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The impact of the NBA’s young players and the development of ‘micro ball’

After his historic freshman season at Duke last year, many anticipated that the eventual number one pick in the 2019 NBA draft, Zion Williamson, would come to dominate the NBA. What few anticipated however, is how immediately dominant Williamson would be. Playing his first professional games coming off a surgery on a torn meniscus, some speculated he would not quite have the explosiveness he possessed at Duke last year that made him the number one pick. 

After a 29 point outing against the Lakers Tuesday night, Williamson’s season averages now sit at 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Williamson has impressed offensively with his explosiveness, rim rattling dunks and herky-jerky movements. Although sometimes getting lost defensively, he has shown flashes of his immense defensive potential through his physicality, defensive instincts and blindingly quick verticality. 

Another young player who has taken a massive step up over his recent play is Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. The 21-year-old forward was named an All-Star for the first time this year, and since being named an All-Star in late January, he has averaged an astonishing 30.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists per game. This comes at the most important time of the year for the Celtics, as they are ramping up for what they hope to be a deep playoff run. 

“That kid is special,” LeBron James said two weekends ago. “Obviously, that’s the reason he’s a first-time All-Star. He’s been special all year.” “I know he’s built for stardom,” James said after his team’s victory that night.

The Houston Rockets “micro-ball” experiment thus far has yielded excellent results. Since trading their star center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline in favor of Minnesota Timberwolves dynamic wing player Robert Covington, the Houston Rockets have been operating without a traditional center, with 6’5″ PJ Tucker operating as their center. The 6’7″ Covington has often been their tallest player. This new version of “small-ball” coined by some as “micro-ball” has led to a 6-2 record since its implementation. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni commented on Houston’s new look: 

“The underlying thing is we’re just trying to really open it up for James [Harden] and Russell [Westbrook] to get to the rim, and that lineup permits that. Now can you play that well enough defensively and rebounding to make them blink and go small? Or make their bigs impose their will? And that’s a challenge. We’ll see.”

D’Antoni, famed for his “seven seconds or less” offenses which lead to his teams launching lots of threes and finishing games with historic scoring numbers, now finds himself in his ideal offense. While the early 2000s Phoenix Suns teams coached by D’Antoni were sometimes criticized for their playstyle and shot selection, D’Antoni admits now that he wishes those teams had committed more to the playstyle instead of leaning toward a more normal style. With Houston’s newest invention, “micro-ball,” D’Antoni finally gets to see that vision unfold.

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