Post Play: An Endangered Species?

This week’s men’s Final Four has many excited because of the potential for a low-post dual between Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. In a preview of the potential matchup, and the upcoming NBA Draft, Sports Illustrated’s basketball writers wrote about their preferences. Chris Mannix wrote:

True centers are an endangered species and Okafor has 15-year franchise pivot potential.

I am unsure what makes someone a true center. Is Marc Gasol a true center? Dwight Howard? Demarcus Cousins? Andre Drummond? Jusuf Kurkic?Joel Embiid? What makes a player a true center?

There is a noticeable de-emphasis on back-to-the-basket low post play, which I discussed previously. Does a true center only engage in back to the basket play?

If Mannix is correct, and true centers are an endangered species, it begs the question: Are true centers endangered because of the manner in which the game has evolved or are they endangered because they are outliers due to the requisite size, skill, and strength?

By his tone, I assume that Mannix is suggesting that the true center is desired, but is an outlier because of the difficulty in developing one. Therefore, when one has a chance to acquire such a rare phenomenon, the team should.

I believe that true centers may be endangered because their species has not kept up with the evolution of the game. Teams do not build their offenses around back-to-the-basket centers. The game has evolved to be a more perimeter-oriented game. Posts are valued for their ability to protect the rim, catch passes in traffic and finish on the move, and pull their defenders away from the rim.

Can an outlier from a previous generation thrive in the present-day NBA? I suppose that is the question. As much as players such as Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert want to be the center of their team’s offenses, they are valued more for their rim protection than their back to the basket post-ups. Most teams appear to prefer a player such as Rudy Gobert who can move in space and protect the rim than players such as Nicola Vucevic and Nikola Pekovic despite the offensive production and size of Vucevic and Pekovic.

It is an interesting question. Are true centers endangered because coaches, players, and teams have difficulty developing them, or are they endangered because the evolution of the game has pushed them to the brink of extinction because of the emphasis on shooting, driving, and protecting the rim?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice

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