Bynum, who has played inspired ball of late, is hurt by his four-game suspension and his black hole of a shooting guard. But lucky for him, he doesn’t have to compete with Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki or Blake Griffin. He just has to fend off the Gortats and Perkinses of the world.
In order to correct this injustice, I propose a simple tweak to the All-Star ballot, one that acknowledges that the Age of the Center has passed us by, and the Age of the Point Guard has commenced.
Hit the jump for the rest of Wesley’s piece…
There was a time in basketball history when the man who brought the ball up the court didn’t matter. Oscar Robertson, Earl Monroe, Clyde Frazier, Jerry West, all of these men were just “guards,” often dominating the ball but also playing off of their backcourt mates when the occasion called for it. On the other hand, no one would ever call George Mikan or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell or Willis Reed “big men.” They were centers, pure and simple, establishing position on the low post and banging their way towards the rim with pure size.
It doesn’t exactly take an historical savant to realize that the game has changed. These days, it would be heresy for a teammate of Chris Paul or Steve Nash to initiate the offense. Even “non-traditional” point guards like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and John Wall start every trip down the floor with the ball in their hands. Excluding the bastardization of the triangle currently on display in the Staples Center and the ball-handler hot potato being played in South Beach, the position of point guard has taken on a singular significance. As a result, “combo guards” such as Rodney Stuckey in Detroit or Tyreke Evans in Sacramento are a source of no end of hand-wringing from media types who insist that no one can win in today’s NBA without a true point.
All this is happening at a time when inside players are becoming more and more interchangeable. One argument that periodically pops up in NBA blogging circles is over Tim Duncan’s “true” position. Is he the greatest power forward of all time, or the 3rd or 4th greatest center? Does Greg Popovich’s insistence that he is a power forward matter? Does whether or not he jumps center matter? Rarely does the broader question get asked: Does his position matter? He’s a big. He plays mostly in the paint, and is responsible for rebounding the ball. Joakim Noah, he of the 75,000 All-Star votes as a center, started his career as a power forward. So did Tyson Chandler. Boris Diaw, the Charlotte Bobcats’ starting center, began his career as a shooting guard, for God’s sake. At what point do we stop praying at the altar of the True Center and realize that, aside from Howard, this species is extinct? At what point do we stop hunting dodos?
The current system has one last flaw: it clings to the old “guards/forwards” dichotomy. Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph should not be competing for votes. Neither should Paul Pierce and Amare Stoudemire. In today’s NBA, small forwards play on the perimeter, either as spot-up shooters or penetrators off the dribble. They defend the same types of players: in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau plays Luol Deng, his best perimeter defender, on the opponent’s best perimeter threat, whether that’s LeBron James (technically a small forward) or Kobe Bryant (technically a shooting guard). The distinction between the 2 and the 3 has, for the most part, evaporated.
On Friday’s version of The Basketball Jones, they discussed the positional tomfoolery of the All-Star ballot and suggested that it be changed to include two “guard” spots and three “big” spots. This isn’t a bad idea, but still kowtows too much to the old world order. I suggest instead that we still divide the ballot into three sections, but shift the emphasis from the center to the point guard. Thus, we would vote for one point guard, two “swing men” who play either the 2 or the 3, and two “bigs” who play either the 4 or the 5. This system allows us to compare players on a level playing field.
Danny Granger can now compete against Joe Johnson instead of Kevin Garnett, while Rajon Rondo, the purest of the pure point guards, won’t have to run up against teammate Ray Allen, a scoring two guard whose game bears no resemblance to Rondo’s. No longer would Bynum and Howard get a free pass into the game. Sure, Dwight will make it as long as he is healthy, but with a corrected All-Star ballot, Bynum will have to struggle along with the rest of the elite Western big men. More importantly, this tweak ensures that the people you compete against in the ballot box are the same ones you compete against on the court. Isn’t that the whole point?