To hear some ex-players inform it, the NBA within the Eighties and Nineties was a fight sport. Perimeter defenders might hand-check with impunity, each crew had an enforcer and, if one in all at the moment’s stars had been to journey again in time, he’d be cowering within the nook of the locker room after being served an elbow sandwich on his first foray to the paint. The recreation was simply more durable again then, they are saying, and gamers had been bodily and mentally harder.
Kevin Durant is not shopping for all that. On an episode of his podcast, “The ETCs,” revealed Wednesday, Durant mentioned he is been watching outdated recreation movie and, other than some uncalled flagrant fouls, does not suppose that the NBA was essentially extra bodily again within the day.
“I am going again and watch a whole lot of that 90s movie, 80s stuff, they usually play bodily however I simply suppose they obtained away with a whole lot of flagrant fouls,” Durant mentioned. “And I feel that is why they name their period extra bodily than ours. Because guys, we play bodily right here, too. There’s extra space, however guys play bodily, we obtained sturdy, athletic guys right here, too. But I watched a few of these video games, the paint was clear, no one was getting touched, it wasn’t a whole lot of assist protection. But you probably did get a whole lot of flagrant fouls [that] did not end result into fines or getting kicked out the sport, so it simply appeared prefer it was somewhat harder.”
This is a clear-eyed evaluation. If a “harder” model of play is one through which you are extra more likely to get a concussion with none important punishment being doled out to the man who gave it to you, then no, the league is not as powerful because it was when the Bad Boys or Pat Riley’s New York Knicks had been clobbering drivers.
But the sport has developed in all types of areas that don’t have anything to do with violent collisions across the rim. Freed from the constraints of “unlawful protection” guidelines, groups can throw refined schemes at star scorers, so offenses can not merely stroll the ball up, name a post-up or isolation play and power a tough double-team. Players are extra expert, specialists are nearly extinct and the pace-and-space revolution has modified every little thing.
If a “harder” model of play is one that’s extra bodily and mentally taxing on a possession-by-possession foundation, one which requires gamers to cowl extra floor, make extra selections and alter instructions extra typically, then the league has by no means been harder than it’s proper now. Just ask Bad Boy Joe Dumars, the NBA’s govt vice chairman and head of basketball operations.
“You should acknowledge that there is extra tempo within the recreation at the moment than earlier than,” Dumars informed ESPN’s Baxter Holmes not too long ago. “The flooring is extra unfold, most likely much more reducing. All of these issues are factual. I do not suppose there’s any argument to that. What it does to the physique, I presume, it most likely stresses the physique as a lot as something. I do not see how somebody might argue towards that.”
Even in the midst of Durant’s NBA profession, which started in 2007, the league has modified considerably. He is the beneficiary of a lot better spacing than he had as a rookie, and his per-game scoring numbers would look worse if tempo had not skyrocketed leaguewide. The official embrace of the “collect step” and widespread adoption of the Eurostep have benefited offensive gamers, and, typically talking, on-ball defenders are given much less freedom to seize, maintain and in any other case impede ballhandlers from getting the place they wish to go.
None of this, nonetheless, implies that what guys like Durant do is simple, even when they typically make it look that means. In the 2021 playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks basically dared Durant to beat them by themselves, figuring out that it might be exhausting for him to take care of P.J. Tucker harassing him on each possession. For a not-at-all-fun time, watch that collection once more and picture having to hold that offensive load with that individual defender up in your house, whereas having to guard the rim and swap onto smaller gamers on the opposite finish.
In the 2022 playoffs, the Boston Celtics threw a military of huge, lengthy, sturdy defenders at Durant, making him work for each contact and stationing assist defenders in driving lanes. If the Phoenix Suns’ opponents on this 12 months’s playoffs borrow the Celtics’ recreation plan, it is as a result of they made Durant as uncomfortable as he has ever seemed in his NBA profession. And no, Boston didn’t commit a single flagrant foul within the collection.
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