As basketball continues its never ending evolution and modernization, its effects on traditionally defined roles has been profound. I have proposed to many fellow fanatics about how misleading stats can be and the role these new offenses are playing in further skewing that fact. I have always been a staunch believer in individual skill and fundamental understanding of the game. I grew up learning a game that was structured through an offense but asserted through individual read and react play and skill. Upon further investigation and research, it is my opinion that today’s players are more reliant on offenses that create offensive opportunities by virtue of predetermined movement as opposed to read and react spontaneity. Players are now being spoon-fed basketball as opposed to being taught how to play the game.
Statistical warfare is what has been currently utilized for the sake of proving opinions about certain players and the evolution of the game. To be honest, stats are a significant part of the research portion of your argument in order to point out specific patterns in the actual performance of a player or a team. Unfortunately, that’s all that stats can provide. There is still a level of interpretation and application that goes with research portion of your argument.
For example, an assist requires two parts of an action. Not only must the player pass the ball, the intended receiver must also score his shooting attempt. So how could assist totals tell you whether your point guard was sharing the ball or whether your scorer was having a bad shooting night? It would take more information in order to prove an accurate reading, but not only statistical information, observation is paramount. By observation, we can see whether or not the point guard was giving his shooter an adequate amount of touches and whether he was setting him up for his most efficient shots.
Today’s offenses, such as the “Flow” offense, has created an even bigger ambiguity when comes to stat reading. It has distorted the assist stat by position. Paired with the evolution of alpha scoring point guards, how can this now still be a measure of point guard efficiency? For example, Stephen Curry is the point guard of the Golden State Warriors yet he does not lead the team in assists so far this season. Draymond Green earns that distinction with 218 assists verses Curry’s 187. Now you might argue that Green has become a better passer however, I would like you to consider the fact that before Steve Kerr and his new offense came to town, Green only accumulated 152 assists (three assist per game average) in 82 games played.
Another pertinent example is the Portland Trailblazers. While Damian Lillard is leading the team in assists with 197 total for the current year, Miles Plumlee is in deed the second on that list with 140. One more example would be the Los Angeles Lakers where a disciple of Kerr, Luke Walton has installed the same offense or aspects of and has shown similar patterns. D’Angelo Russell has 99 assists and Julius Randle has 105. Could it just be a coincidence that these players’ assists have gone up?
In the past, we have had power forwards who where known to be playmakers at their positions but not more so than their point guard counterparts. One name that comes to mind is Charles Barkley. In 1993, the year he won MVP, you could argue that he was a more integral part of the Phoenix Sun’s offensive attack than even Kevin Johnson. That year Barkley averaged a career best 5.1 assists per game in 76 games played. Kevin Johnson still averaged more assists than Barkley in less games played due to injury. Johnson averaged 7.8 assists in 49 games. It is through observation that we can distinguish the evolution of the game.
Although I am an avid fan of the game from my era, I can also appreciate the attributes of today’s offense. First thing that is glaringly obvious is the spacing. Now it comes at the demise of the pivot game, which is an unnecessary departure, but nonetheless creates distinguishable driving lanes and havoc on traditional defensive rotations. The second aspect is the continuous movement of players on and off of the ball. I have never enjoyed the “pound the ball half-court game” of the 90’s but understood what they were trying to do in order to establish a more physical game. The movement created by these offenses is what coaches have always begged the players to do. The problem is, it has provoked a thoughtless pattern of movement. Back in my era, the problem was “think but don’t get caught watching”. I believe that the problem has now evolved to “move to where the offense tells you to move”.
It seems to have become sort of helping but enabling at the same time. Too many times have I observed players moving to predisposed parts of the floor without even attempting to read the defense. The strength of the flow offense is that in its movement, it creates constant openings and equal responsibility for every player. Its weakness is that it doesn’t allow for more defined roles per position and authentic play making skills on the part of elite players. This leads to teams with no identity down the stretch of the fourth quarter especially in the last two minutes of the game. Not everybody on the team was meant to hit the last second shots of a game. This, and not the size of his contract, is what is supposed to distinguish the franchise player from every other player on the team.
In the midst of the evolution, let us not disregard all of the past. Just as everything in life, there must be balance. It is still unfathomable to me that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could not exist on the same team. It makes me think of the phrase, “Jack of all trades but master of none”. There must be a constant for every variable. For all the old schoolers out there, this is yet another reason for why you can’t compare our icons with their new players. Happy holidays yawl…