The NBA has seen a complete overhaul over the past two decades, the league’s talent going from center-dominant throughout the late ’80s and into the ’90s to a new breed of players in today’s game. The point guard is now the league’s deepest position. Point guards are faster, stronger and more athletic, making them harder for other teams to defend while making them easy for NBA franchises to build around.
The NBA has had its share of changes during those years, from rules to playing style and even to a new commissioner coming in 2014. But the one thing that stands out like a sore thumb between the 1990s and now is the style of play.
The NBA was much more physical 20 years ago. Their was hand checking, and hard fouls were relatively common, which made it more difficult for smaller players to create offense close to the basket in fear of players such as Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo. They were ruthless defensive players who made it known no basket would come easy.
So let’s ask this question: what players from the current NBA would be able to take their talents back to the ’90s and still be a governing factor? It’s a tough question. We are talking about the Michael Jordan era. Things were gritty and only the strong survived. Here’s a list of 10 NBA players in today’s game who would still be dominant players in the 1990s.
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Dwight Howard had a subpar season last year in Los Angeles, crippled by drama, injury and coaching. Many have forgotten the defensive juggernaut Howard is to this generation: a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time All-Defensive First Team and seven-time All-Star. Oh, and if this sounds like the résumé of a player rounding up their tenure in the NBA, Superman is only 27 years old.
Howard would comfortably fit in the ’90s on any given night. He is a defense-first player, as many big men back then were, and he could score regularly on anyone. The one element that would put Dwight over the top as a dominant force is his superior athleticism. Howard is a physical specimen at 6-11. We have seen him win over the crowd in dunk contests and regularly posterize opponents in games. It wouldn’t be surprising if defenders of the ’90s actually had a harder time stopping an athletic Howard, who thrives on alley-oops and high percentage dunks under the basket. His strength goes unmatched in both eras and without the flopping of today’s game, he’d be able to use it more often. I don’t see Howard having any problem on either end of the court in the 1990s.
When talking about game-changers, Dirk is one of the first players that comes to mind. Coming into the league at the turn of the millennium, Nowitzki turned the league upside down as an able perimeter shooter while standing 7-0. His nimble footwork in the midrange area is unmatched, and his ability to stretch the floor wrote the guidelines for the small ball era we are currently in. During his prime (mid-late ’00s), Dirk was nothing short of 25 points and nine rebounds per night, and could take his defender anywhere on the court and score.
What makes Dirk such an interesting — and malleable — talent is really the same reason he is still a dominant scorer now: taking slower-footed big men off the dribble and pulling up. Playing in a time of traditional big men who weren’t game-changers from 15 feet out, players like Nowitzki did come every once in a while, but never touched the skill-set he possesses. Place Dirk in almost any era and he would be an almost unstoppable offensive force. Being able to come at you in so many ways would make him one of the most gifted offensive big men in the ’90s.