Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tony Parker started games for five time champions San Antonio Spurs in the 2015-2016 season. Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Dwayne Wade and Goran Dragic, did same for Miami Heat and the Utah Jazz, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burke and Raul Neto.
Throwing a traditional or conventional lineup on a court nightly, runs through the DNA of the NBA. Playing two big men close to the basket with three players behind them to carry assisting and scoring duties, has been around for as long as basketball was invented. Changes in the game over the years, has culminated in an amalgamation of responsibilities and styles hitherto associated with particular sects.
Power Forwards posted up and scored off clever foot works, stronger upper bodies and spin moves in the 1980’s. A big man scoring three point shots and long jumpers was unthinkable to fathom but in the modern age, it is in vogue. 80’s Power Forward Kevin McHale played in 328 games in his first four years in the league but attempted only six three point shots and made one in the period.
In comparison, Power Forward Anthony Davis has attempted 135 three point shots converting 38 of those in 260 games played since being drafted number one in 2012. The modern age big man isn’t content on posting up and pounding his way through the paint, the modern age giant stands somewhere around the arc to shoot from distance when defenses double up on penetrating guards.
Prior to the just ended season, Indiana Pacers- a consummate traditionalist hub- took a step away from the model by renouncing Roy Hibbert and David West and bumping Small Forward Paul George to West’s position.
The shake up signaled Indiana’s intent on playing faster with an open offense that features loads of three point shots with just one big man stationed close to the basket. However, George’s preference for his original position and the consequent development of Miles Turner, meant the Pacers backtracked on their plan. Exiting from the playoffs at the hands of Toronto Raptors in the first round gave Team President Larry Bird another chance to go at the trendy style. Which he did firstly by failing to activate Coach Frank Vogel’s contract, not resigning Ian Mahinmi-who has since signed for Washington Wizards- and trading for All-Star Point Guard Jeff Teague. The new look Indiana team will have runners all over the court with Turner, Teague, Monta Ellis and Thaddeus Young for new head trainer Nate McMillan to earn his stripes. But just as the league’s “Super Team” Golden State Warriors has shown in two straight finals appearances, having a Plan B is the surest way to be a winner.
The Warriors who used a conventional lineup combination of Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bogut won most games of a 73 win regular season, when it went with a modern lineup with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green in the frontcourt, Andre Iguodala at Small Forward and Klay Thompson and Steph Curry at the Guard positions. As such, Indiana’s capture of Center Al Jefferson with a three year $30 million deal bucks the trend of the Warriors. For in Jefferson, a low post old school front court dweller who makes a living operating near the basket, Indiana has more than adequately filled in its options on Plan B ahead of the season.
Jefferson’s moniker “Big Classic” perfectly describes the 31 year old who will be suiting up for his fifth team when the Pacers season begins. In 813 games played across 12 years in the NBA, Jefferson has attempted only 62 three pointers and converted eight of them. Having a guy so skilled in scoring in the paint will come in handy when injuries inevitably set in what is expected to be a long season for the Pacers who plan on progressing beyond the first round of the playoffs. Playing faster and attempting loads of three pointers sounds fun but turning it into wins matter more and Indiana’s shooters with exception of George, are streaky and lack consistency to be heavily relied on.
Meaning should Ellis, Teague, C. J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey’s shooting get stuck in the mud, McMillan can call on Jefferson to get to work down low for key baskets as shooters recapture their touch from distance. The Pacers missing the playoffs following Paul George’s broken leg was a fluke as it almost made it to the second round a year after.
Bringing in needed reinforcements and alternative approach will only bolster their strength and ambitions ahead of a new campaign.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah