Five years ago, the Golden State Warriors broke the NBA record for wins in a single season when they went 73-9. What made them so special—aside from their ludicrous win streaks and selflessness on the court—was that they had a winning model that wasn't calibrated like many of the dynasties before them.
The Warriors tortured opponents with a lineup that most referred to as "small ball" while select others titled the notorious "death lineup." The San Antonio Spurs were the team other franchises aimed to look like. They'd tell themselves, "If we could just find some similar ingredients, then maybe we can match their recipe." But it's not every day that a Tim Duncan rolls into your franchise. Nor a Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, for that matter—unless you're the 2011 Oklahoma City Thunder. (But that's beside the point.)
What's interesting is that Golden State didn't have a Tim Duncan to throw the ball to in the post when there was four seconds remaining on the shot clock. They didn't have a paint patrolling big man—unless you count Andrew Bogut, who was brilliant in his own right. Golden State had a revitalized version of the seven-second-or-less Phoenix Suns; every basketball nerd's favorite team from the 2000s that never won a championship.
The Suns were the first installment of modern hoops, and they shared a lot in common with that record-breaking Warriors group. Both teams had an offensive rating of 114.5 for their respective seasons (GSW 2015-16 and PHX 2004-05), and it was a result of having so many offensive weapons at their disposal.
Steve Nash was a two-time MVP and one of the most gifted passers the league had ever seen, but he also had the ability to score at the drop of a hat. Stephen Curry will go down in history and always be remembered for his ability to shoot the ball regardless of the situation—catch and shoot, off the dribble, between defenders' outstretched hands—but both his ability to handle the ball like Tim Hardaway and finish at the rim like Rod Strickland is what allowed him to create so much space beyond the arc.
These two small guards ultimately changed the game of basketball. However, they couldn't have done it by themselves. The lost cogs in this conversation of revolutionary teams are two brilliant big men who succeeded in two very different ways: Amar'e Stoudemire and Draymond Green.
Stoudemire was a brilliant do-it-all power forward that could imitate Blake Griffin's posterizing dunks, but also casually drill 20-foot jumpers at the same rate as Kevin Garnett. And Draymond Green was the motor-mouthed kid from Michigan State who had Dennis Rodman's grit, Charles Barkley's attitude, Gary Payton's vocabulary, and 60% of LeBron James' body and passing ability.
The 2004-05 Suns and 2015-16 Warriors were allowed to stand out because Stoudemire and Green had it all. And without anybody realizing it in the moment, they slowly became the prototype for what a modern-day big in the NBA should strive for.
So, my theory is, if you were to combine those two versions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Draymond Green, would there be a better example of a modern big man in this league? The first thing we have to do is look at what made them so special, and then assess a few big men to determine how many of the boxes they check off.
What made Draymond Green so special in 2015-16?
Push the pace. The ability to grab a rebound and go. It's the most pivotal attribute a big man can have today. Grab a rebound on the defensive end, and not having to worry about outfitting it to a guard. Once a player like Draymond gets the board, the shooters know to run to their spots as fast as they can before the defense gets set. Because if they're open, then they know he'll find them in rhythm.
Unique vision. Draymond led Golden State in assists with 7.4 per game.
Intensity. His defensive tenacity was second-to-none, anchoring a defense that finished fifth in defensive rating despite some holes on their roster on that end of the floor.
Spacing. Draymond knocked down threes at nearly a 40% clip this season (38.8% to be exact) and was unselfish enough to sacrifice his own look for a better one via Curry, Thompson or Barnes.
Matchup versatility. The ability to be a chameleon on defense while maintaining that same physical presence has been a luxury in the NBA for decades, regardless of what era. Erik Spoelstra having a super freak in LeBron James at his disposal to throw at guards, forwards, or bigs is a coach's dream. The same can be said for Phil Jackson with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, and of course Steve Kerr with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Dray could switch screens with the best of them and stay with Damian Lillard up top just as well as he could bang down low with Karl Anthony-Towns.
What made Amar'e Stoudemire so special in 2004-05?
Superman ability. You never knew how high Amar'e was going to go, whether you threw him a lob or needed a big time defensive stop.
Takeover time. If Nash wasn't rolling offensively, or if Marion, Barbosa and Diaw weren't knocking down open looks, Phoenix could dump the ball down to Amar'e and tell him to go for 40, and he would.
Glass eating. Both guys averaged right around nine rebounds per game, but Amar'e gave his team roughly three extra possessions each night because of his effort on the glass offensively. He had the ability to read and react where a ball would go from the moment it was headed towards the rim.
Mid-range money. Amar'e was lethal from 10-20 feet, posting a 45% rate from 10-16 feet, and a 46% rate from 16-22 feet. Combine those numbers with a 70% rate within three feet, and you have one of the most impressive scoring power forwards in league history.
Free points. Amar'e got to the line ten times per game this season. He only banked in on those attempts at a 73% clip, but he showcased enough touch around the perimeter to make you believe he was making every one of those free throws when he got to the stripe in the clutch.
The Blender: Bam Adebayo
There's no other modern big that better personifies the fusion of Draymond Green and Amar'e Stoudemire. I mean, even if you were to morph their faces together, I think Bam's a pretty close final result.
Bam erupted onto the scene during the 2019-2020 season where he filled up every statistic imaginable in the box score, and best of all—he did it at a marvelously efficient rate. He's evolved from a standard, undersized Kentucky big man who protected the rim well and caught enough lobs to catch the attention of scouts. He's now morphed into a point-center that takes turns with Jimmy Butler in orchestrating both Miami's half-court offense while being the anchor to their defense that led them to the 2020 NBA Finals.
Adebayo certainly passes the eye test—let's see how he stacks up when he's investigated under the microscope of the Draymond-Stoudemire checklist...
Push the pace: 10/10
Bam may be the best center in the league when it comes to grabbing a board, using a couple of push dribbles to get to an attacking point, and then making a decision with the rock.
Unique vision: 7.5/10
Although he isn't on the same level as Arvydas Sabonis or Nikola Jokic, Bam's only 23 years old and already has stellar vision. It isn't necessarily stunning night-in and night-out, but he has moments that make you believe he went to the LeBron James academy of passing.