Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Lost Art of the Low Post Game

There is little debate among the basketball intelligentsia in the matter. Kentucky's Anthony Davis appears to be the consensus #1 overall pick.  This is no small feat, especially since many scouts are calling this the deepest Draft class since '03. The 19 year old is projected to be a starting power forward who can have an immediate impact at the next level. Some would go as far as to say that Davis will one day blossom into a franchise player.  Predicting the success of big men coming into the league can be a crap shoot but the kid does have a tremendous upside. Davis is a game changer on the defensive end. He is already a superb shot blocker with great instincts. He runs the floor well, is surprisingly quick, and has an amazing vertical leap. These attributes contribute to him being an exceptional offensive rebounder. Anthony Davis is listed as 6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan. He also has nimble feet and a nice looking jump shot. These attributes could contribute to him one day becoming a good low post scorer.

A good low post scorer.

Imagine that.

There is a serious lack of good low post scorers in the league right now.   For years, getting a dominant big man and surrounding him with outside shooters and other role players was the blueprint for winning championships.  It was how the Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets won two of them. It was how the Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers won 3 of them.  It was how Tim Duncan and the Spurs were able to win 4. One could even argue that the low post play of Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett were essential to their respective teams' championship runs. Getting that dominant big man used to be every team's mission in life.

Things are much different these days. The tried and true "back-to-the-basket" style of play seems to be going the way of the set shot and the underhanded free throw. Why is that?  There are plenty of athletic big men in the league but for whatever reason, none of them are dominant low post scorers.  Is it because strong, agile, coordinated, 7-footers with a soft shooting touch are that hard to come by?  Is it because today's game is becoming more about guard play and perimeter shooting?  Either explanation makes sense.  You don't see guys with Olajuwon's size, footwork, and skill set every day.  The game is also changing.  Nowadays there is no shortage of great perimeter players at every level.  Perhaps today's big men are being taught to become screen setters rather than scorers.

Some teams still choose to invest in big men.  Right now, the two best in the league (in my estimation) are Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.  Both guys can take over a game on any given night.  Their play in the low post commands double teams, creates spacing and makes their teammates' jobs a whole lot easier.  Who else is there?  Roy Hibbert, Al Horford, Andrew Bogut, and Luis Scola are all quality big men but none of them are exactly "franchise player" material.  Demarcus Cousins could develop into a dominant big man but has a lot of maturing to do.

The Hornets' eventual decision to draft Anthony Davis is not without risk.  A lot of promising 7-footers taken number 1 overall ended up being busts. Yao Ming was a dominant center when he was healthy. Unfortunately, he wasn't healthy too often.  Andrew Bogut has the size and skills to be a dominant low post scorer but can't stay healthy either.  Greg Oden may have developed into a great center but has never been able to remain injury-free for any extended period of time.  Kwame Brown had all of the physical tools to become a great center but will most likely be remembered as the biggest bust in the history of the NBA.

I hope that Anthony Davis will live up to the hype.  It would be great to have another dominant big man in the NBA and I believe that it would be good for the game.  Back in the day, seeing Ewing and Olajuwon go at it was always entertaining.  Some of my favorite Playoff memories involved watching Shaq and Tim Duncan battle in the low post.  One day I may be just as fondly recalling the epic battles between Anthony Davis and Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, or DeMarcus Cousins.