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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The L.A. Lakers' "Small Ball" Lineup

Much has been made of the L.A. Lakers supposedly playing a "small ball" lineup in the final three games of the second round as the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 4-1. The Lakers moved Markieff Morris to the starting lineup in place of JaVale McGee. The new lineup was no doubt smaller (McGee is 7-0; Morris is 6-8), but was it really a "small ball" lineup? Anthony Davis is 6-10, LeBron James is 6-9, Morris is 6-8, Danny Green is 6-6, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 6-5; the "small ball" lineup averages 6-9 in the frontcourt, and averages nearly 6-8 overall, while the original starting lineup averages 6-9.5 in the frontcourt and a little over 6-8 overall. By comparison, the 1986 Boston Celtics--who went 67-15 and won the NBA title with the legendary Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish frontcourt--averaged 6-10.5 in the frontcourt and 6-8 overall. No one would argue that those Celtics were a "small ball" team, yet the supposedly "small ball" Lakers are just as big as the 1986 Celtics.

The Rockets' starting lineup after going to "small ball" was Robert Covington (6-7), P.J. Tucker (6-5), Eric Gordon (6-3), James Harden (6-5), and Russell Westbrook (6-3). That lineup averages 6-5 in the frontcourt and 6-4.5 overall. The Rockets' tallest starter is one inch taller than the tallest Lakers' starting guard, and one inch shorter than the smallest frontcourt player in the Lakers' "small ball" lineup.

When media members assert that the Lakers went to "small ball" to beat the Rockets, that falsely suggests that the Lakers had to fundamentally change in order to prevail against the Rockets' gimmicky approach. The reality is that the Lakers can play very big, big, or small, and the Lakers chose to play big versus the Rockets. The Lakers dominated the Rockets in the paint while also shutting down the Rockets' three point shooting. Despite all of the hype and rhetoric about the value of "small ball," it remains true that size--specifically height--matters in the NBA.

Through the first three games of the Western Conference Finals versus the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers reinserted JaVale McGee into the starting lineup in place of Markieff Morris, though Morris has logged five more minutes than McGee. Despite the large number of three pointers launched by most NBA teams in recent years, to win an NBA championship it is still essential to have a paint presence at both ends of the court.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:07 PM



At Monday, September 28, 2020 8:32:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

The "death lineup" that the Warriors had before Durant arrived was the poster child for small ball but they always had a few 6-11/7-0 players in their rotation and it's worth noting that the "death lineup" got "deathed" in the 2016 Finals. Their lack of size and length allowed Tristan Thompson to become Dennis Rodman on the offensive glass.

At Tuesday, September 29, 2020 1:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Those are good points. When the Cavs faced the Warriors I consistently wrote that the Cavs should utilize their size advantage as opposed to going small.


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