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The modern age of NBA big men is embodied by an array of archetypes unlike those of the past. Gone are the days of the 7 footers who had to rely on an arsenal of post moves to score. Teams used to search for players like Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Hakeem Olajuwon, or Patrick Ewing, but today the modern play-style allows big men to have a wider array of skill sets. Rather than forcing themselves into post scorers, today’s big men are available to find roles on their team that best suit their skill set.
20.2 PPG,10.2 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 3.1 TOVs
52.8% FG / 31.4% 3PT / 81.3% FT
Nikola Jokic is one of the only centers that can truly be labelled a point-center. The ability to pass is not something rare in big men. We’ve seen Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Kevin Garnett all be capable passers, but very few have been the primary play-maker for the team. In 2018-2019 Jokic averaged 7.3 assists, the only other big to average 7 assists per game throughout a season was Wilt Chamberlain.
Along with his ability to pass, Jokic has incredible touch around the rim. Once he has his back to the basket, he is able to either overpower players with his huge frame or finesse players with floaters and hooks. Furthermore, this season he has developed a step-back fade as a last ditch shot which has been almost unblockable due to his height advantage.
The combination of play-making and scoring ability makes Jokic one of the best centers in the league and makes the Nuggets one of the most unique teams. The Nuggets surround Jokic with four players capable of athletic shooters. When Jokic gets the ball in the high post, the opposing defense is forced to pick their poison.
- Let Jokic torch you 1 v. 1
- Double team Jokic, leading to an open three
- Shade towards Jokic leading to a backdoor cutter
Either way the Nuggets are scoring and Jokic is making the right decision.
The only thing that hurts Jokic offensively is his shot from deep. His free throw percentage and touch on mid-range jumpers suggest that he should be a better shooter from three, however he is only roughly 31% the past two years. He was able to shoot 39.6% in 2017-2018 so there is precedent for efficient shooting. Jokic must still be respected from three, however teams would happily accept a Jokic 3-pointer given the current percentages.
Defensively, Jokic is an underrated defender. He’s a net positive on defense due to his understanding of positioning and his ability to cut off driving lanes. However his size limits his foot speed when he gets switched onto smaller, quicker guards. The Nuggets understand this though and are able to hide Jokic on defense by surrounding him with some solid perimeter defenders and not often switching on defense.
23.4 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 3.1 TOVs
47.4% FG / 34.8% 3PT / 81.4% FT
Joel Embiid is the closest when it comes to embodying the archetype of big men from the past. He has the power to just bully his way towards the rim for monstrous dunks. In addition he has beautiful footwork allowing himself to dance to the rim at times. He’s an unstoppable force which allows him to draw fouls where he is able to knockdown free throws at an efficient clip.
Defensively Embiid is a monster when he is completely locked in. When he is in shape, there are only one or two players who have the same impact on the defensive end that Embiid has. He is an elite shot blocker and he has helped the 76ers become one of the best defenses in the league.
Most importantly of all, the thing that stands out with Embiid is his personality and showmanship. At this point the 76ers have embraced Embiid as the face of the franchise and Embiid puts on a show every night for Philly. His boastful mannerisms and overall swagger is not only entertaining but invigorating to teammates.
Joel Embiid has consistently faced injuries throughout his career and often times it hurts his overall conditioning. When he is fully conditioned, Embiid is one of the best in the league, however when he is out of shape he is still good but not amazing. At times when out of shape, his feet are heavy and he can be beaten off the dribble by guards.
Surprisingly, Embiid is a good floor spacer but at times he can fall in love with his shot rather than going to the post. As a play-maker Embiid is more than capable of making slick passes. However he often takes too many risks which leads to his negative assists to turnover ratio.
26.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.4 BPG, 2.5 TOVs
51.1% FG / 33.5% 3PT / 84.5% FT
Post game? Check. Face-up? Check. Lob threat? Check. Anthony Davis is everything you want on offense from a big man. He’s fast enough to get around most bigs and skilled enough to shoot over them. His huge wingspan make him Lebron’s perfect pick n’ roll partner, and if you try to foul him he’s efficient from the free throw line.
AD’s offense is amazing but his calling card is his defense. A big man should not be able to keep up with guards the way that AD is able to. His anticipation is awe-inspiring and combined with his airplane like wingspan makes it impossible to get anything up against him. A rim protector of AD’s caliber allows perimeter defenders to take more risks and be more aggressive since they know AD is in the back line to erase his mistakes.
AD’s percentage from mid-range and three leaves room for improvement and so does his decision making. At this point it’s really just nit-picking when looking at AD’s weaknesses. Before this season many have questioned whether AD would be durable enough to last a season. So far this season he has only missed 8 games though.
Karl Anthony Towns
26.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 3.1 TOVs
50.8% FG / 41.2% 3PT / 79.6% FT
Karl Anthony Towns is an offensive monster and has embraced analytical basketball. The past two seasons KAT has kept a three point percentage above 40% while attempting around 3.5 and 4.6 attempts per game. This season he has increased his attempts to 7.9 attempts while keeping a percentage above 40%. This is serious volume and efficiency. The combination puts him in the realm of sharpshooting gods like Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Ray Allen.
The three is only one weapon in KAT’s arsenal. He is able to get to the line consistently (6.5 FT/G) while also being a capable post player. Although he is a bit turnover prone, he is a capable passer. In the post he is fairly efficient with a nice hook shot, however he prefers to face up than take players in the post.
KAT needs to work on his defense if he wants to take the next step and become a two-way monster. He has the size and strength to handle himself against post players, however he does not have the lateral speed to handle perimeter play.
The Timberwolves have seen limited success with KAT and after the whole ordeal with Jimmy Butler many question KAT’s drive. Often time in games he may seem disinterested especially on the defensive end of the floor. He has shown a willingness to take over on offense this year, however he needs to take initiative to takeover the defensive end of the court if the T-Wolves want to make noise in the playoffs.
15.1 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.9 TOVs
69.8% FG / 62.1% FT
The “Stifle Tower” has established himself as the best defensive center in the league. Almost every year the Utah Jazz boasts one of the most efficient defenses and it’s all thanks to the two-time defensive player of the year. His 7’0” height and 7’8” wingspan is already intimidating, and his willingness to contest everything make him the ideal defensive anchor. Even when he is not blocking shots, his sheer presence forces players to double clutch and shoot in unusual angles.
On offense, Gobert is the ideal roll man. His long arms allow him to catch lobs even if they aren’t the most accurate. As long the ball is around the rim, expect Gobert to come down with it. This applies for offensive rebounds as well, Gobert is an active player on the bored and is always fighting for the rebound. Although you’re not asking him to do much on offense, whatever he does, he is able to do it efficiently.
With Gobert you rely on his strengths and you live with his glaring weaknesses. Offensively Gobert is exclusive as a roll man or clean-up guy. His shot is non-existent even from mid-range and his play-making is limited to the obvious pass. This often hurts the Jazz in the play-offs when often times teams focus on Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz’s only source on offense.
Defensively Gobert can be seen as a liability on switches. The past two years in the playoffs Gobert was terrible against the rockets as they constantly had Harden attack him on switches. This year suggests that Gobert has became a more efficient isolation scorer, however until he is able to prove it in the playoffs I’d still say it is a big weakness in his game.
The Future of NBA Bigs
The modern age of NBA big men is only the start of the evolving games. Already young players like Zion Williamson, John Collins, and Lauri Markkanen are showing promising skills and builds unlike these big men. Even in high school, big men are learning to embrace different archetypes as more and more bigs are encouraged to learn guard skills. Overseas basketball is only getting more and more popular increasing the talent pool. The modern age of NBA big men is already exciting, but as the game grows who knows what the future era of NBA bigs will bring.