NBA players are special. Anyone who’s ever seen them in person knows that, especially if you’ve seen the action up close and personal. When it comes to speed, strength, jumping ability, reflexes, and ball skills, you can make a case for them being the best athletes in the world.
They’re also special in another way with their unique body types. They’re basically ectomorphs, which means they’re long and lean, with little body fat, and in the case of NBA players, they’re also generally gifted with straight-line speed, endurance, the ability to cut and do marvelous things in mid-air.
But the game has changed, and they’ve changed with it. NBA players may not look as muscular as their NFL counterparts, but rest assured, their hidden strength is definitely there. Go all the way back to the early days of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, and you’ll see a completely unique combination of strength and physicality.
The NBA game is once again evolving back toward speed and versatility in some very unique ways-specifically, the sizes of the players.
Back in the day, guards had to be less than 6’6″-if they were taller, they’d be giving up too much quickness.
Forwards, meanwhile were in the 6’6″ to 6’10” range. If they were smaller they couldn’t score inside, and if they got over 6’10” they couldn’t handle the quickness of small players.
Centers, meanwhile, were 6’10” plus, and built to bang down near the basket in the low post. Outside shots were strictly forbidden, based on the common belief that big men didn’t have the touch to hit shots from beyond the foul line and the arc.
Today’s game, though, features a new breed of ectomorphs. The NBA is now based on so-called position-less basketball-big men now sometimes bring the ball up and set the offense, forwards are now wing players who can operate from anywhere on the floor, and big guards will post up their smaller counterparts.
So who changed all of this? There was no one player, but if you had to pinpoint the three players who revolutionized the game, you might go with Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and Steph Curry.
Magic changed the size equation completely. He had a fabulous handle when he came into the league, and his first step was based on both quickness and speed. At 6’9″ he could see over the defense, and he was really the first point guard who changed the position equation by being able to dominate that position despite his size.
Want versatility? Go back to the Lakers’ first championship against the Philadelphia 76ers, and watch the footage of Magic Johnson playing center and dominating a much bigger Philly lineup.
He added better shooting skills as his career progressed, and he set the stage for the next two players who would redefine the game.
LeBron James was about the same height as Magic, but his build was completely different. In a world of ectomorphs, his combination of strength, speed, shooting skills, quickness, and floor vision was basically the equivalent of Magic on steroids.
James was impossible to defend when he first came into the league, and the only defenders who had even had a shadow of a chance were those who had the strength to keep from getting run over as he passed and posterized them with his rim-rattling dunks.
But the player who really revolutionized the game in the new millennium is Steph Curry. An unimposing ectomorph, Curry’s game was based on ball-handling wizardry, a lightning-quick release, and a shooting range that basically began once he crossed the half-court line.
It was Curry’s accuracy from beyond the three-point line that changed the way basketball is played today. He ushered in a new era of analytics and metrics based on his unstoppable three-pointers, and NBA teams that ignore those metrics are considered hopeless dinosaurs.
So who changes the game next, and how where will those changes take the game. Will they be jump-started by a new generation of 7-footers who are now coming into the game with the ball skills of guards, or will it come from a player whose physical skill set we haven’t seen yet?
But that’s the best part of watching the NBA, really. It may be an ectomorph’s world, but the size and skill of the players truly defy categorization.