It’s never been more difficult to be a big man in the NBA. Your coach probably doesn’t want you to post up, partially because your teammates can’t throw an entry pass and partially because your opponents will flop and get calls. Defensively, it’s no longer enough to protect the rim and rebound; you’re expected to fly all over the court and execute different pick-and-roll coverages.
If you’re not a star and can’t switch onto smaller players, you can play well every night and never stop hearing about how you might be played off the floor when it really matters. If you get drafted in the middle of the first round or you sign a non-minimum, non-maximum contract, analysts will say you’re a perfectly fine player, but your team is misallocating its resources. Decent bigs are always available on the scrap heap, after all.
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All of which is to say that the ones who are thriving in today’s game are truly exceptional. The reigning MVP is a pass-first giant whose teammates orbit around him as he toys with opposing defenses. The runner-up is a 7-foot back-to-the-basket bully who took his game to another level by turning around and shooting right over people from the Dirk spot. All around the league, there are extremely tall dudes initiating offense, shooting deep 3s and defending on the perimeter. Specialists, even the more modern, stretchier ones, are all but extinct. The bar to earn minutes on a winning team is only getting higher.