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Vintage NBA vs. The Current Day: Who is Better?

Is the NBA's talent better today than in decade past?

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Home » blog » basketball » NBA » Vintage NBA vs. The Current Day: Who is Better?

Estimated reading time: 19 minutes

The Old NBA vs the New NBA. Vintage NBA vs the Current day, however you say it, it comes down to who is better. It is impossible to gather information by looking at statistics because of the rule changes the NBA has made.

Anyone who thinks they can get a absolute answer to the old NBA vs the new NBA question by comparing stats is using impertinent methods to solve the question at hand.

just stats

Is the NBA more talented today? Many NBA fans today think the league today is superior to the talent of the vintage NBA. They look at statistics like how current teams score more points than teams scored in the ’90’s. Is today’s NBA really superior to the vintage NBA?

Vintage NBA vs. The Current Day2020-21 NBA superstars, the old NBA vs the new NBA

More scoring, more talent?

There are many fans who feel qualified to discuss the history of the NBA, even though their knowledge doesn’t go beyond the past decade.

They use stats as a filler to cover for the five decades that they have no right to give an opinion on. The old games are very accessible in todays data driven world. Vintage NBA games can be found on YouTube easily.

How can anyone talk about things they really don’t know about? If you want to compare teams and players from the past, go put in the work. I can talk on the old NBA vs the New NBA, I’ve done my homework.

Know both sides of the story. Build your opinions upon a solid foundation. You can’t watch the NBA now and use stats to cover everything that came before.

Here’s some reasons why on paper it looks like the current teams are better than the vintage NBA of decades past.

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Steph Curry's body language is a downer on the court

Hand-checking was eliminated from the game before the 2004-05 season. This had a massive effect immediately. The game was vastly changed.

There are people who think Warriors point guard Steph Curry choked in a couple of NBA Finals appearances because his offensive output wasn’t the same as it had been in the regular season.

What I saw was a worn down player affected by the NBA’s grind.

Curry plays in an era without hand checking, this leads me to surmise that he wouldn’t be the same player if he was playing vintage NBA basketball.

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02/18/2024 06:13 am GMT

Reggie talks facts from experience

Not Literal

Reggie Miller’s comments about him averaging 45 points a game weren’t realistic. Miller was a pure shooter. A pure jump shooter isn’t capable of averaging 45 points-per-game. I was watching when he said it live. I don’t think when he said it, he meant it literally.

Reggie was just trying to point out how much easier it is today for an offensive player than when he played. He was describing what it would’ve been like if he didn’t have to fight off defenders before he got the ball and how much easier it would have been if defenders were unable to put hands on him after he got the ball.

It wouldn’t just be simpler to get a quality look at the net but much less tiring and taxing on the shooter.

Many high draft picks, who were considered busts in their era, would have been the stars they were thought to have been if they played today. They would have had free range, unlike in the vintage NBA, where they had to fight to get freed up.

If anyone reading this doesn’t agree, just go and watch some NBA games from the past. If you still don’t see it, give up or I could break down how to evaluate basketball for you. Just reach out and we’ll figure out how much my time and knowledge is worth.

I understand some of you think you know the answers to the old NBA vs the new NBA question but if your shaking your head to what I’ve said so far, I guarantee you can’t evaluate talent like me or have the historical knowledge I possess. If you did you would have a much different take on the old NBA vs the new NBA.


Packers vs. Seahawks pre-snap

The only thing I can think to liken this to is the line of scrimmage in football, pre-snap.

If the NFL changed the rules, stating the defense must now line up two or three yards deeper from the ball, it would change everything.

Teams would run the ball a lot more. It would allow the offensive line to always make first contact on running plays.

The defensive line would never be able to get leverage. Not to mention the back would be able to get to full speed every play.

The way defense is played would be altered. You’d have defensive lineman instead of trying to initiate contact, they would avoid it, hoping to catch the back running through the hole. Many defensive lineman would be replaced most likely by linebackers and safeties.

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Adam Silver’s Rule Changes

The Hand-checking rule changed the game. A few years prior to that, the NBA introduced the defensive 3 second rule. This rule also affected the play of the game.

Then before the 2018-19 season, NBA commissioner Adam Silver passed more rule changes. The biggest change was he told the refs to call more touch fouls. It was more of an order than a rule. He wanted less contact, more touch fouls and he wanted them called consistently. This was not the vintage NBA.

Personally, I don’t mind the change. It doesn’t change the essence of the game in the same way that the lack of being able to separate the ball from a receiver does in football. This destroyed the NFL at its essence.

The NBA is just soft now. Really soft. It’s the old NBA vs the NEW Charmin soft NBA. If Kobe Bryant were still here he’d tell you, like he told Jeremy Lin and Nick Young.

today a major difference in the old NBA vs the new NBA war is softness

What I do find problematic

What I do find problematic is the fans on social media, who have this need to compare the different decades to each another. Wait, I screwed up, they want to compare the NBA’s current players to the decades of the past. NEWSFLASH, it’s always today’s talent that wins out against the vintage NBA.

Not only does it seem that these fans are of a hive mentality, but they’re very lazy. They look at only statistics as their barometer of reasoning. This leads to skewed opinions. Nothing but misinformation, pure idiocy.


People, the NBA changed its rules in an attempt to increase scoring. Guess what, it worked as designed and planned. When you look at higher scoring games today, it isn’t because the players are better.

If people watched these old games, they’d know this. If you watched the games and still held the same opinion, you’d have better reasoning than just more points = better talent. I personally would respect that. I’d disagree but I’d respect it.

I refuse to respect people who pretend to be experts but their knowledge only encompasses half of the required information available to be able to make an educated opinion.

When I was young I enjoyed watching the vintage NBA games. The only people out there who have watched as much film as I have are coaches.

The ones who know every team, from every season, going back to the early ’70’s. I didn’t do it to be a know-it-all. It’s what I enjoyed doing in my free time. I started out watching games like Lakers vs Celtics in the 80’s.

Next thing I know I’m studying teams like the Kings with Phil Ford and Otis Birdsong.

Stretching the floor

Today a lot of bigs in the NBA can stretch the floor. This means the power-forwards and centers can shoot three pointers, making the opponent come out to the three-point line to guard them. This opens up the lane, amongst other things like spreading the floor.

A common misconception is that this makes today’s players better and more talented than players from the past. It’s true the legends of the game’s past didn’t shoot from beyond the arc much, the game was played differently back then.

Hakeem Olajuwon taking a jumper over Pat Ewing.Vintage NBA, 1994 Finals

Let’s use the ’90’s as an example, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, these players had more physical talent than anyone today except maybe Anthony Davis.

They were already jump shooters, they just weren’t taking it out beyond the 3-point line. They were defending the rim.

Charles Barkley was already shooting three’s and if the game was the way it is today, these players would be stretching the floor too.

Defensively these players wouldn’t have had any trouble guarding the stretched floor either.

I think many of today’s players and fans would be shocked at how fast they’d move from the paint to the 3-point line. With superior verticals. Crazy hops.

The other end of the floor

For arguments sake, lets say these historic big men, who regularly shot from 18 feet, somehow they couldn’t shoot 3-pointers.

The current players who stretch the floor, most don’t have a post-game. These hall-of-famers would punish 2021’s bigs on the blocks. Some would have to be removed from the game because of how ineffective they would be against these all-time greats.

Rudy Gobert could provide defense against some of these players but he isn’t a player who is stretching the floor either. The only players who stretch the floor and have a post-game are Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid.

These historic players could put 50 on a good defender easily. Can you imagine Kristaps Porzingas on the blocks with Karl Malone? Hakeem Olajuwon being guarded by Nikola Jokic? Not only would Olajuwon kill him in the post but break him down off the dribble too. Jokic would score some but Dream was a great defender and a shot blocking rim-protector.

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Hakeem Olajuwon shooting over Charles Barkley in the vintage NBA of the 1990's. the old NBA vs the new NBA
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The Original Stretch Big

Bob McAdoo was the first stretch big, way back in the vintage NBA days of the 1970’s. At his best he may have been the most lethal to ever do it, that includes Dirk Nowitzki.

Jack Ramsey said of him, ” Bob McAdoo had the full package, an offensive weapon that I don’t think has ever been equaled in the game”.

Magic Johnson called him “Unstoppable”.

Here is a brief look at a few of Bob McAdoo’s stats. Keep in mind his scoring average would have been higher if there was a 3-point line in the vintage NBA days.

1973-74: 30.6 ppg-15.1 reb-1.2 stl-3.3 blk (2nd MVP voting)
1974-75: 34.5 ppg-14.1 reb-1.1 stl-2.1 blk (1975 NBA MVP)
1975-76: 31.1 ppg-12.4 reb-1.2 stl-2.1 blk (2nd NBA MVP)

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The Talent of the Teams

The old NBA vs. the new NBA. The talent of the teams in today’s game is not as good. It’s not even close. This has nothing to do with the talent level of the current players vs. the talent of the vintage NBA players.

The great teams from the past couldn’t exist today with the way the salary cap is structured. The ’80’s Celtics wouldn’t be together in 2021. It wouldn’t work.

The 2020 Los Angeles Lakers might be one of the least talented NBA champions of the last 50 years. They didn’t have much talent after the two generational players they run with. They wouldn’t stay within 20 points of a deep, talented team like the Celtics.

If you’re thinking “this guy knows nothing about the NBA”! You’re actually the one that lacks the proper knowledge, this isn’t even really an opinion. As an argument, it’s laughable. What I said before about teaching the game. Show me the money and lets get it. The old NBA vs the new NBA 101.

Even if you take LeBron and A.D and say they are way better than Boston’s top two players, the Celtics have two more historic hall-of-famers and a bench. Who were the 2020 Lakers third & fourth best players? I bet everyone’s answer isn’t the same and it’s not because they were so loaded with talent either.

Kuzma and take your pick, well they weren’t in the same pantheon as Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, or Dennis Johnson. If James or Davis had a mediocre game, it would be a massacre.

Showtime & the Mailman

Karl Malone showing why he was called the mailman in the vintage NBA, as he delivers a thunderous dunk

This past summer I was on twitter and saw a tweet that stated Karl Malone wouldn’t make it in today’s NBA. He couldn’t deal with the speed. “He never saw this kind of speed”.

Karl Malone played against Showtime. There is no team in the NBA today running faster than the Showtime Lakers did. No player in the NBA today has ever played against a team as fast or as talented as Showtime was.

The mailman was one of the biggest, strongest, fastest, power-forwards to ever play the game. He’s the 2nd best power-forward of all-time.

If I had to explain who he was running the floor, he’s LeBron James without the ball-handling skills. They have the same body type but Malone was stronger than LeBron. He ran the floor just as fast as LeBron too.

Laurence Fishburne from the Matrix.

It shocks me when I see people on social media making posts like this because it’s obvious you never saw the man play or that’s not what you would have said.

Millennials, please believe me when I say human beings didn’t evolve since you became aware. There wasn’t 5,000 years of humanity, then in the last 30 years an evolution in what humans can do athletically. Every generation has it’s special athletes.

You may have seen the X-men movies but you’re not actually living in the time of the X-men. That’s what it sounds like you are saying. STOP IT PLEASE!

Don’t know why some of you are the way you are but I hope you grow out of it through knowledgeable life lessons.

Honestly with all the data at your fingertips, I’d expect you to be more informed, not less. I guess with that data, cheating by looking at statistics is just easier.

It may be easier but what storyline it creates for you in your mind is not real. When Laurence Fishburne told you to select a pill, you chose the wrong one.

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I am a basketball fan. I want that to be understood. I’m not a person that is attached to any specific time period of NBA basketball. I’m not basing anything on nostalgia. Most of what I write articles about is about the current crop of talent in the NBA.

One thing that always sticks out to me is that there are many players in the NBA today that are very one-dimensional. It confuses me how fans see these players and can still say the overall talent is better. Just because the one thing they do is shoot from a distance that is worth one more point, that doesn’t make them better or more versatile than other players in the NBA from the vintage era.

Another misguided idea is that players are more athletic today. There are players who are extremely athletic in the game now but overall the game has had more high-flying athletes in decades past.

Vintage NBA1995 west finalsDream vs the Admiral

Generational talents

The NBA has generational talents, it has special players who possess a game that has never been seen before. Currently we have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Kevin Durant, just to name a few.

There’s even Ben Simmons who has the same skillset as LeBron minus the shooting. Simmons could be the best player in the world within the next five years if he develops a jumper.

Some of these players are just the definition of greatness like LeBron or Kevin Durant. Others have a skill unseen that makes them truly unique like Nikola Jokic’s passing.

What some fans don’t seem to understand is that every generation or decade had these players. I’m not talking about players who were one of a kind, then duplicated by today’s players. No! I’m referring to players who’s game’s haven’t been seen since.

Nobody has the 48 inch vertical leap David Skywalker had. It was a Guinness world record. Nobody floats through the air like Jordan or Dominique Wilkins. Nobody is pushing the ball like Magic did. Olajuwon in the post, not even close. Worthy’s hops, maybe a few are close but not to his overall complete game.

Big Aristotle

A players prime is from 27-32, give or take a year. When Shaquille O’Neal hit his prime he dominated the game unlike anyone before him. By domination, I’m referring to how you knew the Lakers were going to win the title the years they did. Nobody had a chance to stop him and they knew it, he knew it, and all the fans knew it. He was unstoppable with his raw power and the quick hops he had.

Shaquille O'Neal shows his power as the Vintage NBA turns to the new millennium

It was a Mike Tyson kind of domination. Where you knew the opposition had nothing for him. From 2000-02, if he had been on about 75% of the teams in the NBA, that is the team that would have 3-peated.

If there was any chance you could match his size, you couldn’t compete with his quickness. If you were able to match his quickness, then you were going to get dunked on because you weren’t messing with his power. You might end up in the third row at Staples. Real Rap.

What really made Shaq special wasn’t his size (of course it was his size) but how quick his hops were at his size. Not how high he jumped. How quickly he jumped.

Some of you are like “I get it”. Some people don’t though. Back in 2004, I was telling people that O’Neal wasn’t the same because the quick hops were gone. Many didn’t understand what I meant by that, so I’m just explaining it for anyone who might not know.

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Shaq’s words

“It was actually kind of soft when I played, too. Before I played, that was the real NBA, and I’m sure the guys that played before me would say that’s the real NBA. But before I came in, with Mike playing against Detroit and the Bad Boys – that was the real NBA. I kind of played in the soft era, also. And then of course, with me being dominant, everybody crying about the rules, that just made it more so. But now it’s very soft.”

Shaquille O’Neal


Anyone out there dispute the Karl Malone and LeBron comparison I made earlier

Believe me when I say Malone didn’t have the handles or vision of LeBron James but getting the ball and getting to the net, it was the same thing. Except Karl was a little stronger.

What’s up Doc

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I could keep going

I could keep talking about many of these generational talents. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan would create a conversation today if they were playing at the same time as Anthony Davis. Who’s the best power-forward in the game today? Spoiler, it’s Tim Duncan.

I hear people say Larry Bird couldn’t play today. They said that back in 1979 too. They were wrong then as they would be wrong now.


They Ain’t Bernard King

There are some good scorers in the NBA today but they ain’t Bernard King. Think James Harden is a good scorer, he’s one of the best right now but he isn’t Bernard King or even in the top 10 all-time.

In 2021 there are some amazingly great players in the game. There have been in every generation. Some role players today wouldn’t even be able to make a vintage NBA roster in the ’80’s.

The greatness of some of the teams back then is something no one playing in the NBA today has ever seen. It’s just not possible because of the salary cap and the way it’s structured today.

Teams like the ’80’s Milwaukee Bucks never even played for an NBA championship back then. Today they would have came out of the Eastern conference almost every year since 2015.

Fans who never saw the teams from these vintage NBA eras, they think those players would be going against something they have never seen before. Facing off with the current NBA teams, it would be the other way around in the old NBA vs new NBA war.

It’s a simple evaluation of talent and skill. If you get what evaluating talent entails, you get it. If not most likely you just sound stupid.

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02/18/2024 04:15 pm GMT

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I provide highly opinionated sports articles. Most of these are featured articles. They will likely differ from the thoughts, stories and ideas, recycled by TV, radio, etc.

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