There is no question that the game has changed dramatically over time, with the new ways teams play and try to win. What used to be a much slower-paced game, oriented on getting to the basket and playing through big man, has become a fast-paced game focused on shooting the deep ball with minimum use of big men. That has created what most people would call positionless basketball, where small and power forwards often find themselves playing the role of a small-ball five. Something that would be unimaginable or possible to do in the '80s and '90s, when the NBA had a heavy load of dominant centers.
Golden era of NBA big men
The '80s and '90s were indeed the golden age of the NBA in general, but especially for the bigs who took over the game. From power forwards like Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone to centers like Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and many more. It was a different playstyle, and the big men were thriving in it.
Today we have a totally different picture. Sure, guys like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić are saving the center position, but there has been a drought of great big men for some time now. The reason for it? Many would say that the revolution of the game eliminated post play in favor of the three-point shot. Now everybody and even centers shoot the three-ball rather than getting down low and pounding the basket.
That has allowed teams to go smaller and smaller by the years in order to stretch the floor and up the pace. As a result, more and more power forwards play in the center position despite not having nearly enough size to play that position. The best example is Warriors glue guy Draymond Green. At 6'6", Draymond has been playing the stretch power forward role with massive success for all of his career, often serving as that small-ball five when the Warriors go small. And the Warriors have looked the most lethal in those situations.
How would Draymond fare in the 80s'/90s'?
A lot of teams have tried to emulate that style and focus on getting versatile forwards that can slide down to the center position and hold their own when needed. It's not easy to do, but the best players in the game can do it, as that is simply the way the game is played. Draymond has set the blueprint, winning a DPOY award in that role while on pace to win another one this year if he keeps it up.
That has led to Draymond proclaiming himself the best defender ever due to his ability to guard the perimeter and the paint with great success. Many old-school fans disagree with him, as they simply can't see him doing that in the '80s or '90s. I mean, kudos to Draymond, but at his size, how would he even try to contain prime Shaq or Hakeem? Despite always being confident, Draymond had to be humble and admit he would struggle with those kinds of big men when talking about how he would fit in the older eras.
"I like to think I would be, just for the fact that I guard the post, I guard the ball. I like to think I'd have found a way. But having said that, I'm not sure I would have been able to guard Shaquille O'Neal. I'm not sure I would have been able to guard Hakeem Olajuwon. I'm not crazy enough to begin to say, "Yeah, I could have stopped Shaq." But if I couldn't, I guess I fit into a category with a bunch of other people."
Draymond Green, NBA.Com
You have to give it up for Draymond. Despite being far from the most talented or physically gifted player, he has managed to carve himself a valuable role in today's NBA and take advantage of the opportunity. There are rare centers that manage to punish him in the paint, like Jokić or Embiid, but when playing against anybody else, the Warriors have no fear of defending the paint.
After all, it's not all about athletic ability. A big underrated part of defense is basketball IQ, and Draymond and the Warriors have plenty of that. But still, even that wouldn't stop you from getting dunked into the basket by prime Shaquille O'Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon.