Whether you’re a fan of today’s NBA or not, the fact is that the players’ skill level is at an all-time high. And while Mark Jackson agrees with that, he did single out one point of distinction between an average player today and before.
"Today’s players are certainly more athletic, more skilled — shooting, handling — and more versatile. The one thing that they are not... they’re not as smart," Jackson told Shannon Sharpe on his show, "Club Shay Shay."
Why aren’t they as smart? Because they don’t have to be. What they lack in basketball knowledge, today’s players make up for in skill. And that’s the luxury that Jackson, who was one of the best passers we’ve ever seen, as well as other players from his era didn’t have.
"Because I didn’t have the athleticism, the quickness, the explosiveness, I had to become smarter than everybody else on the floor," Jackson said. "So I studied the game at seven years old, at eight years old. I knew inside-out, whatever situation you put me in, I knew how to respond. It didn’t mean I had the answer, but I knew what the answer was."
With how athletic they are, players today aren’t forced to know the answer. That’s why basketball IQ isn’t necessarily a necessity, but the combination of a specific skill set with physical tools is. And the latter is enough for your average NBA individual playing in the three-point era.
"Because these guys are so athletic, so versatile, so explosive, so fast — I don’t think they have to lean on the same smarts and understanding that we had to growing up," Jackson said. "It’s a credit to how far they’ve come as basketball players, but now you have to match the talent with the smart."
Let’s not get it twisted — no matter how skillful and athletic they are, players need to have a certain level of basketball IQ to compete at the highest level. But the difference is at the top, and Luka Doncic’s rise is the ultimate proof of that.
Luka’s playstyle doesn’t rely on his athleticism. At 22 years of age, though, he is already one of the best basketball players in the league. Why? Because he always has the answer, no matter the situation you put him in.
Doncic’s dominance this early into his basketball career goes along with what Jackson is arguing. In other words, the Dallas Mavericks’ superstar had no alternative, and he was forced to compensate for the lack of physical gifts by developing his basketball brilliance. In a world where everything is predicated on athleticism, that made him a standout. And, as such, he’s already on his way to becoming an all-time great.
So why don’t more players do what Doncic has done by trying to learn the ins and outs of the game to the point where they can outsmart their opponents?
Well, it's likely because they can outrun them, jump over them or blow right past them.
No alternative needed.
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