There exists a school of thought in the NBA that “small ball” is the way of the future. Gone are the brutal Shaquille O’Neal and Robert Parish type players of the past. Now, 6-foot-9 players can play the five and be perfectly successful. It worked for the Miami Heat time and time again and even brought them a couple championships. Oddly enough, this idea that basketball is for the tall is slowly dwindling as fewer and fewer offenses are being run through the man in the paint. Why would the Indiana Pacers try to coordinate scoring through the over 7-foot Roy Hibbert when they have Paul George to work with? Teams with massive front courts like the Detroit Pistons are intimidating, but can they be successful? So far, the answer is no.
In the modern NBA, plays are drawn up around players that can do everything. If you can’t pass, rebound, score, and play some solid defense, you’ll never be a focal point of the team on both ends of the floor. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but still it can’t be denied. Around the league there are maybe two or three teams, if even that many, that truly rely on their big man and would be incapacitated with him. Until the center position catches up with the variety-style game play that has swept through the league the position will become obsolete.
Thankfully, the Boston Celtics won’t have this problem.
When you look at the current crew of players who can play the five in Boston, it seems as though Celtics GM Danny Ainge has gone all in on the future. Guys like Jared Sullinger, Vitor Faverani, and especially Kelly Olynyk personify the prototype center that can rebound and block a shot, but they can pass as well as anyone else and can even be called upon to shoot the three ball. Originally developed in the Euro-league the versatile big man will prove to be an excellent asset to any team that has it. While Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t play the five, he’s a great example of a large player with a more intricate game getting a team far.
These futuristic players will blend well with a player like Rajon Rondo who can appeal to whatever strong suit they may be relying on in a particular game. Things further work out in the Celtics’ favor when you look at their head coach. Brad Stevens is used to coaching under the college style from his time at Butler University. The collegiate level is starting to embrace the new style of five, which is very apparent in Stevens’ clearance of his big guys to shoot the occasional three. While the Celtics’ centers won’t be doing as much shooting as they did in college hoops, they don’t always have to make as long as the defender thinks they will.
Olynk, Faverani, and Sullinger might be tough to watch struggle through their rookie hang-ups now. Wait a few years, and they could be part of an elite group all while wearing a Celtics uniform.