If you take a look around the league, there is an archetype that has become the obsession of both NBA teams and fans alike: the unicorns. These types of players, typically reserved for bigs, have a unique blend of size, skill, and athleticism. What makes these unicorns rare and sought after by everyone?
Most players in the league only have two of the three qualities I mentioned so having a multifaceted player has become a must-have for any team.
Take a look at Kevin Durant. He’s listed at 6’10 but he looks much taller, with a slender frame and long arms to match. However, he isn’t your traditional big man - he’s quite the opposite. He is much more comfortable playing on the perimeter, using a combination of dribble moves to blow by his defender or create space for a jumper. He’s also very coordinated, able to run the floor, alter shots at the rim, and switch onto guards. There isn’t much that he can’t do.
For the fans, these unicorns are eye-catching, jaw-dropping, and unique. Freaks per se, but in a good way. Remember how the internet broke when Chet Holmgren crossed Steph Curry or when Aleksej Pokusevski had that strong run two seasons ago. It’s easy for people to root for them because of the excitement that these players bring to the table and the potential that they have.
Teams also want to find the next unicorn because of the potential ceiling. If you look at the league, most of the top players are unicorns. Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Anthony Davis just to name a few among the top 20 best players in the league. They are absolute game-changers and if you want to contend for a title, having one on your team boosts your chances significantly.
Another reason is how the game is played today. Players are asked now to be more well-rounded. Teams typically assign roles to players, but they will offer increased workload and responsibility to players who possess more skills or abilities. Guys like Giannis, Durant, and Embiid are the primary scoring option of their teams and are also tasked with being the best rim protector. They also have to do a little playmaking like Jokic. These unicorns allow coaches to become creative in what system the team plays.
With the basketball scene quickly changing, I only expect more unicorns to appear. Younger players who are watching these unicorns become superstars are trying to be part of the next batch of multi-skilled players. At the same time, fans and teams alike will continue to find the next unicorn that will take the league by storm.