Small Ball, Smaller Ball

The hot basketball story of the playoffs is how the Golden State Warriors used a ?small ball? strategy to upset the host Dallas Mavericks in game one of their opening round playoff match-up. Golden State?s head coach, Don Nelson, sought to maul Dallas with the superior quickness of a smaller, more versatile line-up that could switch defensive assignments at will, effectively sticking Dirk Nowitzki with a body wherever he turned.

The Warriors started a point guard, three shooting guards, and a combo forward at ?center.? Their tallest starter was 6?9?. Small, right? Sure, except Dallas wasn?t much bigger. They came out with two point guards, two small forwards, and a power forward as their ?center.? It?s not like the Warriors were mites among giants. They were undersized at exactly one position: Al Harrington giving up three inches to Nowitzki. This wasn?t a case of just the Warriors going small?the entire game was small.

Between DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, Dallas employed professional centers for only 18 minutes of game time. The Warriors used their own professional center, Andris Biedrens for 8 minutes. Nelson is said to have done this because he wanted to exploit match-ups, but it?s a more curious move than publicly imagined when you considering the facts. If anything, center was the one position that Dallas this season had trouble defending, allowing opposing pivot men a healthy 16.9 PER against them. No other position fared better than average against Dallas. If you looked at the numbers and wanted to attack Dallas, you would have thought to start Biedrins?not to mention the fact that the giant Lithuanian had a monster game against them when Golden St. interrupted their winning streak.

Therefore, what makes the Warrior?s strategy of replacing Biedrens with a guard is that it goes away from what’s already been successful. Yet, it worked. Now it’s up to Dallas to adjust. One wonders if Dallas goes with a big line-up in game two if they’ll actually be solving their match-up problems. They might be forcing Nelson’s hand into putting Biedrens back into the line-up. Considering the facts, this might not lead to the outcome Dallas desires.

Liked it? Take a second to support Michael Zannettis on Patreon!

12 thoughts to “Small Ball, Smaller Ball”

  1. Good post. I would have to guess that that Biedrins game was more of an aberration than anything. Nellie’s thinking was probably that the only reason Diop and Dampier are employed is for defense, so why not take out the one guy who they match up well against? Biedrins is a good player but his repertoire of offensive moves are quite low.

    According to, 71% of Biedrins’ field goals are assists. The Warriors were held to only 16 assists in game 1, this is well below their average (they were ranked 4th in the league in assists for the year). This is normal for the playoffs, where assists go down.

    I think Nellie made the correct decision to limit Biedrins’ time on the court. He wasn’t going to get enough assisted shots to score a lot of points, and he didn’t have anyone to defend (the Warriors were successful in limiting Nowitzki with their athletic wings and Diop only scores when its a wide-open dunk), so there wasn’t a place for him in this game. That could change tomorrow night of the Mavericks make some adjustments though.

  2. Excellent post. It is a hot story.

    When you look at the matchup I think you have to start with the fact that Davis and Richardson are fully healthy. I think the Warriors record would look a lot better if those guys had been full strength for the entire season. This makes it look like less of a mismatch.

    The second thing is that Dallas had a horrible shooting night. It happens. I am not sure this had anything to do with the “long” Warriors defense.

    I think not playing Dampier and Diop and playing a fast pace was a mistake, they played into the Warriors hands there. The combo of Dampier and Diop while not neutralzing opposing centers perhaps, certainly helps neutralize the rest of the opposing players. Thats some big mutton in the paint.

    I dont know how smart it was not to play Biedrins. Harrington went 3-14, and he doesnt play better defense than Biedrins, who is quite quick and athletic for a big man. It worked, but Biedrins is the better player for sure.

    My take away wss that the Warriors got an amazing game from Baron Davis, who when fully healthy is a monster. Fourteen rebounds? You kidding me? His WOW winscore was 25.5 which is so good for a point gaurd it is just silly. He won that game almost by himself.

    I also noticed that Matt Barnes had a great 25 minutes. I wish we hadn’t let him go. He is one of those sneaky good well rounded players we could use on the Knicks. He had a big impact despite scoring only ten points, He was I think the second best player for the Warriors.

    Stephen Jackson also managed not to go 9-27, which can be a major pitfall for the Warriors.

  3. I know a lot of people had the Warriors targeted as possible upset bait, so I don’t feel too original thinking this, however, looking at this year’s Warriors, I think about the 1999 Knick team.

    #8 because of injuries, then got healthy for the first round of the playoffs.

    Good success against the #1 team in the first round.

    Extremely familiar with the other team’s system (Riley wanted Van Gundy to go to Miami with him, right?).

    This should be a fun series.

  4. It’s going to be an awesome awesome playoff season out West, I just wish I didnt have to stay up so late to watch the games…

  5. If Baron Davis keeps getting into the paint like he did in game one, I don’t see how Biedrins will have any shortage of opportunities to finish around the basket.

    It may not seem like a particularly impressive skill to catch a ball right next to the basket and dunk it, but it’s something that both Dallas struggle to accomplish without turning the ball over.

    Not to mention other post-season centers: Jason Collins, Darko Milicic, Kwame Brown, Dikembe Mutombo…

  6. The Knicks might very well be the best place for him to ressurect his career (and yes, it is extremely creepy to be talking about a 21-year-old needing to “resurrect” his career). With Marbury there to help him out, it would be a nice fit, I think, for both parties.

  7. No, because the Knicks can just sign him using their mid-level (with his problems, it shouldn’t take much more than a million, I’d think) salary cap exemption.

    In fact, sounds like a good entry topic, no?

  8. I don’t agree at all. He is another Shoot first point guard, but he can’t shoot. He doesn’t get along with Stephon at all. He could very well practice on the practice team, but whose minutes would he take? Not Marbury or Collins or even Steve Francis. Then again there is no risk if we sign him to something like a 5 million 2 year deal if that, so it might be okay to sign him just in cause he breaks out.

  9. I bet we could find a better option – too bad Darren Collison said he’s going back to school – but it’s not ridiculous. He’s a far better prospect than Mardy Collins, and two years younger.

  10. Sebastian Telfair? I would rather have flesh eating bacteria eat me alive while having carbolic acid periodically poured over my body than have him on the Knicks.

    The guy is terrible. 21 but terrible. Dont we have enough overrated Coney Island point guards on the team is it is?

Comments are closed.