We should be able to talk about the NBA in 2016 without every conversation about the past vs. the present being a polarized concept. There should be some middle ground between "Everything from the past was great and the present is trash" and "Everything from the past is overrated and everything now is better."
Unfortunately, we can't get over that low bar. And by "we" I include Basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who appeared on Mike and Mike on ESPN and basically ran down Stephen Curry and the Warriors.
Here's what he had to say on defensive strategies implemented by coaches in today's NBA (transcript from NJ.com):
"If I've got a guy who's great shooting the ball outside, don't you want to extend your defense out a little bit?" the 77-year-old Big O said Thursday during a phone interview on ESPN's Mike & Mike show. "I just don't think coaches today in basketball understand the game of basketball. They don't know anything about defenses. They don't know what people are doing on the court. They talk about analytical basketball and stuff like that."
"They double-teamed me an awful lot during my career," said Robertson, who in 1960-61 became the first and only player in league history to average a triple double. "I look at games today, and they'll start a defense at the foul line. When I played, they were picking you up when you got the ball inbounds. So it's a different strategy about playing defense."
"The Big O" on Curry's dominance and the state of basketball:
"He's shot well because of what's going on in basketball today," Robertson said. "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."
And lastly, Robertson obviously suggested that the modern game is trash.
"I think Golden State and some other teams play very well, but look at the game of basketball," he said. "They run one play. Well, maybe two plays. They've got a high-pick with the center, then the shooters run baseline trying to get open with blocks from the forwards. I mean that's it. You don't see hardly any reverse plays at all, no double screens, no weak side and whatnot."
So I'm not a former NBA player, let alone one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Oscar Robertson has forgotten more about basketball than I'll ever know. One thing I do know? Most of this stuff is simply not accurate. There are massive scouting reports, with detailed breakdowns of what each player's tendencies are. There are breakdowns, but there's also a lot of work that goes into taking away a team's strengths.
That last part, where he referenced how there are "no double screens" in today's game? This is from Wednesday night's Warriors-Heat game. The night before.
And if that was one play, it would be one thing. But that's a play the Warriors run all the time. If anything, the rule changes in the NBA have forced more weakside action, better screening activity and more complex sets.
A lot of teams do play systems based on reads and not "play calls," but the effect is still the same.
Watch enough of the Warriors and you see players picking up Curry at half-court and keeping a hand on him the entire possession. The Nuggets' Jameer Nelson face-guarded Curry every possession he was assigned to him. Curry's able to get open because keeping that level of attention up is difficult, and because of the Warriors' crushing screen schemes which create separation from him.
Some teams, like, oh, say, the Rockets, struggle immensely to cover Curry off the ball due to personnel and attention problems. For the most part, though, Curry's just great.
The physicality of the game is down, but the athleticism and execution is considerably higher. It's hard to argue otherwise, but for what it's worth, "The Big O" basically thinks the modern NBA is trash.