Warriors playing Nellie small ball, but it doesn’t mean they’re small

The man who’s so big he’s got three names, Ethan Sherwood Strauss, wrote a real nice piece on the Warriors and the evolution of their defense. Here is it: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/12273986/how-golden-state-warriors-built-nba-best-defense

In Part 1 of an 11-part breakdown detailing the team’s improved defense, there’s a quote from assistant GM Travis Schlenk. In essence, Schlenk said one of the big things the Warriors value most and look for in a player is length.

That would make sense. Schlenk’s worked under some guys — Pat Riley, Don Nelson, Chris Mullin — who value it in a big way.

What’s interesting about the current Golden State Warriors is that they’ve got some similarities to the “We Believe” Warriors of 2007, and Schlenk was along for that ride beside Nelson on the bench. And, yes, we’re talking small ball here.

The reality is the Warriors are playing plenty of small ball these days, it’s just a touch more camouflaged than it ever was under Nelson and it’s described as something else. What’s amusing about small ball is that many believe it means going to a small lineup. That’s not entirely true. To me, it mostly means going without a traditional center.

In fact, one of the biggest misperceptions about the “We Believe” team was that it was a small team. No, it wasn’t. It was a team, though, that often played without a center. But if you go position by position, and look at their personnel that year, you’ll realize that it was actually a pretty big and long team.

At point guard was Baron Davis, who at his best was a dynamic two-way point guard. He was big, strong and physical and yet he would oftentimes be the quickest player on the floor. He used his size to bother opposing point guards on the defensive end, sometimes smothering his opposite number while all his teammates overplayed and prepared to pounce. And as for the offensive end, well, Davis was someone the Warriors frequently went to in the low post. Why? Because he had a size advantage most of the time. In other words, he was big.

On the perimeter for that team were players such as Jason Richardson, Mickael Pietrus, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes. Each and every one of those players had good size for their positions. Richardson was 6-feet-6 and strong and Pietrus wasn’t quite as big, but he was wiry and definitely long. Stephen Jackson was an awfully big three when he played the small forward, and when he had to play power forward, his reach and wingspan served him — and Golden State — extraordinarily well.

Jackson’s size, length and quickness solved the Dirk Nowitzki riddle in that first-round playoff series, going a long way toward that monumental  upset. Even Andris Biedrins, at that time still effective and contributing, was a long and lanky player with terrific reach. When Biedrins was playing well, he could rebound outside his area and was a terrific help defender.

True, when the Warriors went all the way “small,” they often took out Biedrins and had Al Harrington at center. So, yes, the Warriors lived with being undersized there, but Nelson always figured he’d take his chances with that against a limited offensive center — which is most of the league.

The bottom line is that through the years I’ve heard Nelson, Mullin and Schlenk all talk about that “We Believe” team and the one thing they all agreed on was that few appreciated how “big” that team actually was. And that’s been a theme and focus ever since.

Which brings us to this year’s Warriors. We all know that because Andrew Bogut is not reliable, the Warriors are going to have to figure out what to do at that position. Mo Speights is obviously going to get some of those minutes, but if you’ve noticed, we’re starting to see David Lee playing some center. David Lee at center is code for small ball.

But again, look at the Warriors by position. Curry ain’t exactly a beast, but he’s grown into his body and he’s 6-3 with a solid frame. Klay Thompson has great length at the two-guard, and that length — along with his quickness and instincts — allows him to guard three positions.

Andre Iguodala is long, Harrison Barnes is pretty long and Draymond Green has a freakish wingspan. Green, for example, is considered a tweener and undersized and he might be both. But make no mistake: When he’s defending a three, he’s got a big-time size advantage most of the time and when he guards power forwards his strength and length make him tough to score on.

So, let’s just say you’re the Warriors and you’ve got a lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Lee. Well, you know what, that’s small ball — because you’re playing without a center and you’ve got multiple players capable of handling the ball. But are the Warriors really small?

Not on the perimeter, they’re not, which is exactly the way the “We Believe” team was.






About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for the Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz can be heard on "Steiny & Guru" on 95.7-FM The Game in San Francisco, from 12-3.
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