It’s something Shaquille O’Neal talks about and Dwight Howard seems to buy into more than he should — the idea that a good center should have his back to the basket in the low block and dominate from there.
But the NBA doesn’t work that way way anymore because of zone defenses.
When Shaq came into the league teams by rule had to run man-to-man defense, and while there were certainly ways to bend those rules a big in the post had more space and a double-team coming from farther away. He could set up and had more time to plan. Now the double can come before he sets up, or much faster once he does, and teams have adjusted their schemes to overload the strong side and make it harder to even get that entry pass to the block.
So the position is evolving, we’re seeing smaller and more mobile centers. In the latest edition of a fantastic three–part interview with Stan Van Gundy, Ethan Sherwood Strauss of TrueHoop asked the guy who had the most success with Howard in the post how the rules changed things.
Certainly the defensive rules have allowed us to do things that we previously couldn’t do to make it harder on post people.
I mean, you can front the post and bring another guy over behind him. You could never do that kind of stuff before. Certainly the rules have contributed to that. And I also think, you combine the rules with now, how are you still going to be able to get the ball inside because you don’t have a rule that artificially gets your post guy some room? That’s also led to putting more shooting on the floor, and teams playing smaller, because the only way now to prevent teams from doing those kinds of things is to put enough shooting on the floor to get those guys space.
And hence the roster you saw with Howard in Orlando — Howard in the post and a boatload of shooters. Space the floor out so he can make plays.
Which is why Howard in Houston is going to be interesting — that is a team which has success playing fast and running a lot of pick-and-rolls, the thing Howard rebelled against in Los Angeles. Houston had center in Omer Asik who was not an offensive focal point. Howard demands to be. How Kevin McHale and is coaching style (which suits the rest of the roster well) and Howard mesh is going to be one of the best things to follow this season.
But we digress… it’s not just the rules that are changing the center position. You are getting young players who grew up seeing Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki or other bigs who could step out and make plays on the perimeter, and they want to do that. Guys want the ball in their hands, and that is not going to change as a generation of bigs grows up watching Kevin Durant.
Still, the rules change is a big part of why teams need stretch fours or bigs who can at least be a threat from the midrange. You can’t just plant your big man on the box anymore like he was Shaq.