By: Rob Botts
Oscar Robertson. “The Big O.” The walking triple double. One of the truly great players of all time. And now, an out of his mind curmudgeon. Robertson recently was interviewed by ESPN and he had some choice observations about Stephen Curry, current coaches and the state of the league in general. Here is what the Hall of Famer had to say:
“He’s(Curry) shot well because of what’s going on in basketball today. In basketball today, it’s almost like if you can dunk or make a 3-point shot, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. There have been some great shooters in the past. But here again, when I played years ago, if you shot a shot outside and hit it, the next time I’m going to be up on top of you. I’m going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don’t do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I’m concerned.”
Now, I do sympathize with his and many of the older older generation’s opinion on the current state of the game and the players who play it. However, I really, really disagree. If these former ballers were seen by a medical doctor they would all have been diagnosed with a strong case of “The Green Eyed Monster.” They see these guys play against defenders who don’t hold and bang each other nearly as much as when they ran up and down the court in their day. Hand checking and extending a chicken wing to a guy were the mainstays of a strong and effective defensive front. They sure didn’t make the kind of cheddar that current superstars make with their contracts and didn’t even come close to even sniffing that kind of money off of endorsement deals. It’s understandably frustrating for them to hear the “prisoner of the moment” proclamations of the sports media about how a certain player is the best ever after a great game or a certain accomplishment. We are constantly judging and comparing that allow the conclusions and titles to come swiftly.
I understand where these guys are coming from, but they, and Oscar in particular are completely and utterly wrong. Bigger, faster, stronger. Bigger, faster, stronger. That’s what athletes have become over the years and will continue to become. Will we end up with some sort of Incredible Hulk / Superman hybrid over the next 20 years? Um, Maybe. There is absolutely no way anybody from Robertson’s time, could have checked the dudes from our current era. No way. That is no disrespect to these great players but they would just would get crushed. Not only are our current dudes of the NBA all of the above in terms of physical conditioning and structure, but also in terms of skill level. Not all, but many. Many of the men back in Oscar’s day could really shoot and pass the ball. They were so fundamentally strong. But guys today have taken that to another level as well. They have kept the basketball evolution going. “Bigs” can step back and nail three pointers. Guards can punish guys in the post. Dudes can run like track stars on the break and finish high above the rim.
Let’s take a look at this hypothetical match up of Robertson and Curry. Can Oscar close out on Steph as he attempts one of his deep three point shots? Yes. Will that close out actually affect the result of Steph’s shot? No. Can he shadow Steph and pester him to the point where he will be forced to give up the ball? No. Can he get physical enough with him to shut him down? No. Whether you put Steph back in that era or if you put Oscar in this current era for the one on one match up, Curry would pick Robertson apart. Curry’s ability to have the ball on a string, stop on a dime, and pull up for a shot would leave Oscar pounding the floor in frustration. If Robertson ever did take away Steph’s air space and prevent a long distance release, Curry would do one of two back breaking to the defender things. One, he would blow by him all the way to the rim for the bucket. OT two, he would blow by him(again) and then shuffle to the side to still remain behind the three point arc, calmly fade back and bury a dagger three. Oscar says that he would pressure Curry with three-quarters and half court defense. That sounds great and looks good on the coach’s whiteboard, but in reality that is a recipe for disaster. There has never been a player as slick with his dribble combined with the skill of dead eye shooting like Curry. He slips through double teams and pressure from multiple players and then pulls up and nails VERY deep shots on a regular basis. To be clear, THERE IS NO DEFENSE IN THE WORLD THAT WILL STOP THAT. Players of all kinds of sizes and shapes have tried to cover Stephen Curry this season and it remains crystal clear that there is only one player that can absolutely shut down Stephen Curry: Stephen Curry.
Robertson also mentioned that the coaches of today just don’t understand the game of basketball. That statement just comes off so “Get off my lawn!” old grump. Is he trying to say that coaches today don’t understand how to set up a defensive game plan to stop guys like Curry? If he IS saying that, what a joke of a statement. So, when Oscar lit up teams back in his day with an incredible stat line, did the coaches back then not understand the game on how to stop him? I think not. They tried. Talent is talent and most of the time, the truly great players cannot be stopped. You can only put them in the toughest of situations on the floor and hope that the game plan wears on the player and you get lucky in the end. It is true that plays were very creative and had many, many options of half court sets. That is because there was no three point shot to stretch the floor and there weren’t the kind of athletes that there are today. Back then you had to go to A, to B, to C, to D and then finally to E for the hoop. Now, it’s literally A to B most of the time in the form of a pick and roll or an alley-oop. Why get fancy when you can use athleticism to get the same result?
“The Big O” recently thought he was “The Big Know”, only to come off clearly as “The Big No.”