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Are NBA Basketball Players Better Today Than in The Past

The age-old question that the older generation, including myself, despises. Basketball players of today versus basketball players of the past.

Are basketball players today better now than they were in the past? Yes,  Basketball players are born and bred to play at a young age, also our understanding of the human body and advancements in basketball training are better today than they used to be.  Decades ago, basketball players could make the NBA based on height alone or having one distinct skill advantage over the competition.

Most professional basketball players started playing at a very young age and are highly experienced. When this is combined with incredible athletic ability (and height), it is no surprise that we see the type of basketball players we see today in the NBA.

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Larry Johnson in Charlotte Hornets uniform

Comparing Player Types in Different Eras

There really isn’t an easy way to compare eras. Most basketball fans have an era they really loved, they have their fondest memories, that will always be in their hearts. It is very difficult to convince anyone what the best era was or who’s the best player when fans of the game grew up watching that era or player.

But open up your mind for just a second and let’s compare player types and forget eras, here are some things that are apparent throughout the years when deciding if basketball players are better today then yesteryear’s. 

7-footers in the NBA

The 7-foot post is no longer as effective as it once was. The center position has lost its role in basketball when compared to past decades as centers use to dominate in the post and were the first option.

Most true center now plays more of a defensive and rebounding role. While elite centers on offense play more like a power forward shooting beyond the 12-foot jump shot and beyond. Big men are shooting the ball better than ever.

Being over 7 feet tall and playing in the NBA is now much more difficult than decades past. There were players in the league in the 80s and 90s who made the league based on height and limited skill.

In fact, during those eras, if you were 7 feet tall and could move somewhat on your feet you had a very good chance of playing professional basketball. Think of players like Manute Bol, Gheorghe Mureșan and Mark Eaton.

All of which started basketball late in life because of their freakishly tall stature. I am not taking away anything from these players, what they accomplish in their short time in the league is amazing in itself. But I do believe they would have a much harder time making today’s NBA.

 Today, we have Tacko Fall who is 7 feet 5 inches tall that can barely get any minutes on the Boston Celtics, he moves better than any player I have ever seen taller than 7 foot 2 inches.

I remember in the ’90s, thinking what it would be like to see a 7-foot basketball player dribbling the basketball up the court. It didn’t take long for that to happen.

This is the norm, seeing players such as Kevin Durant, Giannis Antekutmobo, and Kristaps Porzingis handling the ball like a point guard.

Height and Position Don’t matter anymore in the NBA

Just because your tall does not mean you have to play a certain position. Point guards are taller than they have ever been, and soon enough teams will be playing positionally less basketball. Which they are already doing.

You could have a 7-foot team technically. Basketball is the type of game that if you have the same skill as another player, the taller player usually comes out on top. Not only are the players taller at each position but they are even more skilled.

If we take a look at the overall skill of a player’s shooting, it has improved drastically over the years also all across the league, although players are shooting a lot more three-pointers, you can’t deny the efficiency of a player like Steph Curry and even Klay Thompson.

You have two of the best shooters in NBA History on the same team. Prove me wrong.

But even the rest of the league shoots very well from the line, big men are shooting the three-ball with accuracy also because the game is changing. It’s still changing, and you need a lot more skill to play it.

Breaking Records

You would think that you would see record-breaking dying off after almost 70 years of a league being around NOPE! Records are constantly being broken and not just by a little bit but by a lot.

A classic example is the triple-double record by Rusell Westbrook. Oscar Robertson held the record for most triple-doubles in a career with 181 and Westbrook is in his prime and already broke the record. When it’s all said and done he may walk out with 300 of them.

The three-point record in a single season was destroyed by Steph Curry and then he broke his own record two more times making 403 threes in a single season.

Those are two big records broken massively.

Part of the reason records are being broken often is the way the game is played and structured for a much more fast-paced style of play.

Total points and possessions are way up, blame it on the rules such as the second chance 14-second shot clock or the refs sending players to the free-throw line for ticky-tack fouls.

Regardless, the game is more entertaining than ever, a faster pace game means that you have to think quicker, have a faster reaction time, and think two steps ahead of the opposition.

More shots mean more points which means more highlights, therefore more entertainment.

European Players in the NBA

It hasn’t always been like this, players from Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s were too afraid to come to the USA to play basketball in the NBA. Their fear? They are mega superstars in Europe and some players venture over only to come back home due to riding the bench.

It wasn’t because they weren’t good enough, but they were in their prime not given a chance to showcase what they can do, it takes time to play a different style of game and prove your worth.  Players did not want to waste the best years of their career sitting on a bench.

This fear slowly faded after players like Toni Kukoc, Dirk Nowitzki, and Drazen Petrovic started to prove how good they were.

In today’s NBA we are seeing European players take over, You could make an argument that the top 5 players in the league right now, three of them are from Europe.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic need I say more. When players from other countries are coming into the NBA and dominating basketball itself is improving everywhere in the world. 

Michael Jordan vs Lebron James Debate

Figuring out who the best player will not indicate the best or hardest era but if I had to pick one though it would be Jordan easily. Here’s why? (It’s highlighted down below).

The Michael Jordan vs Lebron James debate will be argued to death for years to come. The eras are definitely different in which both players played in, and you can argue which era was better or tougher. While I am not going to compare the eras I will highlight one key point that no one talks about.

Michael Jordan has done what Lebron James has done in half the time. Think about that for a second, ( you can include the years with Washington if you like) in 13 years he has done things no other NBA player has done, not even Lebron in 18 years in the league.

I don’t even think it comes close. That’s my view but I do think Lebron is unbelievable and I am happy I can say I watched both these guys play in their prime.

Things can change as Lebron is still not done his career, but growing up watching Jordan it would be hard to change my mind. See what I mean.

NBA Rule Book

Today’s game is much faster and the rules helped make it that way. Second shot points, 8 seconds to advance the ball, and the increase in the number of 3 pointers per team taken have made the game what it is today.

The game of basketball in the 90s was a much slower pace game with a lot of physical contact. Scoring during this era was at an all-time low. The NBA was worried enough to move the three-point line closer to the rim to induce more shots. That didn’t work.

Up until 2004, the game of basketball was an aggressive game, where hard fouls were the norm. The flagrant fouls you see today were common fouls you saw in the past. Rules would be changed and the hand-checking was outlawed, it was now a foul to put your hand on a player, this changed a lot of things.

Scoring and dribbling changed for the foreseeable future. Players were now able to dribble past their defender more easily and make the highlight reel on ESPN. Free throws were up also, but around 2010 more and more teams started to shoot more threes.

This is why we are seeing higher-scoring and more entertaining basketball games. The NBA is even playing around with the idea of the free-throw line to speed up the game. How so you ask? 

One free-throw attempt, for two points. You miss then the ball is live, you don’t get a second free throw. They have already been experimenting with this in the G-League.

Many will argue that you don’t need any basketball I.Q. to play in today’s league, it’s a quick three down the court or drive to the basket.

What do you think?

Basketball training and resources 

Scientific training methods are always improving, in fact, they are the best they have ever been. We understand more than ever how food plays a key part in providing optimal energy for athletic performance.

We also understand sleep and rest as being crucial for recovery. Heck, Lebron James, and other athletes are using a hyperbaric chamber. What is a hyperbaric chamber?

Basically, a device that pumps oxygen into this confined space bag that you sit in, the oxygen helps aid in quicker recovery so athletes can get back on the court from injury or just sore muscles.

Skills trainer

Basketball academies and training services are numerous and available everywhere nowadays, this wasn’t always the case. For a basketball player to excel in today’s game this is a must and it will cost you some money.

There is no way around it, if you want to get better it is not enough to play the game but also train with a one on one trainer. Players are doing whatever necessary to get better.

Mikey Williams (ranked #3 in high school) has said he does two days sometimes 3 a day practices/workouts, he believes in order for him to make the league it’s a must.

He also has high basketball I.Q as he studies basketball every day, This is a workout in itself that he dedicates his time to.

Weight training

Weight lifting has gone through a lot of misconceptions throughout the years, many even believing that it’s bad for your basketball game and that it ruins your shot. Today, we all know that this is far from the case.

Weightlifting is the foundation needed for a basketball player in order to prevent injury, absorb contact and improve basketball performance.

If you are not lifting weights and getting stronger you will be left behind, improving performance on the court through training is imperative to keep up with the speed of the game and competition. 

New Training philosophies and studies come out yearly with better exercises and techniques. In order to improve an athlete’s performance on the court especially to make them more explosive players must work out year-round.

In the late 1990s and 2000s, as a basketball player I wanted to increase my vertical jump, the amount of wasted time and money I spent on gimmicks and training ideas that didn’t work could have been better spent on my actual basketball game.

The information that is readily available now is at your hands with a click of a button. Studies and programs included all free. Must be nice.

What the future has in store for athletes, in general, will make athletes better and will be much safer while doing it in less time.

through the fence a basketball player doing a layup on an outdoor court

Are basketball players still getting better?

Yes, think of a player like a car, cars 30 years ago were great when they first came out, people were happy with basic features. The higher-priced vehicles usually luxuries cost more but they had more features such as automatic windows, power steering, and certain safety features.

Almost all vehicles today have all the features a luxury car had back in the day.

Basketball players today are like luxury cars of 30 years ago they have all the features in this case skills that only a few players in the league had back then. Most players are well-rounded in the NBA with very few weaknesses, it is a must now in the NBA.

Decades ago players were generally known for one skill that made them who they are in the league back then.

Today’s players are different, they need to be good at 2 or 3 things that help them stand out and to secure a spot on an NBA roster.

NBA players are becoming so good that players who are being benched and barely getting any playing time will see amazing success in other pro basketball leagues if they decided to leave the NBA.