Ramp Up Those Tablets

I know, just another Wilt video to take the place of actual Shoals writing. I'm on vacation, motherfuckers, and think there's some food for thought here. You also might enjoy watching me get unusually deep on TSB, with a column to follow later.

Anyway, in a far-off context, I've been trying to work through the so-called death/evolution of the big man. It's funny, we've seen the pure point guard reconstituted after a period in the wilderness, albeit with some rough edges that come in handy. The big man narrative, though, is rather different. Look at Wilt. Impossibly tall and strong, but how skilled and fluid he is! Even Bill Russell—through today's lens, he's wiry, athletic playmaker who doesn't live off of low-post volume alone. Exaggerated, maybe, but it's worth noting that these pillars of the center community are, to some degree, in violation of the template of purity.

It's the same way that young Shaq's athleticism made him feel like a real breakthrough, even if the brute strength would ultimately become his calling card. Or how Hakeem's inside wizardry is anything but formulaic execution. You have to ask yourself, how much did Kevin Garnett really change the game? Is Dwight Howard actually as revolutionary as believed? It's less that there are no more big men, or today's tall dudes want to go in another direction, than that the great ones have always blurred these distinctions—just also while keeping one foot firmly planted in the camp of Mikan-esque tradition.

We haven't seen a radical break, or rise and fall of a bygone species. No, to break out an apt but ugly basketball analogy, the chance in the big man's style has been a skillful pivot that decided to say "fuck it" and move off both feet.

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At 3/26/2009 1:07 PM, Blogger Reverend Paul Revere said...

No new big man, but Thad Young, new power forward? Fuck Brand.

At 3/26/2009 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Revolutionized is a strong word. Obviously you are talking about the best big men around, but just a quality shout out to Vlade and Sabonis for good measure. These dudes could really pass the ball. Too me this was more revolutionary (while KG, Shaq, Wilt and so on are just dominant) than Shaq or Dwight's brute strength and crazy hops.

Regarding Dwight. This has been said before, but if the man gets a post game, he could become very scary. Personally, I am looking forward to the playoffs to see what kind of heart superman has.

I know this shit will be lame and no doubt said before (but what color is kryptonite?).

Rest up KG.

At 3/26/2009 1:45 PM, Blogger Harish said...

Those finger rolls Wilt drops in this video are just a thing of beauty.

When you're talking about the great centers of all-time emphasizing fluidity and motion in their game, why stop at Shaq, Hakeem, Russell, and Wilt? David Robinson was amazingly agile, heck even Bill Walton was mobile and dominant in his prime. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFmxxpHMee8

I think this is pointing at a larger theory- perhaps the true greats of our game transcend their position by adopting the tendencies of otherwise opposite roles?
For example, Jordan, one of the greatest guards of all time, just killing opponents with his low-post game. The aforementioned centers overpowering opponents not necessarily with brute force and strength, but a combination of athleticism and guard-like dancing around defenders.
To truly be great, you can't merely do the best of what is expected of your position- you have to transcend it and take over the game in a completely unanticipated way. (I think this point is also pertinent to the ongoing Kobe-Lebron saga, and in a way adds on to what you've been saying)

At 3/26/2009 3:06 PM, Blogger Chris said...

In the clip's final segment, what the Dipper and his teammate are doing is less an alley-oop than a strange kind of basket-qua-volley ball--where the big fella can move and receive it within range of an uncontestable dunk. Hot fug!

At 3/26/2009 3:59 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

People believe Dwight Howard is revolutionary?

At 3/26/2009 4:14 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

While attending the Sixers-Warriors game last week, I had a few minutes of nostalgia for the Era of the NBA Big Man.

I missed Ewing showing off all if his skills around the basket, even as his athleticism declined. I thought about Zo's across-the-lane running jump hook. Dream Shake. Vlade and Sabonis flipping the ball unconventionally at the basket and passing to swarms of cutting wing players. Kemp jumping out of the building. Absurdly agile behemoths pounding the hell out of each other in the post. It was it's own kid of fun.

In light of that, it occurred to me that there's a tendency to lump the Age of Centers with the intentional slowing of pace in the 90s as a strategy employed by too many coaches. By lumping them together, the fun of the low-post game as practiced by giants gets obfuscated.

FD justifiably celebrates the return of guard play, but perhaps the dearth of bigs isn't adequately mourned. As tempo returns to the game, and skilled guards are reborn, the addition of a host of equally skilled and athletic bigs who know how to play in the post could actually enhance, rather than detract from, the overall increase in fun that we're currently enjoying.

I'd like to see Amare in the post, surrounded by a team like the 2004-05 Suns, going up against Dwight Howard.

At 3/27/2009 12:34 AM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

A couple of things about that video:

- Wilt was doing some of those moves against Willis Reed, himself a HOF player. So, for those that always say "Wilt never played against anyone as good or big as him" they should see that video as proof that, a) he did; and b) it didn't matter, he would have been good against anybody ever.

- I really wish there was more video of that era, and that what is available was of higher quality.

- Seeing Oden play kind of like the Oden we thought we'd see in that game against Philly on Monday gives me some hope that the big man battles may yet return.

At 3/27/2009 7:25 AM, Blogger Alexander J said...

dare I say that this post smells like a trap! Perhaps a great way of getting the commenters to brainstorm in a constructive manner with some heavy handed rhetoric; the revolution of the big man position is kind of like the American Socialist revolution in the sense that neither ever really happened.

Every few years the right combination of athleticism and skill get put inside some 7 foot body. The question then becomes who can help inspire/align the stars of this powerful individual to use the powers for good. I nominate the six foot eight girl who meanly dunks on helpless defenders; Jason Maxiell would absolutely destroy her in a game of one on one. Why doesn't anyone talk about the little big man thing going on?

That first post sez Thad Young is the new kind of 4 within the context of a running sixers sans EB. By that logic we could view Boris Diaw in the same light, but without D'Antoni nobody seems to give a damn about the guy in the context of big men; bad shot selection and a certain softness can offset any metric that displays remarkable rebounding efficiency.

David Robinson was such a fucking athlete it was plumb ridiculous.

Shaq changed things by wanting to dunk everything and anything when he was young and spry.

What about Al Horford taking his game to the next level?

So many hunchbacks, so few soldiers...

At 3/27/2009 9:18 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I think when I wrote that Dwight Howard column, I was confusing his dunk contest performances with his game. That said, he does synthesize young Shaq and young Amare like no one else.

I know David Robinson was athletic. This wasn't just about athleticism, and he probably belongs in this discussion, but thank you for the reminder.

And again, I think that the evolution of positions is real, the death of the big man probably something of a myth, a matter of perception. So the truth of what centers are these days is somewhere in between.

At 3/27/2009 2:27 PM, Blogger The Modern Things said...

I've had difficulty getting behind the "Dwight Howard as savior" sentiment that FD (as well as most other places) seems to imply. My biggest problem with Howard is that, despite his obvious athletic prowess, his game seems limited to, exclusively, the low-post. He's almost completely useless when he steps outside of 10 feet, and it's been my impression that, with the changes the game has seen in the last few years (a shift from the big man to the point guard), Howard isn't enough of a hybrid big man to make him truly valuable as the game progresses.

What makes Amare so incredible is that he can both rebound, block, post-up, and step out and make an 18 footer. This is a huge aspect of Howard's game that, as time goes on and (this is my speculation) the game becomes increasingly more focused on the point guard and speed, will ultimately make Howard as much a statue-esque hindrance as it does make him an undeniable value on the glass and low post.

At 3/27/2009 2:39 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I don't really think so highly of Howard, and that column I linked to was from 2007-08. But he does combine guard-like ups (not relative, "athletic center" stuff) with brute force in a way that only LeBron has ever come close to. Amare, even pre-surgery, was always more elastic, less about the improbably reconciliation of opposites.

At 4/03/2009 1:29 AM, Blogger ghengis blond said...

beth, you must remember how hard amare jousted people in the lists. dwight does it with two hands, which is cooler for dunking on people, but amare dunked really hard.


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