Positions in basketball are completely different than in almost any sport. In baseball, the pitcher is asked to stand on a mound until he decides to pitch, take the pitch, or stop for a break. In football, a match cannot be called a ball referee unless a ball is declared qualified before it begins. In soccer, only the goalkeeper can put his hand on the ball.
Real basketball has no positional rules. Players play offensively and defensively, they are allowed to be anywhere on the floor at any time as long as they are within limits and there is no limit to what a player can do by position. There is no such thing as a qualifying game of the center. The requirements for where players are supposed to be are set up entirely by the team. Giannis Antetokounmpo can put the ball up on the court in one play, and catch the ball with his back to the basket the next time. When defending, he can pressurize the ball handler, or he can defend the perimeter. Basketball players are like water, they become whatever form is needed at a particular time.
More than ever, players are no longer limited to traditional placement standards, and this needs to be better reflected in all NBA ballots. There is some flexibility this season as certain players receive multiple placement designations from the federation and voters can decide for themselves which positions they want to vote for those players.
The NBA is close to achieving this right, but it needs to take it one step further and eliminate all positional designations on the ballot. Voters should be allowed to vote for what they believe to be the top five players, regardless of position.
With several players qualifying in different positions, both Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić can be voted forward or forward, so both could be NBA firsts. However, from some of the ballots that I have seen the voters have revealed, most still have Embiid and Jokić appointed as the center, and they choose one for the first team and the other for the second team.
I understand it with the way the current ballot is set up. Why do people choose Embiid as a striker when he is always on the Philadelphia 76ers squad as a striker. If the ballot were to vote for a center, two strikers and two defenders, it would be odd to decide who between Embiid and Jokić would get into the first team as center and who would be assigned the striker.
However, those two players have been the best in the NBA this season. There will only be an MVP, so why should a player be considered second team now, when there is nothing second team about how Jokić or Embiid have played this season. And what about their play like a traditional hub? Both are averaging close to 4–3 points per game, and regularly make fouls at the top of the post. Damn, without Jamal Murray this season, Jokić has been the Denver Nuggets point guard. It’s not that they ran the crime through him, he ran the crime. He put the ball on the field in the first half and pushed it into the break. Why is he considered a lesser point guard than Chris Paul or Trae Young? And why should Jokić or Embiid be the second team, when they are better than four players will be named the first team. It would be a terrible mistake if the all-NBA first team consisted of Jokić, Embiid, Jayton Tatum, Antetokounmpo and Luka Dončić. Aren’t those people the best players in the NBA this season? Kevin Durant should also be considered, as he is possibly the best player in the NBA. Personally, I believe he has missed too much time to be considered more than any of these five players. That doesn’t mean I’m going to chase someone who disagrees with a torch. I also don’t believe it’s necessary to demote Tatum or Antetokounmpo to the second team to match Durant. If a voter wants to keep the start of the season up against Dončić for underperforming, that’s okay.
All six of those players do everything on the field. Also, no one is a defender of tradition, although Dončić is listed as one on the ballot, and most people think of him as a defender. When Antetokounmpo won MVP, he carried the ball onto the pitch and made a breakthrough as quickly as any point guard in the league, but he was never placed in the first team as a keeper. Look at all-rookie teams over the past 20 years. Some of those teams do not includes a traditional center.
The NBA must not play with two defenders, two strikers and one center. Pay attention to the crunch time lineups in the post-season and see how many teams are actually playing traditional midfield and will have some three-guard lineups. Basketball is a sport where all positions are letters before the names of the players on the statistics table. It has nothing to do with where they are and what they do on the field. It’s time for all year-end ballots to reflect that.