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If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve probably noticed the game undergo some significant changes over the past decade: guards are getting taller, forwards are becoming better shooters, and the idea of the traditional center is on life support.
On Wednesday, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens fanned these flames by weighing in on the NBA’s new era of positional flexibility.
“I don’t have the five positions anymore,” Stevens said. “It may be as simple as three positions now, where you’re either a ball-handler, a wing or a big… It’s really important. We’ve become more versatile as the years have gone on.”
Stevens has been an analytical and forward-thinking head coach dating back to his college coaching days at Butler, so perhaps it’s not surprising that he would speak out about the transition to three positions from the traditional five-position system – point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center – that has long been established as basketball tradition.
The Celtics had a guard-heavy rotation last season, playing names like Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley along with more traditional big men like Al Horford and Amir Johnson. Next season’s roster should feature more versatile pieces, including free agent wing Gordon Hayward, third overall pick Jayson Tatum and a more polished Jaylen Brown.
The NBA’s official website still lists players as either guards, forwards or centers, though some are in gray areas between each designation (Vince Carter, for example, is listed as a guard-forward). These standard terms are less descriptive than the ones Stevens uses, which correlate with particular skills or traits: running an offense, all-purpose scoring, and exceptional height.
The NBA’s new focus on versatility was noticeable in the last two drafts. This year’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, is a 6-foot-6 point guard, and last year’s top selection, Ben Simmons, is 6-foot-10 and some believe his future is as a ball-handling forward.
Meanwhile, this year’s first overall pick was Markelle Fultz, a multi-purpose guard who can score as well as he can generate opportunities for his teammates.
“My mindset is a basketball player,” Fultz said. “I don’t think I have any position, really.”