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Why post passing is the NBA's next great undervalued skill

In today's changing NBA landscape, versatility is more important than ever and that means rethinking what skills we value where.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Lowe of Grantland put together a great article today about the importance of "playmaking fours", power forwards who are able to not only "stretch" the floor by making threes but also punish defenses by making plays from the post against smaller defenders.

You should read the article in its entirety, but one aspect in particular really stood out in relation to the current Golden State Warriors roster:

Multiple front-office gurus have whispered that post passing might become the NBA’s next great undervalued skill, even as the league appears to veer away from post-ups. "The thing I am sold on completely," Karl says, "is that today, you need as much passing on the court as possible." If Tom Thibodeau–style defenses can strangle one side of the floor, offenses have to swing the ball until they find something good.

Posting up may never again be an efficient direct path to buckets — at least for everyone outside the rare truly gifted post scorers. But as an indirect draw-and-kick strategy, it can be as deadly as anything else.

That post passing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The more shooting around a post-up threat, the clearer the passing lanes get.

Warriors Swiss Army knife Draymond Green was the logical centerpiece of this article with some great quotes about how he reads smaller defenders on him. Harrison Barnes, who the Warriors use as more of a "stretch four" than "playmaking four" also got a mention as well as Klay Thompson — even if they're not exactly the post playmakers that Green is, their ability to make things happen when smaller players switch on to them is valuable in putting pressure on defenses.

Yet a player who was not mention and perhaps should have been given that Lowe was talking about posting up generally and not just "playmaking fours" is the value of a player like Shaun Livingston to the Warriors. Normally thought of as a player who can defend bigger guards while taking ball handling pressure off Stephen Curry, Lowe's piece also highlights the value of Livingston's ability to make plays from the post with shooters around him.

Just as the goal of any defense should be to make the offensive team uncomfortable in order to lower their efficiency, the goal of a good offense should be to keep the defense off balance in order to force them into difficult choices. On either end, being able to exploit an opponent's weaknesses -- whether a smaller guard on Livingston or leaving Tony Allen open --  is a major asset and the more ways you can do so, the better.

The key term that Lowe sort of talks around in this piece is "versatility", but I think the omission is actually helpful in a way: traditional notions of versatility in basketball tend to focus on who is capable of doing what. Lowe is pushing us to think about who is capable of doing what where, which is a bit of a shift in thinking that is more easily quantifiable than ever before due to the advancements in analytics. In turn, we get a situation where the balance of dominant individual play and complementary team play is shifting as well (with the aid of the league's rules changes).

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