The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

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The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by Shamrock1000 on Wed Aug 15, 2018 1:05 pm

The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas


Of all the shocking NBA free-agency moves this summer, Isaiah Thomas’s deal with Denver — for just one year, at the minimum salary for a veteran player — might have been the most telling, in terms of where the league is heading.

This time last year, Thomas — one of the NBA’s most underpaid players even then, at just over $6 million — was saying openly that the Celtics “know they’ve got to bring the Brink’s truck out,” a reference to the nine-figure max contract he felt he deserved. And on some level, it would have been difficult to argue with him. At 28 years old, the diminutive point guard was coming off a banner season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting while averaging almost 29 points per game (on one of the league’s best true shooting percentages) and led the Celtics to the East’s best record.

It’s no secret that much of the market collapse for Thomas’s services stemmed from questions about the torn labrum in his hip, which cost him months of rehab time before he ever suited up for the Cavs, then required surgery in March (while he was playing for the Lakers). But it also appears that the ever-changing NBA flipped its script entirely just before Thomas could cash in on a deal that scorers of his caliber generally get. The about-face highlights the fear teams have about committing big money to someone as short as Thomas, given the challenges his height creates in yet another league where an increasing number of players are roughly the same size.

Point guards and centers were closer in height last year than they’ve ever been, separated by an average of just 8.3 inches — down 21 percent from the 10.5 inches or so that stood between them during the mid-to-late 1990s, according to data from Basketball-Reference.com.



Those shifts affect Thomas in two meaningful ways. First, the Tacoma, Washington, native — who, at just 5-foot-9, is the shortest player in the NBA — isn’t even close to the average size for a point guard of 6 feet, 2.5 inches. Which brings up the second issue: As such an outlier, the undersized Thomas becomes an even bigger liability on defense when his team is forced to switch on screens at that end of the floor — something that’s become far more common in the past five years alone. The median number of switches leaguewide has more than doubled over that span, from 4.3 per 100 possessions in 2013-14 to 9.1 switches per 100 possessions this past season, according to Second Spectrum.

“To even have a chance against a team like Golden State, you have to make a point of not being put into rotations,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told me in May. “They’ll kill you that way.”

Certain teams are better equipped to play that kind of defense than others — the Rockets and Warriors, widely considered the league’s best teams, led the NBA in switch frequency — but the process doesn’t always work as well when Thomas is in the midst of it. The Celtics were 5 percent more efficient defensively in switch scenarios when Thomas was off the floor than on in 2016-17, according to Second Spectrum. And while Thomas’s departure coincided with a slew of other changes in Boston prior to last season, the team’s jump to from No. 12 to No. 1 in defensive efficiency after dealing Thomas supports the notion that a merely solid defensive team can become great on that side of the ball once it removes its weakest link.

With teams vying to become switchier in an increasingly versatile league (and some clubs perhaps having pushed the envelope too far on that front), it raises the dilemma of how to integrate Thomas into a defensive gameplan without torpedoing it altogether.1
Even on offense, where Thomas is undoubtedly a boon, his greatest strengths are ones accentuated by a particular style of play. With Boston, he made use of direct-dribble handoffs more than anyone — a play that worked well alongside screen-setter Al Horford in part because coach Brad Stevens was committed to building an offense in which Thomas could thrive. The plays didn’t work as well in Cleveland, where the Cavs ran them about half as often and with less efficiency. (The same was true during his stint with the Lakers, according to Second Spectrum.)

Taken together, this suggests that Thomas — like most players but perhaps unlike most stars — needs a specific ecosystem around him in order for him to thrive, or for him to be the max-level talent he believes himself to be. He could be that player in Boston, where the Celtics had good defenders and players that could not only screen but also space the floor for him. The likelihood of that being true on a team with far less talent seems remote.

Thomas’s new situation in Denver splits the middle from that standpoint. He will be in an up-tempo system with an abundance of talented players, including Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and FiveThirtyEight favorite Gary Harris, among others. Thomas has also played previously for coach Michael Malone, the first NBA head man to coax 20 points per game out of him. But there’s a catch: The Nuggets, like last year’s Cavs, play almost no D, meaning Thomas won’t be able to expect much help on that end as he works to rebuild his value as a sixth man.

Again, the tactical constraints of Thomas’s size are far from the only question marks surrounding him. The health of his hip is key, obviously. The Cleveland situation — a particular challenge because of the win-now pressure created by LeBron James’s pending free agency — was disastrous for Thomas: The team’s awful defense made him a bad fit, and his penchant for taking shots at either teammates or coaches became problematic. His difficulties were compounded by the seesaw nature of the free-agent money that’s changed hands in recent years.

When Thomas began talking about being paid handsomely, it was during the summer of a massive salary-cap increase, when players like Evan Turner, Bismack Biyombo and Nicolas Batum — who’ve never been All-Stars — got $70 million, $72 million and $120 million, respectively. Mistakes from 2016 are still being felt by certain teams, and it doesn’t help that some are keeping the books clear ahead of next year, when several stars are expected to hit the market. So, much of this boils down to Thomas’s free agency coming at the worst time.

“You can always play the what-if game, but man, I’ve been F’ed over so many times,” Thomas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, while acknowledging that potential suitors were undoubtedly concerned about the health of his hip. “But of course I think about [the money]. I’m human.”

If there’s a bright side, or at least a glass-half-full equation, it’s that Thomas can still redeem himself. He is, or at least can be, a supremely gifted scorer. Yes, he gets his shots blocked often, but Thomas has learned how to use angles as leverage, and he displays bursts of quickness to outsmart defenders. Prior to his truncated 2017-18, he was driving to the basket more than almost anyone, and he connected on a high percentage of his shots around the rim. He’s still proven to be automatic from the line. And in the past, Thomas has shown he can catch fire from deep.

As he’s done so many times before, Thomas, famously the last player picked in the 2011 draft, will have to overcome the odds. He may not even need the absolute perfect fit to begin building his value again. Instead, Thomas may just need the ever-shifting NBA to sit still just long enough for him to find a new normal.


Couple of thoughts on article perhaps trying to be too clever: first, if the premise is that point guards are getting taller, why not simply report the change in PG height over the years? Instead, the writer says the height gap between centers and point guards is decreasing. Part of this is stat could also be that centers are getting smaller. Regardless, it is an interesting observation with all this talk of small ball - maybe the overall height on the court is not changing so much (i.e. the sum of all players heights). That would be interesting. I think Swish might have commented on this possibility in earlier posts.

Second thought is it twists facts to support the premise that IT is already outdated. Atributing the Celtic's jump from the number 12 to the number 1 defense mostly to the loss of IT is ridiculous. The 2017-2018 Celtics were literally an entirely different team than the 2016-2017 Celtics. Additionally, he says IT can't function on teams without lots of talent. I loved the 2016-2017 Celtics, but they were not over-flowing with talent. I do agree with the point that Brad knew how to use IT, but a competent coach is a little different than a "specific ecosystem". I also agree IT is a victim of timiing, e.g. current hesitancy to over-spend on players like Evan Turner, and questions of whether or not he has returned to form from his hip injury.

Love the team we have, but I hope IT does return to the ridiculously efficient scorer he once was and finally gets a paycheck he deserves, even if it doesn't come in a Brinks truck

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Wed Aug 15, 2018 4:39 pm

I don't view height as a principle issue - certainly when you realize that average heights have only gone up 3 inches (6'4" to 6'7") since 1951 - thats 3 inches in 67 years. Weight on the other hand has ballooned from 195lbs in 1951 to 223 as late as 2013 and in is now 218 lbs (with the Bigs in particular making gains that average in the 30 lb range).  Sharing the spotlight with the weight factor is the fact that the game has transitioned from a white dominated game to a black dominated game - a horrible shooting game to a very highly skilled shooting  game - a league of players with limited ball handling skills to one of dazzling capabilities which now allow even the bigs to roam out in the land of the little guys - a strictly American game, to a game with a world wide reputation - The current addition of the Celtics should do quite well at playing this modern game - but caution - we are not alone.

 swish


Last edited by swish on Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:12 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by NYCelt on Thu Aug 16, 2018 10:56 am

Another look at a trend that's been going on for some time. It's not that bigs are getting smaller, but rather that smalls are getting bigger. Bigger players are being coached from an earlier age in what were once considered small player skill-sets.

It is a big man's game. That's basketball.  That's not likely to change.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by Shamrock1000 on Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:44 am

NYCelt wrote:Another look at a trend that's been going on for some time. It's not that bigs are getting smaller, but rather that smalls are getting bigger. Bigger players are being coached from an earlier age in what were once considered small player skill-sets.

It is a big man's game. That's basketball.  That's not likely to change.

That is what I was thinking, though I think the bigs might be getting a little smaller, which makes sense in a way. All things being equal, taller players will get more rebounds and will be less likely to have their shots blocked. Given two teams where the players on both teams are equal in every respect except height, the taller team will prevail over the long term. In the past, the game was more of an inside/mid-range game, and thus it made sense to have height concentrated near the basket (bigger big men). With the transition to a more perimeter oriented game, it makes sense to have the height more evenly distributed over the floor.

Swish's observation of increasing bulk is interesting. Bulk allows players to establish position, which again results in more rebounds and higher percentage shots. It is probably also related to the increase in athleticism in today's players. These guys are heavier, but they are not loads (well, maybe Sully was...). Sprinters are not skinny guys. Explosiveness requires significant generation of force, which requires muscle mass. As Swish also pointed out, these guys are not merely "athletic", they are ridiculously skilled in shooting, ball handling. With the introduction of analytics and complex offensive and defensive schemes, players will also need to have high bbiqs. As the game evolves, so do the players who play it.

For those with an affinity for earlier NBA eras, note that in no way do I suggest that the best players from past generations are not as good as today's best players. These are general trends, and there will always be outstanding players in every generation. I would argue though that the worst players in today's game are better than the worst players in earlier generations.

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by cowens/oldschool on Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:00 pm

NYCelt wrote:Another look at a trend that's been going on for some time. It's not that bigs are getting smaller, but rather that smalls are getting bigger. Bigger players are being coached from an earlier age in what were once considered small player skill-sets.

It is a big man's game. That's basketball.  That's not likely to change.

The 2 position is getting bigger as is the 3, instead of a 2, the trend is teams ideally have 2 wings that are interchangeable at the 2-3. We are built like that, with many teams to copy.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Thu Aug 16, 2018 10:15 pm

cowens/oldschool wrote:
NYCelt wrote:Another look at a trend that's been going on for some time. It's not that bigs are getting smaller, but rather that smalls are getting bigger. Bigger players are being coached from an earlier age in what were once considered small player skill-sets.

It is a big man's game. That's basketball.  That's not likely to change.

The 2 position is getting bigger as is the 3, instead of a 2, the trend is teams ideally have 2 wings that are interchangeable at the 2-3. We are built like that, with many teams to copy.

  http://bkref.com/tiny/R1JK0

 Above is the list of players that played both forward and guard in 1956-57 (Russell's 1st year).
 8 teams - 8 players - all white - average weight-198.5 lbs - all with shooting percentages of under .450.

http://bkref.com/tiny/GjJ1L 

Above is the list for 2017-18
30 teams - 40 players - 35 black usa - 5 international (0 white usa) - average weight-222.0 lbs - 36 of the 40 players with shooting percentages of .450 or better.



  swish

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Fri Aug 17, 2018 12:21 am

Swish, thanks for keeping it real with Joe Friday type facts.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Fri Aug 17, 2018 10:43 pm

worcester wrote:Swish, thanks for keeping it real with Joe Friday type facts.

 worcester,

 And could you by any chance be Jack Webb ?

   swish

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Fri Aug 17, 2018 10:51 pm

No, but I loved Jack Webb in Dragnet and the DI.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by k_j_88 on Sun Aug 19, 2018 11:37 am

I seriously doubt the size of players is changing that much. They're just getting more athletically-imposing.


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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Sun Aug 19, 2018 12:01 pm

And they don't have to ride on buses across the country.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Sun Aug 19, 2018 1:25 pm

worcester wrote:And they don't have to ride on buses across the country.

They probably wouldn't fit in the buses.


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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Sun Aug 19, 2018 1:43 pm

k_j_88 wrote:I seriously doubt the size of players is changing that much. They're just getting more athletically-imposing.


KJ

http://bkref.com/tiny/qnZXE

Above is a list of bigs (centers, center forwards, and forward centers) from the  1956-57 season ( Russells first year) that took at least 8 shots per game.
   25 bigs that averaged 215.0 lbs
   25 bigs that all failed to average at least .450 on their 2 point field goal attempts

  http://bkref.com/tiny/RV8Wy     


Above is a list of bigs ( centers, centers forwards, and forward centers ) from the 2017-18 beason that took at least 8 shots per game
  31 bigs that averaged 253.0 lbs
  31 bigs that all averaged at least .450 on their 2 point field goal attempts

Note the heights and 2 point field goal shooting percentages for both years - huge differences

  swish


Last edited by swish on Sun Aug 19, 2018 5:16 pm; edited 10 times in total (Reason for editing : change average from 205.8 to 215.0)

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Sun Aug 19, 2018 1:59 pm

But with the one exception of Bill Russell, they were all pretty good free throw shooters, especially Dolph Schayes...
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Sun Aug 19, 2018 2:57 pm

There has been a huge change in who takes the shot - using 8 fga as a minimum -
Back in the 1956-57 season the Front court BIGS took 48.1% of the shots - the other positions 51.9%
In 2017-18 the BIGS took 17.4% of the shots - the other positions took 82.6%
In 1980-81 the BIGS took 3o.5% of the shots - the other positions took 69.5%
BIGS = Center, center forward and forward center
OTHERS = Guards, Guard-forward, Foward-guards and forward.

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:07 pm

Fact - the BIGS are much bigger then ever - but it's a case of the BIGS now deferring ( for the most part ) to the others as the art of 3 point shooting has greatly altered the shooting habits of the game. Witness the fact that 3 point shooting was only about 2 percent of the total shots during the first year in 1979-80 - this past year - 29 percent. The BIGS are no longer the dominating scorers that they were back in the early years.

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:32 pm

In 2018 ten of the top fifteen season leaders according to ESPN's rating system were BIG in any era. They may not all be officially centers, but they are all BIG men:
1. LeBron James - SF (really?)
3. Anthony Davis - PF
5. Giannis - PF
6. Demarcus Cousins - C
7. KD - SF (?)
10. Karl Anthony Towns - C
11. Joel Embiid - C
12. Nikola Jokic - C
14. LaMarcus Aldridge - PF
15. Andre Drummond - C

and except for Jokic and Drummond, all were 20 ppg scorers as well.

It may be too early to write off the importance of big men in the NBA.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:56 pm

worcester wrote:In 2018 ten of the top fifteen season leaders according to ESPN's rating system were BIG in any era. They may not all be officially centers, but they are all BIG men:
1. LeBron James - SF (really?)
3. Anthony Davis - PF
5. Giannis - PF
6. Demarcus Cousins - C
7. KD - SF (?)
10. Karl Anthony Towns - C
11. Joel Embiid - C
12. Nikola Jokic - C
14. LaMarcus Aldridge - PF
15. Andre Drummond - C

and except for Jokic and Drummond, all were 20 ppg scorers as well.

It may be too early to write off the importance of big men in the NBA.

Hey - I happen to think that the BIGS now are better than ever - its just a case of the non BIGS being so bad in those early years - that by comparison the BIGS figured much more heavily in the overall scoring stats back when. Nice list of standouts Worcester - no disagreement from me.

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Sun Aug 19, 2018 10:07 pm

Swish, you are correct. The non- bigs are so much better. And the bigs now are much better shooters from outside than before. Much better.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by cowens/oldschool on Mon Aug 20, 2018 10:47 am

worcester wrote:In 2018 ten of the top fifteen season leaders according to ESPN's rating system were BIG in any era. They may not all be officially centers, but they are all BIG men:
1. LeBron James - SF (really?)
3. Anthony Davis - PF
5. Giannis - PF
6. Demarcus Cousins - C
7. KD - SF (?)
10. Karl Anthony Towns - C
11. Joel Embiid - C
12. Nikola Jokic - C
14. LaMarcus Aldridge - PF
15. Andre Drummond - C

and except for Jokic and Drummond, all were 20 ppg scorers as well.

It may be too early to write off the importance of big men in the NBA.

Is this rating system based on offense, is defense factored in?
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by swish on Mon Aug 20, 2018 11:22 am

worcester wrote:Swish, you are correct. The non- bigs are so much better. And the bigs now are much better shooters from outside than before. Much better.


 Below is the list of the non-bigs in 1956-57 - with a minimum of 10 pts per game.

  http://bkref.com/tiny/jBWwK

And here is the list for 2017-18

  http://bkref.com/tiny/IoLsW

 swish

Add on - racial breakdown data on NON-BIGS - dated 8-22-18

   The 1956-57 season - NON-BIGS - For the most part the are the speed and quickness players.

   14 of 14 players were white Americans.
   0 were black Americans
   0 were international

   The 2017-18 season - NON-BIGS - For the most part are the speed and quickness players.

   3 of 120 players were white Americans
   106 were black Americans
   11 were International players


 swish


Last edited by swish on Wed Aug 22, 2018 7:23 pm; edited 4 times in total (Reason for editing : add on stats)

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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Mon Aug 20, 2018 11:25 am

I assume d was a factor, but I don't really know.
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Re: The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

Post by worcester on Mon Aug 20, 2018 11:29 am

Cousy and Sharman were one helluva scoring backcourt, but even their FG % were pretty low....
and the rest of the league - only 2 other non-bigs besides Cousy and Sharman who scored more than 20 ppg. Think of that!
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