By: Mark Scarlett
When LeBron James is done dominating the East and the Warriors are finished tormenting the West, the NBA will open up a bit. We will return to the days when there were more than a baby’s handful of teams that are relevant, but who will be the dominant forces of the next generation? BIGS
We don’t have the next Kevin Durant or James Harden just waiting to bust into the NBA. We won’t be blessed with another shooter like Steph or a force of nature like LeBron or Russell Westbrook. However, we have bigs. These bigs aren’t just bruisers like Shaq and they don’t stick to the sky-hook or Dream Shake like Kareem and Hakeem. These bigs have evolved to play in today’s NBA, and they are ready to take over.
There are five big men that will be at their physical peak when the NBA opens back up competition wise, and they have all shown potential to be superstars: Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic. All of these big guys have the ability to play in the post and get a bucket down low. However, these players have also developed skills that allow them to thrive in today’s NBA, which is geared towards perimeter play.
The Brow is the weathered vet of this list, despite the fact that he is just under 24. He is a 4-time All-Star and now the record holder for points scored in an All-Star game at 52. The Brow can do it all on a basketball court mostly due to the fact that as a sophomore in high school, he was a point guard that stood at 6’2”. Very few players that stand at 6’10” can bring up the ball for their team and shoot 3’s then turn around and get 2 blocks a game on the other end. In the Pelicans offense, he can be used in so many ways. He and Jrue Holiday are capable of running a great pick and roll or pick and pop, depending on what the defense shows. The Brow is also very capable of getting the ball on the block and making a post move or facing up and taking larger, less athletic bigs off the dribble and attacking the hoop. He is averaging a career high in free throws attempted per game at 8.6. Now with Boogie in this offense, AD’s skill is downright scary.
Ever since he was a rookie in the league, he has been talked about among the list of players that will be a perennial MVP candidate. The fact that the Pelicans have been so awful certainly hasn’t helped him, but he remains a household name because of the jaw dropping numbers he puts up and his consistent statistical improvements.
The man known by KAT is very similar to Anthony Davis. He is a 7 footer that is capable of stretching the floor and handles the rock much better than other centers in the league. Towns is a freak athlete for his size . I had the privilege of watching Towns play in high school in person. A very good friend of mine was matched up with KAT one on one, and I felt rather hopeless for him. He could do nothing as Towns continued to jack up 3’s over him, seemingly unaffected by the desperate closeout. On that day, Towns was essentially just a 3-point shooter, granted a 7-foot three point shooter, but a shooter nonetheless. This led me to think he was a basic stretch 4 in college and hopefully he would make the league, so I could talk about that time my good friend got absolutely wrecked by him at parties, or to my grandchildren or something. Well, the next time I saw KAT, he was a polished big man that spent most of his time in the post at Kentucky. I was baffled. He barely shot the deep ball for the Wildcats.
Now at the highest level, he has mixed the spot up shooter I saw at St. Joe’s Metuchen, with the polished post game I saw at Kentucky, and it has been a joy to watch. Similarly to The Brow, KAT can be used in many ways in Minnesota’s offense. Much like AD, he is very capable in pick and roll offense, as well as in the pick and pop. Towns is top 10 in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game at about 3.5 per game, so he can do a lot of his work off the glass with put backs. He is a great mix of bruiser and polished back-to-the-basket offensive weapon. The moment Towns entered the league, he was a nightmare on both ends. He protects the rim as effectively as anyone in the league with his 1.5 block per game, and he has the skills offensively, as well as the youth (he is only 21), to be a 25 point-per-game scorer for the next decade.
Imagine a 7’3” power forward that can soar for put-back slams and is shooting .384 from the 3 point line on 4.9 attempts a game. Now imagine that this player can also handle the rock better than almost any big in the game, and has a fairly strong post game with a nice mix of face-ups and back to the basket moves. Oh yeah, and give him the ability to protect the rim at an elite level. This player may sound almost unreal. Somewhat of a unicorn, you might say. Well, Kristaps Porzingis is every bit that unicorn. KP was drafted to be a project. He would take years to mature before becoming a solid contributor on an NBA roster. He was a risk that could be Dirk or could be Darko. Instead, he showed us that he was his own thing.
Unfortunately, Kristaps is stuck on the dumpster fire that is the New York Knickerbockers. A team that is going through such a rough patch that news of a disappearing Derrick Rose was forgotten in days due to the President of the team calling out one of the league’s best offensive players ever. The Knicks are an absolute mess, but if this mess ever cleans itself up, Kristaps will be able to thrive in an offense that features plenty of pick and pop plays for him, as well as a healthy dose of post ups. He is only 21 years old, so I’m assuming they will fix the organization in time for the world to see KP on an actual team. The kid is meant to be a stud and if the Knicks can clean up their act, Kristaps should be able to make the Knicks a consistent playoff team in the East for years to come.
Ah, the Process, the glorious Process. The savior of basketball in Philadelphia. As a Sixers fan, I have been on this Embiid hype train for a long, long time. For Embiid, it is all about health. Can he stay healthy for a full season and can he handle a full workload? Nothing in his short hoops career is evidence of this, but I am not the only one that hopes he can. Embiid is as well rounded offensively as they come. He can play back to the basket and show off every post move in the book. He also has the ability to spot up and knock down 3’s, as his .367 clip from beyond the arc shows. However, where the Process does his best processing is when he catches at the top of the key and pump fakes. Jo-Jo can handle and move better than most bigs, so when he catches at the top of the key and shows the ball fake, all it takes is a slight closeout from the defender, and then Embiid is driving for a finish or drawing a foul, which he has done at an amazing rate all season, putting up 7.9 free throw attempts a game in just 25.4 minutes.
Embiid has it all on offense, but it doesn’t stop there. Embiid shows amazing instincts on defense in help D, as well as on ball. He can guard bigs in the post, or can switch out onto guards and hold his own better than most centers in the league. Embiid’s skills on the court, mixed with his hilarious social media presence make for a star in Philly for years to come.
Jokic is as fun a center as there is to watch in the NBA today. However, it is for a very different reason than those previously mentioned. Jokic is an amazing passer, and not just for a center. He drops dimes that I can’t see coming when I’m watching on television. Jokic is watching every play develop about ten steps before any defender can see some of these passes coming. And the accuracy of each pass is perfect because otherwise, his teammates may not see it coming themselves. The Joker is great at the top of the key because he can see over the defense and deliver some strikes. Jokic can also work his magic on the break even. He can handle the rock well enough to push the pace and his teammates love to cut for him because they know he will hit them backdoor.
Though his passing is clearly what stands out about his game, Jokic also has low post skills that allow him to score on his own, as well as the outside shot that makes him a problem from anywhere for opposing teams. Jokic is as skilled as any big man in the league and he will only get better. His passing abilities, paired with his well-rounded offensive skills, create a huge problem for other teams and will continue to do so for years to come.
Though the present day is dominated by the Dubs-Cavs rivalry and the MVP race between two walking triple-doubles, there is a lot to be excited about for the next generation. The big men are going to be the face of that next generation, and they will take over the league with a style of play that we have never seen from other centers in the NBA. They mix it up with both freakish athleticism, as well as guard-like skill that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. When the LeBron era ends, make way for a new era of bigs that are going to the takeover the NBA.