10 Best Non-Traditional Stars in the NBA
Far too often, NBA players are held to a certain standard based simply on the positions that they play. Historical precedent and the perils of groupthink have led some basketball fans to believe that certain positions must fill certain roles.
Point guards are supposed to distribute the basketball to teammates. Shooting guards are supposed to shoot the ball from the outside. Small forwards should be athletic and well-rounded. Power forwards should provide offense on the interior and rebound. Centers should rebound, play defense and block shots.
That's a load of you-know-what.
As long as you're getting positive production from your players, and the playing styles and types of production mesh well with the other members of the roster, you're going to have a successful team.
Just once I'd love to see a team go to the playoffs with a score-first point guard, a shooting guard who can't shoot, a small forward who leads the team in rebounds, a point-forward and an offensively-oriented center. It would blow the minds of the traditionalists.
These 10 stars have managed to carve out a lot of success even without succumbing to the conventions of their positions (if they even have positions).
If you found a way to watch Andrea Bargnani highlights after removing every other player from the court, you'd probably never be able to guess that he's a seven-footer. Without any framing, Bargnani just wouldn't seem like a big man at all.
He's soft when playing in the paint and prefers to drift out to the perimeter, hoisting up jumpers at will. Defense is an afterthought, as the Italian center would much rather focus on putting up his 19.5 points per game.
Despite his frame, the Toronto Raptors' leading scorer averaged just 3.3 shots per game at the rim, according to Hoopdata. The league-average center would attempt 4.1 shots per game from that location if given Bargnani's minutes.
His 3.7 three-point attempts per contest also left him trailing Mehmet Okur and Channing Frye as one of only three centers to let fly from downtown more than once per night.
Tyreke Evans proved how unique he was during his rookie season. He joined LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as one of only four players to ever burst onto the NBA scene averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year hasn't been able to match his initial level of success, but he's still been a valuable piece for the Sacramento Kings. That doesn't mean they've used him properly, though.
No one has figured out whether the former Memphis standout is a point guard trapped in a shooting guard's body or a shooting guard stuck in the build of a point guard. Hell, he's even got some small forward mixed in there somewhere.
Evans can contribute in a bunch of ways on the hardcourt, and he isn't stuck to the traditional positional definitions.
Pau Gasol can play solid defense and bang around for rebounds, but he's by no means limited to the traditional definition of a power forward. He's not stuck in the paint, waiting for the smaller, more athletic players to do the heavy lifting prior to the shot.
Versatility has always been the name of the elder Gasol's game.
He thrives when the ball is in his hands, as he can attack the basket or use his impressive passing skills to distribute the rock to the correct teammate.
Gasol has also been known to stray quite far from the paint and knock down three-pointers with relative ease. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
One of the reasons that the Los Angeles Lakers were so excited about the Princeton Offense is the non-traditional play of Pau. He'll be uniquely able to thrive as a big man while helping run the show from the high post.
Is anything about LeBron James even close to traditional?
The best player in the NBA can dominate the game in so many ways that I've lost count. I don't have that many fingers and toes to do the math on.
James is the closest thing to a true point-forward that we have in the league today. More often than not, the ball is in his hands, and he's entrusted with the possession.
Whether he's dribbling the ball up the court in transition, taking it off an inbounds play or running the show in a half-court set, James certainly doesn't fit the forward billing.
He can—and will—play suffocating defense on the perimeter and in the paint. That applies to his rebounding and post game as well.
The Miami Heat superstar is such a special basketball player because he fills the traditional description of a forward while still playing like a point guard, shooting guard and, on occasion, center.
Brook Lopez stands seven feet tall and is typically described as a center. Despite those two undeniable facts, the Brooklyn Nets big man doesn't understand the concept of rebounding.
Seeing as he went to Stanford to play out his collegiate basketball career, I'm guessing Lopez is a pretty smart guy. However, he'd get an "F" in his rebounding class, and the one on defense wouldn't be too far behind.
If the traditional job description of a center in the modern era is a big body who crashes the boards and holds down the fort in the paint on defense, then Lopez plays like the antithesis of a center.
He'd much rather score the points than do the dirty work. Don't get me wrong, though. Lopez is a great basketball player and one of the premier offensive big men in The Association.
He's very valuable to the Nets organization—although probably not max-contract valuable—but Brooklyn now has to surround him with other big men who focus on the less glamorous, more traditional aspects of basketball for seven-footer.
Since the NBA started keeping track of three-point field goals, there have only been two seasons in which a player recorded at least 12 rebounds per game and hit at least one three-pointer per contest.
The first season belonged to Kevin Love in 2010-11, when he averaged 15.2 rebounds and 1.2 three-pointers per game.
As for the second, well, it also belongs to Love. During the 2011-12 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward averaged 13.3 rebounds and 1.9 triples per game.
Making the requirements a little less stringent, only 14 players have ever even averaged eight boards and a single three-pointer per game: Larry Bird (three times), Antawn Jamison (four times), Jason Kidd, Love (twice), Shawn Marion (five times), Donyell Marshall, Troy Murphy (twice), Dirk Nowitzki (seven times), Lamar Odom, Scottie Pippen, Keith Van Horn, Antoine Walker (five times), Rasheed Wallace and Dominique Wilkins.
Love's number of appearances will swell as his career continues to progress.
Dirk Nowitzki is another one of those big guys who loves to play offense.
Defense and rebounding have never been specialties of this German seven-footer. He's thrived on the perimeter for years, slicing and dicing defenses with his ability to kick down contested jumpers.
Plus, there's the patented flamingo shot, a name for Dirk's shot that I'm still trying to popularize. When he leans back, kicks out his leg, fades away and drills an unblockable shot off one foot, there's simply nothing a defense can do to stop him.
Dirk is a true one-of-a-kind player, a man whose game will not be replicated for many years.
When you watch Josh Smith play, you can't help but sit and wonder what positions he's actually lining up at.
Thanks to his non-traditional style, Smoove commonly fills the role of either a small forward or a power forward, although he sometimes convinces himself that he's a shooting guard.
A 6'9" prep-to-pro player, Smith became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 1,000 blocked shots in his career in 2010, and he hasn't slowed down since then. He's a tremendous defensive player who both racks up the counting stats and slows down his man, a rare combination indeed.
Smith doesn't fit the traditional power forward mold because of his insane athleticism and desire to play outside the paint. He doesn't fill the small forward hole because he's too big and skilled on the blocks and the defensive end of the court.
Then there's his unpredictability.
It's hard to say exactly what makes it true, but you can't help but think of Smoove as non-traditional when you watch him play for the Atlanta Hawks.
Throughout his NBA career, Dwyane Wade has always been called a shooting guard, even when he's the one bringing the ball up the court for the Miami Heat.
It's a bit ironic, because D-Wade can't shoot the basketball from the outside. Last I checked, that's something that 2-guards were supposed to excel at.
Wade has never made more than 88 shots from downtown in a single season. He equaled that number in 2008-09, when he led the league in scoring at 30.2 points per game, a number that was no doubt bolstered by his "prowess" from the perimeter.
Over the course of his career, Wade is averaging only 0.5 three-pointers made on 29.1 percent shooting from behind the arc. Maybe working with a shooting coach will change things, but Wade has carved out a legendary career for himself as a shooting guard who can't shoot, thanks primarily to his slashing and defensive abilities.
Speaking of defense, Wade has also established himself as the greatest shot-blocking guard of all time. There have been 11 seasons in which a guard has averaged at least one block per game.
Wade claims six of those 11 entries. If it weren't for Dennis Johnson's 1978-79 campaign for the Seattle SuperSonics, this member of the Miami Heat would have the top six seasons.
How's that for non-traditional production?
Take everything you think you know about the point guard position and then shake it up. That's how you can understand Russell Westbrook.
The dynamic floor general for the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn't care less that his traditional job is to heavily involve his teammates and make the offense run through his passing. Scoring is supposed to be a secondary option for him, not the primary focus.
That would be all well and good, except Westbrook is one of the best athletes to ever lace up sneakers on the hardcourt. He's a scoring machine, and he knows it.
Westbrook might not be a "pure point guard," but he's an effective one. He just creates offense and gets the system flowing by jacking up his own shots.
So far, it's worked during his still-young NBA career.
Bonus: Anthony Davis' Unibrow
Anthony Davis's unibrow is undoubtedly a star at this point in its career. It's even trademarked, and the Internet has been constantly aflutter with unibrow-related memes ever since Davis took the college basketball world by storm during his freshman season.
Additionally, The Brow is most definitely non-traditional. How many other basketball players have ever proudly sported a bit of extra follicular growth between their eyebrows? Has anyone in NBA history been that proud of a unibrow?
Prove me wrong in the comment section if you can, but I don't think anyone has ever had a more pronounced unibrow in professional American basketball than Davis will during his rookie campaign. I hope I'm incorrect, because that would be an amazing find.