Who’s next to change the game?

Who’s next to change the game?
January 28
09:34 2023

Over the years watching the NBA, I have had the opportunity to see the game grow and evolve into something I never thought I would see. I have also seen some revolutionary players that have changed the game as it has evolved. The question I have now is, who will be the next guy to change the game and more importantly, how will he change it?

Let’s take a look back over the last 40 years or so, which will take us back to the early ‘80s. A few years earlier, there was a point guard taken first overall in the 1979 NBA draft by the name of Earvin “Magic” Johnson out of Michigan State University. At that time, we had never seen a 6-foot 9-inch point guard that could handle the ball and pass the way Johnson could.

Johnson was so versatile as a player he could literally play every position on the court, as evidenced by him playing center in an NBA Finals game. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nursing a sprained ankle suffered in the previous game, rookie Magic Johnson jumped center and played every position on the floor and racked up 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a game 6 win that clinched the championship for the Los Angeles Lakers.

That performance in the finals earned Johnson the MVP of the series. This was the start of a hall of fame career spanning 12 seasons and showed it was OK to be a tall point guard. I am not sure we would have a Luka Doncic if we didn’t have a Magic Johnson first.  

A few years after Johnson, we were all blessed with the greatest player of all time, in my opinion, Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Before Jordan, we had previously seen wing players who were athletic and could jump out of the gym like Julius Erving, David Thompson and Connie Hawkins, but Jordan had a flair and grace about him that those previous dunkers did not. 

Jordan not only transcended the game of basketball, his shoes transcended fashion as they were the first basketball shoe to become worldly popular. They became so popular that people were robbing and killing others for their Jordan sneakers, which was a very sad result of the popularity of the sneakers.

Jordan dominated the league for quite some time and then in the ‘90s, we had some once-in-a-generation talents that came into the league and changed it. Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant all came into the league and quickly turned into hall of fame players. Shaq and Iverson got off to quick starts, while Kobe had to wait a couple of years, but all three were top 10 players in the league within their first four years in the league.

When it comes to Shaq, we hadn’t seen a big man with his combination of size, power and athleticism since Wilt Chamberlain, but Shaq was playing at a time when it was the golden age for big men and he still dominated.

Iverson proved that as a small guard he could play amongst the giants. At six feet, 160 pounds, Iverson was one of, if not the most, feared scorers in the league. He was not afraid to drive the ball to the hole and score or shake a defender with his superior ball handling skills. Kobe was almost a clone of Jordan, yet he still carved out enough of his own legacy that he will be remembered forever. Bryant’s work ethic is legendary and truly became a part of who he was.

When we get to the 2000s we were blessed to see one of the best players to ever lace them up join the league in LeBron James. Until James, we had never seen a player with his combination of size and speed. He was basically the size of NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone with the athleticism similar to Jordan. In the past, a player of his size would more than likely play primarily in the post, but James is basically a point guard in a power forward’s body.

Later on in the decade, we saw the likes of Kevin Durant (2007) and Steph Curry (2009) enter the league and quickly take it by storm. Durant is freakishly talented at his size. He had the height of a power forward at almost seven feet tall, the ball handling skills of a guard and the shooting ability of a sharpshooter, which was a combination we had never seen before.

Now let me speak on Curry. Curry is different from any other player previously mentioned in this article. He changed the game unlike any of the other players have and it’s truly because of what he doesn’t have. Curry is not the biggest, strongest, fastest or best athlete, yet he has millions of kids that want to be like him.

What makes Curry so different than any of the other transcendent players is that he is more similar to everyday human beings. Don’t get me wrong, Curry is an above-average athlete, but standing at six feet 2 inches and weighing 185 pounds, he is more relatable than a player who is six feet six and taller.

Let’s not forget that before the Warriors won their championship in 2015, no jump shooting team had ever won the championship before. It was almost taboo to think that a team without an interior presence could win it all. Golden State not only proved that wrong, they made almost every other team in the league change the way they scout, draft and approach free agency. If that’s not changing the game, I don’t know what is.

Curry has kids out here shooting ridiculous shots on the court. I have never seen so many three-on-one fast breaks that end with a three point attempt since Curry came into the league. He has kids trying to shoot 25-foot three-point shots. Curry has truly changed the game from one that was played inside out, to one that is being played outside in. He has made it so that a front court player who only plays in the post is nearly obsolete in today’s game. And to think just 15 years ago, that skill set was still very valuable in the league. If you don’t believe me, ask Portland how they feel about drafting Greg Oden over Durant in 2007.

It will be interesting to see how the game changes over the next decade. I am truly wanting to see if the game will continue to be played from behind the arc or will it return to a more traditional style of play. More importantly, I am intrigued to see the player that dictates that transition and how the game will be played. I don’t think that game changer is currently in the league but with how players are evolving and ascending skill wise, I can’t wait to witness the next evolution of the game.  

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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