The unsolvable NBA small ball conundrum? The Memphis Grizzlies have got the answer

November 17, 2012

by Jack Maidment

The two best teams in the NBA as of right now, going on what they have actually put on the court, are the New York Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Who knew?

Now, before anybody plays the ‘but it’s only 8 games’ card, yeah, I am aware.

I’m not saying they will meet in the Finals.

The reason it is interesting is because the success of the two different teams can actually be seen as a revealing microcosm for basketball as a whole.

On the one hand, the power ball team – Christmas past if you will.

The Grizzlies game plan is far from advanced algebra. Get the ball to the post, watch your two big guys pound the ball down low and then capitalise on what the other team gives you: either open jump shots on the perimeter or one on one opportunities at the basket.

On the other is the small ball team, Christmas present.

The Knicks, just like the majority of teams in the NBA in 2012, have shifted away from the twin towers model of the 1990s and early 2000s, instead focusing on athleticism and an ability to get up and down the court.

Now, part of that is down to the fact Amare Stoudemire has no knees, but still, just like the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, New York now plays their small forward at the four instead of the three most of the time.

The impact on most teams is killer.

99% of power forwards in the league have no chance of staying with Carmelo Anthony on the perimeter and he is able to do just enough defensively to make the game plan work.

But does it have to be this way?

Well apparently not. Memphis is proving this season it has the recipe to flummox the seemingly irresistible move to small ball.

When Miami did their thing last summer, rolling to a title, the question of how to stop them with LeBron James at the four seemed unanswerable. ESPN talking heads looked like they might have a seizure when asked how they would tackle the system.

But is it really that complicated?

If a team goes small, how do you shut them down if your strength is size?

The answer, according to Memphis, is a combination of versatility and talent.

Here’s the formula:

#You can play two big guys against a small ball team and win but they HAVE to be legitimate offensive threats. Dump the ball in low post guys. Double team guys. Then go to work on the mismatch.

#Slow the game down. No running. No running at all. Foul at all costs.

#Play one, preferably two uber-athletic swing men AT ALL TIMES to protect the wings (see Rudy Gay, Tony Allen) and to make sure the three playing four on the opposing team always has a comparable body type on him defensively.

Do those three things and there is no reason a big talented team shouldn’t beat a small talented team.

So the Grizz are winning the title, right?

Well no.

The problem for Memphis and to a lesser extent the Lakers is one of playoff match ups.

The reason is that while the Grizzlies might be able to solve ‘true’ small ball teams like the Heat and the Thunder that doesn’t mean they have more flexible teams like San Antonio figured out.

If the Grizzlies were able to make it to the Finals, I would give them a 40% chance against the Heat of winning a 7 game series.

But getting there? A series against the Spurs with their deep front line and tricky backcourt, I’m not sure they would progress.

Which is why this season is so important. If the Grizzlies make the West Finals or even the Finals they could buy a reprieve for old ball.

If they lose in the first round, never getting the chance to pound the truly great small teams into the ground, well, that could be the end of big ball.

At least until it comes back into fashion again.


Starting Five: The week’s best NBA players

January 25, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Week’s Best

@LeBron James. On January 19th the Miami Heat faced off on national television for a much-hyped match up with Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James used the sizeable spotlight to remind everyone just what it means to be the best basketball player in the world.

The Heat didn’t have Wade, but it’s not like anyone noticed as LeBron played the most complete game of the season. He had 31 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He scored, he made his teammates better, he impacted the game defensively, he made Kobe look old. In short, he did everything. Follow that with 2 out of 3 wins this week and LeBron has served a reminder to the rest of the NBA: The king isn’t back, he never left.

@Chandler Parsons. Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets GM once said whoever invented the box score should be shot; there is more to basketball than points, rebounds and assists. Chandler Parsons, the 38th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, is doing a good job of making Morey’s point for him.

The forward out of Florida has stolen the starting small forward for the Rockets after one month in the league which is quite an achievement for a guy so under-the-radar he doesn’t even have a profile photo on the NBA website at the moment.

It is easy to see why he is enjoying early success because his energy level and I’m-going-to-make-a-play determination scream at you every time he plays. Need an offensive rebound? Parsons is crashing the boards like a mad man. Need a loose ball? Parsons doesn’t mind flinging his body around for the team. Need a steal down the stretch? Parsons. You get the idea.

If you want some help deciding who to watch on League Pass this week, I urge you to check out Minnesota-Houston. You will see what I mean.

@Rudy Gay. There is a phrase spoken often in the NFL: ‘Next Man Up’. It’s the title of a rather wonderful book and speaks to the need for other guys to fill in when their teammates go down. Rudy Gay has read this book.

After missing the playoffs last year due to injury and watching Zach Randolph power the Memphis Grizzlies to the brink in the second round, Gay is looking to return the favour as Z-Bo sits out after suffering a serious knee injury.

Gay has been the Next Man Up and the team has looked to him to be The Man. He has gladly accepted.

In the two games the Grizzlies won this week Gay was huge. His 23-9-4 and 5 stocks against the Warriors almost qualifies as art. In the game they lost against a good Portland team Gay was a little quieter and Memphis struggled. They go as Gay goes and because of that they should be just fine.

@Kyle Lowry. Kevin Martin. I know choosing two in the same slot is cheating, but given the Houston Rockets win by committee I figure their backcourt can count as one in the Starting Five. Before you say it (Three Rockets in one Starting Five?!), just hush.

This past week no team has been better than Houston and that’s official. The team with no star players is on a seven game winning streak and much of their success can be attributed to Lowry and Martin.

Lowry (hovering around triple double in his last three games) has been a revelation setting the table for everything the Rockets do, while Martin has accepted his role as the Rockets number one scorer. They both deserve to be here.

@Danilo Gallinari. The Denver Nuggets are 12-5, have won four in a row and are currently second in the Western Conference. They are another team winning by committee (like Houston and Indiana) but Gallinari is their best player. He had 37-11 against the Knicks in his last game and the night before put up 21-4-5 against the Wizards.

NBA Trade Rumors: Minnesota Pursuing Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love Offered To Memphis?

June 16, 2009

loveby Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Laker’s returned to the City of Angels, trophy’s and all, drawing to a close the 2009 NBA season.

All of the year’s meaningful, competitive basketball has now been played and teams around the League must now look forward to what can be achieved heading into a new year when currently dirty slates can be wiped clean: here’s looking at the Suns, Clippers and Wizards especially.

With the Draft less than two weeks away, every team is looking to make moves; whether that be to improve roster talent or to shed salary.

Perhaps the most interesting and intriguing draft possibility to emerge over the past couple of days has the Minnesota Timberwolves looking to trade Kevin Love plus filler to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the #2 pick in this year’s draft.

All of the noise up to this point has suggested that the Wolves are extremely keen on Ricky Rubio and believe that he could be the man to help persuade the citizens of Minnesota to part with their hard earned cash and come watch.

Brining Rubio in would undoubtedly boost ticket sales given his penchant for flash. Yet, given the strength of Love’s rookie season, which saw him lead rookies in rebounds a game and most double doubles, sending him to Memphis for an unproven NBA point may raise a few eyebrows.

However, if the deal did go through, the Wolves would still hold the #6 pick where they could likely take Jordan Hill, the athletic power forward out of Arizona as Love’s replacement.

The fact that Rubio is looking to avoid Memphis like the plague, the move makes sense for the Grizz who would acquire a player who would compliment Marc Gasol in the paint.

The tandem of Gasol (Jr) and Love would be one of the League’s best rebounding front courts which would leave Rudy Gay to get his on the offensive end.

It would also allow Memphis to stick with their current backcourt pairing of Mike Conley and future League Top-Scorer O.J. Mayo, giving them the time needed to grow as individual players and as team mates.

Even if Rubio did want to play in Memphis, would a ball hungry pair of Mayo and Rubio click? In all likelihood, no.