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In today’s NBA, the league showcases some of the best athletes that we’ve seen in NBA history. They are fast, big, quick and able to leap out of the gym all at the same time. That is evident in some of the great and exciting plays that happens on a night-to-night basis. There are only a hand-full of players that have the ability to be special on both ends of the court. The all of a sudden household name for someone that plays well offensively and defensively is called a “two-way” player. These are multi-purpose players that can impact the game defensively and still score 20 plus points a game. Of course these gentlemen should get the recognition of excelling on both ends of the court and they definitely deserve it but the term wasn’t inserted just for praise.
Since basketball was originated, you were taught how to shoot and pass as well as defend and boxout. Playing on both sides of the court was not an option, it was basketball. The evolution of the today’s game has brought in the wide-open style of offense which includes big men shooting three pointers. It has also changed how the game is played which makes it an offensive driven league. We all know that you have specialists in the game whether now, past and future. For example, Chuck Person was a specialist because of his ability to shoot (more so from the three point line) and Bruce Bowen was a defensive specialist because of his obsession with stopping the best scorer (besides the big man) on the team. Now it seems that there are more specialists than just basketball players who plays well on both ends of the court.
So why use the term two-way player? As mentioned earlier, the offensive driven league is the staple of the NBA. If you can score, that’s an automatic birth in the league and more so than less will earn you a starting spot. The term is used to put blinds over the lack of players who plays hard on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Now, the players who excel in this manner are put in this category as if they have supernatural abilities (not saying they are not good at what they do). Don’t get me wrong, everybody won’t be great on both sides but the mere fact that you are specifically categorized for doing what you have been taught from the beginning, gives players who don’t exert themselves defensively a pass.
Here’s proof of the term hiding the lack of players giving the same amount of effort on both sides of the ball. That term was never uttered about Kobe Bryant in his prime or even Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and David Robinson. They were mentioned as All-Pros because of there ability to defend, score and whatever else was needed. Let’s just not stop there, there have been players who didn’t reach that status but still played well on both ends such as Joe Dumars, Eddie Jones and Chauncey Billups. It was just the norm back then, not because it was a better league but the the owners and general managers demanded that they played defense or gave effort trying to .
Certain superstars in this era might be the main reason why this term was created. There are players like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin who represents the superstars of today that can’t play a lick of defense or even try to put forth the effort. Of course everybody is not equipped enough to play defense while excelling at the offensive end. Magic Johnson wasn’t known as a defensive player but he did give effort. He wasn’t caught just lallygagging out of place or position, it just wasn’t his game. The difference is the percentage of players playing on both ends were much higher than it is today. The biggest difference is half if not more of the best players in today’s era are not defensively sound.
To say that the league was much better back then can be unfair. This is based on the what the game has evolved to, which is more of an offensive game versus the defensive era back in the late 1980’s through the late 1990’s. Implementing the zone defense which took away the element of one-on-one defense also played a part. The NBA has an agenda to convey to the viewers that the league is at the best it’s ever been. In order for it to be believable, the term is used to make what is suppose to be expected by everyone look as if it’s a quality that only certain “specialist” possess. It results in James Harden’s effort on defense slipping through the cracks because it’s not expected of him to be good defensively since he doesn’t have that special ability. He’s listed as one of the top players based on his offense alone which falls right in line of what the NBA is trying to sell.
The problem is the young players who are learning the game will emulate players like Harden and Griffin. They won’t take pride in playing defense because it’s viewed as a luxury now. It would be different if the emphasis was put more on them scoring 20 plus points while playing defense versus the emphasis weighing heavy on them being able to play good defense while scoring with the best of them. And to hear “He’s the best two-way player” really takes away from that individual; why can’t he just be a great or very good player instead of being compared to a selective group.
Basketball has always been a sport where defense stands out. It is a true testament for a player to be recognized for there defensive play individually. The term two-way player represents hard work for the players that are labeled that but it hurts the league as a whole. If two-way players are looked upon as hard workers, what does that mean for the rest of the league.