Anyone who has followed the NBA understands the impact a quality big man has on the court. They have more influence on a game compared to any other position. If you look through the list of NBA Champions, they essentially all have an elite big man (either at the power forward or center position).
One exception may be the Chicago Bulls, since they mainly relied on swingmen Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Put aside the greatest player of all time and possibly the best sidekick of all time and you still have Dennis Rodman, Bill Cartwright, and Horace Grant. You wouldn't necessarily build a team around those guys, but you definitely need them to win. (I know I’m forgetting a lot of past champions as well, sorry.)
The Lakers had George Mikan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and now Pau Gasol with Andrew Bynum.
The Spurs showcased David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
The Sixers had Dr. J and Moses Malone.
The Celtics had Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, Kevin Garnett. ...You get the idea (Hakeem Olajuwon, Willis Reed, Robert Parrish, etc).
Of course there are the exceptions who didn’t win a ring: Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley.
However, in today’s NBA, the dominant big man is very rare. There are only a handful of teams that can claim an elite Power Forward or Center. The league is moving in the direction of the point guard.
It seems each team has a high quality point guard today. Everyone has a different list when it comes to naming the top 5 point guards in the league today and with over 10 quality choices, it seems apparent that the league is turning into a point guard’s league.
We all know the names but here they are anyways (in no particular order):
Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks, Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, and Tony Parker.
(With all due respect, I’m leaving out Gilbert Arenas since he needs to prove he can stay healthy and John Wall since he hasn’t shown anything yet.)
Here comes the exception: the two-time defending NBA Champions, the L.A. Lakers.
Derek Fisher is not an elite point guard, but you still won’t find a single coach in the NBA willing to leave him open for that big shot.
The reason the Lakers won two titles in a row is because 1A, they have Kobe Bryant, and 1B, they have outstanding size.
It’s almost impossible to match-up with two 7-footers that possess remarkable offensive and defensive skills. Looking around the league, teams with dominant big men are usually the ones standing last in the playoffs.
Orlando has Dwight Howard, Phoenix had Amar'e Stoudemire, the Jazz showcased Carlos Boozer, and the Celtics have Garnett and Kendrick Perkins (who is solely a defensive force).
Even in the NCAA tournament, Duke was able to win a championship in large part due to the effect of Brian Zoubek crashing the boards at a remarkable rate and kicking it out for open three’s.
So is the NBA still a big man’s league or is it a point guard’s league? The Lakers proved that you don’t need the elite point guard to win. Then again, the Celtics don’t get to the Finals without Rondo. Orlando is just an average team without Howard, but the same can be said about the Phoenix Suns if you take away Nash.
It’s safe to say that the NBA is transitioning into a point guard’s league, but the big man still rules the court.