Whether you’re a fan of today’s NBA or not, the fact is the players’ skill level is at an all-time high. And while Mark Jackson agrees with that, he did single out one point of distinction between an average player today and before.
Today’s players are certainly more athletic, more skilled — shooting, handling — and more versatile. The one thing that they are; they’re not as smart.Mark Jackson, Club Shay Shay
Why aren’t they as smart? Because they don’t have to be. What they lack in basketball knowledge, today’s players make up for in skill. And that’s the luxury Jackson, who was one of the best passers we’ve ever seen, as well as other players from his era, didn’t have.
Because I didn’t have the athleticism, the quickness, the explosiveness, I had to become smarter than everybody else on the floor. So I studied the game at seven years old, at eight years old. I knew inside out whatever situation you put me in, I knew how to respond. It didn’t mean I had the answer, but I knew what the answer was.Mark Jackson, Club Shay Shay
With how athletic they are, players today aren’t forced to know the answer. That’s why basketball IQ isn’t a necessity, but the combination of a specific skillset with physical tools is. And the latter is enough for your average NBA individual playing in the 3-point era.
I don’t think because these guys are so athletic, so versatile, so explosive, so fast, I don’t think they have to lean on the same smarts and understanding that we had to growing up. It’s a credit to how far they’ve come as basketball players, but now you have to match the talent with the smart.Mark Jackson, Club Shay Shay
Let’s not get it twisted; no matter how skillful and athletic they are, players need to have a certain level of basketball IQ to compete at the highest level. But the difference is at the top, and Luka Doncic’s rise is the ultimate proof of that.
Luka’s playstyle isn’t flashy; he doesn’t rely on his athleticism, nor does he strike you as unguardable. Still, at 22 years of age, he is already one of the best basketball players in the league. Why? Because he always has the answer, no matter the situation you put him in.
Doncic’s dominance this early into his basketball career goes along with what Jackson said about today’s players not being as smart. In other words, the Mavericks’ superstar had no alternative, and he was forced to compensate for the lack of physical gifts with developing his basketball brilliance. In a world where everything is predicated on athleticism, that made him a standout. And as such, he’s already on his way to becoming an all-time great.
So why don’t more players do what Doncic has done and try to learn the ins and outs of the game to the point when outsmarting opponents becomes their go-to on the court? I’ll tell you why; because they can outrun them or jump over them. No alternative needed.