The modern NBA landscape has changed. There has never been more emphasis placed on three-point shooting and on spreading the floor. This years playoffs have demonstrated that an offense based on long-range shots and ball movement is no longer an untested concept, but a proven recipe for success. The final four teams in the running for this year's championship ranked first, second, fourth, and seventh in the league in 3-pointers attempted for the season.
Putting such a clear focus on three-point shooting spreads defenses out, which opens the floor for drives, high pick-and-rolls, and backdoor cuts. Therefore, as long-range shooting rises, so do shots taken at the rim. A higher percentage of an offense's field goal attempts are taken at the rim every year, as more and more teams recognize that looks at the cup and shots from beyond the arc are the most efficient shots.
In this landscape, the role of the big man has changed tremendously. A strong offensive post game is now considered archaic; a post player who sets up shop on the low block can be more of a liability than an asset, depending on their skill level. Rebounding is as crucial as it has ever been, but the ideal roles of a big man are now to stretch the floor on offense, or to defend the rim against cuts and drives on defense.
Most prototypical modern power forwards and centers fall into these two categories, often respectively. Deandre Jordan is a rim-protector, among other talents. Kevin Love is a floor-spacer, even though he brings loads of other skills to the table.
Very, very rarely have we seen a player who can do both of these two things. Deandre Jordan is really only effective offensively when he's within 3 feet of the rim, and Kevin Love couldn't even dress up as a rim protector for Halloween. The two notable exceptions that we have seen so far in the modern NBA are Anthony Davis (who quite frankly can do just about anything that he wants to on a basketball court) and Serge Ibaka. That's pretty much it.
Theoretically, a player who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim at an elite level would be an ideal big man. That seems to be the direction in which the Association is headed.
For my money, that's the biggest reason why this draft class is so interesting.
Myles Turner and Kristaps Porzingis are two players in this draft that are projected to combine combine elite (or at least very good) shot-blocking with good long-range shooting. Depending on how well they fare in the NBA, we could be seeing the beginnings of the 3-and-D big man as a legitimate position in professional basketball.
Even though the two prospects could fill the same theoretical role in the pros, they are rated differently, and have demonstrated slightly different skill sets thus far.
As a freshman in college, Myles Turner blocked an impressive 4.7 shots per 40 minutes, leading the Big 12 in blocks, blocks per game, block percentage, and defensive rating. The Texas product did not have a very good shooting year statistically, but his smooth technique and confidence from range have led scouts to believe that his a better shooter than he showed in college. He certainly demonstrated a high level of comfort from long range, taking 62 three-point shots on the year (he made 17 of them). He could eventually fill both the floor-spacing role and the rim-protecting role at the next level, but he has certainly showed a greater propensity for the latter, thus far.
As much as I love Turner, Porzingis is the better prospect. He has demonstrated a slightly more well-rounded game, with a more proven track record of success, has a lower center of gravity, and a career as a more accurate shooter. This past year, the 7-foot Latvian shot 35.9% from beyond the arc, making 1.4 threes per 36 minutes. Additionally, he was able to block one shot in just 21.4 minutes per game. As the draft guru Kevin O'Connor notes, "Porzingis is appealing as a two-way player primarily due to his shot-blocking ability." Amazing enough, he still has a lot of room for improvement; his effectiveness could skyrocket after spending a season or two adding strength in an NBA strength and conditioning program.
Of course, each of these players has their own set of problems, and share one important one; their relatively slight build. In fact, they might be two of the bigger boom-or-bust prospects in the entire draft. However, both of them could be the type of player that helps the NBA to take the next step in positional development.
This is of particular interest to fans of the Boston Celtics. As we all know, Brad Stevens is a big proponent of analytics, and employs a pace and space offense. In addition, the biggest thing that the Celtics have been missing in recent years has been a rim-protector. Both of these players will likely be around in the 5-10 range of the draft, which features more than one team that might be willing to trade down. All signs point to these two players being perfect fits for the Celtics, if they pan out.
Analytics is the name of the game today, and the personnel in this draft might shed more light on how players are preparing to play in this new NBA. Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner could be the next step in the evolution of big men, or they could be the next in a long line of experiments that didn't live up to expectations. Either way, their development will have huge implications for the NBA as a whole, and perhaps for the Celtics, as well.
So, what do you think? If the Celtics trade up into the lottery, would you like to see them take Turner or the Zinger? Sound off in the comments below.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com