Wanted: Modern NBA big men (traditional role players need not apply)

The days of big men camping in the paint are over. The role and requirements of an NBA center have evolved — and quite frankly, have been marginalized — and it’s never been more apparent than in the 2018 playoffs.

Rudy Gobert is the likely Defensive Player of the Year, but he was rendered largely ineffective in Utah’s second-round loss to the Rockets due to his inability to defend high pick-and-rolls in space. When the Rockets needed to close out a game against the Warriors in the West finals, they were just as likely to put 6’4 P.J. Tucker at center as their own emerging big man, Clint Capela. When the stakes are at their highest, NBA teams are replacing traditional big men at center with oversized wings.

Take Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who played 26 percent of his minutes at center in the playoffs after only playing seven percent of his minutes there in the regular season, or Golden State’s Kevin Durant, who has spent 28 percent of his minutes at center in this postseason after spending only 14 percent of his time there during the 82-game grind. Both underscore the core skills important to a modern center.

Today’s centers need to be able to switch onto a guard defensively. They need to be able to stretch the floor with legitimate three-point range. Ball handling and passing ability are becoming essential, and bigs still have to protect the rim, rebound, and finish inside, too.