Not every basketball skill is transferable, no matter the era. But defense should be. And most once-lockdown defenders operate under that assumption.
Whether it's Dennis Rodman saying Pippen would shut down LeBron, or Charles Oakley asserting that Giannis would come off the bench in his era, the conclusion is always the same -- today's NBA players, regardless of how skilled they are, wouldn't be as successful playing in the 80s or 90s.
Then there's Gilbert Arenas.
Seeing Grant Hill play was enough
For all his goofiness, Agent Zero's basketball takes tend to differ from dominant media-created narratives. This one was no different.
According to Arenas, most old guys neglect how much today's players have evolved in terms of all-around basketball skills. Most of the dominant defensive presences of the 90s never even faced guys like that. And the first time they did, they had no answer.
“I saw what happened when the prototype number 1 came into the league, and you didn’t know what to do with it, which was Grant Hill. A two-guard, three-guard who actually went left or right; y'all didn't know what the fu*k was going on when he crossed over," Arenas said.
He was barbecuing, you know, Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman with a fu*king crossover, and he couldn’t shoot a lick. A younger Hill couldn’t shoot very well, but he got to the basket like no other.”
Gilbert Arenas, Vlad TV
Most of today's superstars can match Hill's slashing ability. But the majority of them can shoot the ball better than the aforementioned Hall of Famer.
"If you couldn't deal with prototype one, what makes you think you can deal with the 2010-20 prototype of guard?You can't," Arenas said. "The moves that they do now you've never seen in your life."
The misconception of what defense is
The 90s' go-to counter to today's skill is physicality. But according to Arenas, that's not what defending is about. The rules might be different, and today's game is undoubtedly much more about finesse than it is about muscles. But the overuse of the latter can't compensate for the lack of the former.
"80s people think fouling was defense. 'Oh yeah, we're just gonna wrestle them.' -- that's not deep," Gil said. "That's not actual defense bro. He's just fouling me and hoping that I don't wanna do it anymore. You didn't actually stop me; you just fu*king fouled me until I wanted to give up."
I laugh at it because I watched the game evolve. Some of you can evolve; the way you play the game was better, it was more advanced than what you guys were at. Like Toni Kukoc, a Scottie Pippen. Those guys can actually play because their attributes transcended. You guys were the prototypes that moved forward."
Gilbert Arenas, Vlad TV
So despite what most 'old heads' think, Arenas has no doubt in his mind -- "You're not gonna be able to guard these guys."