Since George Mikan changed the game in the late forties and early fifties of the last century, showing that basketball was a sport of giants, the hegemony and domination of the big man had been incontestable. The accelerated development process that the game experienced from the mid-eighties to the present day made the exteriors and drivers gradually gain more weight, in such a way that the interiors lost importance in an almost directly proportional way. So until you reach a present in which only an exclusive list of big men can make a difference for its versatility or for its physical characteristics.
This, which was a natural process, has reached a new stage in recent years. One in which some have come to get rid of the figure of the classic interior to be successful. Not just looking for smaller profiles and more mobile, but even presenting formats with only eaves and handlers.
The NBA is a league of imitators where if something works for a team breaker and novel takes little time to be replicated by another set. 3&D profiles, combo guards, the formats small-ball… If something is successful, that example will help others to launch themselves fully into trying it. This also applies in the case of interiors and it is that in the 2021-2022 season there were two countercultural experiments that were more than satisfactory.
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Cleveland Cavaliers y Boston Celtics They fully launched last year with a composition of their main quintet that is unusual today. Both teams bet heavily on a large duo in the interior positions with Evan Mobley y Jarrett Allen on one side and Robert Williams y Al Horford for another. Two couples of considerable dimensions that could protect the paint like no other, but at the same time risked being exposed as they moved away from the rim.
Surprisingly, in both examples the result could not be better. The Ohioans built an elite defense with a pair of giants thanks to the Mobley’s 2.13 to Allen’s 2.11. Together they allowed just 103.7 points per 100 possessions to their rivals, something based on their versatility and long arms. In such a way that although the opponent could switch brands against them, they endured the pairing and were not exposed.
Meanwhile, in Boston, the horford seniority and skill behind joined a runaway force like williams, who, hand in hand with Ime Udoka, channeled his full potential. The Dominican was in charge of everything that happened around the goal and the most important rival inside marking, at the same time that Time Lord he directed and commanded aid as a luxury resource. The two elevated the Celtics to be the best defense in the NBA (106.2) and the second best pair in the entire league in that regard (99.9).
The first days of the market in the NBA have generated a very interesting circumstance for which The Minnesota Timberwolves have turned their project around 180 degrees. Those from Minneapolis agreed with the Utah Jazz on a transfer that has meant the landing of Rudy Gobert in the Wolves, and most importantly, alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. This operation makes it clear once again that the league lives in perpetual and constant change, where no structure and conception prevails for too long. Those of Chris Finch have formed in the blink of an eye one of the most unusual and striking couples in the entire competition. While KAT is a virtuoso in attack and one of the best outside shooters objectively speaking in the NBA (39.7% in triple after pass and 45.5% after bounce), the French is of the defense.
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The fit at the offensive level should be instantaneous, more after the progression of Towns in that sense throughout the last course, being more of an open four than a traditional five. The doubtsnevertheless, arise behind Well, if something had characterized the pairs of Boston and Cleveland, it was their versatility and defensive versatility. Aspects that do not accompany or precisely define Gobert and KAT.
In clearing defense situations Towns ranked in the 43rd percentile in the Regular Phase and in the 0th in the Playoffswhile Gobert was 38 in the league and 0 in the postseason. Numbers that don’t tell the whole story but that do reflect that there may be more than one problem on this side of the field for Minnesota to achieve satisfactory results from day one.
The French inside’s role in Utah had been much the same as Williams’ in Boston, that is, pairing up with positional counterparts but also against low-use opponents like shooters in order to always stay on the fringes of the rim. Thus, the Salt Lake City defense could control the assists at will and better defend the paint. On the part of Towns, this was only measured against other interiors with very irregular results, so it is difficult to predict how both towers at the back will work for the Wolves, especially taking into account that neither of them is a notable individual defender as is the case with Mobley, Horford, or Williams.
One thing is clear though, the Minnesota Timberwolves want to design and propose their particular vision of the big ball that aims to be the next barrier of the game in the NBA. And that, by itself, is already something worthy of recognition. Only time will put them in their place.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the NBA or its organizations.