The Fascinating Evolution of Basketball

Remember those Jaworski – Arnaiz days when you had 2 guards, 2 forwards and a center? After a while, we learned about new positions, new skill sets with the coming of age of the point and shooting guards, the small and the power forward, plus the center. Then we heard of the hybrid positions such as the point-forward and even a point-center. Recently, we were introduced to the stretch forward, and so on. And then today, you hear of 2 bigs to complement a point and 2 wings.

Robert Jaworski, the country’s most popular cager of the 70’s. (courtesy of ABS-CBN Sports)

Indeed, basketball has been through big exciting changes lately, the latest innovations of which have been largely influenced by the 3-point revolution triggered by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and the small-ball line-up successfully employed by the Golden State Warriors.

Golden State’s original dynamic duo, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, changed the world’s view of the 3-point shot. (courtesy of Sporting News)

The popularity of the 3-point bomb has had a tremendous effect on offensive patterns, upping the ante for deadly long-range shooters as well as versatile bigs who can lure out the giants from the opposing end. It has also restructured defensive alignments, stretching it out and putting a premium on athletic-types with great lateral movement, fantastic anticipation and court vision.

James Harden delivers. (courtesy of The Dream Shake)

The small-ball concept, on the other hand, introduced a line-up with no dominant center, but with a scrambling, switching, second-guessing defense that seems to have an answer for any mismatch or situation, most especially in addressing the 3-point threat. It has also helped diversify the offense in so many ways.

Golden State’s small ball concept has been the toast of the NBA in the recent years. (San Francisco Examiner)

And it doesn’t end there.

Today’s coaches are having a heyday tinkering with their line-ups, looking for innovative ways to gain the minutest advantage over opposing teams. And this trend is not about to end soon.

A popular experiment has a point guard, with 3 wings and a center. All 3 wings can shoot, can drive and can play low post if the mismatch presents itself. There is no designated shooting guard, small or power forward, as all 3 wings are flexible enough to assume whichever post, depending on what weakness the defensive match-up shows.

Boston has a wealth of talent at the wings, providing different options for the offense. (Heavy.com)

Another line-up change we will be seeing more of will feature 3 wings and 2 bigs. This transition will be quite conservative, with the main difference being the lack of a designated playmaker. Instead of the point guard, the 3 wing-type guys will alternate in bringing up the ball. The wings could space the offence from beyond the three-point arc while the bigs are posted up.

But perhaps the most audacious, most ambitious line-up try has been one which has no point guard, no designated shooter, no designated bigs, just 5 magnificent studs playing ball. This features an even more versatile line-up. Who brings the ball up the floor? Anyone. Who fills up the wings in transition? Whoever’s already there. All five can direct the offense. All five can shoot. All five can defend multiple positions. Playing together, they will create diverse situations and plenty of mismatches.

Toronto has been successful despite not having a true point guard on the court at times. (cp24.com)

Basketball today has been gearing towards much greater athleticism, with emphasis on quick ball movement, good help defense, super-fast transition, finding good looks at the basket. We are seeing more and more versatile, positionless players who are expected to be able to do it all, from dribbling, directing, passing, shooting, picking, rolling, posting, rebounding, defending, switching, etc, etc, etc. Thirdy Ravena epitomized this in the latest UAAP Finals, contending in practically all major statistical category, and clinching the MVP Plum for the second straight year.

Thirdy dominates the UAAP Finals. (Courtesy of ABS-CBN)

What is actually trending today is for players to ‘slide down’ from their natural position. Yesterday’s centers are trying out the small forward position, power forwards are sliding down to the small forward or shooting guard role, the shooting guards are learning point guard chores. As these players slide down, the game becomes tougher and even more physically imposing. The slide-down concept in basketball has actually been there for quite some time, but never has it been more highlighted as it is now. We’ll discuss the ‘slide down’ in more detail in another article later.

Today’s innovative line-ups are adapting to the changes in the game. Contemporary coaches and players ask: Why go for the heavily-defended 2’s when you can take easy lesser-covered 3’s? Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have proven that. Why try to fit into rigid lineup stereotypes from decades ago? The Golden State’s small-ball have negated that. Why not be a revolutionary type of pure athlete, and be a versatile, out-of-the-box creative thinker, a do-it-all who can pounce on the faintest frailty exhibited by the opponent? Watch the likes of Lebron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard as they dictate pace and create space in contemporary ball.

Indeed, these are exciting times for the cage kingdom. It’s a whole new world; with bold, new coaches mixing and matching up and down the roster, offering a variety of different looks with several different lineups. Likewise, young players are learning to express themselves more freely and creatively, with a freedom of action never before seen in the game.

So just sit back, relax, enjoy the scenery, folks. Watch and be merry. And learn the new trade. Behold, a new dawn in the basketball universe is slowly unfolding.

For more on Philippine Basketball, please read my Philippine Basketball series:

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 1) In the Beginning

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 2) The 60s

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 3) The MICAA Days

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 4) The Birth of the PBA

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 5) The 80s Usher in a New Breed

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 6) Fusing the Old and the New in the 90s

Philippine Basketball in Review (Part 7) Good Karma Propels the PBA to Greater Heights

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