“Small ball” is the biggest craze in the NBA.
As NBA offense shifts to a “pace and space” approach, hoping to spread the floor with shooters to open up the middle, teams have begun putting smaller lineups on the court to get more shooting and speed.
In doing so, teams are shifting players up one position, while sometimes eliminating traditional big men entirely.
The Golden State Warriors cemented the style last year en route to winning the NBA championship, and now teams across the league are likely to mimic the style, or at least experiment with it.
However, there’s a simple, yet understated problem with everyone “going small,” according to Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick.
“You have to have the personnel to do it,” Redick told Business Insider.
“It’s like every year teams in training camp say, ‘Oh we’re gonna play faster this year, we’re gonna try to push the tempo,’ but you have to have the right personnel to do it. Same thing with going small.”
This problem can already been seen in some teams. The Pacers are trying to go small this year, and star forward Paul George hasn’t been crazy about playing power forward, a bigger position than what he’s used to.
Redick noted that while the Warriors have become the poster image for the NBA’s small-ball craze, they’re also a pretty unique team.
“The reason Golden State was able to go small was because they have Draymond Green,” Redick said. “Not every team has a Draymond Green. The reason they’re able to go small is because they have Harrison Barnes and [Andre] Iguodala on the wing, and those guys can guard fours for stretches. You can’t just say ‘We’re gonna play small at times.’ Not everybody has Golden State’s roster. It can only work for some teams.”
Green – a 6-foot-7 forward who brought a unique blend of elite defense, shooting, and playmaking – became something of a revolutionary force in the NBA last season. Grantland’s Zach Lowe said that team executives talk more about finding the next Draymond Green than they do about finding the next LeBron James.
- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Redick, whose brand of elite shooting and off-ball movement, coupled with defensive versatility, would seemingly benefit from playing small, but he was hesitant to say whether the Clippers would go that route. The Clippers retooled over the offseason, going from a shallow, top-heavy team to one of the most stacked teams in the NBA.
With such a deep roster, they could go small, but it might not necessarily benefit them all that much.
“I do see us playing small at certain points in a game, especially with our second unit. It gives us the option to play small, with maybe Blake [Griffin] at the five as well, but [DeAndre Jordan] is our best defensive guy, our best rebounder. For me, I think you want D.J. and Blake on the floor as much as possible.”
Redick noted that the Clippers’ starting five of Jordan, Griffin, Matt Barnes, Chris Paul, and himself was “pretty darn good” last year. In fact, that unit finished with a league-best +7.5 plus-minus, meaning they outscored teams when they were on the court together.
That same unit was played more minutes than any other lineup in the NBA, and outscored opponents by nearly 18 points per 100 possessions – second only to the Warriors’ starting five among lineups that played more than 500 minutes.
“I don’t know if you wanna take one of them off the court for long stretches,” Redick added.
Redick understands, however, that going small creates mismatches for opponents – he’s experienced it himself.
“If a team goes small, like, say I have to end up having to guard a point guard because they have two point guards in, that can get challenging at times. And vice versa. Let’s say we go small and I have to guard a bigger guy at the three for a stretch, then that presents a challenge.
“It’s not necessarily that [guarding big or small lineups] is harder than the other, it’s just adjusting and figuring it out on the fly.”
The Clippers are deep enough now where they get to experiment with any style they like. And luckily for Redick, a player who thrives on the NBA’s most in-demand skill, he fits in no matter what.