Throughout the NBA’s extensive history, big men have been told to grab rebounds, take high-percentage shots, and defend. Centers were limited to the paint, and under no circumstances allowed to shoot beyond the arc.
Nevertheless, things have changed dramatically. In today’s NBA, players like Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol, and Anthony Davis have expanded their games outside the painted area. They are free to take shots around the perimeter and set up teammates with precise passing. This newfound freedom has allowed centers to display all of their natural talents.
Amazingly enough, it has taken a while for the center position to evolve. Big men did not always have the leeway to play like guards – a downright shame. If players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Hakeem Olajuwon committed time to developing an outside shot or handle, the NBA would have been in trouble.
For some time, the center position was the most crucial part of a team. While their roles were simple, they still managed to dominate games unlike any other player on the court.
A dominant center could win games practically single-handedly. Some examples are NBA stalwarts such as Moses Malone, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal. Each one of these players made their opponents look foolish on a nightly basis. There was little a team could do to stop these players once they found their rhythm.
During the 2000s, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett terrorized the NBA with deadly hook shots and monstrous slams. Unfortunately, as the 2000s came to a close, not many centers played with such intense ferocity. Additionally, the creation of the three-second violation made it more difficult to stay put around the block.
Consequently, centers started becoming more involved in the playmaking aspects. One center who led the field in this aspect was current Los Angeles big man, Marc Gasol. With Memphis, Gasol developed a consistent mid-range jumper and constantly looked to find his teammates.
This play-style brought a new dynamic to his game. With the help of Gasol, the Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs in seven straight seasons. Following in the footsteps of previous European big men like Vlade Divac and brother Pau, Gasol helped introduce a different method that some of the premier big men utilize today.
Much like Gasol, Nikola Jokic is a unique offensive talent in the prime of his career. At 7 foot and 284 pounds, Jokic currently averages 10.9 assists per game – third in the NBA. His polished post moves are arduous to guard, but what makes him so remarkable is that he plays like a point guard.
Jokic can dribble the ball up the court, go behind the back, and hit jumpers at the top of the key with ease. The finesse he possesses, for a guy his size, truly makes him a pleasure to watch. His high basketball IQ will allow him to obliterate defenses for years to come.
In addition to Jokic, other European big men have added to their games. Kristaps Porziņģis, Jusuf Nurkić, and Brook Lopez are 7-footers able to hit threes and play around the perimeter. All three of these individuals have developed into far more than one-dimensional players.
As time goes on, it will be fascinating to watch these young prodigies evolve into even more efficient players than they are now. This new type of center has altered the game, and there is no telling what may come about in the future.