NBA Reaching the Heights of Yester-Year

Two tunnels diverge from the belly of a basketball arena. Actually, it's only one tunnel, but you can walk in one of two directions. As we veer toward tonight's NBA Draft, the main drivers of this early offseason appear to split along the lines of height.

In the buildup to the event, the news has revolved around some of the more compact players this game has to offer. As the Finals finished up, the discussion quickly focused on a few guards heading into free agency. Kyrie Irving was a risky play when the Mavericks traded for him to pair with Luka Doncic. The risk didn't pay off, as Dallas tumbled out of playoff position. Now, the star point guard (and his baggage) are looking for a new contract. On a lesser note, Russell Westbrook found himself in the middle of a similar, earlier implosion. Once the former MVP was jettisoned from the Lakers' roster, the Purple & Gold reassembled to the tune of a Conference Finals appearance.

While the first two players knew they would need to begin looking for new properties to rent, another former MVP could join them very soon. James Harden is expected to decline his $35.6 million player option in hopes of inking a long-term deal. The 76ers guard has even more to mull over, with a new head coach on the sidelines. Will he give it another go under a new system, or will his departure shift the foundation of power in the East?

This past weekend, news surrounding noteworthy guards surfaced. On Sunday, a trade was announced that would send Washington's Bradley Beal out west for Phoenix's veteran Chris Paul (among other players and picks). Once completed, the Suns will have a potent scoring trio. Paul, though, may be left out in the cold, negotiating a buyout before landing with a potential contender. And now that Beal has found a dance partner, rumors are rising around Portland's all-NBA talent Damian Lillard. The "Potential Trade Wheel" has been spinning for weeks, but the pressure of Draft Night is at the Trailblazers' door.

When the clock officially starts this evening, the draft itself might shift our thought process. While the "changing of the guards" currently make the title odds fluctuate, there's another trend that makes us take in the "big picture." It's safe to say that the Association is about to welcome its most hyped prospect in 20 years. For more than a year, all basketball fans wondered which franchise would land French phenom Victor Wembenyama. We now know the location. Question is, will San Antonio pry out that potential and allow it to blossom? That would actually continue a recent trend across the league.

It's no secret that NBA teams have flipped on the asset they most covet. For decades, the best hope for success was acquiring the best big man you could find. After that, you surround players like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O'Neal with the biggest pool of talent you could scrape together. That changed during the 2010s. While the Jordan-led Bulls weren't known for their low post play, it was really in the previous decade where analytics were introduced and perimeter shooting became the "nouveau riche" way to play the game. Low-post players became more of an afterthought than a staple. But has the tide shifted back to previous times? If so, the first ripple formed 10 years ago.

Draft Night in 2013 wasn't seen as one with a deep trough of talent. Anthony Bennett, unfortunately, has become known as one of the biggest busts in the history of the league. However, there were some good pickups. The best, by far, being a young man from Greece with the 15th overall pick. Basically 12 months later, another pair of foreign-born products began their road to impact the arc of the Association. These three players have ushered in a new definition of the big man, and it's paid off. In 7'0" Giannis Antetokounmpo, 6'11" Nikola Jokic, and 7'0" Joel Embiid, you have the last five league MVPs. Now, you can add this 7'2" French "alien" (to quote LeBron James) to the mix of skilled giants with diverse game.

Athletes continue to evolve and improve. With that amount of progression, it's only natural that the sports they play will go along for the ride. The NBA should always have a place for talented players at or under 6'0". But the revolution of the highly-skilled post player is already upon us. Can it take the league to new heights?

Two tunnels diverge from the belly of a basketball arena. While I have more of a connection to the path of the rainmakers and ankle-breakers, I think I'll choose the path that leads to the once-in-a-generation, 7'2" tall dude.

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