Another day, another aging athlete talking about “back in my day.” In this case the athlete isn’t even that old. Thirty-two-year-old Los Angeles Clippers guard John Wall thinks the league has changed since he entered in 2010, and it’s gotten easier, according to the five-time All-Star. But is he right?
John Wall Says The NBA Is Easier Now
“Don’t get me wrong, these young motherf***ers in the game now is nice, I’m not taking nothing away from them, but..…the NBA and college … it’s so easy now … It’s switch everything 1-5, find your worst matchup and go at him. … We had to go through real systems.”
Wall is right, the league has gotten switch heavy.
But that’s because players 1 through 5 are so skilled nowadays. Trapping or blitzing the pick and roll (the most common offensive play in basketball) creates a disadvantageous situation for defenses. By switching you guard a two-man action with two instead of five.
The game has evolved from traditional positions.
What constitutes a power forward or center in today’s game?
In the 2010-11 season, Wall’s rookie year, players like Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard were essential to winning. Centers who were big bodies to deter smaller players from attacking the rim and pound the offensive and defensive glass. Their inability to space the floor offensively wasn’t inhibitive, as teams didn’t play the five-out style that dominates the league now.
In today’s NBA, these players would be hunted by the league’s elite perimeter players and drawn out 30 feet from the basket and forced to guard quicker and more skilled players. Disaster for the defense.
Hunting mismatches isn’t a new thing.
That’s always happened in the NBA, especially in the playoffs. Where is the weak link? Find it and force your opponent to do something to remove the weak link.
When Wall refers to “real systems” what does that mean? His peak years were 2014-2017. His Wizards teams never advanced past the conference semifinals, losing to the Paul George and Roy Hibbert Indiana Pacers. Hibbert was out of the league not too long after as slow, plodding big man that couldn’t guard on the perimeter became a liability.
Wall’s Wizards also lost to the Al Horford and Paul Millsap Atlanta Hawks that had the league’s best record. They lost to the Isaiah Thomas-led Boston Celtics and the DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry Toronto Raptors.
The Pacers went to the conference finals twice during that era. Those other teams, while advancing, were nobody’s juggernaut. When you think about them, “system” doesn’t come to mind.
Wall didn’t play in what you would call an innovative offensive system during his time with the Wizards. Had he and Bradley Beal played for Mike D’Antoni, Rick Adelman, or any other offensive-minded coach, things might have gone differently.
“The players have gotten so much better. They shoot the ball better, [and as a result] offenses have opened up to the three-point line,” then-Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said in 2017. “Offense has changed radically in the last 10 years, and defenses have, traditionally, not changed that much.”
The league has never been more difficult than it is today.
The talent dispersed all across the league is evident, night to night.
During Wall’s rookie season, seven players averaged at least 25 points per game. Today, 16 players average at least 25 points per game. It’s not because defense was better. Individual skill level is better. Just about every player on the floor can pass, dribble, and shoot. If they are deficient in an area, they are so elite in another as to make up for it.
If it were truly easier, why isn’t Wall a Sixth Man of the Year candidate? He comes off the bench and goes against backups. Hunt the weak link and do your thing, right?
There is nothing remotely easy about today’s NBA game, despite what Wall and others would have you believe.