Breaking Down the NBA’s Young Big Man Revolution

The NBA is in the midst of a big man revolution and comeback, not the downfall of the traditional big man.

Over the past several seasons, the NBA has seen a huge increase in the amount of very good and young point guards. In fact, the point guard position has become so stacked recently that only 16 point guards were taken in the first rounds of the last three drafts combined.

Compare that to big men, who are always highly coveted in the draft but who always seem to take a few years to develop before turning into (or not turning into) a solid player, or even a star in the league.

With the league also going smaller, the value of big men in general has really dropped over the last few years, and discussion has started as to whether the NBA big man is a dying breed.

However, with Karl-Anthony Towns dominating as a rookie and running away with the Rookie of the Year award, the big man could actually be in the midst of a comeback.

While teams going smaller is a trend here to stay, this year’s crop of rookie big men seems to be starting (or continuing) the trend of athletic and versatile big men once again making their mark on the league.

This year’s class of young big men are already putting up very good raw and efficiency numbers as rookies, and it could be one of the best big man classes the league has seen in a very long time.

Karl-Anthony Towns' Historic Season

Towns’ season has been nothing short of amazing. He will almost surely be the Rookie of the Year, barring a huge regression in the second half of the season, and he is currently on pace to have one of, if not the best rookie season of any player in the last 18 seasons, per our nERD metric, which indicates a player's contributions to his team based on efficiency.

The league average is zero, and the ranking estimates how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would be with that particular player as a starter.

Player's Rookie Season nERD
Chris Paul (05-06) 8.4
Yao Ming (02-03) 7.5
Karl-Anthony Towns (15-16) 7.5*
Andrei Kirilenko (01-02) 6.9
Blake Griffin (10-11) 6.4
Kawhi Leonard (11-12) 6.3

As you can see, if Towns continues his current nERD rating throughout the rest of the season, he will finish with the second best rookie season ever behind only Chris Paul and he will be tied with Yao Ming as the best season by a rookie big man in the last 18 seasons.

Keeping in mind Ming was a rookie at age 22, whereas Towns is currently a full two years younger, and you can see how high Towns’ ceiling can be if he avoids debilitating injuries that a lot of big men face at some point in their careers.

Other Rookie Bigs Showing Off

Towns is not the only rookie big man putting up very good nERD ratings in his first season. Nikola Jokic, Willie Cauley-Stein and Myles Turner have also been putting up great numbers for their teams, and while Caulie-Stein and Turner dealt with injuries in the first half of the season, that has not stopped them from coming back and helping their teams.

Rookie Big Men nERD
Yao Ming (02-03) 7.5
Karl-Anthony Towns (15-16) 7.5*
Andrei Kirilenko (01-02) 6.9
Blake Griffin (10-11) 6.4
Kenneth Faried (11-12) 6.2
Nikola Jokic (15-16) 5.7*
Anthony Davis (12-13) 4.8
Mason Plumlee (13-14) 4.5
Andre Drummond (12-13) 4.2
Greg Oden (08-09) 3.9

If Turner (2.0) and Stein (2.2) can improve on their nERD numbers throughout the second half, they will threaten some other very good seasons by rookie big men and could make their way into the top 10 nERD rankings for rookie big men over the last 18 seasons. Jokic is already there with a nERD of 5.7, and if he continues that throughout the last half of the season, he will have had a better rookie year than star bigs who had huge rookie seasons like Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.

The league has not seen even two rookie big men finish the year with above average nERD rankings since the 2012-13 season when Drummond and Davis did it and never has the league seen four rookie big men from the same draft class finish with nERD rankings of 2.0 or better.

Turner is especially intriguing considering he is only 19 years-old, which currently puts him just outside of the top five nERD rankings from any 19 year-old big man in their rookie season.

19 Year-Old Rookie Big Men nERD
Anthony Davis (12-13) 4.8
Andre Drummond (12-13) 4.2
Dwight Howard (04-05) 3.6
Thaddeus Young (07-08) 2.8
Chris Bosh (03-04) 2.4
Myles Turner (15-16) 2.0

Big Men 25 Or Younger

Not only have rookie big men been having great seasons so far, but big men 25 years old or younger have really started to thrive as well, which could be a sign that the big man isn’t a dying breed in the NBA but rather a position that is going through a comeback right now.

Among the top 50 players inside our current 2015-2016 nERD rankings, nine of them are big men who are 25 years old or younger.

Young Big Men Currently Inside nERD Top 50 nERD
Draymond Green 11.5
Enes Kanter  8.7
Karl-Anthony Towns  7.5
Tristan Thompson 7.4
Anthony Davis  6.7
Greg Monroe  6.1
Rudy Gobert  6.1
Jonas Valanciunas  5.8
Nikola Jokic  5.7

On top of the solid seasons from the young bigs, other than Draymond Green, all eight of the other players are pretty much classic centers. Plus, despite the down seasons from the likes of the Pelicans and Bucks, the teams these nine players play for have a combined winning percentage of more than 56 percent.

While the days of playing a traditional power forward may be over, by no means is the big man disappearing from today’s NBA. In fact the big man revolution may be just beginning (again).