Why Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns have saved the NBA’s identity
As we progress through different eras in NBA History, we have witnessed hundreds and hundreds of players gracing the NBA hardwood not only from America, but from every corner of the world. As this occurs, the game continues to evolve, grow and change in numerous ways. Over the years, as the rule changes have affected the game, the genetic makeup of the players has transformed and the game has advanced in general, the face and identity of the NBA is a constant revolving door, shaping and reshaping as the years go by.
This year’s Draft Class has begun a new found NBA Identity….saving the traditional big man.
When the NBA changes, especially on the court, it’s probably the most visually obvious aspect of any other sport that is viewed in the US. We’ve gone through the big man domination era of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin and Kareem Abdul Jabbaar, to a hard mouthed, overly physical era of the 80s and early 90s of the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons. We’ve gone through to the dynamic era of explosive athletes that can jump out of the gym like Vince Carter or the quickness of Allen Iverson, to the physically hybrid athletes that can do it all like LeBron James, to the true ‘Stretch 4s and 5s’, big men that can spread out the floor and defences and hit long distance shots such as Pau Gasol and Kevin Love, to the new golden era of score first point guards who have incredible offensives abilities such as Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving or Russell Westbrook. The game has changed in so many ways it’s sometimes difficult to keep up or contemplate how many ways 5 players from each team can work offensively and defensively and how one off season can change a team entirely, from game play and style to personnel. It’s a tough task to keep track of brand new schemes ball clubs implement and the athletes that continue to evolve the game we know and love.
The NBA has definitely taken on a new identity and direction especially in recent years. Every season the league seems to be getting smaller and play at a much faster pace. The term “small ball” has never been more in effect. The recent Championship won by the Golden State Warriors are a prime example and evidence that going small aided them tremendously when they were struggling to get their rhythm and pace after going 2-1 to a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers. Small ball was firstly introduced during the Magic Johnson “Showtime Lakers”, when they went small on occasion, mainly due to the versatility of Magic Johnson with his size and skillset. However, nowadays it’s a common theme. Teams will usually have a small ball line up that they will not hesitate to turn to if they need some pace or spark especially offensively. Thus, highlights the changing face of our league.
Although this may be a sign of change and growth, for some, it’s a sad reality that the game has turned away from the traditional dominant big man down low. Gone are the days of bigs winning MVPs and being franchise centrepieces. Some feel the days of dumping the ball into a big man in the post and letting them go to work, as well as crashing the boards, blocking shots and patrolling the paint were slowly fading. This unfortunately was true, however, all that changed this off season on NBA Draft Day, enter Karl Anthony Towns and Jahill Okafor.
These two rookies, along with Kristap Porzingis have really shown that the big man is well and truly back and the future may still be in the hands of the big boys down low. Although their NBA careers have just started, their performances and numbers registered, mirror the great big men of the game that have passed us by. Karl Anthony Towns is the first teenager in NBA History with a double-double in each of his first 2 NBA games and only Dikembe Mutombo, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson have more through their first 6. Jahill Okafor’s 118 points through six games is the most by a Rookie Centre since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992 and Kristpas Prozingis is rewriting the New York history books with his early numbers that have only been matched by one other New York legend as a rookie, the great Patrick Ewing.
These young stars have the world at their feet and all the potential a franchise could ask for moving forward. Some predicted they would start off slow, but they look as ready as any other NBA Rookie we’ve seen in recent memory. Being a part Gongfu Tea Cup a deep and talented Draft Class, their initial performances around the league are that much more impressive as there isn’t a shortage of talent coming through, there’s actually an abundance of it.
These Rookies have put the changing face of the NBA on hold. It has dispelled our fears that a nostalgic part of our game may have faded, and it has restored our faith that the dominant big man still has a place in this league for years to come.