October 31, 2023
The sport of basketball has undergone significant modernization in recent years, particularly in the centre position. This transformation has been driven by the NBA's analytics movement and its ability to identify top talent from around the world. The traditional approach of stocking the bench with large but limited seven-footers has given way to a new era of versatile players who excel in both offense and defense.
During the Shaquille O'Neal era, teams focused on slowing down the dominant centre by stocking their rosters with players who could match his size and strength. However, even after Shaq's prime, the strategy of relying on big but limited players persisted. These players had decent rebounding rates but lacked offensive talent and footspeed to defend in space.
The pace-and-space evolution of basketball, along with the rise of players like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, has revolutionized the game. The increased emphasis on three-point shooting and the inefficiency of post-up plays have led to a shift in roster construction. Teams now prioritize backcourt shooters and playmaking forwards who can stretch the court and create spacing.
Frontcourt players are now expected to have three-point shooting abilities similar to their backcourt counterparts. While there have been one-off talents in the past, such as Bill Laimbeer and Raef LaFrentz, who could shoot from outside, they were considered anomalies. Today, the ability to shoot from beyond the arc has become the norm for centres.
Despite the emphasis on three-point shooting, there are still relatively few high-quality stretch fives in the NBA. Players like Brook Lopez and Karl-Anthony Towns have set the benchmark for the position, but many centres struggle to excel in this area.
While shooting from outside is valuable, modern centres must also excel defensively. Protecting the paint and guarding in space are crucial skills for centres in today's game. The NBA has not eliminated big men; it has eliminated underskilled big men. The focus is now on finding centres who can contribute on both ends of the court.
Mark Williams, a young centre, is a prime example of the modern centre. While he may not have received Rookie of the Year votes, his performance in the second half of his rookie season showcased his potential. Williams averaged a double-double and demonstrated his ability to score efficiently.
Williams is not just an offensive threat; he is also an exceptional defender. His presence inside the lane deters opponents from attacking the basket, and his clean, vertical contests are a testament to his coaching and skill. Williams has played a significant role in the Charlotte Hornets' improved defense.
Offensively, Williams may not have a jump shot, but his mobility and physicality allow him to excel in the pick-and-roll. His connection with LaMelo Ball has already proven to be a potent combination. While adding shooting to his repertoire would enhance his offensive game, Williams is already a valuable asset.
Williams' defensive abilities should not be overlooked. Under the guidance of defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, Williams has the potential to become one of the league's best interior defenders. As his skills continue to develop, it would not be surprising to see Williams earn recognition on the All-Defensive Team.
The evolution of the centre position in basketball has transformed the way teams construct their rosters. The emphasis on shooting and defense has led to the rise of versatile centres like Mark Williams. As the game continues to evolve, players like Williams will play a crucial role in shaping the future of basketball.