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Unclebuck
05-24-2006, 09:40 AM
Mike Wise is a very well respected NBA writer. He now writes for the Washington Post, but used to write for the NY Times and I think the LA Times before that.

Amazingly there are comments in this article from Bill Walton that I agree with 100%

Pacers better wake up and get with the new NBA.



http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301726_pf.html

It Took Two Big Men To Go Small

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, May 24, 2006; E01



When the NBA's renaissance is chronicled, Don Nelson and Mike D'Antoni will go down as the great innovators. When Pat Riley was stuck on analog, they thought digital. When the league became more physical and predictable -- when finding an antidote to Shaquille O'Neal was all that mattered -- they saw the future in a 6-foot-nothing point guard who skittered around the court like a water bug.

When people think back to when the game became good again, Steve Nash should be remembered as their instrument for change.

Nelson no longer coaches Dallas and D'Antoni has but three years under his belt in Phoenix. But both visionaries were told their crazy offensive ideas about building a championship-caliber team were flawed and unconventional, if not foolish. Sometime in the mid-1990s, the playoffs became more about stopping your opponent than outscoring it. And a team without a bona fide big man was not supposed to last into May.

That thinking made Nelson and D'Antoni outcasts in their own profession, the picked-on brainy kids in gym class. In a copycat league where defense and intimidation were king, they forged ahead anyway, sometimes for the betterment of the game more than their own franchises.

Tonight, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, their innovation will be rewarded. Dallas and Phoenix staved off superior big men in Game 7s and now will play for a berth in the NBA Finals. It's just wild to think two "small ball" squads are eight wins from a championship. The larger prize for D'Antoni and Nelson is that they contributed to a climate that made the game worth watching again.

They didn't just bring back scoring in the 120s; they brought back moving the ball like a hot potato. They brought back lean frames, players who need to stay in shape to play the style of the Suns and Mavericks. They also contributed to the death of the center position, or at least the redefinition of a pivot's job.

Boris Diaw, a natural point guard at 6 feet 8, is now the Suns' starting center. He runs, he moves and he spots up consistently from inside 20 feet. Two classic centers, DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, share the position for Dallas. But the Mavericks' truly effective big men are the lithe and agile Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard.

The game has gone so dizzy with change that Bill Walton almost sold himself out Monday night. One of the great centers said his breed is dying, if not dead. He was at home in San Diego, watching the furious pace of back-to-back Game 7s, and he kept calling a friend back to rave about Nash, whom Walton described as "short, slow and can't jump."

"But he's the most appealing player in the game," Walton said. "The most exciting player in the game. His legacy comes down to showing everyone that this game wasn't about size and strength."

No one would say LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh weren't franchise-altering picks. But it's no coincidence the last two guys chosen in the first round of the 2003 draft -- Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa and Dallas's Howard -- are playing for a trip to the Finals. They represent that combination of skill, speed and constant movement that other teams need and want to emulate.

"Nellie started the league on this trend but Mike D'Antoni has continued the vision," said Jeff Van Gundy, who was once a Riley disciple in New York and now coaches Houston. "I remember every time Mike put a big lineup out there when he first got to the Suns, we killed them."

But when D'Antoni began experimenting with the sinewy Shawn Marion, a natural swingman, at the power forward position and Amare Stoudemire, more of an athletic power forward, at the center position, the Suns changed their game. "Mike had the courage to do it and stick with it," Van Gundy said. "He's never veered from who he is and who his team is."

Said Walton: "Look at Dallas. They're the perfect example of where the NBA is going. They spend all this money on these big stiffs, but Marquis Daniels, Josh Howard and Devin Harris are the reason they're going to the conference finals -- these lithe, fast and smart players. It's not because they got these big power guys inside."

All of the NBA's signature eras had been forgotten on the court: Bill Russell and the team game. The Knicks and the brilliance of the smaller, undersize squad winning with passing. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the skill, grace and beauty belonging to the tallest player on the floor. Bird and Magic -- their passing and passion. And even Michael Jordan, the combination of every great player who came before him. It had all been lost in translation, lost in transition.

Until Nash brought it back. Until Nelson and D'Antoni decided to buck convention.

Riley has seen this coming since his warhorse Miami teams were outrun by more athletic Knicks teams in the playoffs. It says something about his ability to remain contemporary that he has gone back to the two-superstar idea. He knows Shaq and Dwyane Wade give him a better opportunity to return to the halcyon days of Magic and Kareem than slogball.

Coincidentally, the man blamed for popularizing thuggery has to knock out the physical and nasty Pistons to return to the Finals, to prove that style doesn't work anymore. Riley has to kill the part of the league he created, the part already dead out West.

"Steve Nash, Barbosa, Howard, Gilbert Arenas -- those type of players are the future of basketball," Walton began, "not some lug who's going to stand around and be a 10-year project before they completely break your heart."

2006 The Washington Post Company

Unclebuck
05-24-2006, 09:44 AM
http://www.mysanantonio.com/global-includes/printstory.jsp?path=/sports/basketball/nba/spurs/stories/MYSA052406.1C.BKNspurs.main.17874593.html


Spurs' offseason begins: Mohammed or Nesterovic likely to exit

Web Posted: 05/24/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Johnny Ludden
Express-News Staff Writer

Gregg Popovich leaned against the wall just outside his office at the AT&T Center and smiled. Though the Spurs and Dallas Mavericks were an hour away from meeting in Monday's seventh and decisive game, he already had seen enough to be impressed.

Never had Popovich been involved in a playoff series where the margin between victory and defeat was so thin and the competitiveness so fierce.

"Whoever loses," Popovich said, "will still feel like they have a hell of a basketball team, that's for sure."

A day later, the Spurs' championship reign having ended beneath the frustration of a Game 7 loss, Popovich felt the same. Even more so after watching his team erase a 20-point deficit before fading in overtime.

"We're a hell of a basketball team, and Dallas is a hell of a basketball team," Popovich said. "They get to go forward this year. But I've never been more proud of a team and the way they competed."





In that sense, Popovich is glad the Spurs don't need to change their core this summer. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are returning and — judging from the 32.3 points Duncan averaged in the Western Conference semifinals — all appear to be near their prime or, in Parker's case, approaching it.

The Spurs also figure to surround their three stars with more than a few familiar faces. Of the 14 players on the team's roster, only four are free agents: Nazr Mohammed, Nick Van Exel, Sean Marks and Melvin Sanders.

Van Exel is retiring, and there's a good chance Mohammed, who turned down a contract extension before the season and played sparingly in the playoffs, also won't be back. If the Spurs do re-sign Mohammed, then Rasho Nesterovic probably would be traded. Investing $14 million in two centers in the league's small-ball era is unlikely.

"We have to figure out what we want to do, as far as bigs are concerned," Popovich said. "Do we want (power forwards) or do we want (centers)? How small do we want to play, or how big do we want to play? Do we want to try to be big, even if somebody else is small?"

The NBA free-agent pool this summer isn't deep compared to other years, and the Spurs don't have a first-round pick in next month's draft. But they will explore signing two previous selections: Argentine forward Luis Scola and Lithuanian forward/center Robertas Javtokas.

Depending on how much of the Spurs' $5.1 million midlevel exception Scola seeks — the team also has a $1.75 million exception available — Javtokas might be more cost effective. Trading Scola's rights or working a sign-and-trade deal with Mohammed are other options.

The Spurs nearly traded Brent Barry midway through the season, and they still would like to get younger and more athletic on the perimeter. Sooner rather than later, they need to start grooming someone to succeed Bruce Bowen.

Popovich, however, isn't ready to declare the team eligible for AARP benefits just yet. Versatility, he said, is almost as important as athleticism.

"I listen to how athletic Dallas was and how we couldn't handle it, and it just makes me smile," Popovich said. "If you win, there's all kinds of things you did well. If you lose, there's got to be reasons why you lost.

"So if they're more athletic, I need to figure out how much more to win by a point. How much more athletic is that?"

Robert Horry, who declared himself a "dinosaur" a week ago after watching the Mavericks zip by him, told his teammates during Tuesday's season-ending meeting they could help themselves by arriving at training camp in shape.

"For a guy who's been around the block a long time to say he's going to get himself physically ready to compete next year means a lot," Michael Finley said. "Hopefully, everybody took that to heart and that's our motto going into the summer."

The Spurs expect to have six players compete in this summer's World Championships, including three starters. Duncan, however, isn't among them. He will rest his right foot, even though it didn't seem to trouble him much, if at all, during the playoffs.

"I think what Timmy will probably do, No. 1, is continue with a regimen about what he puts in his body," Popovich said. "His body was the trimmest it's ever been. He'll do what he has to do to stay in shape but not aggravate the foot."

Duncan's renaissance — "He's unbelievable and unguardable," Dirk Nowitzki said after watching him score 41 points Monday — gives the Spurs optimism for next season. So does the development of Parker, whose next step, Popovich said, is to improve his decision-making and sharpen his leadership.

The Spurs' first concern is making sure Ginobili doesn't dwell on Monday's loss. After giving the Spurs a 104-101 lead on a 3-pointer with 32.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter, he helped Dallas tie the game by fouling Nowitzki on a layup.

"We would have two less championships here if it wasn't for Manu Ginobili," Popovich said. "In my book, Manu Ginobili is the stud of the world.

"There's nobody that's a better competitor. I'd jump in a fox hole with him or go anywhere he wanted to go any time."

Ginobili naturally hopes to take the Spurs back to the top. Being eliminated by their biggest rival in a series where two losses came in overtime and another was by a single point adds to the motivation.

"When I first came here, coach preached about how other teams have that circumstantial fuel," Finley said. "Like a Detroit, being beat by San Antonio last year; by Dallas not being able to overcome San Antonio over the years.

"Now we have that circumstantial fuel."

Bowen thought the sting the Spurs felt from Derek Fisher's .4 shot two years ago — a shot that led to the end of their previous reign — was worse than that from Monday's loss.

"Maybe it's Dallas' year," Parker said. "I don't know."

As for the notion the Spurs have passed the torch to the Mavericks? Bowen shook his head.

"I don't think," he said, "we're old and decrepit quite yet."

Kegboy
05-24-2006, 09:48 AM
Pacers better wake up and get with the new NBA.

What do you mean?! We play Eddie Gill at SF, for god's sake! :rollout:

Do you really want us to go small, Buck? Danny Granger could play 5 just like Diaw.

I can't help but wonder, will we still be talking about the "new NBA" if the Western Conference team gets killed in the finals.

owl
05-24-2006, 09:49 AM
Speed kills, in the good sense. Unfortunately the Pacers have little to none.
Tinsley is considered quick but he has always been slow in my book.
AJ makes up for his slowness with strength and arm length.
Saras is slow.....but has good vision.
Steve Jackson is too slow to be a scoring guard but is a good small forward.
JO gave up his obvious advantage, quickness to bulk up.
Granger, the most athletic Pacer does not have that killer first step but he
is adequate. Do I need to talk about the center position?


owl

Bball
05-24-2006, 10:00 AM
The answer is not the fact teams look to go small, it is the ball movement and simply not trying to make your big man the sole focus of the offense.

True, some of the speed is just that, 'foot speed', but some of it is simply keeping the ball and players moving (it's hard to look 'fast' standing at the 3 point line watching another player "go to work").

-Bball

Unclebuck
05-24-2006, 11:09 AM
The problem is when the Pacers go small they are still slow. Croshere is an undersized power forward and yet still slow. The backcourt no matter who we play (except Freddie) is still slow.

DisplacedKnick
05-24-2006, 11:27 AM
Quickness at the 1,2, and 3 has always been the number 1 attribute. Power at the 5 is still the number 1 attribute.

The key between whether the game will be seen as a speed or power game is at the 4.

However there are very few 5's that you'd consider pure power players. Shaq and Curry are about it with players like Yao, Miller and Duncan (I consider him a 5 even next to Nesto/Nazr) a mix.

Los Angeles
05-24-2006, 11:52 AM
The real problem here is the diminishing quality of the bigs.

I'll take big guys over small/fast guys of the same caliber any day of the week.

kidthecat
05-24-2006, 12:07 PM
The Pacers' biggest problem is their lack of perimeter defense. Give them two speedy--but not undersized--guards and suddenly the defense will become all the more stingy and less position will be lost in rebounding.

The league may be on the verge of change, but it isn't there yet. Speed will never completely dominate power.

And teams still can't afford to forsake big men in convenience due to their rarity and the morphing of the game.

But, the days of iso may be coming to an end (not that I'm complaining).

ChicagoJ
05-24-2006, 12:14 PM
I'd agree that the Pacers need to get quicker without getting any smaller.

I think post play is still important, and I think the Spurs lost because they played down to the Mavs (although they really could've used Malik Rose this season.)

I agree with LA's post above 100%. Problem is, many of our legit 'bigs' play small. SA did have more success guarding Dirk with Tony Parker than any other player, because Dirk's got a tendency to play much smaller than he is.

CableKC
05-24-2006, 01:32 PM
I'm guessing that a team doesn't all of a sudden transform into the Mavs/Suns of the NBA overnight. Changing to this style of game would necessitate changing the coach and likely players on the team.

The Mavs seem to be able to be a team that is capable of playing solid defense and then putting up a great # of points. The problem is that they are a solid defensive or offensive team....but rarely both.

Is it possible to still play great overall defense while playing this style of NBA basketball?

Flax
05-24-2006, 02:06 PM
What is missing in this article is the info, that both D'Antoni and Nelson know international basketball very well. The first one spent time coaching in Italy before comming to NBA, the other one was one of the first to get euro player on Golden State Wariors and has a son (Nelosn Junior), who is on the coaching staff in Lithuanian national team, alongside being the scout for Mavs.

And when you look at Dallas and Suns, one thing is striking - ball movement, going small and less athletism than it is used to be in NBA. Looks quite similar to Euroleague teams, but substantially better players. Very good synergy I would say.

Unclebuck
05-24-2006, 03:03 PM
I'd love a team that has extreme quickness at every position and have the following height

Point guard - 6'6"
Shooting guard - 6'8"
Snall forward - 6'10"
power forward - 6'11"
Center - 7'0"

That would be great, but that is not going to happen ever.

No one is saying we would like the Pacers to be small at all 5 positions, I don't want that, but what I want more than height is quickness. Quickness can help defensively and offensively.

I also want to reiterate, that I still think defense is as important as ever, but with the new rules you need quicker players.

ChicagoJ
05-24-2006, 03:10 PM
I'm guessing that a team doesn't all of a sudden transform into the Mavs/Suns of the NBA overnight. Changing to this style of game would necessitate changing the coach and likely players on the team.

The Mavs seem to be able to be a team that is capable of playing solid defense and then putting up a great # of points. The problem is that they are a solid defensive or offensive team....but rarely both.

Is it possible to still play great overall defense while playing this style of NBA basketball?

Yes.

But the knee-jerk reaction is to call it bad defense. Especially if you're a Hubie Brown disciple (and that includes Chuck Daly, Larry Brown, many other current coaches, UncleBuck and Kstat.) (EDIT - I've always loved the way Terry Pluto harps on this very fact in Falling From Grace.)

The name of the game defensively is to force your opponent to take shots that they don't want to take, but you want them to take. Regardless of what anyone else tells you, you don't have to grab, hold, mug or manhandle your opponent to do this. That's one way, certainly, but its not the only way. The problem in the post Lakers/Celtics era that we're in, is that every coach except Bo Hill, Don Nelson, Mike D'Antoni, and Paul Westhead has tried to play that style of game, both offensively and defensively. Maybe Byron Scott and Adelman get a pass because of their use of the Princeton offense, and Phil Jackson for the triangle, but those are the only exceptions to the tried-and-true.

And nobody was better at forcing opponents to take shots they shouldn't take than the 1980s-Lakers, who would pack in the lane and convince their oppoents to take long (open) jumpers early in the shot clock and then convert those long rebounds into running opportunities. But the Lakers defensive FG% was respectable, and of course their scoring margin was always significantly positive.

DisplacedKnick
05-24-2006, 03:16 PM
The Mavs are a very sound defensive team.

The other team that historically was a very good defensive team was the George Karl Sonics. Now the numbers didn't reflect it because he played 9 or ten players every game, they trapped all over the place and their opponents got a lot of layups. But they got even more and they forced the other team to play their game.

The problem was, they never had much success in the playoffs.

Unclebuck
05-24-2006, 03:26 PM
Jay, the Bulls were a great defensive team in the 90's, but they did it differently than the Knicks. Bulls used quickness, length, pressure, and a great defensive system to do what they did. They weren't as physical as the Knicks, but they weren't soft either. Offensively they controlled the ball, took good shots, moved the ball and then Michael would often bail them out.

Jay, you really need to drop Paul Westhead from your list, because what he did with the Nuggets was an embarassment to civilization.


I think the Sonics often failed in the playoffs because their defense was too gimmicky. Too bad because they had some outstanding defensive players

JayRedd
05-24-2006, 04:06 PM
I can't help but wonder, will we still be talking about the "new NBA" if the Western Conference team gets killed in the finals.

when...but agreed

Eindar
05-24-2006, 05:07 PM
"Coincidentally, the man blamed for popularizing thuggery has to knock out the physical and nasty Pistons to return to the Finals, to prove that style doesn't work anymore. Riley has to kill the part of the league he created, the part already dead out West."

Where's Jermainiac? Didn't we just discuss the definition of a "thug"? This is the definition, in the NBA sense, and it proves that he's wrong ;)


Back on topic, I think that size is good, skill/speed is good, but having both is best. One thing we have to do this off-season is get quicker, because the league is becoming faster, and defense is about speed, which we have precious little of.

ChicagoJ
05-24-2006, 05:17 PM
Jay, the Bulls were a great defensive team in the 90's, but they did it differently than the Knicks. Bulls used quickness, length, pressure, and a great defensive system to do what they did. They weren't as physical as the Knicks, but they weren't soft either. Offensively they controlled the ball, took good shots, moved the ball and then Michael would often bail them out.

The Bulls were very physical on the perimeter, whereas the Knicks were very physcial in the paint. Either way, both teams were very physical. They pressured the perimeter more than say, the Knicks, because they could. And vice-versa for the Knicks in the paint... because they could.


Jay, you really need to drop Paul Westhead from your list, because what he did with the Nuggets was an embarassment to civilization.

True.


I think the Sonics often failed in the playoffs because their defense was too gimmicky. Too bad because they had some outstanding defensive players

True, that was when George Karl seemed obsessed with taking a team that would've been a great defensive team without gimmicks and making them worse because of the gimmicks. It worked well in the regular season, but gimmicks don't work well in a seven-game series. Unless your opponent plays down to your strength, as San Antonio did in the last series.

CableKC
05-24-2006, 05:18 PM
Yes.

But the knee-jerk reaction is to call it bad defense. Especially if you're a Hubie Brown disciple (and that includes Chuck Daly, Larry Brown, many other current coaches, UncleBuck and Kstat.) (EDIT - I've always loved the way Terry Pluto harps on this very fact in Falling From Grace.)

The name of the game defensively is to force your opponent to take shots that they don't want to take, but you want them to take. Regardless of what anyone else tells you, you don't have to grab, hold, mug or manhandle your opponent to do this. That's one way, certainly, but its not the only way. The problem in the post Lakers/Celtics era that we're in, is that every coach except Bo Hill, Don Nelson, Mike D'Antoni, and Paul Westhead has tried to play that style of game, both offensively and defensively. Maybe Byron Scott and Adelman get a pass because of their use of the Princeton offense, and Phil Jackson for the triangle, but those are the only exceptions to the tried-and-true.

And nobody was better at forcing opponents to take shots they shouldn't take than the 1980s-Lakers, who would pack in the lane and convince their oppoents to take long (open) jumpers early in the shot clock and then convert those long rebounds into running opportunities. But the Lakers defensive FG% was respectable, and of course their scoring margin was always significantly positive.
Does "forcing a player to shot when they don't want to" ( which sounds like more of a job for a psychic then a defender like Bruce Bowen ) conform more to the coaching style, the players or both?

This sounds like an overall philosophy that a coach preaches and something that a team would have to adopt.

Can one not argue that the "slow everything down to a screeching halt" method of defense a way to force your opponent to run their offense in a manner that they are not accustomed to?

ChicagoJ
05-24-2006, 05:24 PM
"Force" may not be the right word. "Entice" might be better.

Opponents of the Lakers always felt they were taking good shots during the course of the game, but then would watch the film and be mad at themselves for settleing for jumpers too early in the shotclock.

"But I was open..." was a sure-fire way to getting the Lakers to run down your throats. Unless you shot an absurdly high percentage, you'd get crushed.


Can one not argue that the "slow everything down to a screeching halt" method of defense a way to force your opponent to run their offense in a manner that they are not accustomed to?

Of course. But it loses its impact when every team's defensive strategy is to slow everything to a screeching halt. And again, lower scores don't really result from better defense, they result from a grind-it-out pace.

SoupIsGood
05-24-2006, 05:29 PM
They can all go small, we'll get bigger and more well-rounded, and beat them all.

:trophy:

Shade
05-24-2006, 11:49 PM
Rick would play 5 PGs if he could get away with it.

Arcadian
05-25-2006, 12:28 AM
The NBA isn't going small; it is having long quick versitile players. What is changing is how many Diaws, Joe Johnsons, Daniels type players that are out there. Having these players able to play anywhere lets teams create mismatches, spreading the floor and allowing teams get away with smaller backcourts.

larry
05-25-2006, 05:57 AM
Yeah, Duncan is just getting older now and after 3 rings he isn't as hungry. He did show some fire at the end of his team's playoff run, but he had a bad season and you just cant turn it on and beat a team or player that busted their a*s all year. Elton Brand isn't exactley a titan size-wise either. The Clippers other dude Kamen isn't much of a big factor imo.
Let's be real... Detroit's got good size.
Miami has Shaq, Alonzo, and 6'11 Haslim.
Dallas has two 7 footers they use. If you count Dirk then that's 3.
The NBA isn't going small. 3 of the 4 teams left are big and good at defense.
In fact Dallas improved alot in the defensive area after Nelly got canned and this the most dangerous they have ever been in my lifetime.
Avery Johnson is the pioneer for changing the Dallas philosphy. They didn't play good D tonite and are down a game.
The real truth is that PHX is just a differant team. They are an exception to the rule.
Most experts will say Mavs vs. Spurs was the real WCF. Dallas should win this series as well.
I predict there will be no tittle for small-ball teams!!
Amari had good size and the Suns were better last year imo. Too bad the Spurs were in the way with too much size.
It is semi-impressive the Suns have been in the NBA's top 5 club the last 2 years, but they aren't ever winning a tittle.
If they do win it all this year... well I would be stunned!!!!!!!!!!!!
They can't do it and this article has facts that have been spun to form a fake reality.

Fool
05-25-2006, 09:48 AM
Yeah, Duncan is just getting older now and after 3 rings he isn't as hungry. He did show some fire at the end of his team's playoff run, but he had a bad season and you just cant turn it on and beat a team or player that busted their a*s all year.

I usually agree with most of your posts (that I've seen) and I agree with some of what you said (that I didn't quote) but I particularly don't agree with this portion.

Duncan didn't have a poor season because he was sluffing off, he struggled through injury most of the season and thankfully (for Spurs fans anyway) Tony Parker picked up the slack. The Spurs finished with a better record then they've ever had, they didn't coast during the regular season and then try to turn it on. They played the whole year and just lost.

PacerMan
05-25-2006, 10:00 AM
Mike Wise is a very well respected NBA writer. He now writes for the Washington Post, but used to write for the NY Times and I think the LA Times before that.

Amazingly there are comments in this article from Bill Walton that I agree with 100%

Pacers better wake up and get with the new NBA.



http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301726_pf.html

It Took Two Big Men To Go Small

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, May 24, 2006; E01



When the NBA's renaissance is chronicled, Don Nelson and Mike D'Antoni will go down as the great innovators. When Pat Riley was stuck on analog, they thought digital. When the league became more physical and predictable -- when finding an antidote to Shaquille O'Neal was all that mattered -- they saw the future in a 6-foot-nothing point guard who skittered around the court like a water bug.

When people think back to when the game became good again, Steve Nash should be remembered as their instrument for change.

Nelson no longer coaches Dallas and D'Antoni has but three years under his belt in Phoenix. But both visionaries were told their crazy offensive ideas about building a championship-caliber team were flawed and unconventional, if not foolish. Sometime in the mid-1990s, the playoffs became more about stopping your opponent than outscoring it. And a team without a bona fide big man was not supposed to last into May.

That thinking made Nelson and D'Antoni outcasts in their own profession, the picked-on brainy kids in gym class. In a copycat league where defense and intimidation were king, they forged ahead anyway, sometimes for the betterment of the game more than their own franchises.

Tonight, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, their innovation will be rewarded. Dallas and Phoenix staved off superior big men in Game 7s and now will play for a berth in the NBA Finals. It's just wild to think two "small ball" squads are eight wins from a championship. The larger prize for D'Antoni and Nelson is that they contributed to a climate that made the game worth watching again.

They didn't just bring back scoring in the 120s; they brought back moving the ball like a hot potato. They brought back lean frames, players who need to stay in shape to play the style of the Suns and Mavericks. They also contributed to the death of the center position, or at least the redefinition of a pivot's job.

Boris Diaw, a natural point guard at 6 feet 8, is now the Suns' starting center. He runs, he moves and he spots up consistently from inside 20 feet. Two classic centers, DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, share the position for Dallas. But the Mavericks' truly effective big men are the lithe and agile Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard.

The game has gone so dizzy with change that Bill Walton almost sold himself out Monday night. One of the great centers said his breed is dying, if not dead. He was at home in San Diego, watching the furious pace of back-to-back Game 7s, and he kept calling a friend back to rave about Nash, whom Walton described as "short, slow and can't jump."

"But he's the most appealing player in the game," Walton said. "The most exciting player in the game. His legacy comes down to showing everyone that this game wasn't about size and strength."

No one would say LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh weren't franchise-altering picks. But it's no coincidence the last two guys chosen in the first round of the 2003 draft -- Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa and Dallas's Howard -- are playing for a trip to the Finals. They represent that combination of skill, speed and constant movement that other teams need and want to emulate.

"Nellie started the league on this trend but Mike D'Antoni has continued the vision," said Jeff Van Gundy, who was once a Riley disciple in New York and now coaches Houston. "I remember every time Mike put a big lineup out there when he first got to the Suns, we killed them."

But when D'Antoni began experimenting with the sinewy Shawn Marion, a natural swingman, at the power forward position and Amare Stoudemire, more of an athletic power forward, at the center position, the Suns changed their game. "Mike had the courage to do it and stick with it," Van Gundy said. "He's never veered from who he is and who his team is."

Said Walton: "Look at Dallas. They're the perfect example of where the NBA is going. They spend all this money on these big stiffs, but Marquis Daniels, Josh Howard and Devin Harris are the reason they're going to the conference finals -- these lithe, fast and smart players. It's not because they got these big power guys inside."

All of the NBA's signature eras had been forgotten on the court: Bill Russell and the team game. The Knicks and the brilliance of the smaller, undersize squad winning with passing. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the skill, grace and beauty belonging to the tallest player on the floor. Bird and Magic -- their passing and passion. And even Michael Jordan, the combination of every great player who came before him. It had all been lost in translation, lost in transition.

Until Nash brought it back. Until Nelson and D'Antoni decided to buck convention.

Riley has seen this coming since his warhorse Miami teams were outrun by more athletic Knicks teams in the playoffs. It says something about his ability to remain contemporary that he has gone back to the two-superstar idea. He knows Shaq and Dwyane Wade give him a better opportunity to return to the halcyon days of Magic and Kareem than slogball.

Coincidentally, the man blamed for popularizing thuggery has to knock out the physical and nasty Pistons to return to the Finals, to prove that style doesn't work anymore. Riley has to kill the part of the league he created, the part already dead out West.

"Steve Nash, Barbosa, Howard, Gilbert Arenas -- those type of players are the future of basketball," Walton began, "not some lug who's going to stand around and be a 10-year project before they completely break your heart."

2006 The Washington Post Company


Every time someone with a different style wins something, everyone talks about the new team ideal and how it's changing everything. That lasts until that team gets beat and then the next "new" style is in vogue. Small is in BECAUSE of the dearth of quality big men, NOT because it's 'better'. Shaq is a shadow of his former self. Just look at what Duncan just did to see that bigs will always dominate IF they are good enough.
Nothing 'new' here.

PacerMan
05-25-2006, 10:04 AM
Yeah, Duncan is just getting older now and after 3 rings he isn't as hungry. He did show some fire at the end of his team's playoff run, but he had a bad season and you just cant turn it on and beat a team or player that busted their a*s all year. Elton Brand isn't exactley a titan size-wise either. The Clippers other dude Kamen isn't much of a big factor imo.
Let's be real... Detroit's got good size.
Miami has Shaq, Alonzo, and 6'11 Haslim.
Dallas has two 7 footers they use. If you count Dirk then that's 3.
The NBA isn't going small. 3 of the 4 teams left are big and good at defense.
In fact Dallas improved alot in the defensive area after Nelly got canned and this the most dangerous they have ever been in my lifetime.
Avery Johnson is the pioneer for changing the Dallas philosphy. They didn't play good D tonite and are down a game.
The real truth is that PHX is just a differant team. They are an exception to the rule.
Most experts will say Mavs vs. Spurs was the real WCF. Dallas should win this series as well.
I predict there will be no tittle for small-ball teams!!
Amari had good size and the Suns were better last year imo. Too bad the Spurs were in the way with too much size.
It is semi-impressive the Suns have been in the NBA's top 5 club the last 2 years, but they aren't ever winning a tittle.
If they do win it all this year... well I would be stunned!!!!!!!!!!!!
They can't do it and this article has facts that have been spun to form a fake reality.


Duncan fought Plantar Faciatis (sp) ALL season. If you ever have the misfortune to feel it you'll know why he had a sub-par season.

Putnam
05-25-2006, 10:06 AM
The NBA isn't going small. 3 of the 4 teams left are big and good at defense.

.

As I've understood the argument made by Uncle Buck and others, "smallball" doesn't mean shorter players, it means playing quicker -- combining ball movement with passes plus the ability of more than one player to drive and dish.

Larry's points are valid, but we just need emphasize that the concept of "smallball" does not mean shorter players who play the same old way. Between two teams that are equally proficient the taller one will likely win.

themind
05-25-2006, 10:08 AM
This years US national team is the best example of small ball (todays bball vogue) ;)

Putnam
05-25-2006, 10:09 AM
Small is in BECAUSE of the dearth of quality big men, NOT because it's 'better'.


There's also the issue of different enforcement of the rules, which allows more movement and changes the balance of advantage.

rexnom
05-25-2006, 10:27 AM
Every time someone with a different style wins something, everyone talks about the new team ideal and how it's changing everything. That lasts until that team gets beat and then the next "new" style is in vogue. Small is in BECAUSE of the dearth of quality big men, NOT because it's 'better'. Shaq is a shadow of his former self. Just look at what Duncan just did to see that bigs will always dominate IF they are good enough.
Nothing 'new' here.
Completely agree. Brand and Duncan absolutely dominated in their respective series and their teams had a very nice chance of winning (the Clippers just chose game 7 as their worst game of the series). Imagine if we had the two more conventional Spurs and Clippers now. What would people be saying then?

This is why I think the Pacers can't overreact to stuff like this. I think JO has the right idea with losing weight and becoming quicker. I like JO against smallball better than JO against Detroit and Miami. I think this proves more than ever how rare big guys are. We're lucky, we have a quality big guy...now if only he could stay healthy...

PacerMan
05-25-2006, 01:35 PM
There's also the issue of different enforcement of the rules, which allows more movement and changes the balance of advantage.

Good point, but I think even that is a response from the league TO the lack of quality big men right now. Get a couple more that become big stars and they'll cater to the big men again.

JayRedd
05-25-2006, 01:47 PM
Good point, but I think even that is a response from the league TO the lack of quality big men right now. Get a couple more that become big stars and they'll cater to the big men again.

Agreed.

The new rules certainly do favor perimeter players (imagine if defenders hadn't have been able to hand-check MJ for 15 straight years). But I'd suggest everyone prints this article out and re-reads it in about 4 years when the League is being dominated by Howard, Yao, Bosh and Oden and has a good laugh. I can't see some of other guys who will be the "faces" of this League over the next decade (i.e., Lebron and Carmelo) ever embracing this style either.

You really need a good assemblence of the right guys (or, more accurately, you need to have Shawn Marion) to make this work. I recall a certain team in Seattle playing this exact style last year, winning their division and making an exciting playoff run that was supposed to be a part of this NBA "revolution". I forget how that turned out though. :unimpress

SoupIsGood
05-25-2006, 03:24 PM
This is why I think the Pacers can't overreact to stuff like this.

Yes!!