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On DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez, and the continued importance of big men

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fears going into the Olympics --and some games that were too close for comfort early on, Team USA came away with their third consecutive gold medal afer a convincing victory over Serbia on Sunday. Usually when the NBA players get back to the States, the discussion focuses on the Olympic Bounce. The Olympic Bounce is when a player comes back from the Olympics and puts together their best NBA season the following year. Some famous examples are: Charles Barkley in 1992-1993, Vince Carter in 2000-2001, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James in 2008-2009, and Bron + Melo again in 2012-2013. For one player in particular, there may not be an Olympic Bounce, but there should be a greater appreciation for what he and others like him already brings to the table.

DeAndre Jordan is one of the more polarizing players in the NBA. Aside from being hated by Mavs fans for the 2015 free agency drama, Jordan is most known for his horrendous free throw shooting and is the poster boy for the movement to change the hack-a-___ rule. Despite that flaw in his game, he's managed to be one of the best centers in the NBA since he became the full time starter early in the 2010-2011 season. As a starter, Jordan has established himself as an All Star caliber big man that is: an excellent rebounder, great rim protector, solid low post defender, elite finisher at the rim, and a capable defender when guarding ball handlers in pick-and-roll situations. In the medal round, Jordan's insertion in the starting five helped shore up a weak defensive unit and took up a lot of space on the inside. That in turn freed up Kevin Durant to go off on the perimeter. Jordan has been maligned in some quarters, but he's an incredibly important player that makes the best use of his talents and provides a lot of value to his team.

Earlier this year, I wrote about big men and how the Center position has evolved throughout recent NBA history. It was intended to be an all encompassing piece that covered big guys from David Robinson all the way to Karl Anthony Towns. I thought the piece did a good job covering how the position has grown, but I didn't spend enough time covering defense, and as a result, players like Jordan and Rudy Gobert didn't get covered as much as they should have been. With the way the modern NBA is set up, you need big men that can: run the floor well in transition, ward off opponents at the rim at an exceptionally high rate, and when switched on to something like this...

Having players like Jordan, Gobert, Towns, etc makes your defense incredibly flexible and allows you to switch without fear of being burned. With midrange jump shots being de-emphasized, teams are making a greater attempt to find shots at the rim. Elite rim protectors like Jordan, Towns, and Gobert have become more important than ever and Championship caliber teams have to find ways to address it.

Having a super flexible big at the five is why the idea of playing Anthony Davis at center instead of power forward makes perfect sense. It moves him to a position where his skills would be best utilized as well as gives the team the opportunity to find a suitable power forward that can start and contribute alongside Davis. When you have a rare talent like Davis, you need to accentuate his positives and play to his strengths.

And what about the Nets ... and an equally maligned big, Brook Lopez?

Even if your team doesn't have the "modern" (for lack of a better term) big man, it doesn't mean that the one you have is obsolete. Players like Lopez and DeMarcus Cousins fit the mold of traditional big men who operates best in the low post and can step out on to the perimeter and consistently hit jumpers particularly in the case of Cousins, who hit three pointers at a decent rate). I was thinking about those two when I saw this quote from Kenny Atkinson this week:

"I'm definitely not a systems guy. I just love Mike D'antoni's offense, love it. You know, in a beautiful world, spreading the court like that, that would be utopia but I think I'm intelligent enough to understand your players, your players' strengths -- and I'm still discovering our roster -- and if that means slowing the ball down and pounding it inside and that's best for our team and best for our roster, that's what we're going to do.

"I think coaches make mistakes being too attached to their system, to 'this is the way we're going to play.' Again, when you talk about experience, I've been in the European system. I've seen Rick Adelman's system, I've seen Mike D'antoni's system. I've see Mike Budenholzer's system. I think, man, can I take pieces of all these.

That quote should make Nets fans very excited. Having a coach who will build on your players' strengths and is open to trying new things is always a positive. Lopez is already a good player and playing for a coach that will build upon his strengths will help improve Brooklyn's performance from last season. And with questions surrounding the rest of the roster and how they will play together, having a reliable low post scorer and rim protector in Lopez will simplify things for everybody.

Atkinson also discussed player development and it made me think of former Net Mason Plumlee. Plumlee was a decent backup/spot starter with Brooklyn, but has found a nice role and expanded on his skill set in Portland thanks to the work of Terry Stotts and his coaching staff. Everybody who enters the league needs to have adequate time and opportunity to grow, and for big men in particular, that time is even more important. Draymond Green is a perfect example of this. He barely played his rookie season, but as he was given more playing time and freedom on the court, he made himself into an All-Star player who can initiate his team's offense as well as be an adequate rim protector. With the league going smaller, having big guys that can expand their repertoire is extremely valuable and a good sign going forward.

With the Olympics over and teams digging around to find the last pieces to fill out their rosters, DeAndre Jordan's play in Rio reaffirmed the importance of big men in today's basketball landscape. Having a reliable big man that can do a multitude of things well and acquit himself well on the perimeter will always be important to a team's success. At some point during the year, you're probably going to hear discussion about why there aren't any more dominant centers and if they're becoming "extinct." When you hear it, remember that while teams don't post up their big men every possession like they used to, they still rely on them a great deal and make use of them in new and exciting ways. The position's alive and well and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.