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With Record 3s and Few Center Contributions, 2014 All-Star Game Shows New NBA

Feb 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Eastern Conference Kyrie Irving guard (2) of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles around Western Conference guard Stephen Curry (30) of the Golden State Warriors during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

NBA basketball has officially entered a new era, and the league's 63rd All-Star Game could very well serve as its symbol.

Small ball is the name of the game now. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the box score for this 163-155 shootout in which LeBron James was listed as a center.

The Western Conference hoisted 56 three-point attempts. The East tossed up 44. Kevin Durant alone was 6-of-17 from beyond the arc.

So you had the record for attempts on one side, and Carmelo Anthony provided the record for makes on the other. He went crazy from downtown, hitting on eight of his 13 attempts.

But that's not all. Oh no, far from it.

ESPN Stats & Info summed up the blitz of long bombs from both teams in a postgame recap:

The game was full of 3-point attempts. The teams combined for 100 3-point attempts, destroying the previous record of 71 set last year. The West set a single-team record for 3-point attempts with 56, easily besting the previous record of 39 by the East last year. The West set a new record for most 3-pointers made with 16.  

With all those shots from outside, it should come as no surprise that the record for total points went down, too.

That's 318 points—24 of which came from the game's three traditional centers Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard. Let that soak in for a second.

That's less than eight percent of the total points scored. And a center makes up 20 percent of a traditional lineup. 

You can't really fault the three bigs for their contributions being so meager. The NBA took the position off the ballot this season, opting instead for "frontcourt players." Noah got the most minutes of the dying breed with nearly 21. Howard only played 13. Hibbert got 12.

That distribution of playing time may not be perfectly emblematic of every team in the league, but it highlights an undeniable trend: Scoring in the NBA is moving away from the rim.

In an excellent analysis of modern basketball's love affair with threes, Best Tickets Blog's Andrew Powell-Morse provided a number of revealing charts.

In 1980, teams averaged 2.77 three-point attempts a game. The number has steadily increased every season up to the 2013-14 campaign, in which teams are averaging 21.43 threes.

On the flip side, two-point attempts are down—from 87.87 to 62.02 per game.

The writing is on the wall for traditional big men. Basketball may not completely revolve around guards and shooters, but it's certainly heading that way.

And in showcase events like the All-Star Game, it's those players who are, well, showcased.

The best example may have been MVP Kyrie Irving. At one point in the second half, he found himself with the ball in his hands and Dwight Howard standing in front of him following a switch. What ensued couldn't have been real fun for the big guy:

The fancy finish was one of many dazzling layups from Irving. His ability to score creatively around the rim almost completely neutralizes any size advantage.

Little guys figuring out how to finish over bigger players is another step in the evolution of the game. Stephen Curry is another great example of this.

But neither guard focuses his attack on getting to the rim. When they operate, the offense flows from the outside. Traditionally, offenses flow from the inside.

And nowadays, if a center does catch the ball in the post, the chances of seeing a display of post moves are a lot slimmer than they were in the past. 

They don't represent all centers, but the Howard, DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond model is becoming the norm at all levels. The new breed of big man either finishes a wide-open dunk or kicks the ball out to a shooter.

My brother is in his first season as head coach of our hometown high school varsity team. We recently discussed the demise of the traditional big man. He lamented the fact that many of his players had no idea how to establish post position. His guards didn't know how to throw a post entry.

The NBA is the highest level of basketball in the world. As such, it sets the cultural standard—which is undoubtedly small ball and is inevitably moving away from the rim.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of Feb. 16, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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