But there's like a handful of guys who can do this. Next thing down the ladder is the OGs of the league, which is more attainable.
Sorry, where is Ben in here? We've already established he's not Draymond as a paint presence/small ball 5. He's not AD, for similar reasons (although AD doesn't like to play the 5 either, and he's not that mobile on the perimeter, as we've seen Siakam chew him up for years now).
If he's in OG's range, then yeah, those skills are attainable and not at all the most valuable defensive traits. Teams load up on switchy/athletic wings, and they do that because they know it's a surplus skill that can be acquired for cheap. Ben's valuable skill isn't his defense, but that he's a 6"10 point guard. It's unfortunately undermined by his inability to shoot and score at high volume. This makes him not that valuable in my mind. Dribble penetration is good if you have it, but it's not necessary to generate good offense nowadays. And likewise stopping the ball on the perimeter is less important than deterring traffic in the paint and providing top notch help defense.
I was agreeing with you that the C position remains by far the most important part of defense. It's just that the demands are so daunting now that only a handful of superstars create those big advantages in this era while the rest of the league makes due with barely functional half measures. Paying 20M for guys who have maybe three skills put together and liabilities everywhere else.
For the same reason that it's hard for Cs to play today - having to guard the entire floor - that's why the prototypical SF is thriving. Ben, like our other wings, isn't suited to play C for any sustained amount of time. But elite playoff offenses will force teams centers to run out on shooters, or be switched on a island with a perimeter player, etc.
Who is more suited to:
- switch and box out a C
- contest the diving C on the switch, or from the weak side on a pnr lob attempt
- rotate to contest a layup attempt from Paul George at the rim on a long possession
- grab a no-boxout 50/50 ball in the paint against Lebron
- force Kawhi to relocate on a 3pta runout
That's just the individual stuff, before getting to what defensive strategies you can try when all 5 players can do this to varying degrees on the court. That's the advantage. And almost no teams (the Clippers have a shot at this this year) have the talent to actually do it. Sure, you can find Stanley Johnsons all over the place, but they're not playing much deep in the playoffs, same as heat check guards. The OGs are, and they're an indispensable 40 minutes locked in with a pretty low skill floor.
Now Ben, like DeRozan, is still so flawed right now that you can't play him in the 4th. But his non-shooting offensive skills are something we can only dream of Barnes reaching, while we teach Barnes how to shoot. I'd trade for Ben just to teach him FTs (at that point elite handles/playmaking pays off because you're not afraid of the rim anymore). Yeah, it would still be harder to build around, but you immediately have a better trade asset once it happens even if you want to go another direction. You're trading for a chance to develop a higher ceiling.