Kevin Garnett: 'I Don't Think Guys from 20 Years Ago Could Play' in Today's NBA

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2021

Actor Adam Sandler and NBA All Star Kevin Garnett watch during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson/Associated Press

In recent years, it's become an increasing habit of NBA players from the decades prior to criticize the current state of the game.  

Kevin Garnett isn't buying into that trend.

The Hall of Famer recently told David Marchese of the New York Times he doesn't believe guys from the previous generation could hack it in today's game:

"I don't think guys from 20 years ago could play in this game. Twenty years ago, guys used their hands to control players. Now you can't use your hands. That makes defense damn near impossible. Can you imagine not hand-checking Michael Jordan? Naw. The fact that you can't touch players gives the offensive player so much flexibility. Defensive players have to take angles away and stuff like that. But if you have any creativity and ambition, you can be a great offensive player in this league. The fadeaways, one-leg runners, the one-leg balance shots — that's stuff that Dirk Nowitzki brought to our game. And now when I watch Joker play, it feels like he has taken that Dirkness and mixed it with his own talent. And Steph Curry revolutionized things with being able to shoot it from distance with such consistency. Klay Thompson. Dame Lillard. These guards changed the game. I don't know if even the guards from 20 or 30 years ago could play in this time right here. It's creative. It's competitive. It's saucy. You'll get dropped! A [expletive] will cross you over and break your ACL these days. The game is in a great place."

Garnett joins Allen Iverson in the rarefied air of former greats who go out of their way to compliment, rather than criticize, the current state of affairs.

The NBA has undergone sweeping changes over the last decade and a half, thanks in large part to the banning hand-checking and proliferation of the three-pointer. Additionally, the addition of zone defense and elimination of the illegal defense rule took away some of the advantages players had in previous eras.

Basketball is more of a finesse game now than the overtly physical game of years past but also arguably requires more skill than ever before. It is no longer enough to be big and athletic in the middle. The desire for spacing has made ground-bound centers a relic of the past, in favor of 7-footers who can put the ball on the floor and stretch out to the three-point line.

As recently as 20 years ago, some teams were still taking fewer than 10 threes per game. Some players now attempt more than 10 threes per night. 

The game is simply different, and Garnett is right that some players from his generation would be viewed as relics now.