Teams seek versatility as positions mean less
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 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,” 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.”
It’s something players in summer league looking to earn a roster spot need to heed. The 2017 draft was further proof of the NBA’s direction.
The 6-foot-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 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 can 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.”
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.
“Positionless basketball, I compete with anybody,” Adebayo said. “I’ve been competing against the best of the best my whole year at Kentucky. Cal made me switch every day in practice and made me switch in games. Just having that coming into the league, it gives you good experience.”