If you tuned into basketball in the mid-2010s, you may have thought you were watching a revolution, one that was completely twisting the traditional definition of what a point guard is and should do. It had finally become acceptable for a point guard to look to score the ball as much as distribute it. The archetype of the scoring point guard seemed poised to become the future of the league. Fast-forward half a decade and one reality rings true: Size is still the cardinal attribute in basketball, for role players and stars alike.
As the regular season takes off in just over a month, we cannot forget what we watched in June. Throughout the regular season, we will be watching, and probably complaining about, the refs along the way for being ticky-tacky with their whistle. Make no mistake, however, come June, there will be two teams in a complete and total bloodbath. It happens every year. In the environment of the NBA playoffs, size and strength matters.
Size Matters for the Postseason in the NBA
For the average role player, impacting the game is easier when they’re bigger, particularly when they can move their feet. These players can cover ground on the perimeter in rotations, sky in for rebounds, are able to hold position in box outs or in post ups. They’re able to just deal with the physicality that role players are asked to handle.
Among stars, the benefit of a size advantage is quite obvious. It’s simply easier to initiate offense, consistently score in the playoffs, and be an impactful defensive player when you’re bigger. That’s why we cannot forget what we saw from Steph Curry in June, because it shines a spotlight on just how much must go right for a smaller player to become a dominant postseason player.
The One and Only Stephen Curry
Curry is not the exception simply because he is exceptionally talented. It is how that exceptional talent manifests in winning characteristics that allow him to be elite in the playoffs in a way that no other small guard ever has, and there are two characteristics in particular: his commitment on defense and his off-ball play.
Commitment to the defensive end throughout Curry’s career has turned him into an above average defensive guard. He won’t make an all-defense team, but he certainly stands out. Offensively, his movement without the basketball, which has two crucial effects, generating him higher quality shot attempts, and pulling other defenders in with his gravity as a decoy.
Every great scorer must, in some way, supplement the more difficult areas of their offensive attack with easier looks. For bigger, rim-pressuring forwards, this can be found by living at the rim – putting your head down and going through people to try to get layups. For Curry, it is found by constantly moving without the basketball. That’s how he finds himself with three or four wide-open threes a game, by constantly staying in motion and capitalizing on defenders having brief lapses in attention. That then plays into the decoy attention he draws by moving without the basketball, creating high quality looks for his teammates. For a bigger scoring-wing, this often manifests in closeout-attacking opportunities created for other players on the court in second-side action.
Without a Steph, The Spurs Height Requirement Makes Sense
The unique, one-of-a-kind array of attributes of the best shooter in the history of the game have been developed by being committed to winning at an extremely high level. That’s the price necessary for a small guard like Curry to become a top three player in the game and a top ten player of all time. That combination isn’t easy to find, and few put in the work to achieve it.
In recent years, the Spurs have shied away from the small guard archetype in their draft process. The last player San Antonio in the first round that was 6’3” or shorter was Cory Joseph back in 2011. Since 2000? Only George Hill and Tony Parker. Instead, the organization seems to have been ahead of the curve, falling in love with a different, bigger archetype of point guard.
San Antonio’s “type” is very specific. Just look at their last three first-round point guards. Dejounte Murray was 6’4” with a 6’9.5” wingspan, and Joshua Primo and Blake Wesley, are reflections of each other at 6’5” with a 6’9.25” wingspan.
Size is still the name of the game, and San Antonio surely seems to agree, judging but the apparent Spurs height requirement. Lacking exceptional strength and length at the other positions, the Spurs just aim for the advantage at the point guard. It’s a bold strategy, but we’ll see how it pays off for them.