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Kobe Bryant is on board with the summer of positional revolution

Aug 20, 2010, 5:00 PM EDT

RILEY_lakers.jpgPat Riley used to talk about wanting to play five players of all basically the same height — five players between 6’5″ and 6’9″ who could switch ever defensive pick, could all run the floor, who could all handle the ball a little, who could all cut to the basket from the wing, could all do things that would create matchup problems all over the court.

Those players could not have identical skills. Someone would have to be a playmaker, someone else a rebounding force. But the idea was potentially revolutionary — to heck with traditional positions, it’s about skills. Riley could think this way, he had a position-bending player in Magic Johnson leading his team.

Welcome to 2010, where we dare you to define Dirk Nowitzki as a power forward. Or Andray Blatche as a center. Or Kevin Durant as a small forward. Or LeBron James and Kobe Bryant period.

All over the NBA blogshpere this summer there have been discussions of a “positional revolution” — an NBA without positions. That the versatility of today’s players means we need to define NBA players in a way other than “he plays the five.” It started with a great post from Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus, and has been followed up by some fascinating work, including by our own Rob Mahoney at his own blog Two Man Game.

Kobe Bryant was asked about this at Rucker Park last weekend and Dime Magazine has him backing the idea (via TrueHoop).

Speaking to the media during his World Basketball Festival appearance at Harlem’s Rucker Park last weekend, Kobe said the influence of international players in the NBA has helped create a “hybrid” culture, where players of all sizes possess skills in all areas and can conceivably play any position on the floor.

“That’s the one difference I’d like to see us kind of shift to,” Kobe said.

There is truth to this. Particularly at what you might instead call the wing position, where guys like Durant and Kobe and LeBron live. The traditional definitions of a player no longer fit.

But at the same time, the NBA has seen a return in recent years to a traditional point guard more and more. Guys like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Bradon Jennings, Darren Collison and more have flourished with quickness in a league with no hand-checking on the perimeter.

Then inside, a traditional big man is still a force. Dwight Howard is a classic center and one of the best players in the league. The two teams that reached the finals last June had Andrew Bynum and Kendrick Perkins in the middle. That kind of physical force in paint still is a game changer.

But the game is evolving, and with it our understanding or it needs to evolve with it. And redefining classic positions — in the same way we need to redefine the classic box score — is part of that.

  1. Eli - Aug 20, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    I prefer the old style play IT SECURES SPOTS 4 PLAYERS WITH INDIVIUAL SKILLS 7 FOOTERS SHOULDN’T BE REQUIRED TO HANDLE THE ROCK WHEN ITS THE POINT GUARDS JOB JUST LIKE CHECKING A 7 FOOTER IS 7 FOOTERS JOB. IF ALL THE PLYERS WERE ABLE TO CHECK EACH OTHER WOULD DEFINITELY MAKE IT A MORE RUN & GUN SITUATION.jUST MY OPINION FROM AN OLS SCHOOL POINT OF VIEW.

  2. Cannon510 - Aug 20, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    Got a typo Kurt in first sentence, should read “could switch EVERY defensive pick”.

  3. Jim908 - Aug 20, 2010 at 6:39 PM

    when has there not been in a type in this guys work? He doesn’t believe in proof-reading.
    Anyway this new style of basketball sounds a lot like the Heat (that Pat Riley at it again).LeBron at the point or anywhere else 1-4, Mike Miller at the 2&3, Wade at 1&2, bosh at the 3,4, or 5. There can be a lot of interesting rotations this year..

  4. MJ - Aug 20, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    Doesn’t work. There have been great power forwards that are too short. Great small forwards that are too slow. Centers to small or short or slow. If a team doesn’t have a conventional big man center that can jam the middle defensively and get rebounds, put back a few easy dunks and sets some picks, then they are highly unlikely to win a championship. You have to have an inside game and an outside game, role players. Everyone can contribute, provided they know their jobs and do them. Some coaches, like George Karl, don’t use that conventional center, and he never wins the championship, even though he is a great coach. Several championship teams, like the Bulls and the Lakers, built their teams around role players and were very successful. Some of the players on those teams could only do a few things well, like rebound or play defense. Some of the others were good at shooting. Only the great ones have that all around game. To get five guys on a team that fit this mold of a “positional revolution” would be more trouble than what it would be worth.

  5. paulfrancisformerfoodblogger - Aug 20, 2010 at 7:31 PM

    “when has there not been in a type in this guys work? He doesn’t believe in proof-reading.”
    Oops, neither do you.

  6. Cannon510 - Aug 20, 2010 at 7:53 PM

    I think its really hard to proof read your own stuff. Your mind plays tricks on you. I usually read stuff out loud to make sure I don’t have too many typos. My problems with grammar is a different beast.
    I think the strength of the Bulls teams was their ability to press and put defensive pressure on the back court. They could also switch all the time and recover because their 3 main defensive players were 6’6 to 6’9 and could cover so much ground. But that only worked with Jordan/Pippen/Grant and Jordan/Pippen/Rodman.
    Not too many teams could replicate that. Could work w/ for the Heat, but I don’t know if Chris Bosh is capable or is built for that kind of defense. I guess we’ll find out in a few months.

  7. gerry - Aug 21, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    This kind of “positional talk” is not new.Murray Arnold who at one time wasthe head Caoch at UT-Chatanoga in Tenn said over 20 years ago.” My ideal roster would be 5 guys on the floor at the sametime and all of “em 6-6 or 6-7″ ” I can trap and run and switch everything” ” All of ‘em would know to handle the ball and post up”
    Just like Dean Smith was talking about pts per poss over 25 years ago.Denny crum would teach post up play to his guards.There were very creative coaching minds years ago.
    GV

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