Athleticism and Skill, Then and Now

It's easy to forget that before Mitch Kupchak became Jerry West's assistant general manager of the Lakers in 1986 and the team's GM in 2000, he was a solid NBA player in his own right, making the All-Rookie First Team and averaging 10.2 points and 5.4 boards a game in a 10-year career oft interrupted by injuries.

Now 25 years later, all of the basketball Kupchak plays -- thanks to a successful knee replacement last year -- comes at his home, in an ongoing series of 1-on-1 games with his 14-year-old son, Maxwell.

While draining shots, Maxwell makes sure to tell his father repeatedly that he "couldn't make an NBA roster today," as Kupchak revealed during a Lakers.com Live Chat.

"I hear that once a week after we finish playing on the driveway," Kupchak said.

After a knowing laugh, Kupchak paused to actually consider the question.

"I think today's players, to a great degree because of the innovative training techniques that are available that didn't exist or weren't believed in 30 years ago, if you're looking at film may make it easy to say that today's players are much more gifted than players of the past," he said.

Sure, players today are more athletic, Kupchak acknowleged. But he wasn't willing to say that increased athleticism necessarily makes today's players better.

"You look at the players of the 1980's (like) Kareem, Michael Jordan, Dr. J, Magic, Bird ... they competed, and the players they competed against were able to compete with them," he continued. "So to say that those players could not play and compete with players of today's era would not be true."

The Lakers head athletic trainer, Gary Vitti, joined the franchise prior to the championship-winning 1984-85 season. That (very) talented roster featured Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, as well as bigs Bob McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes, Kurt Rambis and Kupchak.

"In my opinion, we have much better athletes today but maybe not as good of basketball players," said Vitti. "There are plenty of exceptions, but many players of today are not as skilled because they didn’t need to be growing up; they were competitive by running by you or jumping over you, and didn't need to be skilled because of their athletic ability.

"A case in point are the European players who are generally less athletic but have better skills."

Vitti emphasized that his opinion does not include every player, but is to him a general overview of how the game is played today. Of course, debates between decades isn't something that can ever have an actual answer, but it's still fun to kick around ... in your driveway.