Teams seek versatility as po­si­tions mean less

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ka­reem Copeland

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.”

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