Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol provide a reminder to “small ball” teams that there are still plenty of good big men in the league.credit: media.commercialappeal.com
Over the past few years, many teams around the league have made the switch from traditional lineups to much smaller, quicker ones. This development has been made possible by small forwards who are talented enough to slide to power forward, such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant. Teams like the Heat look to optimize their talents by going small; in other words, by playing LeBron at power forward, you can get someone like Shane Battier on the floor, and keep someone like Joel Anthony on the bench.
It creates massive matchup problems for opponents who don’t have the personnel to match. Elite small forward scorers who can hold their own in the paint drags opposing bigs out of the paint defensively, and opens up the floor.
The Miami Heat have completely committed to small ball, with no true center on their roster. Chris Bosh plays center, and they really lack any sort of depth when it comes to big men. The Knicks have some solid big man options, but they seem intent on playing small. Teams like the Celtics and Thunder tinkered with the experiment towards the end of the season last year, due to the style of their opponents, and the lack of a game-changing center.
It seemed to be the consensus amongst basketball minds after last year’s NBA Finals that small ball would be the way to go for years to come.
There are teams now proving that it might not be the best option.
Where there’s a mismatch on one end of the floor, the mismatch usually reciprocates on the other end. This has never been more evident than when the Knicks recently lost to the Grizzlies. With Melo at power forward, the Grizzlies decided to stick to their traditional lineup, and let Rudy Gay guard Anthony. Marc Gasol guarded whoever the center was, leaving Zach Randolph a little lost defensively. However, you can get away with Randolph guarding someone like Steve Novak or Ronnie Brewer on the perimeter. It allowed Memphis to have their way defensively on Melo without getting hurt with Randolph on the perimeter, simply because Novak or Brewer won’t hurt you off the dribble. And on the other end of the floor, the Knicks had nightmares. It’s just not fair to ask Melo to guard Randolph or Gasol, and it proved to decide the game.
That one game proved that a team with an advantage in their big men shouldn’t necessarily concede it just to match up. You can often hide a big man defensively on a weak offensive player, and then turn around and use your advantage offensively.
Andrew Bynum’s health will be closely watched by the smaller teams in the East.credit: delcotimes.com
Not a ton of teams can claim to have the bigs to fall into this category. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are included. The Lakers are an obvious choice with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. When he gets healthy, Dirk Nowitzki can still cause matchup nightmares, along with a more than serviceable Chris Kaman. The Pacers have Roy Hibbert and David West, but we’ve already seen that they forget how to feed their big men once they get going. San Antonio has Tim Duncan and a handful of other respectable bigs that they can pair him with. With names like Marcin Gortat and Anderson Varejao possibly being on the trading block, a few other teams could join the conversation of scary big lineups. If either joined the Celtics or Thunder and paired with Kevin Garnett or Serge Ibaka, they would be included. The Jazz aren’t title contenders, but I guarantee that a small team would not want to play Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, and Paul Millsap in the first round.
The road for a small ball team in the Eastern Conference will be partially decided by Andrew Bynum’s injury. The Heat have nobody on their roster who can remotely check Bynum, if he’s healthy.
Small ball has some benefits to it, as long as you have the personnel and the talent to make it work. But at the same token, you can’t completely ignore the fact that there are big teams that you may have to match up with at some point. There are a lot of team without many quality bigs, but the teams that have them stock up on them. And they tend to be pretty good.
-Mark Evans, Assistant Manager/Editor of Content
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