Po­si­tion­less NBA for­goes la­bels

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL -

SALT LAKE CITY — Be­ing de­scribed as a “tweener” in the NBA used to be con­sid­ered a dirty word, an ad­jec­tive used for a player too big or small to fit a tra­di­tional po­si­tion. The league, how­ever, has evolved.

Now teams seek out play­ers that have a Swiss Army knife-like skill set that can fit into a more free-flow­ing, po­si­tion­less game. There’s value in be­ing able to segue into mul­ti­ple roles.

“I don’t have the five po­si­tions any­more,” Bos­ton Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said. “It may be as sim­ple as three po­si­tions now, where you’re ei­ther a ball-han­dler, a wing or a big.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant. We’ve be­come more ver­sa­tile as the years have gone on.”

The 2017 draft was fur­ther proof of the NBA’s di­rec­tion.

The 6-4, 195-pound Markelle Fultz went No. 1 over­all and is the def­i­ni­tion of a combo guard. He has elite scor­ing abil­ity but also is a fa­cil­i­ta­tor as a point guard. The Philadel­phia 76ers plan to use him at both guard po­si­tions, and he’s likely to start op­po­site 2016 No. 1 pick point for­ward Ben Sim­mons — an­other po­si­tion­less model of versatility.

“My mind­set is a bas­ket­ball player,” Fultz said. “I don’t think I have any po­si­tion, re­ally.

“If they need me off the ball, I’m a play off the ball. I can bring the ball up. When I’m in those po­si­tions, I’m just try­ing to make win­ning plays to do what­ever I can to win.”

Six­ers as­sis­tant coach Kevin Young added, “From a coach’s stand­point, it makes the game from a tac­ti­cal stand­point fun, be­cause you have a lot of guys that can do a lot of dif­fer­ent things.”

The Celtics se­lected 6-8, 208-pound Jayson Ta­tum with the No. 3 pick and there have been ques­tions about where he fits best. The Duke prod­uct could be a slight power for­ward, and Stevens said he will even play some guard.

Ta­tum had 21 points, seven re­bounds, three as­sists and 5 steals in his Sum­mer League de­but Mon­day and hit a goa­head jumper with 5.7 sec­onds left.

“Ta­tum will play wher­ever,” Stevens said. “He can han­dle the ball. He can move it. He’s at least a wing be­cause he can re­ally han­dle the ball, too. And he can shoot it and do all those things. He’s a very ver­sa­tile player.”

Bos­ton is loaded with young, mul­ti­fac­eted play­ers — Jaylen Brown, rookie Semi Ojel­eye — with the key be­ing the abil­ity to guard mul­ti­ple po­si­tions. That specif­i­cally comes into play against the pick and roll, where de­fend­ers can switch and still be in good po­si­tion as op­posed to hav­ing to fight through screens.

When Mi­ami had Le­Bron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to­gether for four sea­sons and four trips to the NBA Fi­nals, Heat Coach Erik Spoel­stra al­most com­pletely aban­doned the 1-2-3-4-5 con­cept of as­sign­ing play­ers cer­tain roles and went to a po­si­tion­less ap­proach.

Spoel­stra said James was a “1 through 5,” a nod to both his of­fen­sive versatility and more specif­i­cally how he could guard any po­si­tion on the floor. He be­lieves hav­ing Swiss Army knives — in his par­lance, some­one ca­pa­ble of many things — is crit­i­cal in to­day’s NBA and was part of the rea­son why Mi­ami took Bam Ade­bayo with the No. 14 pick in this year’s draft.

At 6-10, 250 pounds, Ade­bayo has the body of a power for­ward. In Mi­ami, he could be that and a backup cen­ter. And the Heat think he can stretch the floor, af­ter see­ing he had a shoot­ing touch from deep in work­outs that might have caught some by sur­prise since the ma­jor­ity of his bas­kets in his one sea­son at Kentucky were dunks.

AP/JOHN RAOUX

The Mi­ami Heat be­lieve 6-10 rookie Bam Ade­bayo can stretch the floor af­ter see­ing his shoot­ing touch in early work­outs. Most of Ade­bayo’s bas­kets were dunks in his one sea­son at Kentucky.

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