Decades ago, an exciting young player named Bobby Jaworski rocked the Philippine cage scene with his barreling drives and nifty passes. Considered a big anomaly then, he played the point guard role despite having a burly 6’1” frame that would have easily fit him in as a power forward then. His height and heft then would have qualified him to be a big man in the team, but he refused. Blessed with great court vision and superb basketball IQ, the ‘Big J’ would be a key figure not just in scoring, but in rebounds and assists. This was at a time when rebounds were dominated by big men, while assists were meant solely for point guards. He was also a superb defensive cog in an era when defensive stats were not yet in fashion.
A few years later, over in the NBA, a young dynamo named Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson would take the cage world by storm, gaining distinction by bringing the Los Angeles Lakers an NBA title and taking the NBA Finals MVP Award on his rookie year. At 6’9” tall, he could have easily played center if he wanted to. But he did not. He would slide down and take the point guard role in a radical departure from the game’s recognized norms of the time.
These two pioneering cage personalities did not care about traditional thinking. Instead, they were innovative, out-of-the-box adventurists challenging the norm. Their flexibility, their willingness to try something new, their gutsy stand to go against present day practices, these and more contributed to the state of the sport today.
In today’s age of ‘positionless’ basketball, more and more players are trying to learn new roles, with a vast majority opting to ‘slide down’ to the smaller posts. Sure, there are some gifted players such as Draymond Green or Andre Igoudala who will be guarding a higher position. Both players are forwards whose skill sets are needed in the Warriors’ vaunted small-ball line-up. Both have the upper-body strength to hold their own against opposing bigs.
But the more ideal move for those who may wish to go with the trend of going versatile is to ‘slide down’ to a lower position. Thus, we see more bigs trying to learn how to operate as wing-men, and more wings trying to learn the point guard chores.
And this makes better sense. As a player graduates to a higher league, competition becomes tougher and players get bigger. Besides, it will be more difficult for a wing man to learn to play like a ‘big’, than for him to take a smaller post, because height is something that cannot be taught.
But sliding down to a lower position is not as easy as it seems. It takes the proper mindset, plus countless hours of practice to be able to fit into the new position. More often than not, bigs will have difficulty guarding speedier guards in a well-spaced offense. Their lateral movement – or lack thereof – will be exposed, and their defense away from the shaded lane will be challenged.
It’s great to see dynamic changes in the game. Players are sliding down to new positions. Players and coaches are learning to be creative and audacious in new offensive and defensive alignments. Coaches are learning to quickly create mismatches, pouncing at the slightest hint of such. Indeed, these are exciting times to be a part of the revolution in the sport of basketball.
For more on the Slide Down Concept and the need for Philippine tall players to learn to play small, please read: Lessons Learned From the Latest Gilas Campaign
For more on Philippine Basketball, please read my Philippine Basketball series: