The Stretch Five: How Do Big Men Develop For Modern Day Basketball?

ByAndrew Pistone

Published on Mon Feb 01 2021

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3 min read

The Stretch Five: How Do Big Men Develop For Modern Day Basketball?

Basketball fans thirty years of age or older remember the way the game used to be played. The point guard would methodically bring the ball down the court, pass it off to a forward who was beyond the three point line on either side, who would send it in to a center who had an array of moves in the low post.

The center would back down his defender, or draw a double team--regardless of the outcome, many teams tried to play from the inside out, using their tallest player.

Of course in this day and age, offensive possessions rarely unfold that way, as a greater emphasis is put on the pick and roll, with penetrating guards usually have the ball in their hands the most. It has left prototypical centers in a bit of a strange position—use their natural height advantage to continue to manufacture easier scoring chances in the paint, or set up outside the three point arc to open up the floor for driving lanes?

While there were certainly floor spacing centers in NBA seasons prior to 2000(think Bill Laimbeer and Sam Perkins), having a seven foot player who could stretch the defense was the novelty rather than the norm. Now, if you’re a lanky power forward or center who can’t shoot threes at a consistent clip, you’d better bring some other elite skill to the table.

It has put an interesting burden on coaches at the high school and college level, who have traditionally seen post men like Patrick Ewing and David Robinson dominate on the low block, balance the dichotomy of emphasizing a player’s most obvious advantage and developing them for what basketball has become today. Steve Alford released a training video in 2003 aimed at power forwards and centers, and its summary does not once mention cultivating a perimeter game. However, in a post authored by University of Southern California assistant coach Chris Capko regarding the current big man skill set, fundamental low post moves are only briefly touched upon. However, he does emphasize the role of the player in screen and roll settings.

“Rolling fast and creating separation from their man creates rotations and forces the defense to play out of closeouts,” Capko stated. “We drill, making tough catches and finishing in traffic with both hands daily.” Via BasketballHQ.

Heralded post players of yesteryear feel like sometimes the modern day center is too often not playing physically enough, which they argue is a detriment to their careers and their team’s success. Charles Barkley has been one of the loudest critics with regards to skilled post players camping out on the perimeter, and thinks that defenses are being bailed out by this offensive approach.

“It’s so stupid not to use your big man. Number 1, if you have a guy who is great, he can’t be stopped in the post one-on-one. He’s going to draw a double team and you will get wide open 3’s. Or he’s going to get the other team in foul trouble,” Barkley contended. “I just don’t think these big guys are using their brains.” Via ESPN.com

Of course, it’s not always the player who is autonomously deciding to play on the perimeter. It could be part of a deliberate style of playing emphasized by the coaching staff. There’s no easy or right answer, but AAU coach Doug Martin believes that ultimately helping the player diversify their skill set helps the team in the end, anyway.

“I think you get stuck between doing what is best for you to win games as a coach and doing what is best to help the young man develop. But I also feel like if you help them enough, you are going to win games regardless,” Martin communicated. Via Courant.com

A relevant litmus test to this conversation will be the rest of season production, and future draft consideration of University of Iowa center Luka Garza. Garza is one of the best players in college basketball, largely because of his tremendous footwork and smooth touch in the post. But as one might expect, his three point shooting ability has improved throughout his college career, and has shot a career high 46% from deep so far this season. It will be fascinating to see whether he(and the coaching staffs that work with him) will continue to remain committed to dominating in the paint, or re-calibrating his style of play for the modern NBA.

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