Anthony Davis, Chris Bosh and the evolution of the NBA big man

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Toronto was witness to the latest evidence of the evolution of the big man in the NBA — not during Sunday’s All-Star Kobe Bryant love vest, but on Saturday during the Skills Competition and Three-Point Contest.

Four big men competed in the skills competition — previously the domain of quick little guards — and Karl-Anthony Towns won it, knocking down his three first to beat Boston’s diminutive Isaiah Thomas. Miami’s Chris Bosh was set to compete in the three-point competition until his health issues got in the way.

That evolution of the big man and his role in a modern NBA was a topic throughout All-Star weekend for those trying to adapt to changing roles.

“The whole game has evolved,” said New Orlean’s Anthony Davis, one of those big men in the Saturday Skills Competition. “I don’t think there’s too many traditional big men anymore. Guys grab a rebound and push it up the floor and starting plays, stretching out to the three now. There are no traditional big men, but that’s the way the game has evolved….

“Everybody’s gotta be versatile now, and that’s the way the game has evolved.”

But this evolution is not one size fits all. There are the all-around skills of someone like Davis or Towns, the length and shooting of Kristaps Porzingis, the polished midrange game of LaMarcus Aldridge (who follows in the footsteps of Dirk Nowitzki), or the freakish athleticism of someone such as DeAndre Jordan.

DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond are the two best players close to a traditional big man in the Association, but they bring other skills to the table — Cousins can hit threes (as he did in the All-Star Game), and Drummond is so athletic he can defend the pick-and-roll out on the perimeter.

“(Drummond) is a freak of nature,” said Bosh, who himself is a good pick-and-roll defending big on the perimeter. “He’s mobile, he can guard, and he’s very athletic.

“That’s what you need to be. The slower big man is kind of easing out a little bit. If you’re slower, you need that outside touch, it’s very important. But a guy like him, his athleticism helps him survive.”

Bosh hits the nail on the head. The day of Mark Eaton clogging the paint are gone — and it’s because of changes to the rules and changes in players.

The rules changes in 2004 were the first dominoes in what has become a modern NBA — no more hand checking on the perimeter so that skill could show through, and zone defenses were allowed. That first rule means if you have a big who can create a little space and get a shot off on the perimeter, he’s going to be able to operate — think Nowitzki and his one-legged fadeaway.

The zone defense means you’re not just going to be able to throw the ball to a big in the post and let him go to work — if you’ve got a strong post player I can have a defender fronting him and another helping behind before there is even an attempt at an entry pass. It becomes very had to get the ball to a big just standing on the block if the defense makes stopping that a priority. That puts value on bigs who can come out and set the pick then pop out for a jumper — Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol — or can be a beast rolling to the rim (the Clippers’ Jordan).

Bottom line, you must have some versatility to your game.

Modern NBA bigs have that versatility because they grew up idolizing and modeling their game more after Kevin Garnett and Nowitzki than Shaq (because nobody gets the physical gifts of a Shaq but once every generation or three). Today’s bigs come into the league with a range of skills (or, at least, a foundation of them for teams to build on) that allows a coach to use them in different ways depending upon the matchup.

All this doesn’t mean that these bigs don’t want to see the center designation return to the All-Star Ballot. Don’t bet on that happening (although at Adam Silver’s address it was said it would remain on the All-NBA ballot).

And if you ask DeMarcus Cousins, the center position isn’t going anywhere.

“I think the center position is very much alive…. It’s a trendy league, that’s what’s trendy right now,” Cousins said of small ball. “I’m sure that changes again down the road…

“We got a lot of great bigs coming in — Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil (Okafor) — there’s a lot of great talent coming up, so we shouldn’t disrespect the position.”

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.