The new abnormality of physicality

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Why are there so many busts in the NBA draft?

Is it that we never have enough talent coming into the NBA in any given summer? Strictly by the numbers, some guys are just going to fall by the wayside when it comes to trying to play professional basketball. There are a maximum of 450 jobs in the NBA and if you theoretically have 60 players trying to join the Association every summer, there is either going to be quite the turnstile effect going on in locker rooms or some guys are just going to fail to realize their dreams.

At a certain point, we end up judging certain players as aborted ventures in the draft selection process. In the last three years alone, we’ve had roughly 19 players taken in the hallowed lottery that are already considered bust picks or are out of the league altogether. Guys like Hasheem Thabeet, Joe Alexander, Jonny Flynn, Earl Clark, Michael Beasley (to a degree), Anthony Randolph (sorry, Ethan), and even Evan Turner have been kicked to the curb and labeled as guys that will just never conquer their expectations.

Why is this?

Why is it their fault they’ve been failures because men in suits and team-branded polo shirts have decided they were better than other players? The problem with the NBA draft process is we get distracted by shiny things. We look at an abstraction of what is both sexy and intimidating in order to find our own version of the NBA 2K create-a-player.

LaMarcus Aldridge is lanky and sort of awkward looking. Chicago will use him as a trade piece to acquire Tyrus Thomas because look at how high he jumps! Kevin Durant can’t bench press a small child and Greg Oden is a physical specimen. Let’s all take the big man! Michael Beasley is so much more athletic than Kevin Love. Since Kevin Love is shaped more like a babushka doll than Adonis, clearly he can’t be the #2 selection in the 2008 draft.

NBA teams are so intent on having their media guides look like a men’s health magazine cover that they ignore the abnormal strengths and advantages of the options before them.

In these playoffs so far, we’ve been treated to incredible basketball and exciting heroics that spark everybody’s passion into a rebirth of why we love this sport. Basketball can be wildly unpredictable at the most far-fetched moments. We’ve already seen the eulogies of the Spurs, Lakers and seen-to-be Celtics’ dynasties over the past two weeks. We’ve seen the unconventional become the most practical.

Instead of Dwight Howard imposing his will over smaller and less athletic mortals, we saw Jason Collins, Zaza Pachulia and even Hilton Armstrong use leverage and positioning to neutralize him enough for Atlanta to win. We’ve seen the Thunder and Grizzlies continue to advance because of the play of gravitationally exposed big men like Kendrick Perkins, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Nick Collison. We just watched Dirk Nowitzki bump bigger (Pau Gasol) and more athletic (Lamar Odom) defenders out of defensive position by using his hips and elbows instead of deltoids and biceps.

Yes, you still have Miami and their squadron of two Hades-inducing centrifugal forces terrorizing an older Boston team and we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what legendary way Derrick Rose will lift his team to old heights in spectacular fashion. But the success of the unorthodox may force the future of how NBA teams are shaped and look at building their rosters.

The positional revolution has been upon us for years and now we may be lucky enough to see the revolution of the conceptual NBA body. Doesn’t matter that Kevin Love has the childbearing hips of the ideal Amish bachelorette. It doesn’t matter that Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t look as strong or reminiscent of Karl Malone as we’d hope for. It doesn’t matter that the silhouette of Faison Love and Zach Randolph are almost identical.

While we’re pining for guys who play multiple positions and possess the skill set of every player we’ve ever seen, the success of “limited” big men are returning to the idea of creating space for their shots like our NBA forefathers did. The idea of soaring to victory is now being countered by figuring out how to get that one-inch needed to float the perfect jump shot past an overextended defender.

The incomprehensible athleticism of few is no longer withholding success of the majority. Being physical is taking on many different designs that just don’t lead you to protein shakes and Hydroxycut. If you can play and have the talent, you can find ways to be successful in the NBA.

And maybe this newly abnormal concept of physicality will finally lead to fewer players being called busts and more GMs being called masters of the war room.

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