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Changing of the Spurs…small ball in the nba.

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It’s no secret, yet it’s mystifying none the less. What’s brought the Spurs (and the nba for the most part) to this thing called small ball? A defensive “Spurs” style that was a formula for winning a championship has changed over the past 6 years. A once thought “gimmick” brand of basketball is now the focus of teams hopefully building champion caliber throughout the league. And the Spurs too are now focused on building such a team.

To help understand we must first look at the raw beginnings of small ball. From this article http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/08/30/don-nelson-says-he-got-small-ball-idea-from-red-auerbach/ we see origins of small ball has been around for quite some time. “Nellie Ball” as it was first classified was actually the brain child of one famous Red Auerbach.

But why was it intriguing enough to want to perfect?

First, small is a style, not a size, and positions are just names, not identities. But more importantly has been a falloff in the number of dominant centers either in the league or on the way, which makes small ball even more appealing to teams. Our own beloved Tim Duncan (probably the last of the great all around bigs to have entered the league 15 years ago) is now a shell of his former self. And though that shell is still a top 10 post player in this league, it’s evident that not a single 7 footer + since Duncan’s arrival in the league has been able to match what Duncan used to provide in his prime. Some may be great in low post offense. Some may have proven to be defensive stalwarts. But not since Duncan has there been a “big” to come into the league with as much talent on both ends of the court.

Second…traditional “big” style of play is simply what’s NOT being taught and focused upon in the AAU up to college circuits. Granted, compared to the days of my youth, kids are growing taller. But their physical attributes in the game of basketball is leaning more towards athleticism, quickness and speed more so than strength and mass.

For you “old timers”, if given the opportunity… watch an AAU tournament. You’ll see what I mean. But it’s also about the camps these kids are attending. The focus on ball handling, shooting and the finesse aspects of the game is what’s being taught the most with today’s youth as well as a quicker paced game. So unless there are several young prodigies in the likes of Tim Duncan on the horizon…small ball will be the new norm in the nba.

Where does that leave the future for the Spurs? We’ve seen small ball implementation since its use during the WCF’s against the Mavs in 2003. And as with anything new, there are going to be mistakes made and growing pains to withstand before perfection can be achieved. But last year proved to be a turning point in the Spurs ability to win while implementing mostly small ball. So much that it afforded the Spurs a trip to the WCF’s. And though the length and youth of OKC finally won that series, the Spurs look poised to improve their new found direction with athletic youth as well. And though they may not be top ten picks, they are the new Spurs that will lead the team in the future. I think it’s why the Spurs have taken a shot at signing Derrick Brown. Not by any stretch of the imagination is Brown considered a top nba talent. But he possesses those descriptive skills as a small ball player. Of course with help from the wily veterans in Duncan, Ginobili and Jackson, the young talent the Spurs have accumulated can methodically improve and fit more of the description of small ball players. Quick, athletic, possess multiple skill sets yet none exceptionally talented in just one aspect of the game.

Now that’s not to say talented bigs are going by the way side. It’s just that there are so few truly talented bigs in the league. And having at least one on any team gives that team an advantage. But it’s not a necessity anymore to have a dominant big when a team can be filled with several multiple talented long athletic personnel that can shoot and run the floor.

Finally, admitting so, I am old school. Hard headed in wanting my Spurs to be the formidable “4 down” defense minded team that would last forever. But Duncan is aging. There are no “dominant” bigs of his caliber on the horizon. The players are evolving to talent levels to the likes we’ve never seen or used before. Progression to the means must be achieved. And changing of the Spurs a must in today’s nba. GSG!!!




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