Small Ball myth

 

Ohh….the poor, unwanted, prehistoric big man.  The plodding giant who was great at Mikan drills and drop-steps has dropped off.  Golden State was the massive meteor that crashed into planet NBA and rendered the brontosaurus extinct.

Or maybe not….

It’s hard to argue with success.  The Warriors pulled Bogut and played Ezeli sparingly after finding themselves in a 2-1 hole and won out to take the title in six games.  It was a great strategy move that just happened to work against a team reeling from injuries and poor coaching.  However, this was probably more of a situational thing than shift in the whole league.

Take a moment to think about the notable big men in the league…..I know, it may take a minute to come up with one.

Tim Duncan is a prime example of a true center (or power forward – not the venue for that argument).  He’s old, no doubt, be he is what being big in the modern NBA is about.  He moves his feet, has passing vision and can score with either hand.  Those are the skills needed to be successful in the paint and force opponents to respect the middle as much as the 3-point arc.  Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of those skills in young players.  I’m not saying they aren’t athletic.  I believe the current league has more athleticism than any other time in the game’s history.  But there’s no question that the understanding of the game and the development of well-rounded basketball skills has declined.

Go to any AAU or high school game featuring top prospects and there will be very little schemed offense, much less a team willing to feed a post player for a back to the basket move.  Kids are gravitating to the arc more and more because the EFG is greater out there and the analytics show how much more successful teams are when they shoot a high 3-point percentage.  Next thing you know, your center is shooting more threes and leaving money on the table under the basket because he doesn’t understand how to make post moves work for him.  This is what we have seen from Tristan Thompson, Deandre Jordan, Festus Ezeli, JaVale McGee and countless others around the league.  All of them can grab rebounds, usually because of their size and because the rest of the team is posted around the 3-point line, maybe block a shot, but none of them are offensive threats unless it’s a lob or a put back.  And that’s unfortunate because they are all so athletically gifted.  Yet no coach along the way or even now has required them to work on their BASKETBALL game.

These same coaches will now jump on the “small ball” train and start stockpiling a team of 6-8 shooters.  Seems that’s how the league works.

Someone wins with a Euro-squad…….pick from overseas talent the next 10 drafts.

Success with a 6-8 point guard………turn every power forward into Penny Hardaway.

Pick and roll getting baskets…….draft solely on that strategy.

The strategy of the game has fallen by the wayside.  GM’s and coaches merely seek the handful of players who can fit into a pick and roll or perimeter passing/TEAM concept.  If those players aren’t available?   We’ll play who we have and try again next year.
Once coaches start teaching and developing from high school up, teams at every level will have the ability to play how they need to play to win.

 

Difference-Maker

One player doesn’t win a game, but these guys might determine their teams fates

Cody Kessler (USC)  Kessler is coming off a solid year of completing 70% of his passes and throwing just 5 picks.  He’s proven he can take care of the ball and put up points.  This year he’ll have to prove he can do both without Nelson Agholor snatching passes and Buck Allen keeping defenses honest up front.  The Trojans lost key players on the defensive side of the ball as well so he’ll need to give his defense a lead to work with and be the senior leader to take control of this team.  The Pac-12 doesn’t look to have a lot of powerful offenses so he won’t need to put up 40 to win this season.

Dalvin Cook (Florida State)  For better or worse, the Jameis Winston era is over in Tallahassee.  But the Seminoles didn’t just lose their quarterback.  Jimbo Fisher only has three offensive starters back from a team that relied on their explosive ability to jump back into games in the second half.  They also fielded an average defense in a conference that could barely be called a Power 5 football member.  Cook is an explosive runner who led the team in rushes, yards and yards/attempt last season but also had a tendency to fumble.  With Everett Golson stepping under center in a new offense in a new uniform and a new school, FSU will need Cook to step up and be a steady offensive influence.  He can allow them to control the clock, keep the defense off the field and take pressure off Golson, who has a tendency to throw picks and fumble.  The fortunes of the ‘Noles may rest squarely on the 6’, 200 lb running back’s shoulders.

Deshaun Watson (Clemson)  Dabo Swinney seems to win 9-10 games and keep his team in some sort of championship discussion every year.  He’ll need Watson to come thru big this year if he wants that streak to continue.  With only 4 offensive starters returning and only two of them skill position players, the Tigers QB will need to mature quickly and create some points.  The Venables-Hobby defense will be suspect at best so the sophomore will need to be efficient and hope the running game keeps defenses more honest than last year.  Bottom line:  this team will go as far as Watson takes them.

Jake Coker (Alabama)  Blake Sims didn’t exactly light it up for the tide last year, but he was solid and didn’t make too many mistakes.  If Jake Coker is the same kind of game-manager the Tide may be in the hunt again this year.  The offense only has two starters returning and none of them are skill position players, but with 7 defensive starters back and most of them upperclassmen he may only need to give a Dilfer-esque performance to make the playoff.  If another T.J. Yeldon emerges, Coker’s job might get tremendously easier.

Royce Freeman (Oregon)  Marcus Mariota is gone……he’s not coming back…..just accept it.  Transfer quarterback Vernon Adams might jump in seamlessly or junior back up Jeff Lockie might leapfrog the fifth year senior and light it up in this scorch-the-earth offense.  More than likely, there will be an adjustment period for whoever takes over the helm and Freeman will carry the load until they’re up to speed.  His speed and nose for open spaces might make teams think twice before blitzing and give their pass plays time to develop.