On some teams, the distinction between ‘power forward’ and ‘center’ is a mere formality. After all, the more versatile the players that a coach has at his disposal, the more blurry the lines between the two positions often become.
Not so for the Orlando Magic, if only because the defensive responsibilities that accompany each positional role are so drastically different. Evan Dunlap of the Orlando Pinstriped Post had a chance to talk to Brandon Bass (who, if you’ll recall, has been studying up on his defensive rotations) about the differences between playing power forward and center on the defensive end, and Bass’ positional preference is fairly clear:
“Playing the five, you just do a lot of zone. At the four, you gotta do a lot of moving. It’s a lot of work. You gotta make two efforts: You gotta close out [on shooters], [and] get back to your man. Five? You just zone, and your man is right there rolling into you. It’s a lot different. It’s a lot tougher playing the four…Like, with Dwight [Howard], if he posts me up, I know he’s going to bang, bang, bang, hook shot, or something. Versus guarding a perimeter player, you gotta show on the pick-and-roll, then you gotta close out to the three[-point line], move your feet, and stay down. Then you probably gotta move your feet because they want to drive and pull up, or whatever.”
Who knew Dwight Howard, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, had it so easy? I mean, he “just zones.” His man is “right there rolling into [him.]” That’s Dwight, living the good life, laying out in the paint with a pair of shades and a daiquiri. Meanwhile, the Brandon Basses and Rashard Lewises of the world are out there working their tails off, operating the blender that makes Dwight’s daiquiris by running on a giant hamster wheel. While solving a Rubik’s Cube. If you’re still keeping up with this metaphor, kudos.
Bass is right though, even if he’s wrong. Is defending the 5 really that much simpler than defending the 4? Perhaps, but only because when playing the 5, one’s on-man responsibilities are less emphasized, while their help-side responsibilities are paramount. The center position may not require the same defensive range, but it does necessitate having skills worthy of being every other defender’s Plan B. Dwight (or Gortat, or Bass, or whoever is playing center in Orlando) still has to cover his man, he still has to cover the screen-and-roll, and while he’s at it, act as a safety net for each of his teammates’ botched defensive sequences.
Dwight and the Magic centers may not be chasing anyone around on the perimeter and showing at the three-point line, but I think in this case, Bass’ explanation may be a tad oversimplified.