By John Rammas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
In the 2017 movie “Downsizing”, Matt Damon chooses to become microscopic in order to enjoy a better life. In basketball, coaches in recent years have opted to play with “shorter” big men in order to get better results. Centers drop in centimeters, forwards are moved to higher positions and everyone is a winner.
At 2.04 meters, Mike Batiste played as a small forward in his early years. That’s how he was introduced in his first season with Belgian side Charleroi in 2001 for his first season in the EuroLeague. It was only when he first wore the colors of Panathinaikos Athens in 2003 that became a founding member of the revolution of undersized centers. Coach Zeljko Obradovic knows how to get the best out of each of his players like few do and in this case, he knew that to do this, he had to take his player higher than the ‘3’ position.
These kinds of athletic big men did not become a trend immediately since there weren’t so many of them on the market and few coaches were willing to part with a plan that included the old-school center. And so several years had to go by before many became convinced that they are the future of the sport.
How did an idea that was tested in the past become established as something that is taken for granted in modern basketball in general and the EuroLeague in particular? It’s simple! The more the sport moves towards athleticism, explosiveness and power, the definition of the mismatch is not only applied in terms of height, but finds a very effective application in the department of speed too. If a player is a lot faster than his opponent, he can beat him in one-on-one battles. The only condition is that while he knows how to make the most of his advantage in speed, he also understands how to hide his disadvantage in height, especially close to the basket.
The switching defenses on screens made undersized centers super valuable. With their quick feet, fast movements and ability to cover more space, they can interrupt the opposing team’s creations and the one-on-one games of the most charismatic rival guards and, in this way, control the defense much more effectively and allow fewer alternatives for the rival offense.
Under the basket, the weapon of the undersized centers with speed and explosiveness is positioning. To get out in front of their bigger opponents and cut off the easy angle for a pass and make it harder for the pivot-centers to make their moves.
The most characteristic case is Kyle Hines, who does something else too, something that is not in the rulebook of undersized centers. After a defensive rebound, he can put the ball on the floor and either go all the way to the basket or create an easy basket for one of his teammates. So, he’s a “pocket-sized” center who can function as a point guard in transition. What he loses in height he more than makes up for with his wingspan, dazzling speed, explosiveness and amazing strength. Hines most exemplifies this trend as the most successful and most consistent. He was the first to prove that a player who is 1.98 meters tall can dominate the ‘5’ position for years and, in fact, at the highest level!
Eurohoops presents the 5+1 most characteristic cases of the undersized centers.