NBA Analysis: The Rise of the "Hybrid" Player
It used to be that in the NBA, players had one position. Whether it was point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, or center, that was where you were—end of story.
But in today's game, the number of players who can play a combination of positions have become enormous. Even new positions have been formed for these players under the name of "Combo Guard" (PG/SG) or "Swingman" (SG/SF).
So, who are the current top players at these new positions? I'll throw my hat into the ring and give you my starting four (PG/SG, SG/SF, SF/PF, PF/C), as well as my second team.
PG/SG: Allen Iverson, Denver Nuggets
A.I. has been one of the top combo guards in the NBA since he was drafted in 1996. He has loads of awards on his shelf, including the 1997 Rookie of the Year, 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player, and eight all-star selections.
Although he played mostly point guard with the Philadelphia 76ers, Iverson has started at shooting guard since joining the Nuggets. You will, however, see him run point at some time in every game when the Nuggets go to their scoring lineup, bringing in J.R. Smith at the "two", and sliding A.I. back to the point.
SG/SF: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Do I even need to touch this one? LeBron plays like he's from another universe.
He's a five-year vet at the ripe old age of 23, and he's been a perennial all-star since his sophomore season.
He's the youngest player to ever score 40 points in a game, 50 points in a game, and youngest ever to record a triple-double.
He started out playing the two-spot for the Cavaliers, who then slid him over to small forward. Last year, he even played some point guard because, well, he's LeBron James.
SF/PF: Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
The man everyone forgets about. Josh Smith has never been an all-star, but his numbers tell the story of why he absolutely should be.
He's mister "do-everything" for a young Atlanta team. This past season, he averaged 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.8 blocks per game.
Let's take a look at that last stat. Smith is a defensive enforcer from whatever position he plays on the court. He has never had a season where he averaged under two blocks per game, and was the youngest player ever to reach 500 blocks in a career.
He signed a well-deserved five-year, $58 million contract this off-season, and you can expect his stellar play to continue to improve. After all, the man is only 22...
PF/C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
"Mr. Fundamental" as he's called by his teammates and other players around the league, has solidified himself as one of the best big men to ever play.
Duncan won the Rookie of the Year award, the year after his fellow "Combo" teammate, Allen Iverson, and also earned his first of 10 all-star appearances that year.
To go with those honors, Duncan also has two MVP awards (2002, 2003) and four NBA Championship rings (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007), three of which he earned Finals MVP honors for (1999, 2003, 2005.)
PG/SG: Brandon Roy, Portland Trailblazers
Okay, so this will only be Brandon Roy's third season in the league, but the guy is just so damn good.
As a rookie, he averaged 16.8 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds, four assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Roy was the ROY that year (sorry, couldn't resist.)
In his second season, Roy continued his stellar run, averaging 19.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game, on his way to his first career all-star game.
Roy's natural position is shooting guard, but he has been asked to run point quite a bit for the Blazers due to their lack of a stability at the position. Roy always answered the bell when asked.
Last year was just the first of many all-star games to come for this young stud, who I might add, is on a very good looking Portland team.
SG/SF: Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets
T-Mac will always be dogged by fans and reporters until he gets his team out of the first round of the playoffs, but in my opinion, that shouldn't overshadow his terrific play.
McGrady is a seven-time all-star, a two-time scoring champ, and won the Most Improved Player award in 2001.
Since winning the award, he has never averaged less than 21.6 PPG in his career.
Of course, he also has a back made of candy glass, but as long as he keeps that thing intact, he's one of the top-tier players in the league without question, and it pained me to have to leave him off my first team.
SF/PF: Shawn Marion, Miami Heat
Shawn Marion is known for two things around the league:
- His stellar play at just about every position
- His 5th-grader shooting style
But awkward shot releases aside, Marion's production cannot be overlooked. In his days with Phoenix, Marion played at both small forward and power forward, with the outside touch to play the three as well as the physicality to play the four.
The "Matrix" is also a freakishly athletic player whose dunks are the only shot in which the ball goes over his head.
Marion is a four-time all-star, class act, and is now stuck in a horrible situation with the Miami Heat.
That's not to say the Heat will be god awful again this year, just that they aren't poised to win right now, and with Marion having turned 30 this summer, that's what he's looking for.
Whether he stays or goes, look for Marion's stellar play to continue, and go under-appreciated by everyone but his fantasy owners.
As unfortunate as it is, with Dwyane Wade and rookie phenom Michael Beasley on the team, there's just not enough spotlight to go around, much like it was with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix.
PF/C: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki is a guy who will always be criticized for his playoff performance in 2007.
Nowitzki was officially named league MVP that year just days after being on the losing end of the biggest playoff upset in NBA history, where his No. 1 seeded Mavericks lost in six games to the No. 8 seeded Golden State Warriors.
In the clinching game six, Nowitzki shot 2-for-13.
Playoffs aside, Dirk has been the face of the Mavericks franchise ever since Steve Nash left, and has earned the right to be called one of the great big men in the game today.
His outside touch is unheard of for a seven-footer, as he won the 2006 NBA Three-Point Shootout.
He is also a seven-time all-star, and should continue that trend for a while.
There they are—my top "hybrid" players in the game today. These guys lead their team on the floor, no matter where exactly on the floor they are.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Rashard Lewis (SF/PF), Al Jefferson (PF/C), Lamar Odom (SF/PF), Antawn Jamison (SF/PF), and Pau Gasol (PF/C).
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