Why Big Men Are Dominating in the NBA Again

During the 80s and 90s, big men ruled the NBA as they were the face of the franchise. This was because basketball was more interior oriented, which gave big men an opportunity to stand in the paint on offense and defense for a longer period of time. This made bigs more valuable on the defensive end as they had more time to contest opponents shots, then physically dominate them on the offensive end with their slam dunks and hook shots. Time went by and rules started to change, and referees were paying more attention to how long big men were standing in the paint since it could not be more than three seconds. 

Better defensive schemes were being made such as the “no middle” defense, which wouldn’t allow the big man to catch the ball at the free throw line. Offenses started to become more guard and perimeter oriented which led to fewer big man touches on offense and less impact on defense. Defenses became less zone heavy, which also led to big men moving their feet more on defense and causing more early fatigue due to their size. 

The NBA was starting to change and big men had to evolve or they would be left behind as teams began to experiment with starting lineups without a big man. Big men started to expand their game with adding a three point shot to keep the defense honest and less effective. Ball handling was also a factor as bigs could break down their defender using different dribble moves, opening up passing lanes or space to create a shot. The Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic are prime examples of bigs who have a versatile game. 

Embiid’s shooting ability has stretched the offense for his team this season. He could also put the ball on the floor and post his defenders up, powering through them due to his strength. Antetokounmpo’s speed, height, and size has made him almost unstoppable in transition. Due to Antetokounmpo being a dribble drive threat, defenses have put more paint pressure defenses against him, but due to his passing ability he’s able to read the defense and find his open teammates for jump shots. Jokic is considered one of the best passing and ball handling bigs of all time. His ability to make great reads is due to his high basketball IQ, and his ball handling ability allows him to dribble down the court and facilitate teammates after rebounds. All three of these players are MVP candidates because they are so valuable to their teams success. 

The game of basketball has changed and is still changing because of big men. In the coming years franchises could start to rebuild around big men again, like they did during the 90s and early 2000s, due to the fact that big men are developing guarding skills such as playmaking, dribbling, and shooting while still being a physically dominating player in the paint and on defense. The future for big men is bright and the new face of the NBA could be a big man in the next coming years.