FanPost

Small ball again! Why Pop Why?

Let me state a disclaimer before beginning: I am not a basketball guru by any stretch of the imagination - never played on a team, never coached a team. I can't break down player efficiency and chart shots the way magicians like Wayne do. But, I do have a keyboard and the ability to post so what the hell.

Let’s setup a hypothetical situation. Suppose you are the coach for the men's basketball team at a small university. You are playing for the conference championship against the flagship of your conference - UD (University of Dukentucarolina). Top recruits flock to UD every year, so they have a pretty good team all around, but their pride and joy is the frontline: a HUGE sophomore center called Shaquille O Neil, with some foreign student called Dirk Noweetski  (or something like that) playing next to him, and a backup called Dwight Howard sitting on the bench waiting for his minutes.

What is the game plan?

What a dumb question. You obviously do what coaches have done time and time again - inspire your own center and PF by making them watch Rocky over and over again, then they play lights out and just dominate Shaq and Dirk. The problem is that the identical plan did not work the last time - they destroyed you. Of course you had had tried recruiting the best and tallest frontline players, but they all went to UD instead.

Stepping away from the hypothetical situation for a second, I remember watching a North Carolina State vs. Georgia Tech game when I was in college. The Georgia Tech yellowjackets had this incredible 6'9" forward called Tom Hammonds along with some great guards. The late Jimmy Valvano was coaching the NCSU wolfpack at the time, and knew that nobody in his frontline could match up with Hammonds - Hammonds would just abuse them. The rest of the Yellowjacket team was pretty good so Valvano could not just tell everyone to just collapse on Hammonds. What to do?

Valvano, as he often did, thought completely outside the box. He had point guard Chris Corchiani (all six feet 0 inches of him) guard Hammonds, with some help from the bigs of course, but Corchiani was the primary defender. The result was a brilliant game - Corchiani was an absolute pest against Hammonds with his sharp instincts and quick hands. Corchiani would do everything he could to stop the ball from getting to Hammonds, and Hammonds absolutely could not put the ball on the floor or it was gone. Just before Corchiani started guarding him, Hammonds scored five points in four minutes. After Corchiani was set loose on defense - Hammonds only managed four points the rest of the game and State won the game 82-68. Corchiani was not the only reason, of course, Valvano employed a bunch of totally unorthodox defensive moves and totally frustrated the Yellowjackets, but the biggest win was holding Hammonds to 9 points.

Was the crazy game plan guaranteed to work? Of course not! If Hammonds would not have been slowed down by this unorthodox approach the wolfpack would have lost big and Valvano would have looked like a total idiot. However, they were not going to win with a conventional matchup anyway, and Coach V. was willing to risk ridicule for a chance at a win.

Actually, never mind the hypothetical coaching situation discussed earlier and let's stay with reality. Timmeh cannot win a championship by himself. He is still incredible but is 33 and cannot hold up the franchise on his shoulders like Atlas all by himself. In the offseason we could have gotten a couple of tall decent young guys, but who could we get that can challenge Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and a healthy Andrew Bynum? Dwight Howard? Orlando is not letting him go. Shaq? Too expensive, and also he does not solve the problem (imho). Let's face it - nobody was out there that could beat the Lakers’ frontline, and even if they were out there what were the chances we could get them? Hell, we couldn't even get washed up old Rasheed Wallace or Vince Carter to come here. Unlike the Lakers, or Cuban, or the Yankees (oops, wrong sport, I mean the Knicks), the Spurs do not have the riches to simply outspend the rest and get the best traditional lineup possible.

So if we cannot match up with them, why not try to think out of the box and create mismatches of our choosing? Get Jefferson - an athletic slasher that could cause havoc and create his own shot. Dice and Theo would give us the token frontline, but we would not depend on them heavily. Manu, Tony, Hill can be stars at the 1 and 2 spots. Duncan would still anchor the middle of course, but the bulk of the game switches away from the paint. Blair was an unplanned gift from holy FSM, but that was just icing. Risky, yes. But the alternative was to get some innocent young big that would just get abused by the decent centers out there.

Sadly, the gamble has not paid off. Maybe because RJ did not pan out as hoped. Maybe because Tony has been a little off all season. Maybe because the FO did not make the right moves for the game plan. Maybe it was coaching. Or imperfect chemistry. Or some combination of all these things. But I applaud the Spurs for at least trying to do something, as the path that most front offices (and all of us armchair GMs) would have taken would definitely not have been enough.

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