For many years now, the league has been enamored with the athletic big man who is mobile and also has a bit of pop from the outside. Occasionally, there has been a traditional post player who could hit from behind the arc (we all remember Manute Bol going off) but it really started to intrigue the league, when the European players started coming over and they all had a pretty decent shot and Dirk Nowitzki even became an exception to the exception. He was big enough and athletic enough to play the “4” but had the range to make it almost impossible for any other big man to cover him. Since then, teams have been looking for that freakish player who they can “plug in” to gain that almost unfair advantage. In this most recent era, all of the foreign players seem to be able to shoot from the outside and the domestic players have seen the necessity and are starting to at least begin to learn how. Now, it is not rare at all to find a six-foot-ten guy, who has a seven-foot wingspan, can run the floor, leap out of the gym, drain a three pointer at will, and defend multiple positions. Most teams have two of them, or a “stretch four” and a “stretch five.”
When the the Bucks drafted Gianni’s Antetokounmpo, they got their first real look at the “stretch four” position, and they immediately liked it. This kid was extremely raw, but if the European League has taught the NBA anything, it’s that you can teach tall guys how to play “small ball,” and the inception of the Warriors future dynasty has not only made it a possibility, they have pretty much made it necessary. Don’t get me wrong the Bucks had already experimented with a versatile big man. Larry Sanders, was at one point looking like he could end up being the future “5” for the Bucks for many years to come. Also, the year before Milwaukee drafted the “Greek Freak,” they had added another long, tall, big man in John Henson. In 2014, they had the second overall pick and another “4” who could run and slash (even though they didn’t really know it yet) fell right into their laps, in the form of Jabari Parker. Then, last year, the team shocked everybody by spending another draft pick on a tall, lanky, big man. Milwaukee has a plethora of stretch fours on the team along with other big men in Greg Monroe and Spencer Hawes. So it would make sense that when it comes to adding another player with their first round pick in the draft, in 2017, he would probably be a guard who could shoot. That wasn’t the case at all. Milwaukee added another freakish power forward who was completely raw. The move confused and even angered some fans.
What Milwaukee seems to have realized that most people haven’t figured out yet, is that not only is the “stretch four” a great option at the power forward position, it’s a great option at every position. What if every player on your team was at least 6’10”, had a 7’3″ or higher wingspan, could pass, run the floor, shoot the rock and defend multiple positions? You would be unstoppable by virtually any team who was playing almost any style of ball. While the other fan bases (and even some Bucks fans) are pointing and laughing, Milwaukee’s front office keeps building this army of assasins which will be nearly impossible to stop once it’s established. When the Bucks march five point forwards onto the court to fill out their lineup, who is Isaiah Thomas going to cover, or even Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving, for that matter? And how do they plan to shoot with a “monster” constantly in their face with arms raised well over their reach.
The league is evolving, and I expect everyone else to catch up to this style of thinking fairly quickly. Now that we know “bigs” can learn the same skills as “smalls,” it just makes more sense. It is also possible that Milwaukee will not completely succeed at finding the right guys and developing them completely, in time to make this all work, but they definitely seem to be on the right track and should be exciting to watch for many years.