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Once upon a time in the not-so-distant basketball past, short dudes were immediately anointed point guards and coaches shoved the rock in their hands, tall guys as centers and told to stand by the basket and everyone in between had to roam around them. Positions in today’s NBA have evolved tremendously in the last five years, nonetheless, the last 50.
The NBA is trying to keep up with the times and adjusting its award ballots. The All-NBA teams, for example, have changed to include one center, two forwards and two guards. NBA All-Stars, in which voting concluded this week, consists of three forwards and two guards.
Why have positions at all?
The skills NBA players of all heights and “positions” have developed allow them to play multiple roles for their team no matter what box we want to place them in. The league isn’t about neatly defined parameters about who can and should do what on the basketball court. We see guys pushing the limits daily and churning up amazing performances.
Significant changes don’t happen overnight. Diets are rarely successful when you go from eating a crap ton of fast food to eating like a rabbit. The small adjustments here and there create change and allow it to be sustainable.
In a small step to de-position basketball, I will break down the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster based on their role at each end of the court. This will entail ordering the players based on the lineups they’re playing in and their role when they’re on the court.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ve used Cleaning the Glass’s positional designations to describe where each player spends most of their time on offense and defense. Here are the positions I’ll be using:
- Combo (I’m expanding this definition to include Bucks who are responsible for initiating/creating offense and any of the other positions)
The Bucks don’t employ a natural point guard who serves as their exclusive ball-handler. It’s a role that would fit their team nicely and ease some of the basic ball-handling duties of their biggest stars.
Combo: Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter, George Hill, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joe Ingles
To make up for a lack of a true point guard, they have several players who are a combination of a ball-handler and another position. Holiday, Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Ingles are the primary shot creators for Milwaukee; they are responsible for finding their own shots and discovering open ones for their teammates as well. Carter and Hill fill in the gaps when needed and can bring the ball up the floor.
Wing: Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, MarJon Beauchamp, Wesley Matthews, A.J. Green, Jordan Nwora
This group rarely initiates offense, instead focusing their attention off the ball and creating space for their teammates. They mostly orbit the three-point line and fire away from deep when the rock finds them.
Forward: Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Middleton and Ingles play the forward position when they don’t have the ball in their hands, leaving Antetokounmpo as the only other forward.
Big: Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Serge Ibaka, Sandro Mamukelashvili
What separates Portis from the other players in the combo category is his inability to create shots for others. To be sure, he does a tremendous job posting and facing up his own man and gets buckets, a valuable skill. But he doesn’t turn that into open looks for his guys very often, which places him in this big category.
Point: Jevon Carter, George Hill
Carter loves to pester ball-handlers the entire length of the court and does a great job at it. He’s spent a lot of time alongside Holiday and has primarily covered the opposing team’s point guard. That’s also Hill’s first defensive task when he’s on the court.
Combo: MarJon Beauchamp, A.J. Green
The Bucks have surprisingly used Beauchamp on a fair amount of points and combos: Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Dejounte Murray. They also have to hide Green somewhere and have tried to do it on combo guards.
Wing: Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, Jordan Nwora
Holiday often takes the task of defending the opposing team’s best player, regardless of position. That puts him on the likes of Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic and Jimmy Butler. Allen, Connaughton and Nwora also spend most of their time guarding wings, although not of the same caliber as Holiday.
Forward: Khris Middleton, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews
Middleton, Ingles and Matthews will guard some wings and defend forwards. The three will spend some time on the opposing team’s best wing when Holiday isn’t on him.
Big: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Serge Ibaka, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Thanasis Antetokounmpo
The Bucks love to keep Antetokounmpo on their opponent’s weakest big. This allows him to roam the court and clog up the lane. They’ll do the same with Lopez when possible, and the two seven-footers make it very difficult for opposing teams around the rim. Portis forms the third man of a three-man big rotation for Milwaukee.