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“They would’ve struggled going up against Gary Payton or Michael Jordan” - Theo Ratliff on today’s scoring point guards

By John Jefferson Tan,


Theo thinks the softer, wider era of the game is way easier to comprehend.

Gary Payton and Michael Jordan

© RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports © Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The point guard’s role has drastically changed over the years. Back then, they were mostly playmakers, but nowadays, guys like Steph Curry , Trae Young, and Damian Lillard score almost half of their team’s points on a regular basis.

For three-time blocks champion Theo Ratliff, the rise of these scoring point guards is good for the game for a lot of reasons, but he’s also certain they wouldn’t have dominated the game if they played against Michael Jordan and Gary Payton, the pair of backcourts who at one point, were the two best two-way guards in the league.

“It makes the offense look great and you can have really small guys like Trae Young and Kemba Walker and some of the other guards you see. But back in the day, they would’ve struggled going up against Gary Payton or Michael Jordan, you know what I mean? Those guys were guarding point guards back in the day and you could hit guys a lot more,” Ratliff told HoopsHype in 2020.

No fun for bruisers

Ratliff played in an era where defense wasn’t defense without a little physicality. And for those who didn’t know, Ratliff was one of those guys who made scorers earn every bucket. He acknowledged the fact that scorers have taken their game to the next level, and defenders have gone way more lenient these days. However, Ratliff also made it a point to always remind these youngsters how soft they are compared to them whenever he gets the chance.

“I think the game has definitely changed. Back in my day, everything was kind of based on the big man being dominant in the post. With the evolution of analytics and their calculations that have people shooting more three-pointers and more layups and not really focusing on their mid-range game or post-ups, it has really changed the game. Plus, you have so much more open space now and you can’t armbar guys, you can’t check guys who are coming down the middle and different things of that nature. It opens up the lanes so much because they’re taking so much away as far as what the defense can do,” Ratliff pointed out.

He continued, “I tell these guys all the time: It was against the law if you didn’t throw an elbow before you went to get a rebound. (laughs) Now, if you throw an elbow, you get kicked out immediately.”

It made the game easier to understand

On the bigger picture, Ratliff reckoned that even though the physicality is gone, more people appreciate the game these days because it became easier to understand.

“It’s so different, just the physicality of the game. But it has opened it up and it’s made it a lot easier for a lot of the common people to understand and see the game a lot better, even if it doesn’t get as physical,” he concluded.

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