The evolution of basketball has significantly changed the role of big men (power forwards and, mainly, centers) in the NBA.
Big men used to be effective and productive only inside the paint. As a result, they had a limited role in the team’s tactics and the build-up of each play. Fast forward to today, though, things have been completely different.
The legendary Arvydas Sabonis was the one that attempted to revolutionized the effect of big men on the game. But, the two players that really changed the status quo were Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.
The two European legends could simply do everything on the floor, from scoring and grabbing rebounds to setting perfect screens, dish assists and share the ball quickly.
A similar case is Nikola Jokic. The franchise player of the Denver Nuggets has been tremendous so far and his height, footwork and technique have enabled him to be dominant both inside the paint and from beyond the arc.
The Serbian center can create plays both for himself and his team-mates and is the number one “threat” to the opponents’ defence.
One can also see players, like Marc Gasol and Jonas Valanciunas, have a very active role in their teams’ playing style and usually execute many plays during the game.
The same goes for Giannis Antetokounmpo (who can play in all five positions), Marcin Gortat, Jusuf Nurkic and others. They all have in common their ability to adapt to a new playing style (small ball, etc) and become game changers for their teams.
On the other hand, USA-born centers have been familiar with a completely different style, as they learn how to be dominant inside the paint.
Instead, the evolution of height in the NBA has made them change their way of thinking and adapt to the changes in the tactics and the game itself.
Concurrently, the presence of European and international big men in the league have given USA-born centers the motivation to work harder and improve certain aspects of their game (ball handling, three-point shooting, court vision, etc).
As a result, one can see that big men (power forwards/centers) have been transformed to mobile centers that can quickly run the floor and be equally productive both from beyond the arc and inside the paint.
Overall, European and international big men have revolutionized the power forward and center position in the NBA. They now have a key role in the team’s tactics and playing style and this will not likely change soon.
* The main reason behind this article was a research, conducted by former basketball player and assistant coach Dimitrije Curcic, who now works as an NBA research writer for RunRepeat.
His research referred to height evolution in the NBA in the past 67 years and examined, among other things, how international and European big men have revolutionized the center position.
You can read his research here: