The Changing Landscape of the NBA

Posted by Kenneth Teape on Wednesday, February 05, 2014 with No comments
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The 2014 NBA All-Stars have been officially released to the public and the same questions are being raised as in years past; this player deserved to get invited, this player didn’t deserve it. One thing that people are not noticing is the change in the All-Star process and the NBA game itself. Throughout the history of the NBA the one constant on a championship team outside of an all-world talent was a dominant big man. Teams were built on and around the strength of the man in the middle; intimidating forces that could control the game from their end of the court. Taking a trip down memory lane you will notice the names of some all-time greats. From George Mikan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson and finally to arguably the most dominant man in NBA history in Shaquille O’Neal , the big man has always been a vocal point of championship teams. That group combined for 32 of 66 NBA Championships, justifying the need of a dominant Center. It is also fair to think that if not for the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls, that number would be even higher; Olajuwon could have led his Houston Rockets to more championships or Patrick Ewing would have had a couple more cracks to get his New York Knicks over the hump. Despite this fact, the Center position as we know it is becoming extinct in today’s NBA.

2013 marked the first year that the voting process for the All-Star starters by fans would be changed; ‘Center’ would no longer be on the All-Star ballot. Instead fans would vote in two backcourt players and three front court players. It was a subtle change made but it gave a peek into the ever changing landscape of the NBA and what the future holds. 2013 had two centers still voted in as starters, with four more being named as reserves. Traditionalists were happy as the first year of balloting did not change the fact that two guards, two forwards and center would be on the court to start the game. Even with the positive results, that could very well be the last time we see that many Centers take part in the All-Star game.

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This season that number has dropped to three, with none of them being picked as starters. This marks the first time in NBA All-Star history that a traditional Center will not be on the court to start the game. Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin will be in the Western Conference front court while LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George will start in the Eastern Conference front court. That is two Power Forwards and four Small Forwards as the starting front courts; all players that are on SportsCenter and highlight reels nightly. With the direction that the NBA is heading, as perimeter orientated playing styles and ‘small ball’ lineups are becoming the norm, the change seemed to make sense. Taking a deeper look, this may be the best crop of Centers the NBA has seen in years.

Dwight Howard is thought of as the best Center in the NBA and the way fans voted for him previously it would be hard to argue against. He was voted in as a starter for six consecutive seasons before being passed by Love this season. A common argument for the change in popularity is the destruction Howard has done with his self image, after flip-flopping more than a fish out of water, about where he stood about being a member of the Orlando Magic and then leaving the Lakers this past off-season. Nonetheless, he was still voted in as a starter in his lone season in purple and gold in 2013, by a healthy margin of 429,697 votes despite the fact he battled injuries and his performance being underwhelming to some. In the Eastern Conference Roy Hibbert was the highest vote getter for the Center position this season, but finished almost 410,000 votes behind Anthony.

While fans may not think highly of the Center position, it is one flush with an intriguing mix of young up-and-comers and older veterans that aren’t prepared to let their position in the NBA ride off into the sunset. Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis are all players that would have garnered more All-Star consideration just two years ago with the Center position still been on the ballot. If not for injuries, you could add Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Nikola Vucevic and Al Horford to that list as well.

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To take a position off the ballot for the NBA All-Star game makes little sense. The original process was not flawed outside an appearance in 2004 by Jamaal Magloire as a reserve for the Eastern Conference; something that would not happen now with the plethora of Centers the NBA has to offer and the number of players that can be disguised as Centers such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh. All-Star weekend is supposed to be a showcase for the very best that the league has to offer, so why shut out a whole group of players just because of the letter listed next to their name in box scores and lineups? If it is just a glorified pick-up game and popularity contest why stop at abolishing Center on the ballot? You might as well go all the way and just let the fans vote in the starters they want to see and the reserves as well. In the end this is a game for the fans isn’t it?

Centers are now looked at as lumbering players not worthy of a showcase such as All-Star Weekend as all they do is rebound and protect the rim; two things that aren’t exactly welcomed at such an event. While some NBA fans and the All-Star weekend try to rid the game of the Center position, smart teams will realize there is still a need for them in the NBA. The Miami Heat have won the last two NBA Championships without a true Center but they have an advantage similar to what the Bulls had with Jordan; a once in a lifetime talent in LeBron James. The Heat have seen first hand what a Center can do when they lost their first NBA Finals with their ‘Big 3’ against the Dallas Mavericks, who had Tyson Chandler manning the middle alongside Dirk Nowitzki. Why the Center position seems to be on its way out of the NBA is a head-scratcher as history has proven that the need for a Center is of the utmost importance if you do not have an all-world talent residing on your roster.