I think Magic would be great, but in this era, we would be talking about Magic Johnson, as probably one of the greatest centers to ever play the game.Isiah Thomas, NBA Open Court
Where Magic would have trouble adjusting is the defensive side of the floor. “No way he would be able to guard these guys,” said Isiah. “At the point guard position today, would he be able to play high screen and roll?”
Magic was never a great defender. He wasn’t quick enough to guard the point guards, nor was he big enough to guard the bigs. He made up for it with his IQ and an unmatched feel for the game. But in terms of guarding the best player, Magic was never the Lakers‘ go-to guy.
Would he be that guy in today’s NBA? No. But most superstars aren’t. Especially with the in-game load management culture where teams tend to rest their best players on defense to maximize their input on the offensive side of the floor. They would do the same thing with Johnson, and his defensive deficiencies would be well hidden.
On offense, Magic would still be elite. He’s one of those guys whose talent transcends the era they played in — today’s NBA is no exception. We would still be talking about him as one of the greatest players to ever do it. Just not from the perimeter, at least according to Isiah Thomas.
I would think, in this game, today the way it’s coached and the way the centers are, at 6-8, 6-9; Magic Johnson now would revolutionize the center position and be something totally different that we’ve never seen before, other than the point guard position he revolutionized. At the point guard position, he was the standard, and I think in this era, he would be the standard at the center position, not the point guard position.Isiah Thomas, NBA Open Court
As such, Magic would thrive in transition. Catching the ball as a center and running the fast break with elite shooters around him would make Johnson impossible to guard. But why wouldn’t he be able to do it from the point guard position as well? Why would Isiah label him as a center in today’s NBA?
Even in today’s positionless basketball, where a correlation between the players’ sizes and their positions is almost non-existent, guys who play centers don’t exactly spend too much time with the ball in their hands. Nikola Jokić, for example. Despite his incredible playmaking gifts, more often than not, he isn’t the one bringing the ball up, nor does he operate as the team’s primary ball-handler, despite the Nuggets relying heavily on his ability to make plays for others.
Is Zeke saying teams would use Magic the same way? The same guy who orchestrated the Showtime Lakers — one of the fastest pace NBA teams ever? Is there really a coach that would take the ball out of Magic’s hands, despite him not fitting the parameters of today’s archetypal point guard? I don’t think so.
That’s the thing about the all-time greats. They would thrive no matter the era without needing to make significant changes to their games. They don’t need to adjust to everyone else. Everyone else needs to adjust to them. That’s why, in today’s NBA, Magic Johnson would be exactly what he was three decades ago — the best point guard the game has ever seen.