Good Big Man = NBA Title?
Does a franchise need a quality big man to win it all?
Conventional wisdom says, “Yes you do.” The typical NBA fan and general managers around the league usually look for a good quality big in any draft. While it’s true that no one can teach height, no one can instill high basketball skills and intelligence quotient either. Is it really necessary to have a quality big on your squad?
This question has been posed many times in endless discussion forums and generally the response is the usual “yes.” Upon further inspection in the past 20 years, only 4 big men can answer the question: The Shaq Attaq, The Dream, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. In 1988, The Lakers won on the backs of Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Kareem Abdul Jabbar was already useless and over the hill so he doesn’t qualify. The Admiral David Robinson doesn’t count either because he couldn’t win without Tim Duncan. If he won it on his own, he’d be on the list.
Basically in the past 2 decades, The Bad Boys, MJ-Pip Dynasty, and the 2004 Pistons went against conventional wisdom with much success.
The Bad Boys’ elite players are Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. That’s an elite backcourt albeit on the undersized side. Laimbeer, Buddha, Mahorn, and John Salley were intimidators, rebounders and defenders. That’s it. They were nowhere near the status of being an elite big man.
The MJ-Pip Dynasty showcased Morgan Freeman lookin’ Bill Cartwright with the sharp elbows, goggle wearin’ Horace Grant, Will “not good enough to be from Purdue” Purdue, Aussie Luc Longley, Brian “Bison Dele” Williams (RIP), old man Bill Wennington, and the freak show himself, Dennis Rebound. Again, none of these big men were elite status.
Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace are not considered elite big men. If you do consider them that, you should be shot in the head with a large caliber bullet. They were good rebounders and solid shot blockers. One was a versatile scorer while the other couldn’t get a bucket to feed the homeless.
What is history trying to say?
The dynasties dominated the field with bigs who can defend and rebound. These guys were role players who fulfilled their parts very well.
Since the game has gone through more progression (some will argue regression), the newer generation of basketball aficionados can claim that you really need an elite guard to win. Shaq didn’t win until Kobe and Wade reached their superstar potential. The Dream was in danger of NOT repeating until Houston landed an elite guard in Clyde Drexler.
The only perfect case of the “elite big man=NBA title” scenario is the 1994 Houston Rockets. It was all Hakeem Olajuwon. The role players were Sam Cassell, Kenny Smith, Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, and Mario Elie. He didn’t have a sidekick nor was there anyone else on the squad that you can honestly call “elite.” So the “elite big man = NBA title” team truly happened only once in the past 20 years.
Kevin Garnett had his chance to make another “elite big man = NBA Title” team in 2004 with the Wolves, but failed. The sidekicks Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell are not elite players. He didn’t win until he teamed up with another elite player Paul Pierce.
What does this all mean?
It means that you don’t need an elite big man to win.
You need elite playmakers to win it all; guys who can make plays on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t matter what position they play, just as long as they can make things happen consistently. Good big men only provide stability in the paint. That’s all. It’s difficult to overlook a good promising big man in any draft, but they can be fool’s gold found in Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, Eddy Curry, and maybe even Andrea Bargnani.
If I was a general manager, I prefer to have two elite playmakers at any position. The rest of the stiffs should be good interchangeable role players who can defend and rebound. Mike Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s Bulls followed this formula as well as Isiah and Joe D’s Bad Boys. Dwayne Wade’s Miami Heat has to follow this formula as well in order to win it again.