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View Full Version : Is the NBA moving towards "positionless basketball"?



JerseyPalahniuk
07-20-2012, 11:54 PM
I was reading this TrueHoop article today and it brought up a lot of interesting points about where the NBA may be headed.

http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/48094/shane-battier-prototype





“Positionless basketball” is an idea first articulated by then Bucks coach Don Nelson, who used Marques Johnson as a “point forward” out of necessity (Tiny Archibald got hurt) in the 1984 playoffs. Later, Nelson would play 6-7 shooter Chris Mullin as a power forward and Rod Higgins, also 6-7 at center.

Nelson’s vision was more or less to have five players who could do everything on the court, playing as interchangeable parts. The idea was that such extreme versatility would make defending or scoring against that team more difficult than a conventional lineup with conventional (and therefore obvious) strengths and weaknesses.

It’s a nice idea, but one that’s far harder to achieve in practice than it is in conceptualize.

In the Heat, the NBA has a working model for this type of play, which Chris Bosh succinctly describes to Couper Moorhead on Heat.com as “putting traditional guys in the next position over.” This allowed the Heat to play with more speed on the court than even the Oklahoma City Thunder, who, though extremely athletic at multiple positions, often played with at least one plodder on the court.

The difference from this year to last year was Shane Battier. That’s why we went after him so hard in the offseason. People looked at that as a little unconventional. They thought we had so many wing players, why would we go after another one? But he was the key to really unlock all our versatility and to put our best players out there and really be positionless and make other teams have to adjust to us.

Two trends seem to point towards these trend:
1. The rise of "super guards" as Nash put it: Rose, Westbrook
2. The influx of stretch 4's as compared to the 90s with players like Dirk, Ryan Anderson, etc

More and more players seem to be valuable if they can play (and guard) multiple positions. An example of teams that seem to play this way and use players with tremendous flexibility are the Heat, the Pacers, and the Sixers (with their string of sf/pf's). Hybrid guards and forwards are becoming the norm nowadays. I realize that the prototypical point guard and center will always exist and have value in the NBA (Rondo or Bynum) but is the NBA moving towards positionless basketball?

TyrionLannister
07-21-2012, 12:05 AM
I'd say this is definitely where we're headed. Really athletic players who can defend multiple positions are becoming more premiere. This new form of smallball is what made Kendrick Perkins, a quality post defender, look like a scrub.

dssiuhdjsa
07-21-2012, 12:11 AM
http://www.poci.info/jpg1 It's Unbelievable.

Dade County
07-21-2012, 12:21 AM
But I still think that you need above average players to pull this off.

You might need a star or two.

nolafan33
07-21-2012, 01:20 AM
Well ahead of "headed."

dodie53
07-21-2012, 01:29 AM
your best five should be very versatile guys

njnets
07-21-2012, 01:34 AM
best 5 players are definitely starting to take over the traditional lineup.

at the end of games, a majority of teams go "small-ball" because of the lack of centers in the league. more talent at the wing position, thus bringing in a better player into the game.

also, the decrease in post/inside game around the league allows for smaller lineups to work.

ryang
07-21-2012, 01:35 AM
wow... No its not pointless basketball..

blastmasta26
07-21-2012, 02:41 AM
wow... No its not pointless basketball..
Did you misread the title lol it's "positionless"

And yeah, I've noticed this trend too. The Heat of course are the most successful proponents of it and we're seeing it with the Olympic team as well. It's a lineup that promotes athleticism. But I don't know if there is quite a paradigm shift because it may be something that only elite teams can pull off.

DitchDat
07-21-2012, 06:59 AM
Positions are semantics nowadays.

Kyle N.
07-21-2012, 09:07 AM
Positions have never been defined in the rulebook. If a coach is more concerned about making sure everybody has some arbitrary title to go with their name so they can fit classically make up positions on the court rather than finding 5 guys who will play together and win, then that's a crappy coach. Who thinks Wilt and Russell couldn't play together because they're the same position?

Storch
07-21-2012, 09:13 AM
This is what team USA is and thrives on.

IndyRealist
07-21-2012, 09:14 AM
The flip side of this is that the NBA is going toward "positionless" basketball because players on the whole are less skilled, fundamentally, then they were 15 years ago. So the players dominating the game are the ones with the athletic advantage, because no one has a skill advantage. A lot of this has to do with the AAU circuit and media exposure. When guys are national stars before they even graduate high school, what coach is going to be able to bench them for not passing the ball? Then they go to college, but only for a year. Little coaching there, too. So the NBA is littered with run-jump, dribble-drive athletes who like shooting 3's and dunking, because those things get you on Sportscenter. The NBA is going toward positionless basketball because they're basically getting carbon copy players to work with. We have point guards that don't know how to pass, shooting guards who can't shoot, and centers who have more 3pt attempts per game than rebounds.

rwynyc
07-21-2012, 12:10 PM
I look at the nba like this now. Once it finishes I have a few months before football. When it starts oh I have football and basketball. When football ends at least I have basketball. I dont look forward to it but I dont despise it when its on.

Its just fills time between football now

ohreally
07-21-2012, 12:26 PM
No one was a point guard until the 70s, no one was a power forward before Silas, and it's later than that for shooting guard.

Doesn't matter what you call somebody, someon will have primary responsibilit for taking the ball up, someone will have primary responsibility for protecting the basket an playing near the rim, and someone will have primary responsibility for rebounding. Size, shape, styles of play have changed, but that doesn't mean that there are actually no positions. Having no positions is not organized basketball.

YashBoone
07-21-2012, 12:37 PM
I can see this happening but "position" basketbll will never fully go away...

Guys are becoming more and more athletic and your even starting to see big men , like 7 ft, who can put the ball on the floor and create their own shot....

But, what will happen is, you will start to see more and more teams like Miami who put Lebron guarding center at times, and their will be one team who uses the standard big and just dominate......

JasonJohnHorn
07-21-2012, 12:45 PM
The league has been headed in this direction for ever, and it didn't start with Don Nelson. The Big O played PG, SG and SF when he was on the floor, and Magic played all five positions. The current Heat roster borrows heavily from the Bulls of the 90's. Where the Bulls had Pippen and Jordan bringing the ball up, the Heat have LBJ and Wade, and in both cases the PG (Paxon and Chamlbers respectively) were essentially spot up shooters, or shooting guards.

C-Webb was a point-forward in that a lot of plays were run through him, and Robinson and Hakeem were similar in that regard, though Webber was likely the best passer of the three. Then there is Duncan who also has a lot of plays run through him.

There have always been exceptional players who trancend the traditional roles of players on the court. Jalen Rose got into this year about how the positions were really named and created to make it easier for casual fans to understand the game.

With the influx of European players, we see things changing because they have a different game over there. We have a lot of 6'11 SFs (Odom, Turk, ect) who twenty years ago would have been playing center or PF with their size, but their skill set is geared to the SF position. So players are each position are getting taller (except of course the center positions, which actually seems to be shrinking). But yeah.... I imagine in twenty years we will see a shift in how we see certain positions in basketball. I mean, if you had told somebody in 1990 that the best defensive C in the mid 00's was only 6'8 (Ben Wallace) and that there would be a host of SF who were 6'11, people would have looked at you sideways.

But yeah... the positions as they have been known are changing, but that change goes as far back as the 70's at least.

THE MTL
07-21-2012, 01:53 PM
I think only the Thunder and Heat can pull off positionless basketball.

tcav701
07-21-2012, 02:01 PM
No, the positions still hold true to most.

A few exceptions do not override an otherwise accurate rule.

celtNYpatsHeels
07-21-2012, 02:17 PM
If you look at recent history, it is a mixed bag. the 2012 heat won with "small ball" however the 2011 Mavs won using traditional lineups. The 2009-2010 Lakers won with more traditional lineups, but the 2008 Celtics played "small ball" alot with Posey as the PF and Perkins on the bench. So in the past 5 seasons, only three of the 10 NBA Finals teams got there by playing positionless ball:

2012 Heat
2011 Heat
2008 Celtics

but I definitely could see this number moving up in the next 5 years. Teams in the East will be forced to matchup with Miami.

JasonJohnHorn
07-21-2012, 04:28 PM
There will always be a center. But the rest of the positions are negotiable.

MrfadeawayJB
07-21-2012, 11:36 PM
I wouldnt say that it will be positionless, but more of every player being versatile. Bigs who possess skills to pass, shoot, and dribble is much more common. If big guys wanted to play Big this conversation wouldnt have much substance.

otrojilipoya
07-22-2012, 12:07 AM
Only reason this is a subject of discussion is bigs today have no back-to-the-basket game.

Minute big guys stop trying to play like MJ ... you get back to what has always worked. Inside, out ball.

JerseyPalahniuk
07-22-2012, 10:18 PM
Only reason this is a subject of discussion is bigs today have no back-to-the-basket game.

Minute big guys stop trying to play like MJ ... you get back to what has always worked. Inside, out ball.

When I made the thread, the lack of true centers wasn't what I (first) had in mind. It was more that players that would normally play SF are playing SG or PF. Versatility is HUGE now.

JasonJohnHorn those were GREAT points you made. Lebron/Wade carrying up the ball and their versatility can be comparable to Pippen/Jordan and theirs.

Jalen Rose's point definitely makes sense that the "naming" of positions were made for casual fans to understand the roles of certain players. Never thought about that. I feel as though Guards" "Wings" and "Big Men" is becoming the more appropriate classification.

TeamSeattle
07-22-2012, 10:46 PM
The flip side of this is that the NBA is going toward "positionless" basketball because players on the whole are less skilled, fundamentally, then they were 15 years ago. So the players dominating the game are the ones with the athletic advantage, because no one has a skill advantage. A lot of this has to do with the AAU circuit and media exposure. When guys are national stars before they even graduate high school, what coach is going to be able to bench them for not passing the ball? Then they go to college, but only for a year. Little coaching there, too. So the NBA is littered with run-jump, dribble-drive athletes who like shooting 3's and dunking, because those things get you on Sportscenter. The NBA is going toward positionless basketball because they're basically getting carbon copy players to work with. We have point guards that don't know how to pass, shooting guards who can't shoot, and centers who have more 3pt attempts per game than rebounds.

No wonder they call you the realist. Wisest post so far :clap:

SpaceJamJordans
07-22-2012, 10:54 PM
wow... No its not pointless basketball..

positionless. Learn how to read

3ballbomber
07-22-2012, 11:21 PM
The flip side of this is that the NBA is going toward "positionless" basketball because players on the whole are less skilled, fundamentally, then they were 15 years ago. So the players dominating the game are the ones with the athletic advantage, because no one has a skill advantage. A lot of this has to do with the AAU circuit and media exposure. When guys are national stars before they even graduate high school, what coach is going to be able to bench them for not passing the ball? Then they go to college, but only for a year. Little coaching there, too. So the NBA is littered with run-jump, dribble-drive athletes who like shooting 3's and dunking, because those things get you on Sportscenter. The NBA is going toward positionless basketball because they're basically getting carbon copy players to work with. We have point guards that don't know how to pass, shooting guards who can't shoot, and centers who have more 3pt attempts per game than rebounds.
!!

elizur
07-22-2012, 11:22 PM
simple: more athletic players

knicksfan42
07-22-2012, 11:30 PM
It was more "positionless" in the past. Magic Johnson-6'9 PG, Barkley 6-4 PF.

JerseyPalahniuk
07-23-2012, 12:01 AM
simple: more athletic players

I didn't ask why but whether the trend would continue and to what extent.


It was more "positionless" in the past. Magic Johnson-6'9 PG, Barkley 6-4 PF.

Barkley was actually 6'6'' and Magic's height as a point guard was unprecedented in that era. He was not an example of a trend. He WAS the trend. It was not "more" positionless in the past.

knicksfan42
07-23-2012, 12:11 AM
Barkley was actually 6'6'' and Magic's height as a point guard was unprecedented in that era. He was not an example of a trend. He WAS the trend. It was not "more" positionless in the past.

Barkley was listed at 6'6 but he was actually around 6'4. Magic is the only PG ever at that height (I think Childress is 6'7 but he's a scrub).

SugeKnight
07-23-2012, 12:55 AM
Hopefully for Draymond Green's sake

JLynn943
07-23-2012, 12:59 AM
I don't think it's ever going to be "positionless." I think that right now there are just a bunch of athletic players whose games just happen to not fit the traditional mold of each position. However, I think people are just going to start realizing that the traditional views of what each position should entail are just too strict/convenient. Molds are being broken is all.

Blazers#1Fan
07-23-2012, 01:15 AM
Lebron,westbrook,Wade,Rose are all positionless

Lebron is the poster child for this he can play 1-4 he can play some 5

Teeboy1487
07-23-2012, 01:33 AM
Great thread. I do thing traditional basketball are becoming a thing in the past.

PFs are now playing Center.
SFs are now playing PF.
SGs are now playing SF.
SGs are now the size of PGs or many PGs are scorers instead of floor generals.

The increase in athleticism and speed is changing the game drastically. However, I think more players are getting away with being athletic over being simply skilled. That's why the traditional positions are being changed. Now, we are even seeing 3 guards in one lineup with some teams. The game is definitely changing.

Raph12
07-23-2012, 02:43 AM
Yes... But I'd switch "position-less" with "versatlie".

Sssmush
07-23-2012, 04:34 AM
I was reading this TrueHoop article today and it brought up a lot of interesting points about where the NBA may be headed.

http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/48094/shane-battier-prototype


Two trends seem to point towards these trend:
1. The rise of "super guards" as Nash put it: Rose, Westbrook
2. The influx of stretch 4's as compared to the 90s with players like Dirk, Ryan Anderson, etc

More and more players seem to be valuable if they can play (and guard) multiple positions. An example of teams that seem to play this way and use players with tremendous flexibility are the Heat, the Pacers, and the Sixers (with their string of sf/pf's). Hybrid guards and forwards are becoming the norm nowadays. I realize that the prototypical point guard and center will always exist and have value in the NBA (Rondo or Bynum) but is the NBA moving towards positionless basketball?

I think there's always a tradeoff.

Like if you try to adjust too far in one direction, another team will exploit that eventually.

The "positional" team strategy is really just to use bigs, or to emphasize bigs, who because of their large size will be less mobile and not ballhandlers, but will be able to make easy shots when close to the basket. And, when you have an emphasis on "bigs" on your team, you need to balance that with guards who are faster and better ballhandlers, and you don't worry about them being big. So you get fast little guys to balance the slower, stronger big guys.

we've seen players like Magic Johnson exploit smaller guards etc etc blah blah,
you know the rest

It seems like speed or size are the big variables... fast teams will exploit slow teams, and big teams will exploit small teams/positions. A "balanced" or "positionless" approach makes sense, but if you are beat on speed or size you are just beat, regardless.

the Heat just shot crazy from 3 point land, I wouldn't think too much about their awesome strategizing. If OKC had shot like that from 3 point land, especially with their 3rd or 4th option players, they would've swept with significant margins. And OKCs bigs were mostly dogs, except on defense. A really good center like Shaq would've given OKC a lot more balance to their attack and a lot more good offensive possesions.

JerseyPalahniuk
07-23-2012, 09:54 AM
Barkley was listed at 6'6 but he was actually around 6'4. Magic is the only PG ever at that height (I think Childress is 6'7 but he's a scrub).

My point exactly. He is the only PG ever at that height - he can't be used as an example of the past being "more positionless" because he was an outlier.


Great thread. I do thing traditional basketball are becoming a thing in the past.

PFs are now playing Center.
SFs are now playing PF.
SGs are now playing SF.
SGs are now the size of PGs or many PGs are scorers instead of floor generals.

The increase in athleticism and speed is changing the game drastically. However, I think more players are getting away with being athletic over being simply skilled. That's why the traditional positions are being changed. Now, we are even seeing 3 guards in one lineup with some teams. The game is definitely changing.

I completely agree! If you read the article I posted, Chris Bosh actually says "we play a position over" obviously taking about him playing C, Lebron/Battier playing PF, etc.

JerseyPalahniuk
07-23-2012, 09:57 AM
I think there's always a tradeoff.

Like if you try to adjust too far in one direction, another team will exploit that eventually.

The "positional" team strategy is really just to use bigs, or to emphasize bigs, who because of their large size will be less mobile and not ballhandlers, but will be able to make easy shots when close to the basket. And, when you have an emphasis on "bigs" on your team, you need to balance that with guards who are faster and better ballhandlers, and you don't worry about them being big. So you get fast little guys to balance the slower, stronger big guys.



Like you mentioned later, OKC's team last year definitely fits that mold. They had Westbrook balance out Perkins' immobility. They also seemed to use the "move over one" lineup a lot during the finals with Ibaka moving to C, Durant to PF, Thabo to SF (when guarding Lebron), Westbrook/Fish at the guards (call them whatever you want)

Tymathee
07-23-2012, 11:58 AM
Oh, you mean the system that Phil Jackson pretty much ran since the 80's with the triangle? never had a traditional point guard, multiple championships.

Nash is the first traditional point guard that kobe has started next to since Nick Van Exel.

so no, i dont think the nba is moving toward it, it's already here BUT there will always be traditional point guard because some guys can only play point guard, or only be shooting guards, etc.

now...if you're talking about moving towards a system where there's less traditional frontline players, there I agree. it's the new system, Howard is sort of a prototype of that, but there again, we have history that this has always been the case, it's not new, Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, and guys like them that could play both PF and C and move well are nothing new.

NYKalltheway
07-23-2012, 02:53 PM
It was "positionless" in the past, like 50s and 60s and early 70s. Then ABA/NBA merge made it more basic with PG, SG, SF, PF, C. Teams would field three guards before the ABA/NBA merge. You don't see that anymore.
It's been happening in Europe for the last 7-8 years and it's way better than strict positions. For example, the Greece team that beat the USA in 2006 had three guards on for most time.

Catoblepas
07-23-2012, 03:24 PM
It's true that these teams are able to play small ball in todays NBA, but not too long ago.. Teams needed to recruit guys like Elden Campbell(not sure if that's how his name was spelled) just to have an extra body on Shaq. We don't have dominate offensive big men like in the past.

Today's NBA is all about superstar guards.

TopsyTurvy
07-23-2012, 04:29 PM
Statistically, basketball positions were assigned to 13 positions instead of the current 5 according to a Stanford infometrics student.

http://www.sloansportsconference.com/?p=5431

The positional archetypes are as follows:


Offensive Ball-Handler (Jason Terry, Tony Parker...)
Defensive Ball-Handler (Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry...)
Combo Ball-Handler (Jameer Nelson, John Wall...)
Shooting Ball-Handler (Stephen Curry, Manu Ginobili...)
Role-Playing Ball Handler (Arron Afflalo, Rudy Fernandez...)
3-Point Rebounder (Luol Deng, Chase Budinger...)
Scoring Rebounder (Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge...)
Paint Protector (Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler...)
Scoring Paint Protector (Kevin Love, Blake Griffin...)
Role Player (Shane Battier, Ronnie Brewer...)
NBA 1st-Team (Kevin Durant, LeBron James...)
NBA 2nd-Team (Rudy Gay, Caron Butler...)
One-of-a-Kind (Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard...)

Very informative presentation, also made some super teams based on the designations alone that fly in the face of casual observation, yet could actually work...

The work also expressed that the modeling is dynamic and can apply to the sport across all levels, making some interesting assertions in the process.

Sssmush
07-23-2012, 06:15 PM
Statistically, basketball positions were assigned to 13 positions instead of the current 5 according to a Stanford infometrics student.

http://www.sloansportsconference.com/?p=5431

The positional archetypes are as follows:



Very informative presentation, also made some super teams based on the designations alone that fly in the face of casual observation, yet could actually work...

The work also expressed that the modeling is dynamic and can apply to the sport across all levels, making some interesting assertions in the process.

cool post, but LoL how is "NBA 1st team" and "One of a kind" a basketball position?

Sssmush
07-23-2012, 06:23 PM
Barkley was actually 6'6'' and Magic's height as a point guard was unprecedented in that era. He was not an example of a trend. He WAS the trend. It was not "more" positionless in the past.

the thing is, in the "modern" era (2012) Magic would get torched defensively by a guard like Westbrook... conversely teams would put somebody like Lebron on defense to guard Magic.

Barkley was really great... but with some of the newer model defensive PFs or stretch 4s, he might have more difficulty in today's game. Particularly, with the "Jordan rules" outlawing zone defenses and heavily favoring isolation not part of the game in 2012, you wouldn't see Barkley just able to methodically back down into the post over and over.

Like you can have a 6'9" point guard, or a 6'4" power forward, but then there is a counter to those variations, such as having a super fast penetrating or shooting point guard, or guarding that giant point guard with a Lebron super-stretch 4 type player, or guarding the 6'4" guy with either a shotblocker or a ballhandler, or both, or a zone, whichever gives him the most trouble. Barkley was just a great player, so he was able to play PF. If Barkley had been 6'9" he would've been even better though.

topdog
07-23-2012, 06:39 PM
It's not "position-less basketball," it's simply the evolution of how to play these positions. Coaches will continue to favor certain kinds of players to play in their systems but I would imagine that we continue to see 5 guys on a regular basis that fit into the loosely defined positions of PG-SG-SF-PF-C.

Fluctuations in talent at various positions over time (such as the current derth of centers) will result in lineups that may look more like PG-SG-SF-PF-PF but you still can archetype a player as a PF even if he currently plays Center i.e. Al Jefferson. Exceptional players like Lebron can play multiple positions, but he will play to a certain role depending upon who is around him and also has a "natural" position where he fits best.