Every NBA Team Needs A Teen Wolf
Superstars are exciting to hunt. But NBA Teams that find themselves a "Teen Wolf" are the real alphas.
Every NBA team needs one of them.
But it’s not always in the version you might expect. The game of basketball continues to evolve, and with that evolution comes a desire for unique weapons.
We’ve seen the game transform over time. Suddenly playmakers can come in all shapes and sizes. The principle of being “positionless” has become a rallying call for the modern age of hoops. It seems as if we were finding a unicorn when a player had the ability to defend multiple positions at a high level on the court.
Fast forward to today, and the unicorn terminology has lost its uniqueness. The game has changed; there’s no doubt about that. Even prospects that we scout have suddenly carried these higher expectations. With a new era of athletes comes a new prerequisite of skills. But what if we aren’t focusing on the bigger picture here? Sure, it’s always sexy when you can draft a young talent that has the upside to be a 20-point-per-game scorer. But is taking that swing what every franchise always needs?
If you’ve gotten to know me over the years, you should know I’m a movie buff—especially when it comes to the old-school films. If you read this title and thought I was going to talk about a TV Show, please exit now and go watch the actual film first.
Jokes aside, let me hit you with some background before we go deep into the abyss. In 1985, Michael J Fox starred in a film called “Teen Wolf.” It’s won Academy Awards for the best film ever made of all time. Okay, stay with me. I’ll try to keep the bad jokes to a minimum. Teen Wolf focuses on a young high school student who suddenly has his life change when he realizes he’s a werewolf.
So how does this tie into basketball? I thought you’d never ask.
The movie starts out with the audience discovering that Scott Howard, aka Michael J. Fox, is the team’s starting point guard. To say that Scott Howard is a below-average floor general would be an understatement. The rest of his team isn’t anything to brag about as well.
In fact, the “Beavers” starting center is nicknamed “Chubby” and is listed at 5’7” and most likely over 250 pounds. The Beavers go on to lose their opening game of the season by a score of 71-12 and Howard looks to have the potential to have the worst turnover-to-assist ratio in the history of the sport.
But throughout the movie, something happens. Howard starts to realize he’s quickly becoming a werewolf. He’s done everything in his power to prevent this from happening in front of his friends, but it’s inevitable. In the middle of a game, Howard dives for a loose ball (respect) before a pile-up sees him come out as the full entire werewolf.
From there, he goes on to basically look like LeBron James in his prime playing against a bunch of middle school benchwarmers. The “Wolf” starts to become a superstar sensation and the Beavers cannot lose. He’s quickly turned the team into a title contender. But something isn’t right, as the team chemistry couldn’t be worse. The Wolf has become a dominant player, but he’s also become an incredible ball hog.
Fast forward to the championship game and Howard decides not to be the wolf. The Beavers go on to play one of their best games of the entire season. While Howard decided against becoming a human-wolf hybrid on the hardwood, he had become the “Teen Wolf” the team needed. Howard goes on to inject confidence in his entire team. Players start making shots that are absolutely unheard of. “Chubby” starts chucking hook shots from the top of the key and hitting nothing but net.
Howard suddenly looks like John Stockton throwing out dimes and making high basketball IQ plays. The team chemistry couldn’t be higher and the entire team is firing on all cylinders. I’ll allow a spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it (the end of the movie involves one of the most absurd sequences in basketball history.)
I said it to start this piece and I’ll repeat it again. Every NBA team needs one of them. Every roster is hungry to find a “Teen Wolf” to take them to the next platform of contention. It’s the ability of a player to understand what is asked of them in the situation and adapt. Sure, they can score 30 points a game if that’s required. But what if that’s not what the team needs on that night? What if the team is struggling to rebound the basketball? Can that player take over that aspect of the game?
A true superstar is a player who can do whatever role is asked of them and take their team to the next platform due to their play. That can be in scoring, playmaking, defense, chemistry, etc. Great players know their roster and find ways to bring out the best in each individual. While they have the ability to be a superstar, it’s not always what is best for the team. It’s the understanding of situations. The realization that unselfish play can paint a bigger picture when it comes to long-term goals.
Want some examples? Sure, let’s dance.
The “Black Mamba” was one of the most competitive all-time players in the game of basketball. Make no mistake about it, Kobe is up there when it comes to some of the top players to ever lace ’em up. But there were also two various versions of Bryant on the basketball court.
Kobe had the ability to grab a basketball and say “just hold on we’re going home.” If you need any proof? Just ask Jalen Rose. But there was also another version of Kobe that was remarkable as a basketball superstar. Kobe was a dominant defender, as proved by his 12-time all-defensive team acknowledgment. In two of his best statistical seasons, Kobe went on to 35.4 and 31.6 points per game.
During those same two seasons, the Lakers went on to become a first-round exit. In the following years, after adding more talent to the roster, Los Angeles became a juggernaut, making the Finals in back-to-back seasons before splitting with the Boston Celtics.
Notice the major differences below.
33.5 PTS | 5.5 REB | 4.9 AST | 1.6 STL
45.6 FG% | 34.6 3P% | 25.0 FGA | 5.8 3PA
27.6 PTS | 5.8 REB | 5.1 AST | 1.7 STL
46.3 FG% | 35.7 3P% | 20.7 FGA | 4.6 3PA
Do we think that Kobe Bryant could have averaged over 30 a game during that span? Yes, probably easily. Did he need to in order to carry his team? Not necessarily. The important thing with potential championship teams is finding players that understand that sacrificing can be for the greater good.
If you sacrifice shots, it can unlock confidence with teammates. That, in theory, could prove to be valuable when you’re battling in the trenches of a seven-game playoff series. Bryant knew that he didn’t always have to carry the load every second. In order to make his team the best, he had to adapt to the situation evolving during every game.
If you think I wouldn’t take any potential opportunity to highlight “The Worm” then you must not know me at all. If any player would be considered a potential “Teen Wolf” it’s Dennis Rodman.
Rodman is best known for his antics off the court, but on the court, he was nothing short of spectacular. As a young talent coming up in the league with the Detroit Pistons, Rodman was the birth of the unicorn—an athletic forward who played like every possession was his last and had the ability to guard pretty much every position that was imaginable.
The Worm would eventually join the Chicago Bulls and become one of the most underrated pieces to their championship run. Rodman was a master of adapting to whatever role was asked of him. With the Pistons he was asked to provide energy and defensive dominance. With the Bulls, he was required to clean up the dirty work on the boards.
Fun fact about Dennis Rodman. Over the course of seven seasons, he went on to average 16.7 rebounds per game. His best statistical season on the glass was with Detroit in 1991-92 when he averaged 18.7 per game. Please read that last sentence again. The dude was an actual wolf on the basketball court.
Do people realize how dominant Indiana Pacers Ron Artest was? That player was the definition of a potential “Teen Wolf.” After being acquired in a trade from the Chicago Bulls, Artest started to become a dominant force with the Indiana Pacers.
He was an absolute juggernaut as a defensive player. Artest understood that he could produce offensively on a regular basis. But in order to potentially get the Pacers to the next level, he could leave his mark on the defensive side of the ball. He quickly became one of the most dominant weapons as a defender in the entire league. Eventually, Artest would go on to make his one and only All-Star team during the 2003-04 season.
That season saw him average 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. Artest wasn’t just a good defender that year. In fact, over the span of his first eight seasons in the NBA, Artest went on to average 2.1 steals per game. That was until the “Malice at the Palace” in which Artest became an actual Teen Wolf for the wrong reasons.
It’s hard not to appreciate how brilliant Draymond Green has been with the Golden State Warriors throughout his career. The truth is that Draymond was high on the “Teen Wolf” scale ever since his senior season at Michigan State.
During that season, Green averaged 16.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Fast forward to the 2012 NBA draft and Draymond went on to be the 35th overall selection.
It didn’t take long before the Warriors realized that they had something special waiting in the wings. By his third season in the NBA, Green became a valuable asset to the Dubs. He went on to average 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. A year later, Green made his first All-Star team.
Draymond has been everything that is crucial when it comes to finding a potential “glue guy.” Not only has he thrived in the role asked of him, but he’s also done what was required to have his team firing on all cylinders. Realizing he didn’t need to carry the load offensively, Green went on to become one of the most respected defensive assets in the league and has been the heart and soul of the Warriors.
If you’re talking about a potential “poster child” for the idea of a “Teen Wolf” then look no further than Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart. The 28-year-old guard has done everything in his power to adapt to whatever role is required of him throughout his career.
When Smart was injected as the team’s starting point guard last season, there were plenty that doubted the idea. Smart went on to have one of his best seasons to date, averaging 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game.
It’s not just about what you do in the box score as a potential tone-setter. It’s what you do throughout the game. These players are what NBA franchises drool for. They are the ones that consistently make plays throughout the game that don’t show up on the stats sheet. It could be a hustle play that swings the momentum of a game. It can be coming in and making a big shot to stop the bleeding. Every little detail they can provide on the court is suddenly magnified due to their presence on the floor.
The idea of a “Teen Wolf” can go even deeper than the spotlight might suggest. Teams are hungry to find these players. If you’re a fan of an opposing team, you consistently find yourself saying “gosh, I wish we had a guy like that.”
Insert former NBA veteran Shane Battier. Throughout his 13-year career, Battier had a number of different stops in the NBA. What’s even more remarkable is that he only averaged north of 10 points per game three times during his career. Battier was always viewed as the missing piece, the one asset a roster needed to get over the hump.
Throughout his carer, Battier won two NBA Championships, and also made two All-Defensive teams. His basketball IQ and defensive ability were the reasons why franchises are always looking for the missing piece of the puzzle that can make their rotation take leaps forward.
While you might find yourself surprised to see Jae Crowder on the list of notable “Teen Wolf” candidates, allow me to explain. The idea of a Teen Wolf is someone who knows how to inject life into a team. Regardless of their statistical impact on a roster, they know how to get results.
That’s just what Jae Crowder has done throughout his career. It seems as if every team that Crowder joins makes the playoffs. Don’t believe me? Well, here are some facts.
Throughout his 10-year career, Crowder has made the NBA playoffs nine times. He’s played in a total of 107 games in the playoffs throughout his career. To make it more impressive, that’s come with five different franchises. Not bad for a former 34th overall selection.
Crowder has been a player that knows how to inject nastiness into a roster. He’s a physical defensive player who plays the game with determination and grit. He understands the role that is asked of him in every situation and thrives at it.
This just felt wrong if I didn’t give some love to Patrick Beverley. While there are plenty of fans out there that just simply cannot stand Beverley, there are also plenty that wishes their team had a guy like this.
Beverley thrives when the spotlight is the biggest. He’s an instigator, as he knows how to mess with the mentality of opponents. Sure, it might rub everyone the wrong way. But that’s just what he needs to do in order to make his impact for his team. Like Scott Howard diving for a loose ball to receive superpowers, Beverley levels up when he gets inside the head of an opponent.
For a player that was once clawing his way to make an NBA roster, Beverley has found himself in the league for over 10 years of service.
Every NBA organization is always hunting for that asset that can help them take the next step toward contention. While it’s always exciting to hunt superstars, the truth is that those superstar types of assets can shift the entire magnitude of a roster. It doesn’t always need to be an offensive weapon. It doesn’t always need to be the player that is inserted into the starting lineup every night. Sometimes it just takes the right piece to establish himself as the heart and soul of a team.
Some might call it the “glue guy.” Myself?
I like to think of it as a Teen Wolf.