That’s why small players are now in demand as centers

AOn Wednesday, FC Bayern Munich welcomed the Fraport Skyliners in the Bundesliga basketball league, who have a real “giant” in their squad in Matt Haarms. The left-hander measures 2.21 meters and is therefore the longest player on the German bel étage together with Christ Koumadje from Berlin.

Haarms is in the Hessian squad, but the Dutchman has had to take a break from the game with nine foreign players. It was no different in Munich when his team lost 89:95, and accordingly the duel with the complete counter-proposal in his position fell through.

Agile and bouncing

Shortly before the end of the change period, Bayern had signed Zylan Cheatham, a 1.97 meter tall athlete who acted as a center not only in the Bundesliga but also in the physically much stronger Euroleague.

While Haarms brings immense length, Cheatham impresses with his agility, jumping power and ability to run along with every quick attack and also to be able to complete it spectacularly. In addition, his lateral mobility allows him to defend smaller opponents after switches in defense.

While centimeters are still very important in Europe’s premier class, the trend in the Bundesliga has long since changed. Clubs with small and medium budgets cannot afford the rare top players who bring length, mobility and class to the table.

Not everyone is a Toni Kukoc

Accordingly, many of these teams rely on an approach called “pace and space”. At first, a high speed and consistent switching game are in the foreground. The half-field attack is all about keeping the center open to invading players. For this you need a lot of throwers that radiate danger from the three-point line.

Accordingly, the classic low-post player does not fit into this concept. Power forwards are often pushed to the center position, and small forwards move up accordingly. NBA superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant also find themselves in this role, which is often referred to as the “stretch four”.

In the 1980s, however, the trend went in exactly the opposite direction. The European prime example was Toni Kukoc, who later moved to the North American professional league and won three championships with the Chicago Bulls. The 2.08 meter tall Croatian was something of a child prodigy of his time and even had playmaking qualities thanks to his vision and passing skills. Kukoc as a small forward was the dream of the multidimensional Big Man made flesh.

Accordingly, many coaches and programs have made it their mission to develop this type of player. But they simply forgot that there are only a few exceptional talents like Kukoc. In the NBA, the Houston Rockets drafted first in 1983 and 1984, picking a center each time. Both should stand together on the floor, so that the 2.24 meter tall Ralph Sampson was retrained as a power forward. “Big is better” was the maxim.

sacrificing length

But the experiment with the “Twin Towers” went wrong despite a final participation. John Wooden is the most successful college basketball coach of all time. He won ten championships with UCLA. This record will most likely never be broken. From 1965 to 1969 he coached the most dominant player at the university level, Lewis Alcindor. The 2.18 meter man later stirred up the NBA under the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite his experience and immense success with this exceptional player, Wooden said he would always prioritize speed over size.

The NBA is crazy about him: Victor Wembanyama

Bild: picture alliance / abaca

Today’s coaches are putting this statement more in the foreground again. Traditional inside players play at the edge of the zone with their backs to the basket. This so-called post-up game is relatively ineffective, as current statistics show. However, a technically well-trained Big Man with smooth movement patterns will always be the first choice. Length, mobility and throw are the ideal combination in modern high-level basketball.

But length is the factor where you are most likely to compromise. That’s not necessary with Victor Wembanyama. The 19-year-old is already the top player in the French league and will almost certainly be the first player selected in the NBA draft this summer. Never before has there been a basketball player of his height (2.19 meters) with such a portfolio of skills and movement. “Pace and space” with 2.20 meter players, is that the future? No, because there is only one Victor Wembanyama!

The author was coach of the year twice.


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