An example? Tyreke Evans. Evans can attack the basket, snare rebounds, has terrific length and instincts defensively, and knows how to find his teammates (despite calls he's a terrible passer, he averaged five assists his rookie campaign, with little to no weapons on the Kings). But because he's tall and has better scoring ability than passing ability, he's "not a point guard" which automatically makes him a shooting guard. Except he's not a shooting guard. He's best with the ball in his hands, setting up and creating within the offense. Hence our problem.
The recent discussion stems from a Basketball Prospectus article from Drew Cannon (which I was surprised to find is not the name of an adult film star), outlined by Rob Mahoney on Two Man Game. The crux is that players should instead be described not by position, but by what they are most fitted to do which is needed on the floor. An example is Jason Kidd listed as a "creator/scorer" as opposed to Shawn Marion, described as a "rebounder." The other element seeks to identify players defensively, identifying what traditional positions they can guard. Mahoney took another crack at this system, revising it after criticisms from our own Tom Ziller. Mahoney's move was to describe players defensively by what they are physically suited to do. It's a utilitarian approach to the problem, but its structure is still too weak to stand. After all, just because a player is physically big enough to play inside, that does not make them an inside player defensively. What they can do skill-wise cannot be ignored if we're really looking to find an accurate model. The search continues.
So what's so important about this discussion? At the scouting level, it means that players that could be very real assets for teams are either ignored or devalued based on their inability to fit our more traditional 1-5 positions. Unless they are super-freaks like LeBron James, we struggle with how to really implement them into systems (and even James has positional problems due to him consistently playing the small forward position, which has restrictions). From an evaluation standpoint, we assign negative values to players like Tyreke Evans, who are incredible stars, simply because they don't fit our traditional model.
And if you want to know how relevant this discussion is among actual basketball players? Go no further than the leader of the defending champion Lakers, Kobe Bryant.
Dime Magazine spoke to Bryant at a World Basketball Festival event at Rucker Park in Harlem last weekend, and the legend actually weighed in on the matter. From Dime:
Kobe said the influence of international players in the NBA has helped create a "hybrid" culture, where players of all sizes possess skills in all areas and can conceivably play any position on the floor.From Ron-Artest's-God's mouth to your eyes. It's not surprising that Bryant would lean towards this kind of approach. After all, he himself is not only willing, but voracious in approaching any position on the floor. You could tell Kobe "go guard Nene with one arm" and he'd make a go of it (and Nene would likely walk away wincing a bit, even if he won the war). But the meaning is very relevant. This is one of the greatest basketball players and minds on the planet saying that essentially, the goal should be not only for us to get away from traditional positions, but eventually to homogenize personnel to be able to play within any construct we have. It's a bold idea, since all of our previous constructs are devoutly built on the idea that a player is defined by what he can and can't do. Removing limitations from the equations leads us to a new kind of basketball nirvana, where Andrea Bargnani is not a problem because he's not a 5, and Tyreke Evans is simply regarded as being of the "awesome position."
"That's the one difference I'd like to see us kind of shift to," Kobe said.
This debate's far from over, and then the rest of the basketball-breathing world has to catch up to whatever standard is eventually morphed into, if any. But with Bryant as a prophet, that speaks to how relevant this discussion has actually become. And think of that. A healthy debate that has nothing to do with one-hour television specials or egos. Could use some more of this, actually