I’ve said things to this effect before but reading that piece highlighted it for me once again. Michigan State basketball has had two players who can truly be said to have changed the sport in profound ways, yet it’s proven to be extremely difficult if not impossible for any other player or team to truly duplicate what that Spartan was or did.
Magic was obviously the first. The game had never seen a 6’9″ point guard, let alone one who was clearly the best in class and IMO the best the game has ever seen, before, during or since. I can still remember the first time I saw a player referenced as the “next Magic” (and there may have been others…this was just the guy I happened to read about). There was a guy named Walter “Dinky” Proctor who was supposedly a 6’8″ point guard in the 1981 recruiting class and MSU was in on him. He ended up at NC State, where he decidedly did NOT play point guard and in fact rarely played at all. From there, we saw it over and over. The most successful was probably pre injury Penny Hardaway, who was a great player at 6’7″ but again…not Magic. Teams continue to search for that blend of size, talent, IQ and instinct but have never found it again. Still, though, without Magic I don’t think you have the evolution of the game since toward big men being allowed to do things other than play in the paint. His success freed minds as much as anything else to the possibilities and now you have things like 6’11” small forwards, big men who do most of their damage from outside the arc, guys of all sizes handling the ball, etc.
Day Day is the second. I’ll admit to being fooled massively on him. Coming out of HS, my question was “who’s he going to guard?” Now, that was a much bigger Draymond so there was a touch more legitimacy to that thinking then, but he proved it foolish almost immediately. If you would have told me as a true freshman at MSU that he’d end up regarded as the best, most versatile defender in the NBA a decade later, I’d have asked who your angel dust supplier is. You just don’t see guys with his combination of wingspan, footwork, understanding of the game, grounding in high level defensive technique (meaning positioning, sense of space, anticipation, use of lower body, etc.) and mindset. Of course his defensive versatility allows GS to take advantage of his offensive gifts at that position as well. With a clear trend cutting toward more ball skills at the PF position, teams are trying to find their Draymond Green but good luck getting a guy who does all of the things he does at his level. Yet, the trend is clearly in place and I don’t think it’s ending anytime soon. In a very crude sense, as much as we can credit Magic for extending the possibilities for what guys with size can do, we can perhaps begin to credit Draymond for expanding minds as to the lack of ceiling for smaller guys.