In youth leagues, you are taught that a basketball lineup has a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, power forward, and center. And this remains true through high school, college, and into the NBA. But there has been a movement as of late denouncing such declarations.
The fourth estate has dubbed it ‘Positionless Basketball’. The idea spawned in response to organizations building their teams with players that can play not only one, but two, three, even four positions out on the floor. The idea is that the players become subservient to the game itself. In many ways, this is a more natural way to look at the game of basketball. Instead of players being obdurate and trying to force a win by playing their way, they adapt to the flow of the game as it comes to them. This means that someone that would be classified as a power forward might find the ball in his hands and be running the show at the point in a given situation.
One NBA team looking to diverge away from the contrived thinking of old are the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the nucleus of their oasis of versatility in southern Wisconsin. Listed at 6’11” and 222 lbs., Giannis can effectively do it all (more or less). The 22-year-old is entering his 5th season off the back of a Most Improved Player award and his first All-Star selection in 2017.
Head coach Jason Kidd is following a well-defined philosophy in his quest for ‘Positionless Basketball’ and has made Giannis a paragon in its regard. At only 22, many consider him to be the most exciting prospect in all of basketball and an almost certain shoe-in for eventual MVP honors. And this of course begs the question, how vital is versatility?
For years, the league has prospered under the wings of largely one-dimensional players. There is the textbook big, a Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside, both of whom are absolute nightmares around the rim and among the very best as far as defense is concerned. Then enters the shoot-first wing, Kyle Korver for example, someone who comes in and makes a devastating impact behind the arc. After that you have a powerful defensive bully, an emulation of say Tony Allen. And then the playmaker, call him Derrick Rose, a ball-handler to run the show and create the points.
Then the association saw the dominant debut of the two-way players. With it came the emergence of superstar talents Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard. Players with both offensive and defensive acumen who serve to mitigate uncertainty on the court. Each of the aforementioned players will earn upwards of $18 million in 2017-18, and are less than 28 years of age. It pays to be versatile in the NBA.
Circling back to the Greek Freak, Giannis will pocket upwards of $22 million this season, and rightfully so. He led his Bucks team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks last season, as well as finishing in the top 20 in the NBA in each of the 5 categories. Players like Giannis will lead other franchises to develop a proclivity for versatility in their lineups. They will look for more than just stretch 4s and a wing that can attack and defend; they will look for someone that can do a little bit of everything.
That is not to say that the NBA should turn its back on the specialists in the league. There will always be a place for the dazzling ball-handling of Kyrie Irving, the incredible range of Klay Thompson, or the incredible vision of John Wall. But now when picking a starting lineup, it maybe won’t be necessary to define positions going into the game, but rather adapt to the circumstances once they are presented.
The Bucks finished last season as the 6th seed in the East, losing to the Raptors in the second round, but showing real signs of vitality in the process. Will more teams adapt the Bucks’ creed to their roster, only time will tell. But in several years’ time the NBA may well see the denouement of basketball positions in favor of the positionless approach, highlighted by the all-important versatility à la Milwaukee.