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Big men are needed now, more than ever

Centers have evolved, and its good for the league.

The+Minnesota+Timberwolves%27+Karl-Anthony+Towns+%2832%29+scores+a+3-pointer+over+the+New+Orleans+Pelicans%27+Anthony+Davis+%2823%29+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+6%2C+2018%2C+at+Target+Center+in+Minneapolis.+
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Big men are needed now, more than ever

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns (32) scores a 3-pointer over the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis (23) on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns (32) scores a 3-pointer over the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis (23) on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Aaron Lavinsky | Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns (32) scores a 3-pointer over the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis (23) on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Aaron Lavinsky | Minneapolis Star Tribune

Aaron Lavinsky | Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns (32) scores a 3-pointer over the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis (23) on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

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The NBA is a league with a diverse ecosystem that has evolved throughout time, from the early days of getting the ball to the big man in the post to today’s shooting-driven teams. While many have considered the big man a dying breed, he is adapting and evolving into something better.

A big man usually plays the power forward or center position and can range from 6-foot-10 to above seven feet.

A few days ago, I saw a clip show Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond dribble the ball from half court, hit two behind the back crossover moves and finish at the rim with an emphatic dunk. Two years ago, Drummond wouldn’t dare handle the ball near half court, but times have changed. And in order for the big man to survive, he must adapt.

For almost half of a century, the league was dominated by centers. Wilt Chamberlain was unstoppable in the 1960s, Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a force in the 1980s and Shaquille O’Neal was nearly unguardable in the early 2000s. With the emergence of explosive guards in the 1990s such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the league began to change.

Everyone wanted to see fancy dribble moves and impossible deep shots being drilled with ease. The NBA started to feel more like a video game, and the big man looked like he was on the verge of extinction.

So what had to happen to make centers relevant again? They had to start shooting 3-pointers and spread the floor.

The reason behind this lies in the concept of spreading the floor to create space for guards who are looking to score in the paint. Once the center is on the far end of the floor, it gives a lot more opportunities for offenses to get smaller guys near the basket. These changes not only make the center more effective, but the team overall, which is why big men had to adapt to the new style of play..

Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez built his whole career off being a menace in the post. His career average is about 18.0 points a game, which mostly come from his play in the paint. In the first six years of his career, he attempted seven 3-pointers and made none of them. Last season, he managed to make 134 3-pointers on 33.5 percent shooting. Lopez knew what he had to do to survive in the league, and it has made him an elite player in an evolving game.

The newest generation of centers have made shooting and handling the ball a serious part of their arsenal. Kristaps Porzingis and Karl Anthony Towns are both seven footers who can handle the ball, dominate in the paint and shoot from the perimeter effectively. These players are under 23 years old and products of a changing game. Both players average 20 points a game and shoot nearly 40 percent beyond the arc. They were trained to play like big guards at a young age.

The NBA has been slowly trending this way for the last ten years, but the movement of having a versatile big is as strong as ever.

Gone are the days when the tallest guy on the court stands in the paint to make an easy lay up; you’ll now see the seven-footer in the corner ready to shoot with no hesitation.

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