We have talked a lot about “positionless” basketball here at the Upside Review. It’s that buzz term that the media loves throwing around even if it’s a little misleading. Positionless makes it seem as if the players have no position, when it’s just the opposite. Positionless basketball occurs when a team has a bunch of players who can play a bunch of positions.
Taking a look at SMU’s 2015-16 roster and you’ll see that there are clear positions, mostly because of their point guard situation. Nic Moore, who was the heart and soul of that team could only play 1 position, point guard.
If Nic Moore was in the game, he had to be the point guard because of his size. There was no way around it. And Nic played most of the game, so there were was not much in the way of variety of looks for the Mustangs.
Fast forward 1 season, and it looks a little different.
While Shake Milton spends most of his time as the de facto point guard, his size allowed Tim Jankovich to be a little more creative and experimental with his lineups. And if you watched any games, you know that Shake played off the ball at certain points so the team could take advantage of his ability to score. Sterling Brown shows up in the PG, SF and PF columns. Jarrey Foster gets listed in the SG, SF and PF columns. Semi Ojeleye spends time as a SF, PF and C. Ben Emelogu is a little bit of a slacker and is only a SG and SF. This team went 30-5, which we are pretty sure any coach would sign on for any day of the week. AND, both Semi Ojeleye and Sterling Brown are finding minutes for playoff contenders as rookies.
Let’s take a peak at this year’s lineups to see what they are up to.
In the PG column, we have Jimmy Whitt and Jahmal McMurray…I’d argue that Shake still sees possessions at the PG spot as well. Interestingly enough, all 3 of those guys are listed in the SG column. And Shake has minutes as an SF as well. Jarrey Foster is up to his normal SF, PF and now added in some C minutes. Meaning he’s played SG-C so far in college. Ben Emelogu has settled in at the SF, PF range but he’ll defend anywhere from PG to C.
Clearly the Mustangs have embraced this style of play. In games, they’ll play man and zone depending on what will give them their best advantage. In the 2016-17 campaign when they relied on 6 players most games, they played a lot of zone. This year, they are playing 7 so they can go for stretches in man. Keep in mind, they are doing this amidst the repercussions from a recruiting issue that limits their total scholarship players through the 2019 season. That brings out the question of whether this style was born out of necessity (The Mother Of All Inventions) or preference. The answer to that question, more importantly, doesn’t matter. What we have seen is that teams can succeed with a group of similar sized players, that can all dribble, pass and shoot. As shown below, everyone that steps onto the floor has the ability to shoot from the 3PT line, and many of them are sniper-level…especially Emelogu, who has that red #1 underneath his 60.6% from 3PT so far. That means if he shoots 3-5 from 3PT next game, his season percentage will go down.
A lot of the trends in basketball start at the grassroots level. And they work its way up as those players progress in age. I think we can comfortably say that “positionless basketball” has reached the tipping point and the early adopters/innovators will not be alone in deploying these types of lineups in the near future.