Am I My Brother's Brother?
My colleague, Bethlehem Shoals, holds us down today over at McSweeney’s, where he takes the role of the recent historian, detailing the movement that has come to be known within the FD inner circle, as the Positional Revolution. This movement, in which centers have become play-making assist-guys in the post (cf. Vlade), power forwards have become obsessed with the three-ball, and point guards have become shoot-first dynamos, has been embraced by the league, but has yet to yield any team a championship. Shoals’ thesis, is that the next great step in this movement is for the positional revolution to be embraced at an organizational level, so that instead of one 6-foot-7 point guard or one 6-foot-9 center providing a mismatch, entire teams are engaged in this system of a madman’s logic. This Organizational Revolution, then, Shoals argues should yield greater success.
Although only time will tell, I am here to argue against such an organizational revolution (abbreviated: an OR), and furthermore to state that the Positional Revolution (PR) has largely been responsible for much of the league’s decline over the past few years. The PR, of course, is not unique to the NBA. Indeed, in the NFL and MLB, such movements have arisen as well, but through different means. In these leagues, the very scarcity of quality players at key positions, quarterback and ace starting pitcher, has led to entire offenses and pitching staffs, respectively, emerging as patchwork manifestations. Focusing on the NFL exclusively (baseball gets a bit complicated here), its OR arose due largely to the demise of the quarterback, as well as to the increased speed of defensive lineman (now with the agility of D-backs). The result was that the quarterback position itself, in terms of winning a championship, ultimately became meaningless. Post-St.Louis Rams of 2000, The Superbowl trophy has gone to the team with the most dominant defense, as exemplified by the 2001 Ravens, the 2003 Buccaneers—and to a somewhat similar extent the Pats dynasty teams and last year’s Steelers. A year’s worth of spectacular play by a Manning, McNabb, Culpepper, or Vick, has gone all for naught.
In the NBA, this trend seemed like it would rear its ugly head, when the Pistons of 2004 won the championship. Due to coaching genius and a too-ugly defense, the Pistons, led by an undersized center, the O.G. shoot-first PG of the 21st century (Billups), a 3-ball-shooting PF, trounced the imploding Lakers. Immediately following the Pistons’ shocking victory, however, two important things happen. Shaq got hungry again, forced his way out of LA, and positioned himself to win another championship. And Stern got wise to this defensive uprising, and implemented more emphasis on handchecking. Next thing we knew, we were back to traditionallly position-ed teams, the 2005 Spurs and 2006 Heat, winning the Larry OB in no time. Although, the PR/OR has emerged in the NBA, its success has been stifled.
So we are now back to a sea of illusions. Whereas in the NFL, the victor of their PR has been dominant defenses, the victor of the NBA PR has, and will be, any team that can scrape together a traditionally position-ed starting five. More specifically, any team who can conjure up an ACTUAL center (see Shaq) and an ACTUAL point guard (see the two-headed monster of Glove/White Chocolate), should emerge as dominant. What this does then, is give false hope to fanbases that think their team is going to win with “smallball” or even worse “smallball + a shootfirst PG.” I think back to the Nellie-helmed Mavericks teams, that fateful year when Toine played a good deal of Center, and I cringe. As a Timberwolves fan, I am shaking in my Lugz boots. Thoughts of KG playing center, with a bunch of sub-6’7” guys running around (Ricky D, Mike James, Justin Reed, Trenton Hassell all lie about their height) are all warm and fuzzy in October, but as the season unfolds you begin to realize: it’s smoke and mirrors. Sure you can survive off of smallball for a few games, then all of a sudden Przybilla comes to town and makes you look like the Washington Generals.
Similarly, Warriors fans are probably salivating at reports that their opening day starting five consists of Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Baron Davis, DaJuan Wagner, and Mickael Pietrus (note: POSITIONS HAVE NOT BEEN ASSIGNED, also note: THE MOST FD STARTING FIVE OF 2007!). Yet again, Nellie is up to his magic tricks. To survive in the playoffs, the PG must distribute. The center must be able to hang with Shaq. And while I share Shoals’ optimism for the Wizards of 5767, or even for a potentially rejuvenated Phx Suns team…cruel reality has my sights set elsewhere.