The NBA withdrawals have hit hard. SportsCenter has been airing chess tournaments and LeBron has been making TikToks. I know I can’t be the only one craving NBA content so I‘m giving you my Stephen A. Smith style list of NBA players (in no specific order) in today’s game who would benefit from playing in a different era. This list comes with one caveat — I am not just gonna throw Russell Westbrook in the 1950s where he’d be seen as a mini-Hulk and dominate, so the eras I am making available for swapping are the 1970s and onwards. Now let’s take a look at some living, breathing NBA fossils.
DeMar DeRozan used to be one of the most promising young guards of this past decade. His stint on the Raptors featured high octane explosive finishes at the basket, a myriad of moves and a nearly untouchable midrange pull up game. This allowed the Raptors to routinely secure one of the top two seeds in the east. While DeRozan is widely recognized as an All-Star caliber player, what has held him back from being considered in the upper echelon of NBA stardom?
For his career, DeRozan is a 28% shooter from downtown. In the current game, where even centers are encouraged to shoot 3s, the inability to shoot the longball has been seen as an offensive liability that restricts floor spacing. The ‘90s, on the other hand, were built upon isolation basketball, the midrange game and the ability to finish in traffic around the basket.
Why the big shift? There are several reasons. These include better conditioning and post-workout regiments, the introduction of more international players and zone defense. Zone defense is the act of dividing defensive responsibilities by area on the floor rather than matching up by personnel. This allows players to cover more ground, collapse on drives to the basket and swarm opposing star players without leaving anyone entirely open. Prior to 2001, thanks to the one and only Shaquille O’Neal, one had to leave their man completely open to double team a star player.
Can you imagine trying to guard LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo one-on-one with no viable help defense? You have a better chance of convincing a professor that Jonathan the Husky ate your homework. This necessity for various types of zones has made 3-point shooting all the more vital as it dilutes the defense, forcing people farther and farther from the basket. This is most evident in the playoffs where DeRozan had the worst individual on-court plus-minus rating on the team during his previous five Raptors playoff runs. With such a polished interior game skillset, so tailor-made to battle it out with the Pistons, Bulls, Pacers, Suns and more of the ‘90s, it seems DeRozan was simply born a decade or two late to realize his full star potential.
Orlando Magic Dwight Howard was Superman before Shaq recently awarded Giannis the title. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-Star and the active leader in blocks and rebounds should warrant max dollars, right? Then why has Howard, who has recently been playing as a role player for the Los Angeles Lakers (very well I might add), been searching for a resurgence in his career?
In fairness to Dwight, he had a severe back injury, but the bigger reason was that he couldn’t adapt to a league necessitating stretch bigs that can shoot with a lower emphasis on methodical interior post play. Additionally, Dwight’s horrific free throw shooting (see extensive meme evidence) makes it difficult to play Dwight in the fourth quarter due to current intentional foul rules.
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s featured a lot of players who validated their spot on NBA rosters with their big body presence. Defending post players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin McHale and guarding the paint against slashing guards like Michael Jordan would have given Dwight an extremely high market value and would have elongated his stardom.
He might be the greatest rebounder ever and one of our own in the Husky pack. However, Drummond struggles in the league for the same reasons as Dwight and never had Dwight’s up and down the court energy. His pace of play would be perfect in the mid ‘90s to early 2000s.
Ben Simmons is considered a jump shot away from being the second coming of LeBron James. Scouts have raved about his potentially all-time great ceiling, third-eye passing ability and prowess in transition. However, in the playoffs, the Sixers have relegated Simmons to the dunker spot in the half-court offense due to teams daring him to shoot the ball. This has severely inhibited the Sixers by limiting Joel Embiid’s effectiveness because of bad floor spacing. Losing Jimmy Butler and J.J Reddick this past offseason has made matters worse and have gotten people questioning the legitimacy of title contention in the city of brotherly love.
Simmons plays the role of a true facilitating point guard similar to the likes of a Jason Kidd, John Stockton or even more recently Rajon Rondo (honorable mention for this list). I hope that he develops his jump shot in the coming years, but with his present skillset, I think he would be better off playing in the ‘90s. The presence of spot-up shooters and his size at the position would allow him to work some magic with the ball (pun intended).
Zion is what happens when a linebacker discovers that basketball impresses his girlfriend more than football. With that frame, he is able to physically impose his will on the game. I know that Zion is just a rookie with years to develop as a star player, but while I think he’d be very good in this era, I think he’d be more successful back in the mid ‘80s.
In the 1984 draft, Michael Jordan was not the No. 1 pick. This sounds blasphemous in hindsight but the No. 1 pick in that draft was the Rocket’s selection Hakeem Olajuwon. He is an all-time great in his own right but he got drafted because centers were seen as more of a focal point for championship-caliber teams at the time. Now, the situation is pretty much flipped where teams value versatile forwards and scoring guards.
I think Zion benefits from this shift while putting out numbers as teams do not invest as much into big body defenders at the center and power forward positions. However, teams tend not to build around these types of players because of zone defense, the pace of the game and the fact that shooting open 3s is the most statistically efficient shot. The last few teams in recent memory that attempted to use a versatile power forward as their team centerpiece — the Kings with DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans with Anthony Davis and the Clippers with Blake Griffin — weren’t successful because they all lacked the guard talent and depth to compete in the Western Conference.
I think that Zion would be even more coveted as a true No. 1 option in the mid ‘80s and ‘90s due to his build which would allow him to match up with other stars of that era. I do however believe his future in the current NBA is extremely bright and am personally rooting for him.
I couldn’t make this the list of guys who can’t shoot threes. Brook Lopez is an adaptive player that people have really underrated. He’s got the size to body people for rebounds, he can step outside to space the floor and he’s a quality rim defender. All of these qualities make him an asset to the Milwaukee Bucks and a great complement to Giannis, but how good would he be in the ‘90s? He’d be a matchup nightmare. No zone in the ‘90s meant his defender would have to step outside of any potential double team range and allow big bodies to go to work down low. This, in combination with his versatility on defending opposing bigs, would also cause problems in transition as he’d be able to confuse defenders.
You might know him as the NBA’s ultimate defensive pest. You might know him for his Gary Payton-esque trash talk. The simple fact is when he’s on your own team, you love him, when he’s not, you hate him. He’s the type of player that knows his role and executes it with a no holding back mentality. While he is an instrumental piece to the Clippers’ championship puzzle, I think Patrick Beverley would love playing in the ‘80s. You give this guy the green light to hand check and it’s the NBA equivalent of giving Thanos all the Infinity Stones. I think Patrick Beverley would be able to double down on his defensive specialization and have a much higher player market value.
Thumbnail photo by Erik Drost via Flickr Creative Commons.
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.