The Importance of Malleability
Team building is extremely difficult in practice, but players who are highly malleable make it much easier.
One of the most interesting aspects of basketball is the different identities that teams and eras have. There are always different trends with team building ranging from having a “Big 3” to a heliocentric approach to having depth and competency across the board. One thing that has remained constant, though, is that all the pieces need to work together. The concept of malleability is typically reserved for role players and how they fit around stars. With players almost universally becoming more skilled and versatile, though, finding franchise players who can adapt and mold their games to better fit those around them is just as important. Through their versatility, sense of team basketball, and willingness to sacrifice, Brandon Miller, Jarace Walker, and Colby Jones are three of the most malleable players in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Building a title contender is extremely difficult. So, when teams can get a player who is not only as skilled but also as malleable as Kevin Durant, they do whatever it takes. Durant is clearly an outlier in this realm and one of the best players of all time. The point isn’t to highlight any of the below players as the “next Kevin Durant” because that’s absurd. The point is that Durant could be the sign of things to come when looking at team building.
The benefit of malleable players is that they don’t require systematic overhauls. Instead, they are more easily placed into an existing ecosystem that they can then elevate. When their shot isn’t falling, they impact the game with their passing, defense, and/or rebounding. They can create for themselves, set up teammates, and find overall team success in the flow of an offense. They have the requisite skills and abilities of superstars, but in essence, they operate as elite role players.
When looking at this draft class, there are malleable players throughout. With young players at the top of the draft, the tendency is that teams have to build around their specific skill set. Given the investment in these players, that approach makes sense to some level, but it also tends to limit the directions teams can go in. This draft is littered with prospects who can provide teams with an uncommon level of versatility in terms of team building.
At the top of the draft, players like Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, and Jarace Walker are the epitome of this mindset. Currently, they are known for a specific skill, but all have a history of doing so much more. Henderson is the closest thing we’ve seen to a pure point guard at the top of the draft in some time. He effortlessly runs the offense, scores in a myriad of ways, and is the best playmaker in the class. He also consistently plays off-ball with his cutting and willingness to screen, along with playing competitive defense. Even when his shot isn’t falling, Henderson finds a way to create for his teammates and impact the game in different ways.
Miller is known for his shooting, but he’s so much more. With elite shooters, the question is always this: what do they do when the shot isn’t falling? Well, Miller had a bunch of games this season where the shot wasn’t falling, but he always left an imprint on the game. He either set up teammates with his passing, grabbed double-digit rebounds, or lived at the free-throw line. Miller played both on and off ball with great success, and he found joy in creating for his teammates. At the next level, the hope is that Miller can turn into a superstar, but there isn’t a specific way he has to be used to reach that ceiling.
With Walker, the selling point is his defensive versatility, and as we all know, defense travels. For some reason, though, there are major concerns and questions about his offense. Those concerns are understandable to an extent, but they also completely ignore what Walker did in high school at a top-tier program and what he was allowed to do at Houston. Walker is a brilliant passer, has intriguing scoring touch, and is a dynamic driver. He rarely ever plays outside of himself, and as the jumper continues to improve, his offensive impact could be astronomical. Given his selflessness and all-around versatility, Walker has the foundation to elevate whatever situation he’s drafted into.
Having this much versatility and malleability at the top of the draft is rare. Even as we move further down boards, there is still plenty to love. Players like Kobe Bufkin, Colby Jones, and Julian Strawther all offer a similar brand of versatility. They have experience stepping up into bigger roles, being a tertiary offensive piece, and playing all-around defense. When one of their abilities is going through a rough game, they have backup plans available to ensure that they still impact the game.
Building a championship, let alone a competent, NBA team is extremely difficult. As players continue to get bigger, faster, stronger, and more versatile, the importance of malleability will only increase. Having the ability to change and adapt to the current situation is now just as important for the number one option as the tenth. It allows the scheme to thrive and everyone on the court to be better. Be flexible, be versatile, and as Bruce Lee said, “Be water, my friend.”