In basketball, namely the professional ranks, versatility is a treasured attribute of the prototype player, as it allows for greater on-court success. Why?–it’s a matter of adaptability, and how well players can cover different areas of the floor and still be productive for their team.
In the case of Kevin Garnett, the former Minnesota Timberwolves and current Boston Celtics big man, the matter of position placement is a significant matter. As previously covered in Part Two of the series, “KG” was a high school stand-out that became a top-5 pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. Having the skills and body of a perimeter player, despite being 6’11” (actually 7’1″), Garnett was allowed to play on the perimeter as he developed presence as a post player. In his case of growing into a more complete basketball player, KG soon developed not only his body, but his ability to play closer to the basket despite having a rail-thin physique. Between being a developing small forward to becoming a force as a power forward and occasional center.
The hypothetical question of his career, though, is “Should KG have stayed as a 3?” As a full-time power forward for the majority of the past nine seasons, Garnett has been a defensive force and tough matchup for opposing power forwards who have little in comparison to his athleticism around the basketball; he has become a perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer as a post-man, and has garner many other achievements, but…as a “3”, KG also became a devastating match-up for the majority of wing players and his extraordinary length and height at the position made him an NBA superstar in the first place; Garnett was also able to make more cunning moves within the course of the game on the perimeter, and still see time as a post player. The one thing about Garnett is that despite his current settlement as a 4, he has never been a true frontcourt player on the post, as he’s most likely to shoot high on the elbow, and because of his lack of girth, has been at times exploited by more powerful players in spite of his wingspan. It’s a question many people that many people lack in an answer.
Comparably, there have been others with like size to Garnett who have flourished at small forward as a full-time or combination capacity. Tom Chambers, known best as a high-flying, high-scoring slasher at 6’11”, played many of his greatest years as a 3, and while he spent significant portions of time at power forward, much of his productivity came as a perimeter-oriented player; Clifford Robinson, the former Portland Trail Blazer and Phoenix Sun (among other team affiliations) was one of the most efficient small forwards in the NBA at 6’11”, playing all frontcourt positions at the drop of a dime, while providing great size and shooting at the 3; Rasheed Wallace, despite having spent the majority of his NBA career as a power forward and center, became an All-Star as a reserve small forward for the Trail Blazer in the late 1990s and early 2000s, showing few disadvantages on the wing.
The conversation of versatility there is present the topic of players that have ended up as living misnomers, or “false positives”, players that originally were projected to be more versatile and non-traditional on the court than the more conventional positions that they have ended up playing at and being more comfortable in (and sometimes, said players have such a mismatched skill set, they lack a true position altogether).
Shareef Abdur-Rahim is a great example of a player who was a top draft selection (No. 3 by the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1996) and was thought to be so versatile because of his size and skills that he was deemed “The Future”. At 6’9″ and 240 lbs, Abdur-Rahim was a college center, with the shooting and speed of a small forward, and the body of a power forward. He eventually came into the league as a 3, then a combo forward, before eventually settling as a 4, where he was productive, but did much less dynamically than was expected of him.
Tyson Chandler of the Charlotte Bobcats and Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors were also looked upon as being frontcourt dynamos, with immense height and length to be dual perimeter and post matchup horrors, but ended catering to more traditional roles as forward-centers; Chandler has shown to be of great value as a center, while Bosh has done very much as a power forward, though he lacks the true post game expected of players at his spot. Not to be outdone, Steven Hunter, known more commonly today as a Denver Nugget and Philadelphia 76er, was seen the same way, and has had an average career, never really building on his potential as a versatile threat, and is generally seen as a poor man’s Marcus Camby (a player who also projected with combination skills and has maximized much of them when healthy). Former swingman Reese Gaines (of Louisville fame in the NCAA) was projected by scouts to be a top draft pick, largely because at 6’6″, he was able to play at a high level at both guard spots and was seen to be a threat in either position, when drafted in the early 2000s, Gaines was found to be deficient in several key areas that prevented him from excelling as a distributor and as a scoring threat, and he lacked a true position on the floor; in the end, this dilemma prevented him from lasting any longer than his brief rookie contract, as he was shuffled between a handful of teams.
It can be said that versatility is a wonderful asset to have when you know how to maximize your talent with it, but versatility for its own sake makes for a number of dilemmas, misconceptions and ill-fated assessment of true playing ability. The best of the best will make themselves known, despite the vacillation of ideas.