The Future of Player Development is Already Here

Basketball has always been a changing game. Initially, players couldn’t even dribble. Eventually a shot clock was introduced. Briefly dunking was banned (the “Lew Alcindor Rule”). Years later a three-point arch was added.

With each change comes a new wave of basketball philosophy, innovation, and play style. This is what makes basketball a living, evolving sport that matures with each generation. We are now in the midst of a dramatic shift – and it has nothing to do with a rule change.

Once Upon a Time…

There used to be five positions in basketball: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and centre.

Weren’t times simpler then? Positions were easily remembered, assigned, and compared. It allowed for obvious player categorization (based on height) and a default player development (also based on height). If you were short, you played the point; if you were tall, you played in the post.

Welcome to the new age, where players are no longer defined by height or position. Instead, players are viewed based on their skill sets, their athleticism, and their “basketball IQ”.

Welcome to Positionless Basketball

How do we know positionless basketball is the wave of the future? Changes in sport typically come from the top – so let’s take a look at some of the best examples.

Kevin Durant is listed at 6’9 – though he is likely closer to 7’0 -and is one of the best perimeter players in the league (and the Golden State Warriors agree). LeBron James is 6’8 and is perhaps the leagues best creator and passer. Draymond Green can defend any player on the floor and is just 6’7.

This is the new model for players, who can at once do anything and everything. Coaches want players who can bring the ball up, attack the paint, make a cut, shoot from outside, crash the boards, and defend inside and out.

And don’t think this positionless trend is exclusive the best players in the world. It is a central principle of the Canada Basketball Athlete Development Pathway and is the sport at all levels and around the world.

Positionless basketball is taking over.

Why the Positionless Revolution?

There are three main reasons why the development of “global players” has become so popular: offensive spacing, defensive flexibility, and more (and better) opportunities.

OFFENSIVE SPACING

Spacing has always been stressed in basketball, but the three-point shot makes spacing more important than ever. If everyone can shoot from outside, defenders are forced to make a decision: stay with their cover or rotate to the shooter across the court.

While three-point shots should not be the focus of a good youth program, the spacing principles still apply. Kids love to “swarm” the ball, but by preaching spacing on offense players will learn to create – and take advantage of – the open space.

DEFENSIVE FLEXIBILITY 

Elite offenses are becoming more complex every year, and defenses need to adapt accordingly. The easiest way to do this is with players who can defend multiple positions, switch on screens, and cover space quickly.

The same is true at youth levels, albeit to a lesser degree. How often does a youth team forget or lose their cover in the chaos that is youth basketball? The answer is a lot. If players can move quickly and effectively on the perimeter AND hold their ground in the paint, assigning match-ups becomes a luxury not a priority.

MORE & BETTER OPPORTUNITIES 

Put yourself in the right spot, and you put yourself in a position to win. But what if that “right spot” is literally any spot? How appealing does THAT sound?

This opportunity advantage is significant at youth levels. Too often kids are pigeonholed as a “post player” because they are tall for their age, and are relegated to the paint for the season. But what if they suddenly stop growing? Next year they may be asked to guard players on the perimeter, but without any of the skill development to be successful. This is a textbook recipe for dropping out of the sport.

In contrast, if kids are taught a range of skills (regardless of height) they are comfortable with a variety of roles, develop better movement skills, and are better equipped to be impactful players. This is a textbook recipe for a long, productive career.

What are your thoughts on positionless basketball? How do you develop “global players”? Share with us in the comments below!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANick Boon is the Coordinator of Youth Development for Canada Basketball. Nick holds degrees in Physical Education & Health and Sport Business Management, and is a long-time and overly-obsessed basketball coach, player, and fan.

Photo: Runaway Digital Media

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