Positions (or lack thereof) in today’s NBA

lovegtm

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Also agreed that the 2-3-4 distinction needs to be dropped from the lexicon for good. Wings are wings are wings. And size doesn't determine it completely either. Jaylen might be the same size as GWill roughly, but the former is a wing and the latter, a big. That's how they play.
I don't agree. I think mcpickl nailed it in Post #292. If anything its much more defined.

for example, Al Horford is a 4/5. He can play Center and he can play as a big wing. If you use ballhandler, wing or BIG to describe players you miss the nuanced way Al Horford plays.
This is getting close to being its own discussion about NBA positions. I think that would be a good thing, because I think too often here these discussions are coming down to the semantics of what you call a position, rather than the best ways to arrange players on the floor.

I've personally always been bothered by the numbering of positions 1-5, because it doesn't seem to really describe what happens on a basketball court, particularly after the abolition of illegal defense.

Out of all the positional numbers, I think that only 1 and 5 really correspond to anything fundamental. Even 1 is debatable, but the base constraint is pretty straightforward: you have to take the ball up the length of the court, and that's generally easier for smaller, quicker guys to both do and defend against. There's also the fact that it's hard to defend jitterbugs unless you're also smaller and quicker, which is why Marcus Smart not quite being a 1 is a real thing--he has issues both guarding those guys and bringing it up against them.

In terms of initiating an offense, I don't think "1" corresponds to anything real: any player who is skilled enough to create an offensive advantage with the ball in his hands and then exploit that advantage can perform the role.

For 5, there are some fundamental properties of humans and the basketball court that make it real, under the current rules:
  • Shots close to the basket generally have the highest expected value on the court
  • Really tall humans have a massive advantage protecting the net up close and rebounding the ball after misses
  • That advantage gets neutered in space, where quickness can open up tons of space from the big guy
  • 7 foot+ humans have fundamental limitations on how quickly they can change direction, no matter how quick they are
  • There's only one basket, so you have diminishing returns from putting multiple really tall humans close to it, both on offense and defense, in terms of preventing shots and rebounding misses
Because of all the above, teams generally have maxed out at 2 really tall dudes on the floor at once, and even that is a bit tough. At the same time, it's hard to get by without one, because of the way the game is set up. When we talk about Al Horford being a 4/5, what we really mean is that he's almost tall/athletic/big enough to fill that one spot that naturally exists, while also being quick enough to mostly function well in the part of the court where space and quickness matter.

For the "2-4" positions, you're not really talking about anything fundamental on the court, other than the fact that depending on the opponent and your own players' skill levels, you can force it to be better or worse for the opponent to shade in the direction of bigger guys who move worse in space, or smaller guys who move/shoot better. Obviously to the degree you can find guys who are both large and skilled/quick in space, you want that. There's a reason Ben Simmons just got paid $170M even though he can't shoot.

TLDR (what all of these arguments tend to come down to)
For the guys who play non 1/5, I think "wing" is a fine term. But this isn't wing algebra: just because we call Jaylen Brown a "wing" doesn't mean he can handle any opposing player who's not a 1/5. There are some teams against which he could easily play as the biggest non-5, and there are some teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) against which he'd get absolutely destroyed playing as the biggest non-5.

Hayward and Tatum have a wider range of teams against which they can be they be the biggest non-5, and against a few teams, they could even be the 5 to close, meaning that with a combination of quickness and shooting, they overcome the constraints that make it advantageous to have one really big guy on the floor. But generally most NBA teams have a 5 against whom that's not the case.

A few teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) have a 5 + another huge, quick, strong guy (LeBron, Horford, Giannis) who would take Hayward or Tatum to the cleaners repeatedly. The Celtics roster (and most NBA rosters) don't really have great counters to this currently, so it's probably not worth freaking out over that edge case. The best ways to handle it probably involve Semi/GWill types, Tatum in the weight room, zone/team defense if there aren't enough shooters on the floor, and LeBron/Al Horford getting older.
 
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benhogan

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This is getting close to being its own discussion about NBA positions. I think that would be a good thing, because I think too often here these discussions are coming down to the semantics of what you call a position, rather than the best ways to arrange players on the floor.

I've personally always been bothered by the numbering of positions 1-5, because it doesn't seem to really describe what happens on a basketball court, particularly after the abolition of illegal defense.

Out of all the positional numbers, I think that only 1 and 5 really correspond to anything fundamental. Even 1 is debatable, but the base constraint is pretty straightforward: you have to take the ball up the length of the court, and that's generally easier for smaller, quicker guys to both do and defend against. There's also the fact that it's hard to defend jitterbugs unless you're also smaller and quicker, which is why Marcus Smart not quite being a 1 is a real thing--he has issues both guarding those guys and bringing it up against them.

In terms of initiating an offense, I don't think "1" corresponds to anything real: any player who is skilled enough to create an offensive advantage with the ball in his hands and then exploit that advantage can perform the role.

For 5, there are some fundamental properties of humans and the basketball court that make it real, under the current rules:
  • Shots close to the basket generally have the highest expected value on the court
  • Really tall humans have a massive advantage protecting the net up close and rebounding the ball after misses
  • That advantage gets neutered in space, where quickness can open up tons of space from the big guy
  • 7 foot+ humans have fundamental limitations on how quickly they can change direction, no matter how quick they are
  • There's only one basket, so you have diminishing returns from putting multiple really tall humans close to it, both on offense and defense, in terms of preventing shots and rebounding misses
Because of all the above, teams generally have maxed out at 2 really tall dudes on the floor at once, and even that is a bit tough. At the same time, it's hard to get by without one, because of the way the game is set up. When we talk about Al Horford being a 4/5, what we really mean is that he's almost tall/athletic/big enough to fill that one spot that naturally exists, while also being quick enough to mostly function well in the part of the court where space and quickness matter.

For the "2-4" positions, you're not really talking about anything fundamental on the court, other than the fact that depending on the opponent and your own players' skill levels, you can force it to be better or worse for the opponent to shade in the direction of bigger guys who move worse in space, or smaller guys who move/shoot better. Obviously to the degree you can find guys who are both large and skilled/quick in space, you want that. There's a reason Ben Simmons just got paid $170M even though he can't shoot.

TLDR (what all of these arguments tend to come down to)
For the guys who play non 1/5, I think "wing" is a fine term. But this isn't wing algebra: just because we call Jaylen Brown a "wing" doesn't mean he can handle any opposing player who's not a 1/5. There are some teams against which he could easily play as the biggest non-5, and there are some teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) against which he'd get absolutely destroyed playing as the biggest non-5.

Hayward and Tatum have a wider range of teams against which they can be they be the biggest non-5, and against a few teams, they could even be the 5 to close, meaning that with a combination of quickness and shooting, they overcome the constraints that make it advantageous to have one really big guy on the floor. But generally most NBA teams have a 5 against whom that's not the case.

A few teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) have a 5 + another huge, quick, strong guy (LeBron, Horford, Giannis) who would take Hayward or Tatum to the cleaners repeatedly. The Celtics roster (and most NBA rosters) don't really have great counters to this currently, so it's probably not worth freaking out over that edge case. The best ways to handle it probably involve Semi/GWill types, Tatum in the weight room, zone/team defense if there aren't enough shooters on the floor, and LeBron/Al Horford getting older.
Well written and thought out, that pretty much nails it.

I would add one small thing to the end of it, "How the NBA game is evolving, who has spurred this change and what's next".
There have been three recent trends in the NBA that effects positioning:
1. Pace - the game is played faster, which has led to more "small ball/positionless" basketball
2. 3pt shooting - a lot more of it which has led teams to frown upon the long 2pt shot. Initially, this was the specialty of guards and wings.
3. 4/5s shooting 3s - this is the most recent trend, in an effort to survive extinction, 6'10' and greater players have been shooting the 3pt shot more and effectively
 

lovegtm

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Well written and thought out, that pretty much nails it.

I would add one small thing to the end of it, "How the NBA game is evolving, who has spurred this change and what's next".
There have been three recent trends in the NBA that effects positioning:
1. Pace - the game is played faster, which has led to more "small ball/positionless" basketball
2. 3pt shooting - a lot more of it which has led teams to frown upon the long 2pt shot. Initially, this was the specialty of guards and wings.
3. 4/5s shooting 3s - this is the most recent trend, in an effort to survive extinction, 6'10' and greater players have been shooting the 3pt shot more and effectively
To answer the question "How the NBA game is evolving, who has spurred this change and what's next" -- I'd say that, under the current rules, you pretty much need to have a 5 in most defensive contexts, so that's what's driving those guys to shoot 3s. Their teams want them on the floor defensively (Marc Gasol, Baynes, hell even Embiid is better with a 3 ball), and they need to shoot the 3 to stop the other team from being able to play 2 slow-footed bigger guys.

The other really interesting tension, in the positionless era, is between trying to have 4 long, mobile guys alongside your 5 and maintaining a quality offense. Essentially the "can you play without a 1?" question. The Sixers are going the furthest in this direction, and its unclear whether they'll have enough spacing on offense. Houston could do it with Harden. The tension is there because a lot of the 6-1 to 6-3 guys are so quick and skilled that you often hurt your offense by trying to do without them, and it does get hard for 6-7 dudes to check Steph or Kemba or Kyrie, no matter how quick the taller guy is.
 

BaseballJones

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Oct 1, 2015
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This is getting close to being its own discussion about NBA positions. I think that would be a good thing, because I think too often here these discussions are coming down to the semantics of what you call a position, rather than the best ways to arrange players on the floor.

I've personally always been bothered by the numbering of positions 1-5, because it doesn't seem to really describe what happens on a basketball court, particularly after the abolition of illegal defense.

Out of all the positional numbers, I think that only 1 and 5 really correspond to anything fundamental. Even 1 is debatable, but the base constraint is pretty straightforward: you have to take the ball up the length of the court, and that's generally easier for smaller, quicker guys to both do and defend against. There's also the fact that it's hard to defend jitterbugs unless you're also smaller and quicker, which is why Marcus Smart not quite being a 1 is a real thing--he has issues both guarding those guys and bringing it up against them.

In terms of initiating an offense, I don't think "1" corresponds to anything real: any player who is skilled enough to create an offensive advantage with the ball in his hands and then exploit that advantage can perform the role.

For 5, there are some fundamental properties of humans and the basketball court that make it real, under the current rules:
  • Shots close to the basket generally have the highest expected value on the court
  • Really tall humans have a massive advantage protecting the net up close and rebounding the ball after misses
  • That advantage gets neutered in space, where quickness can open up tons of space from the big guy
  • 7 foot+ humans have fundamental limitations on how quickly they can change direction, no matter how quick they are
  • There's only one basket, so you have diminishing returns from putting multiple really tall humans close to it, both on offense and defense, in terms of preventing shots and rebounding misses
Because of all the above, teams generally have maxed out at 2 really tall dudes on the floor at once, and even that is a bit tough. At the same time, it's hard to get by without one, because of the way the game is set up. When we talk about Al Horford being a 4/5, what we really mean is that he's almost tall/athletic/big enough to fill that one spot that naturally exists, while also being quick enough to mostly function well in the part of the court where space and quickness matter.

For the "2-4" positions, you're not really talking about anything fundamental on the court, other than the fact that depending on the opponent and your own players' skill levels, you can force it to be better or worse for the opponent to shade in the direction of bigger guys who move worse in space, or smaller guys who move/shoot better. Obviously to the degree you can find guys who are both large and skilled/quick in space, you want that. There's a reason Ben Simmons just got paid $170M even though he can't shoot.

TLDR (what all of these arguments tend to come down to)
For the guys who play non 1/5, I think "wing" is a fine term. But this isn't wing algebra: just because we call Jaylen Brown a "wing" doesn't mean he can handle any opposing player who's not a 1/5. There are some teams against which he could easily play as the biggest non-5, and there are some teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) against which he'd get absolutely destroyed playing as the biggest non-5.

Hayward and Tatum have a wider range of teams against which they can be they be the biggest non-5, and against a few teams, they could even be the 5 to close, meaning that with a combination of quickness and shooting, they overcome the constraints that make it advantageous to have one really big guy on the floor. But generally most NBA teams have a 5 against whom that's not the case.

A few teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) have a 5 + another huge, quick, strong guy (LeBron, Horford, Giannis) who would take Hayward or Tatum to the cleaners repeatedly. The Celtics roster (and most NBA rosters) don't really have great counters to this currently, so it's probably not worth freaking out over that edge case. The best ways to handle it probably involve Semi/GWill types, Tatum in the weight room, zone/team defense if there aren't enough shooters on the floor, and LeBron/Al Horford getting older.
Interesting post. In that vein, I'm *really* curious about Grant Williams. Yes he's a rookie and he may suck when all is said and done. No idea. But he's 6'7", 240 pounds and, by virtually every article I've read, by far the strongest player in the draft. So he's coming into the league with more than enough NBA strength. This past season with Tennessee he shot 59.3% from two, 32.6% from three (so 56.4% overall from the floor), and 81.9% from the free throw line. I'd like to see that three-point percentage be up around 35-36%, but he's essentially 1/3 from three point land. He averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in just 31.9 minutes a game.

I am very interested to see if he can either be a Draymond-type "big" or if he's quick enough to guard wings. For that "big" role, he's certainly (I think anyway) quick enough to guard the bigs like Embiid and Horford and such away from the rim. And he's heavy enough (only 10 pounds lighter than Embiid and 5 pounds lighter than Horford; 30 pounds heavier than Tatum) and strong enough to bang with them down low on the block and not be pushed around. They may shoot over him, but if he's muscling them, maybe that will make it difficult.

Moving forward, this guy could be a really important piece for Boston.
 

Jimbodandy

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Love the last few posts and page 7 overall, but just wanted to call out lovegtm's post 308 magnum opus. That post should be fucking bronzed.
 

Eddie Jurak

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A few months ago, Zach Lowe had Kirk Goldsberry on his podcast promoting his new book. One of his main points is that the transition to a more 3 point shot oriented game is still going on - the percentage of three point attempts is still increasing, and what basketball was in 2018-19 is not a final product but merely a snapshot in time of a game in transition.

One of Goldsberry's more interesting suggestions for trying to alter this evolution is to narrow the lane a bit, giving a relative advantage to post play.
 

benhogan

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File this under the neverending NBA "fit vs talent" debate.

One type of player that needs to be added and is an important "fit" to every good rotation is the "lunch pail" player. It is a positionless player that is all about doing the little things. He has to be a good defensive player, takes charges, plays physical, and aggressively go for loose balls on defense. On offense, he needs to move the ball, set screens for the most efficient shooters, clean up loose rebounds, realizes he is not a top scoring option but be able to hit an open shot. Teams usually pay these guys less $$$ since their offensive counting stats look meh, but they are vital to winning.

The gold standard is Draymond Green. The Celtics had Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Other NBA players that fit this mold: PJ Tucker, Patrick Beverly, Trez Harrell, Serge Ibaka. There is a reason why when one of those players are on the floor the teams off/def efficiency goes through the roof. It adds balance to a rotation, lets the most efficient offensive players take a higher % of shots and lets teammates ease up on defense.
 
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Big John

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I enjoyed Goldsberry's book. Much of what he says will be nothing new to folks here, but there are interesting tidbits scattered throughout, e.g. his analysis of the importance of a quick release when shooting treys (Korver is the gold standard there), and the suggestions at the end. One of the most interesting is to let each team configure the three point line on its own court, so that there would be no standard distance--just as there is no standard geometry in major league baseball parks. He also discusses what to do with the "short" corner three, and asks why some 22 ft jump shots should be worth only 2 points, while others are worth 3. I'd like to see the court widened by a couple of feet so that the corner trey was the full 23'9" distance.
 

HomeRunBaker

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The 1-5 is somewhat antiquated although each player may/may not possess some of the skillsets common with each numerical value. As far as the 1 goes......maybe change position from PG to "Initiator."

The position has morphed into more of a scorers role which previously had a negative connotation associated with it. Unless you have a strong initiator such as a Draymond, Horford, Batum of several years ago, etc the position is much more than bringing the ball upcourt against pressure...….it is crucial to be able to get to your spot in the frontcourt with your dribble while remaining a threat. Think back to the pre-Isaiah year when Smart, Avery, Pressey, and whoever was playing the 1 were unable to begin the offense inside 30-35 feet from the basket......this allows the defense to force each pass outside of its intended space resulting in the offense being run sometimes 3-4 feet further from the basket making the offense easier to defend. To truly appreciate the position (and the game really) take the time to notice how Kyrie, Paul, Wall, Simmons, Fox, etc are able to put pressure on the defense by being a threat with the dribble which forces the defense to play "defensively" rather than how teams defend when a non-1 is bringing the ball up the floor. It is similar to when a non-threat has the ball 25 feet from the basket compared to the ball being in Paul George's hands......when you compare side-by-side you can literally see the 5 defenders reacting differently based on the skillset of the initiating player.
 

lovegtm

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The 1-5 is somewhat antiquated although each player may/may not possess some of the skillsets common with each numerical value. As far as the 1 goes......maybe change position from PG to "Initiator."

The position has morphed into more of a scorers role which previously had a negative connotation associated with it. Unless you have a strong initiator such as a Draymond, Horford, Batum of several years ago, etc the position is much more than bringing the ball upcourt against pressure...….it is crucial to be able to get to your spot in the frontcourt with your dribble while remaining a threat. Think back to the pre-Isaiah year when Smart, Avery, Pressey, and whoever was playing the 1 were unable to begin the offense inside 30-35 feet from the basket......this allows the defense to force each pass outside of its intended space resulting in the offense being run sometimes 3-4 feet further from the basket making the offense easier to defend. To truly appreciate the position (and the game really) take the time to notice how Kyrie, Paul, Wall, Simmons, Fox, etc are able to put pressure on the defense by being a threat with the dribble which forces the defense to play "defensively" rather than how teams defend when a non-1 is bringing the ball up the floor. It is similar to when a non-threat has the ball 25 feet from the basket compared to the ball being in Paul George's hands......when you compare side-by-side you can literally see the 5 defenders reacting differently based on the skillset of the initiating player.
Really interesting post re the reality of the 1/initiatior. Makes me want to go waste time watching clips to compare defensive reactions to different guys in non-transition.
 

DannyDarwinism

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The 1-5 is somewhat antiquated although each player may/may not possess some of the skillsets common with each numerical value. As far as the 1 goes......maybe change position from PG to "Initiator."

The position has morphed into more of a scorers role which previously had a negative connotation associated with it. Unless you have a strong initiator such as a Draymond, Horford, Batum of several years ago, etc the position is much more than bringing the ball upcourt against pressure...….it is crucial to be able to get to your spot in the frontcourt with your dribble while remaining a threat. Think back to the pre-Isaiah year when Smart, Avery, Pressey, and whoever was playing the 1 were unable to begin the offense inside 30-35 feet from the basket......this allows the defense to force each pass outside of its intended space resulting in the offense being run sometimes 3-4 feet further from the basket making the offense easier to defend. To truly appreciate the position (and the game really) take the time to notice how Kyrie, Paul, Wall, Simmons, Fox, etc are able to put pressure on the defense by being a threat with the dribble which forces the defense to play "defensively" rather than how teams defend when a non-1 is bringing the ball up the floor. It is similar to when a non-threat has the ball 25 feet from the basket compared to the ball being in Paul George's hands......when you compare side-by-side you can literally see the 5 defenders reacting differently based on the skillset of the initiating player.
This last point is part of the reason why I’m really interested to see Horford’s role on offense with the Sixers. Part of the reason he was so effective here was that the immense gravity of the ball-handlers (Kyrie and IT) allowed him to get very open looks, and his elite screen setting gave them the option to pull up and shoot or penetrate and break down opposing Ds. With a non-threat like Simmons, those high screens become much less effective, and since Ben doesn’t draw those frantic close-outs like Kyrie, I don’t think Horford’s going to be seeing those wide open threes as much. That’s important, because as BigJohn notes, release time is important and Al’s is sloooow. Granted, Simmons has other ways of drawing attention, and he’s a great passer, and Harris and Richardson are both capable of pulling up from deep (to a much lesser extent), but it was such an integral part of Al’s game here that I think is neutralized a bit in Philly.

Just a hunch, but I don’t think Horford has a ton of shooting gravity due to his slow release, even though he’s deadly when he has time. It’s not like Redick out there, where your toast if you double down on JoJo and he kicks it back out.

Relatedly, there’s some data which shows that 3pt volume is more important than accuracy to determining a shooter’s gravity (as frustrating as it may be when it’s 2017/18 Marcus Smart), and that average depth of attempt is influential as well. Though I wonder if Steph alone could be messing with the error bars on that.

Also to you point, witness Darius Garland going 5th in the draft after five unremarkable college games.
 
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mcpickl

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Jul 23, 2007
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This is getting close to being its own discussion about NBA positions. I think that would be a good thing, because I think too often here these discussions are coming down to the semantics of what you call a position, rather than the best ways to arrange players on the floor.

I've personally always been bothered by the numbering of positions 1-5, because it doesn't seem to really describe what happens on a basketball court, particularly after the abolition of illegal defense.

Out of all the positional numbers, I think that only 1 and 5 really correspond to anything fundamental. Even 1 is debatable, but the base constraint is pretty straightforward: you have to take the ball up the length of the court, and that's generally easier for smaller, quicker guys to both do and defend against. There's also the fact that it's hard to defend jitterbugs unless you're also smaller and quicker, which is why Marcus Smart not quite being a 1 is a real thing--he has issues both guarding those guys and bringing it up against them.

In terms of initiating an offense, I don't think "1" corresponds to anything real: any player who is skilled enough to create an offensive advantage with the ball in his hands and then exploit that advantage can perform the role.

For 5, there are some fundamental properties of humans and the basketball court that make it real, under the current rules:
  • Shots close to the basket generally have the highest expected value on the court
  • Really tall humans have a massive advantage protecting the net up close and rebounding the ball after misses
  • That advantage gets neutered in space, where quickness can open up tons of space from the big guy
  • 7 foot+ humans have fundamental limitations on how quickly they can change direction, no matter how quick they are
  • There's only one basket, so you have diminishing returns from putting multiple really tall humans close to it, both on offense and defense, in terms of preventing shots and rebounding misses
Because of all the above, teams generally have maxed out at 2 really tall dudes on the floor at once, and even that is a bit tough. At the same time, it's hard to get by without one, because of the way the game is set up. When we talk about Al Horford being a 4/5, what we really mean is that he's almost tall/athletic/big enough to fill that one spot that naturally exists, while also being quick enough to mostly function well in the part of the court where space and quickness matter.

For the "2-4" positions, you're not really talking about anything fundamental on the court, other than the fact that depending on the opponent and your own players' skill levels, you can force it to be better or worse for the opponent to shade in the direction of bigger guys who move worse in space, or smaller guys who move/shoot better. Obviously to the degree you can find guys who are both large and skilled/quick in space, you want that. There's a reason Ben Simmons just got paid $170M even though he can't shoot.

TLDR (what all of these arguments tend to come down to)
For the guys who play non 1/5, I think "wing" is a fine term. But this isn't wing algebra: just because we call Jaylen Brown a "wing" doesn't mean he can handle any opposing player who's not a 1/5. There are some teams against which he could easily play as the biggest non-5, and there are some teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) against which he'd get absolutely destroyed playing as the biggest non-5.

Hayward and Tatum have a wider range of teams against which they can be they be the biggest non-5, and against a few teams, they could even be the 5 to close, meaning that with a combination of quickness and shooting, they overcome the constraints that make it advantageous to have one really big guy on the floor. But generally most NBA teams have a 5 against whom that's not the case.

A few teams (LAL, Philly, Milwaukee) have a 5 + another huge, quick, strong guy (LeBron, Horford, Giannis) who would take Hayward or Tatum to the cleaners repeatedly. The Celtics roster (and most NBA rosters) don't really have great counters to this currently, so it's probably not worth freaking out over that edge case. The best ways to handle it probably involve Semi/GWill types, Tatum in the weight room, zone/team defense if there aren't enough shooters on the floor, and LeBron/Al Horford getting older.
I don't disagree that numbering positions isn't as relevant as it used to be, I just use it as shorthand now.

Like, when I say the Celtics need a 4, I mean a bigger guy who can rebound, credibly guard in the post and on perimeter, and if he can't create his own shot is at least a threat to shoot from outside.

Just easier and quicker to say, they need a 4.
 

lovegtm

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I don't disagree that numbering positions isn't as relevant as it used to be, I just use it as shorthand now.

Like, when I say the Celtics need a 4, I mean a bigger guy who can rebound, credibly guard in the post and on perimeter, and if he can't create his own shot is at least a threat to shoot from outside.

Just easier and quicker to say, they need a 4.
No I get where you’re coming from, and I don’t like to be pedantic about shorthand. The issue was more that we were looking at the roster and saying they had no 4. On 85% of nights, Brad will look at the other team and be like “yeah, we’re fine with Gordon/Tatum doing that.” (where “that” = the bolded).

In the other cases, against guys who Hayward and Tatum simply can’t handle in the post they’re sort of screwed and have to get creative, until the roster takes its final form.
 

Cellar-Door

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I like the 4 categories model.

Ballhandlers
Wings
Swings
Bigs

Ballhandlers is your PGs, but also your offense initiating guards and forwards who run the offense
Wings are your quick guys from 6'4"-7'0" who are playing as perimeter shooters, cutters, and hard drives, can guard either other wings or ballhandlers on defense
Swings are your guys in the 6'6"-7'0" size grouping who can shoot from the perimeter and do some post up work, they can guard other swings, and maybe some bigs.
Bigs- they might shoot static 3s, but they are there to protect the paint, rebound, guard other bigs in the paint etc.

Now the best players can bridge multiple groups like Horford is a Big, but he can give you some of the funciton of a swing.

Guys in that 6'8"-6'10" range are really valuable in the league now because the best of them can be Wings and Swings which means often being able to switch to cover 3-4 different opponents, which operating on 3 levels offensively.
 

mcpickl

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No I get where you’re coming from, and I don’t like to be pedantic about shorthand. The issue was more that we were looking at the roster and saying they had no 4. On 85% of nights, Brad will look at the other team and be like “yeah, we’re fine with Gordon/Tatum doing that.” (where “that” = the bolded).

In the other cases, against guys who Hayward and Tatum simply can’t handle in the post they’re sort of screwed and have to get creative, until the roster takes its final form.
Right. I agree.

I think they start Hayward/Tatum as their two forwards against everybody anyway.

It would just be nice that in those 15% of nights they want/need to play bigger, they have a guy that can help them do that.
 

Jimbodandy

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File this under the neverending NBA "fit vs talent" debate.

One type of player that needs to be added and is an important "fit" to every good rotation is the "lunch pail" player. It is a positionless player that is all about doing the little things. He has to be a good defensive player, takes charges, plays physical, and aggressively go for loose balls on defense. On offense, he needs to move the ball, set screens for the most efficient shooters, clean up loose rebounds, realizes he is not a top scoring option but be able to hit an open shot. Teams usually pay these guys less $$$ since their offensive counting stats look meh, but they are vital to winning.

The gold standard is Draymond Green. The Celtics had Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Other NBA players that fit this mold: PJ Tucker, Patrick Beverly, Trez Harrell, Serge Ibaka. There is a reason why when one of those players are on the floor the teams off/def efficiency goes through the roof. It adds balance to a rotation, lets the most efficient offensive players take a higher % of shots and lets teammates ease up on defense.
Yes. Glue guys, but useful glue guys--they make a huge difference. On-off captures it, but i think that some teams are profiling the psychological mixture of their team and targeting guys like this for a reason.
 

Jimbodandy

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The 1-5 is somewhat antiquated although each player may/may not possess some of the skillsets common with each numerical value. As far as the 1 goes......maybe change position from PG to "Initiator."

The position has morphed into more of a scorers role which previously had a negative connotation associated with it. Unless you have a strong initiator such as a Draymond, Horford, Batum of several years ago, etc the position is much more than bringing the ball upcourt against pressure...….it is crucial to be able to get to your spot in the frontcourt with your dribble while remaining a threat. Think back to the pre-Isaiah year when Smart, Avery, Pressey, and whoever was playing the 1 were unable to begin the offense inside 30-35 feet from the basket......this allows the defense to force each pass outside of its intended space resulting in the offense being run sometimes 3-4 feet further from the basket making the offense easier to defend. To truly appreciate the position (and the game really) take the time to notice how Kyrie, Paul, Wall, Simmons, Fox, etc are able to put pressure on the defense by being a threat with the dribble which forces the defense to play "defensively" rather than how teams defend when a non-1 is bringing the ball up the floor. It is similar to when a non-threat has the ball 25 feet from the basket compared to the ball being in Paul George's hands......when you compare side-by-side you can literally see the 5 defenders reacting differently based on the skillset of the initiating player.
Another fantastic post. This thread is fantastic.
 

TripleOT

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lovegtm covered a lot of ground in his initial post. He mentioned that shots close to the rim have the highest expected value. As Goldsberry points out in his book, the FT line has the highest expected value, and getting there a lot has the added benefit of putting opposition players in foul trouble.

In today's positionless NBA, I'd rather be smaller, quicker, and more offensively skilled than have size. When Boston matches up with Philly, as long as the Celtics can be stout enough to prevent the Sixers from running an in game layup line, they should have an advantage if their shots fall, since they're quicker at almost all spots.

If the Celtics are going to be a good team Tatum, Brown, and Hayward need to get to the line. This one free throw every ten minutes from your best player isn't going to cut it. Even with Kyrie, opponents shot 3.3 more FTs a game last season, and the Cs took the second least FTs in the league.
 

DrewDawg

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If the Celtics are going to be a good team Tatum, Brown, and Hayward need to get to the line. This one free throw every ten minutes from your best player isn't going to cut it. Even with Kyrie, opponents shot 3.3 more FTs a game last season, and the Cs took the second least FTs in the league.
One thing Kemba does better than Kyrie is get to the line---over 40% more often per/36 minutes.

He drew twice as many shooting fouls, and drew more than twice as many offensive fouls. Kemba will help get players in foul trouble. And if this is something we expect Tatum to improve on (and if Jaylen gets some calls) this is an area we should be better.

On the other side of that, Kemba and Kyrie were both called for the same number of shooting fouls last year (Kemba played more minutes obviously). He does get his shot blocked a lot more though.
 

lovegtm

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lovegtm covered a lot of ground in his initial post. He mentioned that shots close to the rim have the highest expected value. As Goldsberry points out in his book, the FT line has the highest expected value, and getting there a lot has the added benefit of putting opposition players in foul trouble.

In today's positionless NBA, I'd rather be smaller, quicker, and more offensively skilled than have size. When Boston matches up with Philly, as long as the Celtics can be stout enough to prevent the Sixers from running an in game layup line, they should have an advantage if their shots fall, since they're quicker at almost all spots.

If the Celtics are going to be a good team Tatum, Brown, and Hayward need to get to the line. This one free throw every ten minutes from your best player isn't going to cut it. Even with Kyrie, opponents shot 3.3 more FTs a game last season, and the Cs took the second least FTs in the league.
Yeah, FTs are definitely the most valuable. I mentally file that under “shots close to the rim”, because, with the exception of Harden, that’s how they get generated.

Also agree regarding quickness—basically the question is whether your team’s wings can defend the post without needing help. Against LeBron or Giannis, Tatum/Hayward can’t, but against most guys, they can make the post a losing proposition.

The other thing we saw a lot in the playoffs was teams using speed/effort/length to limit 3s. If you’re playing this year’s Sixers, you simply can’t match them for size, but because their guys have weak shots or slower releases, you can make their post players effectively be playing against 1.5-2 guys, while still closing out to shooters.
 

BaseballJones

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I agree (how can you not?) with the premise that shots close to the rim produce the highest expected point value. So..... why do so few teams actually have players that post up? I know the game is different, but I’ve got kids who have played D3 ball, and even at that level, where three point shooting is obviously not as good, teams STILL hardly ever post up anymore. In the 80s, every single offense ran through the post most of the time. Even the triangle offense Bulls and Lakers featured tons of post ups on the block.

Every team has a bunch of guys who were good at it. My theory has always been... why take shots from 15 when you can take them from 5? So why are we seeing so few post ups in today’s game, when it’s still one of the very best ways to generate in-close shots?
 

lovegtm

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I agree (how can you not?) with the premise that shots close to the rim produce the highest expected point value. So..... why do so few teams actually have players that post up? I know the game is different, but I’ve got kids who have played D3 ball, and even at that level, where three point shooting is obviously not as good, teams STILL hardly ever post up anymore. In the 80s, every single offense ran through the post most of the time. Even the triangle offense Bulls and Lakers featured tons of post ups on the block.

Every team has a bunch of guys who were good at it. My theory has always been... why take shots from 15 when you can take them from 5? So why are we seeing so few post ups in today’s game, when it’s still one of the very best ways to generate in-close shots?
Because most of the time, unless you have a massive advantage in the post (Giannis), you end up with a shot outside 3 feet, with a gigantic dude shoving you with his forearm or sticking his hands up.

Giannis’ percentages even from 5 feet are pretty bad, and he’s someone with way above average length and strength.

Embiid’s missed shot against Baynes to close the 2018 playoff series is pretty typical.
 

lovegtm

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I'm going to take a WAG: turnovers
That too. Embiid has great footwork, touch, and size, but even he turns it over a lot. Again, that play at the end of the series was representative: after Baynes stopped/fouled the initial attempt, a hyper-athletic little guy (Rozier) came out of nowhere to slap the ball off Embiid’s leg.

There’s a lot that has to go right in the post, and more that can go wrong. It’s great when you have a clear mismatch, but that’s just not the case for most NBA matchups.
 

Eddie Jurak

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Every team has a bunch of guys who were good at it. My theory has always been... why take shots from 15 when you can take them from 5? So why are we seeing so few post ups in today’s game, when it’s still one of the very best ways to generate in-close shots?
I don't think postups actually are that effective. A lot of close-in shots come on dunks, lobs to the roll man, fast breaks, drives, put backs, etc. Defended post-ups are less efficient than open threes. Post-ups seem to work best for the subset of guys who are really efficient from there, guys who can pass out of the post to create offense for others, or guys like Lebron who can do both.
 

BaseballJones

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Then why did teams score so effectively in the post in the 80s and 90s, when defenders were allowed to clutch and grab?

My theory: as the game has changed, fewer players even learn how to post up. They don’t have post scoring skills and at no level do they learn them because the game is all outside-in. So very few players actually have legit post skills anymore.

I know I’m talking about two of the all time great post players, but there’s no way McHale and Olajuwon don’t score a ton in the post even in today’s game.

Part of it is because just as post offense has disappeared, post defense has disappeared with it. Total anecdote here but I play at a university gym all the time, even with guys who were outstanding high school players. And none of them - even the guys that are 6’5” - know how to post defend. Everyone plays outside now. It’s a lost art.

But I don’t know why it has to be that way. Good post scorers should score more often than not on the block.
 

lovegtm

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Then why did teams score so effectively in the post in the 80s and 90s, when defenders were allowed to clutch and grab?

My theory: as the game has changed, fewer players even learn how to post up. They don’t have post scoring skills and at no level do they learn them because the game is all outside-in. So very few players actually have legit post skills anymore.

I know I’m talking about two of the all time great post players, but there’s no way McHale and Olajuwon don’t score a ton in the post even in today’s game.

Part of it is because just as post offense has disappeared, post defense has disappeared with it. Total anecdote here but I play at a university gym all the time, even with guys who were outstanding high school players. And none of them - even the guys that are 6’5” - know how to post defend. Everyone plays outside now. It’s a lost art.

But I don’t know why it has to be that way. Good post scorers should score more often than not on the block.
1. No more illegal defense rules. This makes it harder to enter the ball into the post (you can front) and also allows help to come without hard doubles, by zoning up the weak side and sending guys at unpredictable times.

2. Post ups ARE pretty good shots--if you have a good post player, they're going to be better than taking contested mid-rangers. The problem is that players have gotten WAY better at shooting 3s, and shoot them a ton more. This drastically lowers the value of post scoring, because of the opportunity cost.

Olajuwon (my favorite player growing up) would be amazing in the post still, but he would probably be doing it more off of switch mismatches or selective mismatches. He also almost certainly would be launching 3s.

I also miss post play, but we're going to need rule changes to make it an optimal strategy again. There's a reason teams/player stopped doing it as much, and it's not because they're dumb. Goldsberry gives a great example in his book: Al Jefferson is one of the more skilled post guys around, and he was out of the league 3 years after making All-NBA.

There's also Brook Lopez: he's a skilled interior scorer, who was paid a ton of money early in his career to do just that. Then last year, he was nearly out of the league. He came back with a 3-point shot, stood behind the arc, and just got a 4/$52M contract. Why would a young kid spend time learning post moves if, even when he has them, he's going to be told to stand on the perimeter and be better at 3s? His coaches wouldn't even be wrong to tell him to do so--the rules incentivize that.
 
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maufman

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Then why did teams score so effectively in the post in the 80s and 90s, when defenders were allowed to clutch and grab?

My theory: as the game has changed, fewer players even learn how to post up. They don’t have post scoring skills and at no level do they learn them because the game is all outside-in. So very few players actually have legit post skills anymore.

I know I’m talking about two of the all time great post players, but there’s no way McHale and Olajuwon don’t score a ton in the post even in today’s game.

Part of it is because just as post offense has disappeared, post defense has disappeared with it. Total anecdote here but I play at a university gym all the time, even with guys who were outstanding high school players. And none of them - even the guys that are 6’5” - know how to post defend. Everyone plays outside now. It’s a lost art.

But I don’t know why it has to be that way. Good post scorers should score more often than not on the block.
I do think it’s a product of the way kids are taught the game. Seems like every youth team runs a variant of pass-cut-replace, regardless of how ill-suited that system is for the talent on hand. Perhaps that makes sense in the aggregate — everyone gets to touch the ball, and it’s really not possible in middle school to predict who is going to have the size at age 17 to be an effective post player. But the kids who were born to play that way never learn the skills, and some of them even end up giving up the game because they aren’t as quick or as deft with the ball as the smaller kids.

I’ll bet you’d find that NBA guys (particularly the younger ones) who feast on smaller defenders in the post learned their moves on the playground, not in organized ball.
 

BaseballJones

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Jefferson was a crappy defender, if I recall. You have to be able to do more than just post up, no question about it.

But the emphasis on the three should actually open up the post. Everyone is defending the perimeter and that should leave a guy free to work one on one. And if he’s a decent passer with good shooters around, they can’t help off the three point line or guys are gonna get open looks all day.

The only reason I see this having problems is because typically good post scorers are not good perimeter defenders, so they get roasted on the P&R and you can’t keep them on the court. Maybe a giant red flag for Kanter.

The best way to get open threes is to get the ball inside and kick it out. That can work with either dribble penetration or by getting the ball into the post to a player (doesn’t have to be a big mind you... some of the best post players ever were smaller guys) who can score and pass from the block.

I still think that can work in today’s game, but for the fact that since nobody does it at any level anymore, there are few guys capable of playing that role.
 

lovegtm

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Jefferson was a crappy defender, if I recall. You have to be able to do more than just post up, no question about it.

But the emphasis on the three should actually open up the post. Everyone is defending the perimeter and that should leave a guy free to work one on one. And if he’s a decent passer with good shooters around, they can’t help off the three point line or guys are gonna get open looks all day.

The only reason I see this having problems is because typically good post scorers are not good perimeter defenders, so they get roasted on the P&R and you can’t keep them on the court. Maybe a giant red flag for Kanter.

The best way to get open threes is to get the ball inside and kick it out. That can work with either dribble penetration or by getting the ball into the post to a player (doesn’t have to be a big mind you... some of the best post players ever were smaller guys) who can score and pass from the block.

I still think that can work in today’s game, but for the fact that since nobody does it at any level anymore, there are few guys capable of playing that role.
See my Brook Lopez example. This really isn't theoretical--the post is simply not (generally) an efficient place to score under the current rules, no matter how much you or I would like it to be. (And don't get me wrong, I would like it to be).
 

BaseballJones

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I’ve coached basketball for many years and I have ALL my players learn at least the basics of post play, because you just never know when you’re gonna get a mismatch that you can take advantage of down low. The more tools in the toolbox, the more effective you can be. If defenses can take away your tool #1 and # 2, well you’d better have tool #3 handy.
 

lovegtm

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One exception to all this is that I think that in the playoffs the value of both strong mid-range and post players goes up a bit, because teams put more effort into closing out 3s, so the opportunity cost of a 2 goes down somewhat.
 

BaseballJones

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See my Brook Lopez example. This really isn't theoretical--the post is simply not (generally) an efficient place to score under the current rules, no matter how much you or I would like it to be. (And don't get me wrong, I would like it to be).
Again I think it has to do more with the PLAYERS more than the spot on the floor. But this could just be the old man in me coming out.
 

Jimbodandy

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Agreed with point 2 above (post 29). Post scoring was THE way to go before the early 1980s, because the 3pt shot didn't exist. And for the next two decades was still a good idea because folks in general didn't shoot the three well. Now they do.

There was a time that a wide open three had a lower point expectancy than a contested 5-footer. Not anymore.
 

lovegtm

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I’ve coached basketball for many years and I have ALL my players learn at least the basics of post play, because you just never know when you’re gonna get a mismatch that you can take advantage of down low. The more tools in the toolbox, the more effective you can be. If defenses can take away your tool #1 and # 2, well you’d better have tool #3 handy.
Sure, but time and focus are limited resources. If a dude isn't really, really freaking good at tool #1 and tool #2, he's not gonna make it to the next level. So, as a result, you get a lot of guys who prioritize tool 1 and tool 2. Back in the day, tool 1 or tool 2 needed to be post play. Now one of them needs to be 3-point shooting. So, at the margin, you get fewer good post players, and guys are making the right decision for their careers. This isn't super-hard stuff to understand.
 

BaseballJones

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Put it this way: if post play IN PRINCIPLE is not effective because of the rules, why would we waste one second worrying whether the Celtics have a guy who can match up with Embiid?
 

Jimbodandy

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Put it this way: if post play IN PRINCIPLE is not effective because of the rules, why would we waste one second worrying whether the Celtics have a guy who can match up with Embiid?
The problem isn't that post play is a good strategy in general. It isn't. But when you have a huge advantage (huge), you can pound the shit out of it for easy points. That's what we're looking to avoid. If we can credibly contest, it stops being a low-hanging fruit option and plan A.
 

Devizier

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This thread inspired me to poke around the internet and I came across this gem of a reddit thread.

It focuses on iso plays but covers the general change in offensive/defensive philosophies over the last 10-20 years. Old friend Tom Thibodeau figures prominently. Some excerpts:

However, despite the new illegal defense rule, legalizing the zone defense led to Tim Thibodeau's ICE strong-side overload defense, popularized when Thibodeau was the assistant coach in charge of defense during the Celtics' championship season in 2007-08. The zone had been legal for a while, but Thibodeau figured out how to flood the strong side of the floor, the side with the ball, with an extra defender, often forcing a long cross-court pass that would allow time for the defense to recover. The object of the defense was to force the ball out of the best player's hands.
Thibodeau dealt with the new illegal defense rule by training Kevin Garnett (and later Joakim Noah) to remain in the paint for 2.9 seconds, step out, then step back in. As long as he steps out every 2.9 seconds, he could be in the paint all day, guarding no one.
Under the old illegal defense rules, you were not allowed to double a player without the ball, so say you're guarding Luc Longley, and he's standing on the weakside at the 3 point line. You see Jordan setting up to catch for an ISO, and you know Longley isn't going to shoot a three. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to leave Luc until Jordan catches the ball or you will be whistled for illegal defense, giving the Bulls a technical free throw.
This basically guaranteed that on any isolation, you could have a second or so to attack against single coverage. For great iso scorers, this was often more than enough to get yourself in a position where no amount of help defense could stop you.
Hand checking meant that you could put your hands or forearm on the body of the person you were defending, and impede their progress to the basket. In practice this was almost like sumo wrestling, a strong defender could absolutely stop any kind of penetration, or at least steer his man into the help defense. Much like offensive linemen in the NFL, the defender couldn't grab or hold or tackle, but if he was big and skilled enough he could move with his assigned man and keep him from penetrating indefinitely. You still see this in the low post or when people are boxing out in the paint, it can get very rough in there. Well, it used to get rough on the perimeter as well.
In 2004-05 new rules were introduced to curtail hand-checking, clarify blocking fouls and call defensive three seconds to open up the game. All of these rules made it much easier to initiate the offense through dribble penetration. Instead of working the ball inside out through an entry pass to the low post, teams began placing their big men outside of the paint and working the ball inside out through dribble penetration. Perimeter scorers now dominate the game. Low post offense has undergone a revival recently and will never go away, but unless the rules change it's never going to be the staple of the offense it once was. And I think the NBA likes it that way, the rule changes were deliberate and I don't see any sign that they will change.

 

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It’s too bad the hand checking rules don’t apply to the offensive players as well. Definitely one of my biggest criticisms right now with the game is that these rules are giving tremendous advantage to a player like Giannis or Lebron who are too quick to simply beat to the spot (especially with the euro step) but so strong that they can almost offensively handcheck to keep a defender off of them
 

Kliq

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One thing I think about is that we are now in the era where if you have a dominant perimeter scorer, they end up being the de facto ball-handler regardless of what position they actually play. Obviously guys like Jordan and Bird did that back in their day, and LeBron kind of perfected it, but it wasn't until Houston moved James Harden to point guard did it seem like that became the official trend of the league. I think about a guy like Pierce, and wonder how much better he could have been if he played in an offensive that allowed him to be the primary creator and ball-handler. How much better would the Celtics have been if they just ditched the idea of needing a small point guard and just gone with a wing-heavy lineup with Pierce as the main playmaker?
 

Jimbodandy

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One thing I think about is that we are now in the era where if you have a dominant perimeter scorer, they end up being the de facto ball-handler regardless of what position they actually play. Obviously guys like Jordan and Bird did that back in their day, and LeBron kind of perfected it, but it wasn't until Houston moved James Harden to point guard did it seem like that became the official trend of the league. I think about a guy like Pierce, and wonder how much better he could have been if he played in an offensive that allowed him to be the primary creator and ball-handler. How much better would the Celtics have been if they just ditched the idea of needing a small point guard and just gone with a wing-heavy lineup with Pierce as the main playmaker?
While I agree with that in principle, HRBs post about having non-threatening guys bringing the ball upcourt rings true as well. You lose valuable shot clock time but also free the defense up to approach the possession aggressively if you have a guy like PP as your primary ballhandler. I suppose that it depends on the matchups.
 

lovegtm

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Put it this way: if post play IN PRINCIPLE is not effective because of the rules, why would we waste one second worrying whether the Celtics have a guy who can match up with Embiid?
Hence why I put tons of disclaimers saying it's usually not more effective than 3s.

If you try to put Jaylen Brown on Embiid without help, Philly's going to win by 40.

The rules don't eliminate post play--they simply make it less effective for most players, so we see it less in games, and players work on it less, in a vicious cycle. It doesn't mean we see none of it, it just means that we don't see as much as many of us would like.

In general, if you're think in terms of absolutes, instead of how incentives affect things at the margins, you won't reach as clear an understanding of a situation.
 

BaseballJones

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Hence why I put tons of disclaimers saying it's usually not more effective than 3s.

If you try to put Jaylen Brown on Embiid without help, Philly's going to win by 40.

The rules don't eliminate post play--they simply make it less effective for most players, so we see it less in games, and players work on it less, in a vicious cycle. It doesn't mean we see none of it, it just means that we don't see as much as many of us would like.

In general, if you're think in terms of absolutes, instead of how incentives affect things at the margins, you won't reach as clear an understanding of a situation.
Yep, good thoughts.
 

lovegtm

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While I agree with that in principle, HRBs post about having non-threatening guys bringing the ball upcourt rings true as well. You lose valuable shot clock time but also free the defense up to approach the possession aggressively if you have a guy like PP as your primary ballhandler. I suppose that it depends on the matchups.
Yeah, it's also interesting that Houston generally runs the shot clock down pretty far with Harden, and he usually tries to engineer things so that they get what they want on the first action, rather than creating secondary actions that break down the defense in the way that GSW does, and Boston tries to do. As a result, I don't think that having a threatening ball handler matters as much to them, but that's really dependent on their personnel and Harden's skill at exploiting a static chessboard.

Reason #389752 why the league needs to act yesterday and make rules to end Rocketball...I'm honestly shocked they've let it go so long--it's complete shit to watch (I acknowledge the extreme skill involved) and everyone knows it.
 

lovegtm

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Yep, good thoughts.
Yeah, we both want the same thing, I just don't think we get there with the current rules and floor setup. I'd like something closer to the best of both worlds: no illegal defense to make offensive possessions more dynamic, and a de-emphasis of 3s and better rules for post guys to restore some balance-- more post, less PnR and isos.
 

BaseballJones

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Yeah, we both want the same thing, I just don't think we get there with the current rules and floor setup. I'd like something closer to the best of both worlds: no illegal defense to make offensive possessions more dynamic, and a de-emphasis of 3s and better rules for post guys to restore some balance-- more post, less PnR and isos.
One idea I saw was to narrow the lane by a foot or so on either side, to get the post players closer to the hoop. Makes post players more of a threat. Interesting concept.