When the Warriors popularized their modern iteration of small ball during the 2015 NBA Finals, they did so by playing big despite going small thanks to Draymond Green. The 6-7 poster child for second-round steals in the NBA Draft allowed the Warriors to reap the rewards of a five-out offense without sacrificing much defensively despite his short stature.
It’s a dream that’s proven nearly impossible to replicate. There are, after all, fewer than a handful of players in the NBA who can do what Green does. However, as Golden State continues to thrive, especially after swapping Harrison Barnes for Kevin Durant, a new archetype is giving hope to other NBA franchises that they may be able to figure out a similar formula.
Teams are seeking out frontcourt players who allow them to play small while staying big. Where Green’s uniqueness shines most noticeably on defense, 7-footers like Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid have evolved their offensive games to become as threatening on the perimeter as they are in the post while acting as rim protectors defensively. In turn, they’ve been dubbed "unicorns."
Of course, that simplifies things a bit. The most unicorn of unicorns do more than shoot 3-pointers and block shots. They defend on the perimeter, make plays off the bounce and dominate opponents in the post. But there are still more potential unicorns than Draymonds, and the 2018 NBA Draft is proof.
This class features its fair share of theoretical unicorns at the top of the projected lottery. There’s Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, a 7-footer with a Karl-Anthony Towns-esque offensive game who still needs to find his footing defensively, but with all the physical tools to do so. There’s also Texas’s Mohamed Bamba. His combination of a 7-9 wingspan, agile feet and intriguing shooting touch could turn him into something special if it ever comes together. Think Rudy Gobert with a 3-point shot.
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