Much has changed since Muggsy Bogues last played in the NBA.
After getting picked 12th in the 1987 NBA draft, Bogues spent 10 of his 14 seasons as an original Charlotte Hornet before retiring in 2001. That year, the Los Angeles Lakers won their second of three straight NBA titles and suffered just one loss in the playoffs, not unlike this year’s Golden State Warriors.
Yet those two teams couldn’t be more antithetical, and their differences highlight just how much the game has evolved.
For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant mastered his mid-range game and three-time Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal punished defenders in the post – two areas that have been all but abandoned in today’s NBA. This year’s Finals MVP, Kevin Durant, is nearly as tall as O’Neal but almost 100 pounds lighter, and 190-pound Stephen Curry can connect from anywhere on the court.
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“The way the game is today,” said Bogues, who’s hosting a basketball camp in Matthews this week, “if you can shoot the basketball and you've got that depth, you can pretty much put yourself in the conversation.”
Bogues – who at 5-foot-3 was the shortest player in NBA history – got an early look at Curry, whose father Dell shared the backcourt with Bogues for the same 10-year tenure in Charlotte. While Bogues never expected the younger Curry to become the player he is now, he said he always knew Curry’s basketball IQ and ball handling would help offset his slender frame. His other-worldly shooting range doesn’t hurt, either.
But the success of these Warriors isn’t a condemnation on the style of old athletes, Bogues says. While rangy, versatile shooters such as Durant and Knicks center Kristaps Porzingis represent the revolutionized big man, there’s still room for a traditional force inside.
“It all depends on the athletes,” Bogues said. “It all depends on if the bigger guys come out and they become a Shaquille O'Neal or if they become a Porzingis. ...You don't ever lose sight of those type of players, even though the game has changed.”
There aren’t any O’Neals in this Thursday’s NBA draft, in which Charlotte holds the No. 11 and 31 picks. Bogues has often been disappointed with the Hornets’ draft selections, saying his former team has missed the opportunity to find the right fit within the roster. And after trading for center Dwight Howard on Tuesday night – giving up the team’s best bench shooter, Marco Belinelli, in the process – Bogues thinks the emphasis should be finding a shooting guard to complement All-Star guard Kemba Walker.
This year could be the remedy. Bogues said he thinks this year’s crop of guards is one of the best in recent memory, as five point guards could be selected in the top 10. That bodes well for a Hornets team that desperately needs backcourt depth.
“They're a couple players away,” Bogues said. “And they definitely need a scorer at that two position.”
Bogues said he’s a fan of Kansas point guard Frank Mason, who won the Naismith Award this past season after averaging 20.9 points and shooting 47.1 percent from beyond the arc. Mason worked out with the Hornets and is projected as a second-round pick, and Bogues called him an excellent player. But Bogues said it’d be tough to play the 6-0 guard alongside Walker – who is listed at 6-1 but Bogues doubts is any taller than Mason.
Bogues knows better than anyone the difficulties of playing as a small guard. At 5-3, he averaged 8.8 points per game over 10 seasons with the Hornets but never started all 82 games in a single season. .
In the modern NBA – with constant switching on defense and longer athletes on the perimeter – smaller guards are often relegated to the bench. None of the projected first-round picks in this year’s draft are shorter than 6-3, and every starter in this year’s NBA Finals checked in at 6-3 or taller.
But Bogues said shorter scoring guards, like 5-9 All-Star Isaiah Thomas, can find success in today’s game.
“Absolutely there's still a place for smaller guards,” Bogues said. “This is the time for it, really. You can't hand check, you can get your space wherever you want, plus you can create your own opportunities. But it's about understanding how to run your team, how to make guys around you better (and) at the same time being able to still get yours up.”
Bogues said he didn’t know who the Hornets would take in Thursday’s draft. He doesn’t see any players like O’Neal, Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon walking around today, so whoever Charlotte takes will likely fit the mold of the 2016-17 Warriors more than the 2000-01 Lakers.
But when those types of athletes return, so too will the old-school style of basketball.
“When that era hits again,” Bogues said, “you'll see a change.”
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart