In an age of positionless basketball, the point guard position continues to evolve.
We went from floor generals to lights-out shooters, and now enter a new breed — the big guards.
In the 2021 NBA Draft, two players taken within the top six picks in Cade Cunningham (No. 1) and Josh Giddey (No. 6) represent the new school of playmakers, with size, scoring and rebounding at a premium.
Both standing at 6-foot-8, the young playmakers share similar skillsets in their ability to see over defenses, generate scoring opportunities in the pick-and-roll and allow for increased switchability on the defensive end with their length and wingspans, allowing them to guard basically anyone who isn’t a center.
It’s no coincidence Giddey (7.2) and Cunningham (6.3) rank third and fourth in rebounding among all rookies, behind only Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley.
While the volume 3-point shooting point guards in Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and co have dominated recent seasons, the emerging trend across the NBA has been that of the big guard.
From Luka Doncic (6″7′) earning All-NBA First Team honors, to LaMelo Ball (6″7′) winning Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons (6″10′) a three-time All-Star, Lonzo Ball (6″7′) establishing himself as one of the most versatile two-way players in the league and Dejounte Murray (6″5′) making a run at Most Improved Player of the Year — having a playmaker the size of a small forward is more than just a trend, it’s the way of the future.
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Giddey has formed a lethal partnership in the Thunder backcourt with Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander (6″6′) with both players splitting the ball handling duties and shot creation, making opposing backcourts sweat on the defensive end. Not to mention OKC are top 10 in the NBA in rebounding, with their two guards crashing the glass with regularity.
“His size and the ability to process the game and see the game. I think he’s a basketball player more than anything,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said of Giddey.
“I think it’s also a credit to Shai, because of the way that he approaches the game, you know, he makes it possible for us to kind of envision the ability to play a really team-based game where the ball is moving and there’s multiple people making decisions, you know, simultaneously with or without the ball. So I think it’s (a) great fit.”
While Cunningham is less of a traditional point guard and more of a swiss-army knife guard, he has been entrusted with running the Pistons offense this season.
The 20-year-old entered the league with lofty comparisons to Luka Doncic and while he hasn’t lit things up like the Slovenian did in his rookie season, it’s easy to see the parallels between the two.
From the savvy pick-and-roll play to the change of pace and ability to get to his spots on the floor, Cunningham has all the tools to be the focal point of the team’s offense, the same way Doncic does for the Dallas Mavericks.
Add in his 7-foot wingspan and Cunningham has all the physical tools to be a versatile defender at the NBA level. So much so, he’s earned some high praise from another positionless unicorn in Kevin Durant after they faced off against each other earlier this season.
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“I love Cade’s game,” Durant said. “I think he’s going to be a tough, tough player for a long, long time. I got to know him when he was in high school so we got to build a little relationship. To play against him in the NBA is sweet.
“We had a lot of conversations about being on this level and what it took. To see him out here battling through some injuries in the start, but to come out here and play aggressive tonight and hit some big shots for him; I’m happy for him and looking forward to seeing his career.”
Cunningham and Giddey are leading the way among the younger brigade of big guards and there’s every reason to believe this is just the beginning of a new wave in the NBA. The 2022 NBA Draft is set to feature several big playmakers who are projected to go in the first round in Johnny Juzang (UCLA), Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite) and Hunter Sallis (Gonzaga).
In a copycat league, expect to see more point guards in the Giddey/Cunningham mold find their way onto NBA rosters.