For a while now I have pondered reasons why the NBA has seen such a major decrease in legitimate centers/ low post threats. I know much of it has to do with the change of eras, but I don't believe that just because an era changes something that has been so good soon turns to be just as bad. I, along with others, have been very frustrated with some of these "talented" bigs that come into the league and yet never fulfill their potential. I do, however, have a theory (or two) on why really good bigs have vanished from the NBA.
Since the beginning of the NBA, basketball has really been a big mans sport. If you were tall you wanted to play basketball. You worked to be good at it and dominate every time you were on the court. It wasn't something they were forced to do, rather something they loved because they could terrorize those smaller than them. Nowadays, the bigs in the NBA, centers in particular, just don't seem to want it as much. Back in the 70's and 80's you would never hear a coach say," I dream of my center getting 10 rebounds." That was New Jersey Nets head coach Avery Johnson expressing his frustration with center Brook Lopez after a loss to the Phoenix Suns. To me, it's almost as if todays big men were just forced to play basketball because of their height. Just like fat kids are forced to play football and be a lineman. As a result, in my opinion, these guys never really have that burning desire to be a beast because they were simply forced by whoever. Think about it for a second. How many times in your life were you forced to do something you didn't want to do and you did it to the best of your ability? For me it wasn't very often, if at all. It is only human not to do something with burning desire if you don't even feel like it. In my opinion big men take so long to develop now because they start playing ball late. Technically they don't really take long to develop, rather they blossom later than other players because most of them start to play later on.
Two players that stand out to me in that respect are Jordan Hill of the Houston Rockets and Hasheem Thabeet of the Memphis Grizzlies. Hill was the eight pick taken in the 2009 draft lottery while Thabeet was taken second behind rookie of the year front runner Blake Griffin. Thabeet did, however, make history but in a bad way. He became the highest draft pick to be sent to the NBA's Developmental League where he did not impress. Look at what Griffin is doing compared to Thabeet. Griffin is already one of the NBA's best bigs and he missed all of the 2009-10 season with a torn ACL. Thabeet in the same season was either wasting on the bench or in the D-League. Now Griffin could possibly be in the All-star game while Thabeet is high regarded now as a bust. It isn't like He was a second rounder and just a project. He was taken second overall. I know he was just supposed to be a defensive big but watching his progression from last year 'til now ihe doesn't look to have gotten any better, he may have even regressed. As for Jordan Hill, well, I am sure we all know he didn't start playing basketball until he got to high school. With Hill and Thabeet in my eyes they only offer the physical tools whereas guys like Griffin and even DeMarcus Cousins have it between the ears. How many time have we complained about Jordan Hill making a mental mistake on defense (fouling, missing rotations etc...)? that is my point on this issue.
My next reason for why big men are scarce has more to do with the era that we live in today. Right now as well as the last twenty years, more players can shoot the ball. Particularly the three. Shooting the ball helps to keep the floor spaced out for cutters and drivers. As we all know now this league is driven by PG's and elite wing players. To make these guys more effective shooters are essential to how offenses are run today. Now big men are either able to shoot from mid-range to keep defenses honest or defend the paint and finish at the rim when a driver dishes it off. Doing both is rare and being elite is even more scarce. Sad but true.
So there is what I think about the big man situation in the NBA. I felt this had to be addressed because some of us are expecting either Jordan Hill to emerge as the next Antonio McDyess (in his prime, pre-injury) or for us to nab a franchise changing big man to fill the void left behind by Yao Ming. Expecting these things are although not impossible, they are unrealistic. We are expecting too much with not much reason to expect at all. Teams that do have good bigs and are willing to trade them (most don't want to because of how rare good bigs are) will be asking much for them. It's more like supply and demand. The demand for bigs are at an all time high and the supply is is very low which causes this price on them to be high. That is why we see anyone who averages a double double get "overpaid" when actually that happens to sadly be their market value.