Basketball is a constant evolution of style. The 60’s Celtics brought up the importance of defense, fast breaks, and teamwork with elite talent. The 70’s brought individual flair with Pistol Pete Maravich, Julius Erving, and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. The 80’s brought back the old Celtics style with added Laker flair, and made for a tremendous rivalry for a decade. The 90’s brought the idea that guards and a system could dominate a decade. Into 2000, basketball fans saw what elite bigman talent and elite guard talent could do. We’re past 2010, and now great talent is getting smaller.
The center position isn’t what it used to be. In earlier decades, it was easy to count the number elite level centers in terms of size, skill, and athleticism. The modern age has brought in more youth and athleticism at the position, but there’s no sky hook to watch, no outlet passing for fast break points, no real intimidating interior defensive presence of before.
This is the way of the guard; small ball.
Since the 90’s, great wing players and point guards have dominated the NBA scene. We could talk about Grant Hill and Michael Jordan. Later, it became about Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady. Right now, it’s about Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Watching the game against the Sacramento Kings showed the effectiveness of small ball. Late in the 1st quarter, Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill were brought in for Wesley Johnson and Pau Gasol. What happened? Tempo slowed down. The energy of the team was flat. Ball movement died. The Lakers didn’t have the defensive footspeed to defend the interior well. What was a four-point lead, ended up a 10-point deficit; a 14 point swing into the 2nd quarter.
The lineup changed, and in came Jordan Farmar, MarShon Brooks, and Pau Gasol. Wesley Johnson is a wing player playing out of position at power forward. What happened? The Lakers made a few defensive plays and got into transition play. Post entry passes were stolen. The defense rotated faster in the paint and blocked shots. The Lakers ended up with 11 (!) blocked shots for the game. The shooters were open, and they all got hot. Jodie Meeks all 8 of his field goal attempts, including three 3-point attempts. Jordan Farmar shot 9 of 14 from the field, making 8 (!) of his 10 3-point attempts. MarShon Brooks relentlessly attacked the basket and ended up 9 of 13 from the field, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts. As a team, the Lakers had 35 assists on 80 total shots.
This is the way of the Miami Heat. They pride themselves on defense to create the energy for offensive onslaught. The difference is in the talent. The Lakers brought out a young, talented core of wings and guards to play small ball and it worked. Miami does the same with two franchise players, one being LeBron James. They provide defense with Shane Battier, not Wesley Johnson. They shoot three-pointers with Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, and even Michael Beasley. They can hit shots against elite defenses.
Both Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh played a similar role; creating offense from the low or high post. Gasol does a better job as a focal point of the attack with his passing ability. Chris Bosh is more of a finisher. Still, Pau had 22 points on 17 field goal attempts, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. He got his attempts as well.
The shocker is the Lakers getting 30 total points in transition. The guard speed and quickness all over the floor helped fight off any Kings runs, and the Laker team was able to sustain the energy throughout most of the game.
Against the Sacramento Kings, small ball worked very well. It was nice to see Mike D’Antoni break from usual substitution patterns and stick to the hot hands, just like teams used to do in the 1980’s. This is why the Laker franchise chose Mike D’Antoni. They wanted to find a coach who could implement a contemporary style that translates to wins. The difference is simply in the talent.
When healthy, the Lakers best players are still post players; Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. This is why Laker fans disagree with Mike D’Antoni’s style. With Bryant sidelined and Gasol’s willingness to adapt, the style is changing from the triangle offense days into a game of quickness, energy, and momentum.
Still, regardless of style, Laker fans just want the championships. If it’s small ball, so be it.