What exactly is a modern-day NBA big man?
Traditionally, the big man has been a physical brute who dominates with his size to punish opposing teams in the paint. Lately, several “unicorns” have dispelled the idea of what it means to be a big man playing in the NBA; outside shooting and extending the defensive effort to the perimeter have become the new norm. Over at The Ringer, they detailed who they believe are the top 5 big men in the league right now, and two former Wildcats made the cut.
Coming in at No. 5 was Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves while the No. 2 spot was held by Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis. Both of these still young hoopers have transformed what it means to play as an NBA player over 6-foot-10.
Here’s what Paolo Uggetti had to say about the Wildcat legends.
5. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
Towns is perhaps the most polarizing player on this list, and that’s because he’s so ridiculously talented. Ever since he came into the league as the no. 1 pick in 2015, people have had great expectations—ones that haven’t been met. There have been calls for more effort, better defense, and all-around greater commitment to winning (whatever that means). But on paper, there are few players who project to be as dominant as Towns given his age. What makes Towns so unique is his 3-point shooting ability. He shot 40 percent from 3 last season on 4.6 attempts per game, which were already astounding numbers for a 7-footer. Somehow though, Towns averaged three more 3-point attempts per game this season, and his percentage went up to 41.2 percent. Unlike most floor-stretching bigs, Towns is as comfortable beyond the arc as he is inside the paint.
The Wolves hold the keys to Towns’s future, and they can only hope to build a supporting cast around him that eventually leads to wins. Otherwise, they may be left wondering what went wrong as Towns flourishes and fulfills expectations elsewhere.
2. Anthony Davis, Lakers
Watching Davis play basketball live is both an amazing and confounding experience. A player like LeBron might generate respect when you watch him; a player like Steph Curry might generate joy; but Davis projects something more like bewilderment. You spend most of your time watching him trying to make sense of what you’re seeing. How does he get from here to there and block a shot when he wasn’t even in the picture? Where does he come from on that alley-oop? And how are the same long arms that stretch out miles to catch that pass also able to cross over guards on the perimeter?
It sometimes seems like Davis has been in the league for a decade, but at just 27 years old, there may still be another decade of playing ahead of him. His partnership with LeBron has worked to perfection. They not only have great on-court chemistry, but you can tell that LeBron already trusts him and wants him to play like the best big—the best player, even—in the league.
Towns, who is only 24 years old, is on pace to finish his career as one of–if not *the*–best overall shooting big man of all time. Over the course of 358 career NBA games, KAT is shooting 39.6 percent from 3 on over three attempts per game. He’s averaged at least 20 points per game in every season outside of his rookie campaign – when he was named Rookie of the Year.
As for Davis, he’s currently one of the league’s top two-way players and a certifiable top-five player among ALL positions. Alongside LeBron James, the duo has proved to be a lethal tag-team that will be heavily favorited if/when the NBA season does return.
Rounding out the top five were Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic at No. 4, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid at No. 3, and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 1. And what do all five of these men have in common? They’ve brought something new to the table that has rarely, if ever, been seen before.
Jokic is the best passing big man since Arvydas Sabonis came over from Europe back in the mid-90s. Embiid is the closest thing to a true center the NBA has and even he stretches the floor with effectiveness. As for Antetokunmpo, his recent two-year run speaks for itself; he’s currently on his way to winning back-to-back MVP awards. He’s like what would happen if someone shrunk down Shaquille O’Neal and made him a ball handler.
How long before Bam Adbeyao sneaks onto this list? I’ll give it three more years…