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Stan Van Gundy talks how rules helped change center position

Aug 27, 2013, 3:06 PM EDT

Orlando's Stan Van Gundy shouts during an NBA playoff basketball game in Indianapolis Reuters

It’s something Shaquille O’Neal talks about and Dwight Howard seems to buy into more than he should — the idea that a good center should have his back to the basket in the low block and dominate from there.

But the NBA doesn’t work that way way anymore because of zone defenses.

When Shaq came into the league teams by rule had to run man-to-man defense, and while there were certainly ways to bend those rules a big in the post had more space and a double-team coming from farther away. He could set up and had more time to plan. Now the double can come before he sets up, or much faster once he does, and teams have adjusted their schemes to overload the strong side and make it harder to even get that entry pass to the block.

So the position is evolving, we’re seeing smaller and more mobile centers. In the latest edition of a fantastic threepart interview with Stan Van Gundy, Ethan Sherwood Strauss of TrueHoop asked the guy who had the most success with Howard in the post how the rules changed things.

Certainly the defensive rules have allowed us to do things that we previously couldn’t do to make it harder on post people.

I mean, you can front the post and bring another guy over behind him. You could never do that kind of stuff before. Certainly the rules have contributed to that. And I also think, you combine the rules with now, how are you still going to be able to get the ball inside because you don’t have a rule that artificially gets your post guy some room? That’s also led to putting more shooting on the floor, and teams playing smaller, because the only way now to prevent teams from doing those kinds of things is to put enough shooting on the floor to get those guys space.

And hence the roster you saw with Howard in Orlando — Howard in the post and a boatload of shooters. Space the floor out so he can make plays.

Which is why Howard in Houston is going to be interesting — that is a team which has success playing fast and running a lot of pick-and-rolls, the thing Howard rebelled against in Los Angeles. Houston had center in Omer Asik who was not an offensive focal point. Howard demands to be. How Kevin McHale and is coaching style (which suits the rest of the roster well) and Howard mesh is going to be one of the best things to follow this season.

But we digress… it’s not just the rules that are changing the center position. You are getting young players who grew up seeing Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki or other bigs who could step out and make plays on the perimeter, and they want to do that. Guys want the ball in their hands, and that is not going to change as a generation of bigs grows up watching Kevin Durant.

Still, the rules change is a big part of why teams need stretch fours or bigs who can at least be a threat from the midrange. You can’t just plant your big man on the box anymore like he was Shaq.

  1. cantonbound13 - Aug 27, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    How’s the Ron Jeremy look a like tour going?

  2. rickyspanish - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:36 PM


    Hey! You be nice to Stan, he’s a cool dude. Comparing a wholesome man to some nasty little pig man? Get out of here with that hooey!

    • cantonbound13 - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:44 PM

      Ron is an American icon.

  3. madnova - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Has anyone mentioned this to Joe Dumars?

  4. joshm5683 - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    It’d be more interesting to see a more offensively skilled big. Shaq even in Phoenix when he was far out of his prime went to the AS game and had some decent stats, granted PHX I think was out of the playoffs at #9 or 10. Pau Gasol thrived down low without a lot of great 3pt shooting around him, after the Lakers title years and Bynum emerging, he did quite well down there as well.

    Don’t get me wrong and Stan is right and knows more about basketball than I ever will, but if the big is skilled it shouldn’t be as big of a problem. Even D12 in Orlando which was his peak, the highest he averaged was 1.9apg and 1.5avg, versus Gasol with a career high of 4.6 and career avg of 3.3

    I’m not saying Gasol is the best big in the game, its clearly Howard, but there is a lot more that goes into what is a low post guy than what D12 brings. I just think that Van Gundy saying the rules are what is changing the position is correct, but I’d put more stock into it being not being taught fundamentals as kids and watching KG and Dirk like SVG also said.

    • spursareold - Aug 27, 2013 at 5:34 PM

      Yeah, kids don’t want to play with their backs to the basket anymore on any level. Those plays rarely make ESPN.

    • fredagsedb - Aug 27, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      Good point. Which really goes in line with what the article says. Since the help can come quicker the big has to be more skilled especially regarding passing. Gasol grew up with that kind of a game where he could get fronted and doubled quickly and was therefore used to it. Young American bigs (and Dwight) need to learn to pass better

    • mfsslj05 - Aug 27, 2013 at 7:31 PM

      You hit the nail right on the head joshm! Lack of big men in the low post w/ good offensive skill sets have always been in high demand & low in supply. Jabber, Olajuwon, & Shaq would dominate today, zone defense or not.

  5. boltmania85 - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    Can anyone give Shaq some love for all this? All those dudes moved to PF just to get away from guarding him, and now they allow zone defenses just to prevent another big of his ilk to rumble through…

  6. decimusprime - Aug 27, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    You can’t just plant your big on the box like he was Shaq.

    Unless he is another dominant force of nature like Shaq.

  7. papichulo55 - Aug 27, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    Good article that helps detail how our game is changing. Thanks Kurt.

  8. mfsslj05 - Aug 27, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    There’s always been post players who could extend to the perimeter: Alvin Adams, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, David Robinson, & even Wilt in his early yrs (people forget how athletic this dude was; most remember him as a Laker in the 70’s). The lack of good offensive low post big men is timeless. Any of the dominant ones from any era would be as successful today as they were in their time, zone D’s or not (talking the Russells, Jabbers, Olajawons, Shaqs, Wilts, etc.).

  9. realninerfan22 - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    Men if coaches started teaching these 6 10, 7 foot guys how to play on the block and stop giving the leeway to shoot jumpers the NBA wud be a far better product… Real nba fans and b ball fans see how deluded this game has become

    • miamatt - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      I think “diluted” is the word you’re looking for.

  10. dgilet1 - Aug 28, 2013 at 6:12 AM

    I’m not buying this article simply off of the fact that Roy Hibbert looked like Hakeem in the playoffs. It’s not the rules it’s the fact that there are very few skilled bigs. Duncan still dominates, Randolph still dominated, and Roy Hibbert of all people even dominated. If a center has legit skill in the post he will dominate in this league

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