Warner: NBA Will be Without a 20-10 Big Man for First Time

extinctMore proof that the dominant NBA big man is as endangered as liberal Republicans: For the first time in league history, no player is going to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Only 11 players are averaging 10 or more rebounds, and the highest scorer in that group is Golden State’s David Lee with 18.6 points per game. That means he would have to average 31 points over his last nine games to reach the 20-point plateau for the season.  Unless he suddenly turns into Wilt Chamberlain, it ain’t gonna happen.

Ten players are averaging at least 20 points a game, and the leading rebounder on that list is Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge with 8.9 per game. To reach the 10-rebound mark for the season, he would have to average 17.1 boards over his final 11 games.  No chance.

So what about Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, who all posted 20-10 numbers last season?

Howard, who is averaging 16.5 points and 12.6 rebounds, is coming off back surgery and has had problems adjusting to Tinseltown following his offseason trade from the Magic to the Lakers.  Love (18.3 and 14.0) hasn’t played since re-breaking his shooting hand on Jan. 3, while Griffin’s stats have declined to 18.4 and 8.5, partly because the improved Clippers feature a more balanced offense.

The decline of the NBA big man has never been more glaring. The best centers right now are Howard, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler and DeMarcus Cousins. (I’m not counting Andrew Bynum, who hasn’t played this season, or Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who are past their primes and have always been hybrid bigs.)

220px-Wilt_Chamberlain_Bill_Russell_2Does anyone on that list remotely resemble Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Bob Lanier, David Robinson, Walt Bellamy or George Mikan, centers who averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds for their entire careers?  (They also are among 17 NBA players with 20-10 stats over at least a five-year career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.)

Sure, rebounds were more plentiful in the 1960s and 1970s,  when shooting percentages were lower, and points came easier during the fast-break Showtime Era of the 1980s. Still, there has been at least one 20-10 player every season since the NBA started keeping rebounding stats in 1950-51 – four years before the advent of the shot clock.

As recently as 2010-11, four players — Howard, Love, Griffin and Zach Randolph — were in the 20-10 club.

In fact, over the past 10 years, there never has been a season in which fewer than two players averaged 20 points and 10 boards.  And that only includes those who played at least 70 games, the minimum required to qualify as a league leader. If you include others who fell just short of the minimum, there have been at least three 20-10 players every season since 2002-03.

At one time, 20-10 seasons were as common as Chris Andersen’s rainbow tattoos.

Eight players averaged 20-10 for 10 straight seasons or more: Chamberlain, O’Neal, Olajuwon, Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Duncan, Charles Barkley and Bob Pettit.

Pettit posted a 20-10 every season of his career, while Chamberlain had 12 consecutive years of at least 20 points and – this is not a typo – 20 rebounds.

So why has the monster center all but disappeared?

  • Little or no college experience: Big men come into the NBA without the skills needed to play in the post. Nobody has Kareem’s Sky Hook or Hakeem’s Dream Shake. Nobody blocks shots like Russell or bullies defenders like Shaq.
  • The Air Jordan Effect: After Michael Jordan took over the league, everyone wanted to play like Mike, even the big guys. Doing the dirty work down low wasn’t as exciting as soaring through the air or making acrobatic shots.
  • The 3-pointer: When the NBA adopted the 3-point line in 1979, it placed more emphasis on outside shooting than inside muscle. And 3-point misses usually produce long rebounds that fly over the heads of the big men boxing out down low.
  • European influence: The influx of players from Europe, where finesse trumps force, made bruising centers less important. Seven-foot imports such as Dirk Nowitzki played more like guards than centers.
  • Injuries: Yao Ming, Greg Oden, Andrew Bogut, Love and Bynum are talented big men whose careers have been cut short or hampered by injuries in recent years.

Whatever the reasons, there is nobody on the horizon who is a lock to put up 20-10 seasons on a regular basis. Years from now, we may look back on the 20-10 mark the way we now view set shots and tight shorts – vestiges of a bygone era.

Rick Warner is a veteran sportswriter who formerly worked alongside Chris Sheridan at The Associated Press. He now teaches journalism at Rutgers University.

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