Just like how players grow and change their games, so does the NBA. These days, there is much less emphasis on post play and a much higher emphasis on three pointers. Shooting has become the primary focus of a lot of team’s strategies. Even big men nowadays are hanging around the perimeter and not on the block.
An effective way to get a lot of threes is to simply put a lot of three-point shooters on the court. Instead of playing two big men and three perimeter players, teams might play one big man and four perimeter players. This, in other words, is playing small ball.
We see wing players like Carmelo Anthony slide down to the power forward spot and it completely changes the dynamic of their team’s offense. The New York Knicks last year had four players on the floor that could either create off the dribble or shoot, while center Tyson Chandler set screens for them all. The Knicks had an offensive ratting of 108.6, which ranked third in the NBA.
Even though small-ball lineups can be incredibly effective, teams, for the most part, only use them in stretches. This is for a couple reasons. One is that teams don’t have a player like Anthony on their roster that can be a small-ball power forward or they do have one, but they are just not good enough. The second is that it can create a lack of defense and rebounding.
Lebron James played a great deal of his time at the power forward spot for the Miami Heat last season, which moved Chris Bosh to center. Because of this opponents outrebounded them all the time, but the Heat have James so they were good enough to withstand that. All other teams don’t have that luxury.
Small ball lineups for most teams need to be played at the correct time. The trick is to use them when the disadvantages are less damaging. Like when the opposing team is playing small ball too or when a team has a perimeter player cable of guarding a big man.
So how often should a team like the Golden State Warriors use small ball? In the playoffs last year, All-Star big man David Lee went down with a leg injury. Coach Mark Jackson decided to move rookie forward Harrison Barnes to power forward and it proved to be very successful.
With Lee returning next season, it will be interesting to see just how much Jackson will use small ball lineups, especially with newly acquired All-Star forward Andre Iguodala in the fold. Iguodala’s versatility will make playing small ball very appealing.
The Warriors could throw out a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and either Lee or Andrew Bogut. This could be insanely effective offensively, because of the three-point shooting and the floor spacing.
Curry is deadly as any when it comes to shooting. Thompson and Barnes are also very capable shooters. Besides that, Iguodala and Curry are able to create off the dribble and get good looks for their teammates. If Bogut is in, he can set very tough screens. If Lee is in, he can add in his own shooting ability out of the pick and roll. It should be beautiful basketball to watch.
On defense, this lineup could have a hard time guarding traditional power forwards like Zach Randolph or Dirk Nowitzki, but they are very versatile. Barnes, Iguodala, and Thompson are all very long and athletic. They can each guard multiple positions, which will allow them to switch on pick and roll defense without a problem.
With the Warriors having multiple wing defenders and a lock down specialist in Iguodala, they should be able to go small for very long stretches. It depends on who Golden State is playing, but expect a lot of fast paced small ball from them. When they do, it will be very hard for opposing teams to stop them.