The NBA has changed drastically over the last decade, a trend that the evolution of Los Angeles Lakers teams over the years seems to confirm.
Some of the best centers of all time headlined L.A.’s rosters during the first 60 years of the Lakers’ participation in the NBA. The tradition started with George Mikan, who played for the then-Minnesota team from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s.
Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal would continue Mikan’s legacy, joining the legendary big man among the most dominant 5s the league has ever seen.
But since Andrew Bynum and the peak Dwight Howard in the early 2010s, the Purple and Gold haven’t had a star center on the roster. That coincided with the 3-point revolution in the NBA, which requires even the centers to shoot the basketball well from deep.
Lakers legend James Worthy has noticed the game has become way simpler than it was in his playing days. Worthy pinned the blame for the over-reliance on 3-point shooting in the NBA on modern players’ avoidance of college basketball during his cameo on the “Stoney & Jansen Show”:
“I mean, Kareem had four years with John Wooden, Michael Jordan and I had three years with Dean Smith, Isiah (Thomas) had some years with Bobby Knight. So you learned the fundamentals,” Worthy said. “Not only that, you learned how to live. You learned how to balance your freaking checkbook in college, there’s a lot of things. When you don’t get that, guys are coming to the NBA who are not fundamentally sound. All they do is practice threes, lift weights, get tattoos, tweet and go on social media. That’s it.
“So you don’t have that sound player; you have an athletic player. And that’s what’s happening to the game. It’s a lot of ISO and looking for mismatches. Bill Russell told me one time, they had five options off of one play. You don’t see that anymore.”
While 3-point shooting-heavy, the Golden State Warriors’ intricate off-ball play could serve as a counterargument to Worthy’s point. However, outside shooting’s importance in modern basketball cannot be understated.
In 2021-22, NBA players shot 35.4% from downtown. That’s a 5.3 point percentage increase compared to 1986-87 when the league average went beyond 30% for the first time since the numbers started to be recorded.
Worthy slams Lakers’ short-term planning
During the same interview, Worthy criticized the Lakers’ attempts at achieving immediate success at the expense of long-term planning. The 61-year-old pointed to the way the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies have built their teams, emphasizing how they reap benefits from developing their players rather than creating an artificial Big 3 — as L.A. did last summer.
“Even though everyone experienced injuries, you still should be playing better and you should definitely be in the playoffs. So the Lakers — it’s embarrassing and it’s unacceptable,” Worthy said of the Lakers’ 2021-22 season.
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