During the NBA Playoffs I listened to the NBA station on Sirius-XM. The various shows would give different perspective regarding strategies, interview players and coaches (both current and former), take callers (some of whom are really out there) and discuss all aspects the game. When a station is 24 hour pro hoops (somewhat deceptive because shows are rerun throughout the day – still, it’s all NBA, all the time), much gets discussed. And when much is discussed, there’s bound to be controversy.
Often the comments aren’t as controversial as they are nonsensical, especially when they’re made by one of the “stat heads” (see yesterday’s blog for the definition). Some of the remarks make you do a “double hear ” (it’s like a double take but with listening). One such comment came a couple days ago and, while I can remember who said it (host or a guest being interviewed), I do recall it was a former player.
His statement was that today’s NBA is trending toward “small ball” – and actually has been for quite a while. He referenced past champions to prove his point, even including the style employed by the Spurs. “And don’t tell me Tim Duncan is a big man,” is how he concluded his theory.
No one on this or any other planet will ever argue that the Warriors philosophy is anything but small ball. While the Spurs offense is based on player movement (call it “old time” ball if you want – or “non-hero” as some have labeled it), to say Tim Duncan isn’t a big man is a bit of a stretch, mainly because . . . he’s the epitome of a big man. Coaches at all levels show videos of Duncan to their big men, explaining how to run the floor to create deep position, how to locate the defender before making a back to the basket move, how a plethora of moves is unnecessary as long as you can perfect two or three, how to have patience so if a double team comes, you can find open teammates – not to mention how to defend on the low block. To make the claim that small ball is trending because the Warriors won it all using it is one thing, but . . . even disregarding the Spurs, small ball wasn’t what won champions in the recent past.
Prior to San Antonio’s victory in 2014, four of the previous five winners were led by either LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, who were voted Finals MVP twice each. What a person can conclude from that “trend” is the team with the game’s best player has the best chance of winning it all. The biggest argument at that time among fans was, “Who is better, Kobe or LeBron”? Because he was hurt nearly all of last year, some fans’ minds, as they are wont to do, have forgotten the brilliance of Bryant’s shot making, defense and maniacal desire to win.
The other championship team during that time, i.e. the one that was in between the Lakers two championship squads and Miami’s pair, was the Dallas Mavericks – whose best player, and Finals MVP (we learned this year that those two are not necessarily the same), was Dirk Nowitzki. Seven foot tall Dirk Nowitzki. Although it is difficult to refer to him as a “big man,” small ball doesn’t include seven footers.
Face it, as long as the hoop is 10 feet in the air, size will always be a factor in basketball. But, just as the recent draft is no indication that teams will draft centers first, small ball has not taken over the NBA. At least the trend will have to occur for a few more years.
A very close friend of mine, upon hearing of this small ball sensation, said if fans really wanted to see small ball, i.e. if they wanted to eliminate the big man or not have size matter, all the NBA needs to do is change one rule:
“Raise the basket to 15 feet. Then, it’s all about skill.”