There is no denying that in the last couple of years in the National Basketball Association the guards and wing players have taken center stage with their impressive play.
Glaring proof of this is how players playing such positions have dominated races for individual awards and how teams boasting of top back court players and wings have gone on to win championships in The Association.
Heck, the league has even done away with voting a center in the All-Star Game and just put it under undefined “front court” category.
This year though, while the “small guys” are still at it, the big men have been making their presence felt far significantly, which has certainly brought delight to me as a long-time fan of the NBA.
Maybe it is growing up in the 1980s and ’90s where guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Robert Parish, Bill Laimbeer, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal figured prominently that made me miss the plays of the bigs and, ditto, the satisfaction I am now getting every time watch the games.
Mind you, I still like seeing the creativity, speed and athleticism of guards and wing players in the NBA but to see big guys be game-changers anew makes the experience “fuller.”
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns are some of the new-generation bigs that I enjoy watching these days.
While they are not the traditional centers that I grew up seeing that dominated the paint and wreak havoc, still the way they show finesse and athleticism in altering games on both ends of the court is very impressive.
Embiid, in particular, has made a believer out of me especially how he missed his first two seasons in the NBA and was limited last year.
This season he has been posting solid numbers that has me believing he could be the next dominant big man if not in the whole of the NBA, at least in the Eastern Conference where the Sixers play.
Defensive big men are also being highlighted this season with Dwight Howard of Charlotte, Andre Drummond of Detroit, Hassan Whiteside of Miami, Rudy Gobert of Utah, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Myles Turner of Indiana having solid campaigns so far and helping their teams to be competitive.
Standouts still for me are the plays of Al Horford of Boston, Enes Kanter of New York, Nikola Vucevic of Orlando, Marc Gasol of Memphis and DeMarcus Cousins of New Orleans.
While I do acknowledge that with the way the games in the NBA have evolved into a more fast-paced setup and big man play as I knew it in the past is no longer the norm, still to see NBA bigs weave their hands in the complexion of games more often now than in any moment in the recent past is a welcome sight to behold.
The big men are back? Sure looks like it. And the NBA is all the better for it.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.