5 NBA players who should be playing a different position

The NBA loves its versatility these days. The league is full of players who can defend and play multiple spots. But that does not mean they are optimized.

In the NBA these days versatility is the buzz word. It is the ability to switch on defense and prevent those killer pick and rolls from tearing up the interior of defenses. It is the ability to throw out lineups that can attack from multiple areas and defend multiple positions.

This is the wave of the NBA’s future. Teams continue to value this versatility and multiplicity of skills. Traditional positions are going out the window.

But they are far from dead. And there are still odd fits as teams go for more versatility but have less definition. Throwing together a team that has a bunch of players who can play anywhere on the floor is no guarantee that they will actually fit together.

How the league defines certain positions may change, but the basic skills remain the same. Shooting guards need lateral quickness to stick with the fastest players in the league. Small forwards need to be able to hit down spot-up jumpers. Power forwards need to pinch down and guard the post. And centers need to be able to dominate the glass.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And some things truly never change when it comes to the NBA.

Despite some extreme versatility, there are positions on the floor where certain players in the NBA would fit better than where they are currently playing. Just because a bigger forward can play small forward does not mean he should. Just because a guard is small in stature, does not mean he should always be on the ball playing point guard.

These are the decisions general managers and coaches have to make. And sometimes players are just stuck in bad situations and bad positions, having their talents handcuffed by the constructs of NBA offense. Thinking around the league may have evolved into some unique ideas, but offensive structures still require players to be in certain places.

There is no straight line to complete versatility. Otherwise, everyone would be playing pick up in a disorganized mess. It is still up to coaches to put all these new players and pieces in the right spots.

For several promising players, that just is not the case. Even in a more versatile-friendly NBA.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

Feb 4, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) dunks against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

5. Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon was drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft as a tweener. He was a bundle of athleticism that did not really have any set definable NBA skills. His jumper was a mess and he did not have a post game.

What he did have was the thing that has made him famous — his incredible athleticism.

Gordon’s breakout performance at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest last year put him on the NBA map and led to a rush of confidence to finish the season strong. He continued some of that momentum this year as he continues to average about 11 points per game.

But things are undoubtedly different for Gordon this year. Despite his offense taking a step forward on a raw basis, he is not shooting the ball as well and has had to do something he had not done in his first two years.

With the Magic’s strange offseason acquiring Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, the team announced they would move Aaron Gordon to small forward. It is not that Gordon had not played small forward before — about 40 percent of his minutes came at small forward last year, according to Basketball-Reference — it is that he never played it exclusively.

Gordon has played more than 90 percent of his minutes at small forward. And that is something of a problem because of his poor 3-point shooting — less than 30 percent — and bad outside shot in general.

The Magic tried at one point to run him in pick-and-rolls. That was a disaster — 0.55 points per possession in 1.5 plays as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to NBA.com. He is not a great spot-up shooter either. Gordon does not do many of the things a small forward needs to do.

About the only solace for the Magic and for Gordon is that he is proving himself to be a potentially elite perimeter defender. The question is whether that positive on defense on the perimeter will outweigh his poor offense and offensive development.

Thee is still time for the 21-year-old forward, fortunately.

Dragan Bender, Phoenix Suns

Dec 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) is fouled by Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) on a drive during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Phoenix Suns 138-109. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

4. Dragan Bender

In this year’s NBA Draft, Dragan Bender was one of the most intriguing prospects. Here was a big man with size and the ability to shoot. He was not Kristaps Porzingis with his length but he was one of those favored stretch bigs.

The Phoenix Suns, though, were a weird team for him to land on.

They spent their first draft pick on springy power forward Marquese Chriss. He would need to be close to the basket as he learned and developed. They already had former top-five pick Alex Len and veteran Tyson Chandler. They were stacked at the forward positions.

And so Bender has been forced to adjust. He’s still technically playing power forward for most of his minutes but on offense he’s almost exclusively standing on the perimeter as a spot-up threat. Bender has not played very much this year — 12.7 minutes per game in 38 games played — and his development has been a slow one. But he has taken 81 3-pointers on 124 field goal attempts. Shooting 32.1 percent on those 3-pointers.

The 7-foot-1 big man has rarely ventured into the paint this year. He has taken only 27 field goal attempts within five feet of the basket. And for the year, he has three post ups.

Three. Post. Ups.

For a 7-foot-1 big. Bender needs to put on weight and he is perhaps not quite ready to be a regular contributor to the NBA. And his shooting is a big reason the Suns drafted him.

But the Suns have to find a way to develop Bender and use his size to their advantage. He’s potentially the most versatile player on their roster but he’s being used in the most vanilla way.

J.J. Redick, LA Clippers

February 2, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) reacts after he shoots a three point basket against the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

3. J.J. Redick

J.J. Redick is having a great season. He is averaging 15.7 points per game and shooting 43.5 percent from beyond the arc. This has been par for the course for Redick since joining the LA Clippers.

At this point, everyone around the league knows what Redick is. He is the cutting, 3-point shooting solid shooting guard. His role is very clearly defined no matter where the Clippers put him on the floor. As Stan Van Gundy learned and developed in his Orlando days, Redick is good at help side defensive principles, just not necessarily strong one on one.

Redick will provide the statistics he usually provides.

But the Clippers team this year is oddly shaped. Very oddly shaped. And that was especially when Blake Griffin was out.

The Clippers’ usual starting lineup featured Luc Mbah A Moute at small forward. But with Griffin’s injury, Mbah A Moute slid to power forward. And Redick, the usual shooting guard, had to start with Chris Paul and Austin Rivers. The Clippers had a hard time figuring out how to balance their lineup.

This season, Redick has played slightly out of position for much of the season. The Clippers have had to shuffle their lineups and put Redick in positions for him to succeed, often hiding him. Sometimes that has not worked — see the offensively challenged Aaron Gordon’s two 30-point games against the Clippers.

Maybe Redick was technically playing shooting guard. But the Clippers’ odd lineups have put Redick in a somewhat uncomfortable position.

Fortunately for them, things seem to be ironing themselves out.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Feb 1, 2017; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) drives against Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

2. Kristaps Porzingis

The New York Knicks are in a weird transition stage. Or at least they should be rather than the free agent-filled mess they are actually in.

It does seem the Knicks are as open to trading Carmelo Anthony than they have ever been before. And that will open doors for what everyone believes is extremely necessary already. It is time to turn the keys of the Knicks over to Kristaps Porzingis.

It is not that the second-year big man has not been good. He has increased his scoring and shooting averages over his rookie year. It is that he still seems largely ignored and cluttered offensively.

Porzingis still gets his fair amount of shots. Yet, it still feels like he is constricted. And a big part of that is the position he plays.

Porzingis still spends the majority of his time at power forward thanks to Joakim Noah’s presence on the roster. Porzingis has played only 35 percent of his minutes at center, according to Basketball-Reference. That is at least up from last year. But undoubtedly Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony still take away from his shots. And Joakim Noah takes away some of his space. Porzingis is still largely a jump shooter.

According to NBA.com’s Player Tracking stats, Porzingis averages 2.7 post-ups per game. Carmelo Anthony gets more post-ups per game. Granted Porzingis is not super efficient — 0.78 points per possession on post-ups. But it is a sign Porzingis does not operate close to the basket.

Having a non-stretch center like Noah around has forced Porzingis to remain on the perimeter. Nearly 35 percent of his shots come from outside 20 feet.

The vision for Porzingis may one day for him to be a stretch-5 and hovering around the perimeter to draw big men out. But right now, he is a glorified stretch-4 lacking space to operate closer to the basket and hovering around the perimeter too much.

Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons

Nov 9, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) celebrates a play with forward Marcus Morris (13) in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1. Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris

There is such a thing as too much versatility. Sometimes simplicity is the way to go.

Stan Van Gundy has a pair of very versatile forwards that seem to complement each other well. Tobias Harris works better as a slasher and taking smaller forwards to the post. Marcus Morris is a proto-typical stretch-4. He is able to get out on the perimeter and hit threes.

It is the perfect switch.

Except it has not worked out well. And the Pistons are struggling a lot.

Harris has put up good numbers and is shooting a decent percentage from beyond the arc for his career. Morris has too. But their ability to cause defenders to switch has not worked. Both have sort of stagnated statistically. And the Pistons are not reaping the benefits of their versatility.

When Harris and Morris share the floor together, the Pistons have a 107.8 defensive rating and a 104.9 offensive rating. The duo works fine offensively, but neither has taken a step up defensively to help their team.

This might be a case of overthinking things.

Putting Harris in the post more would seem to benefit his skills as much as sending Marcus Morris to the 3-point line. But it has been too easy for teams to switch their defenders to cover these matchups.

The extreme versatility has not benefited either player. And most importantly, the team.

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