Everybody in the NBA is trending toward small lineups these days. Golden State has set the tone and a lot of teams are copying -- either to better guard the Warriors or to improve their ability to shoot three-point shots, which is another thing trending upward in the league.
And that's why I'd like to see the Trail Blazers at least give careful consideration to playing big.
Why try to be Golden State Junior? Why do whatever everyone else is doing? Do you really think you can do it better than the Warriors? I doubt it. They have a roster full of unique players with versatile ability. Portland, on the other hand, is suddenly blessed with some big players who can shoot from the outside, yet do great damage on the inside -- with scoring and rebounding.
I know, the first thing everyone asks is "How are those big guys going to guard those small guys?" Sure. And I'll respond simply with "How are those small guys going to guard those big guys?"
There was a time in the NBA -- in the years when centers were really CENTERS -- when you didn't dare put a small player on a big player, at any position.Teams were very skilled at finding those size mismatches swiftly and dealing with them deftly. I can still remember former Portland Coach Mike Schuler standing in front of me yelling, "'Duck' has a little one! 'Duck' has a little one!" -- meaning center Kevin Duckworth was switched onto by a smaller player. Duckworth would drop into the post, his teammates would get him the ball and he'd put a few moves on, culminating in a layup or dunk very quickly.
I'm not sure today's teams are as willing and able to take advantage of such mismatches -- but they should be. I sit and watch NBA coaches today respond to small-big matchups in the opposite way. I swear, if some of them had Wilt Chamberlain at center and the other team put a 5-11 guard on him, Wilt's coach would quickly yank Wilt out and throw his own 5-11 player into the game to match up with the little man. And I'm not trying to be a wise guy.
If the Trail Blazers have jusuf Nurkic and Caleb Swanigan in the game together, I'd love to see an opponent try to go small on them. Sure, Portland would get burned at the defensive end some -- but there are schemes to deal with such things. You can switch, you can zone, you can double-team -- all sorts of creative solutions. And meanwhile, your bigs are eating their lunch at the low post.
There is not an abundance of post players in the NBA right now but the Trail Blazers have Nurkic, Swanigan and Zach Collins -- and I'd like to see them operate near the basket.
Really, what do you have to lose by trying it? It's more fun to be different. As people trying to bump through traffic to get to the Moda Center in time for a 7 p.m. game will tell you, sometimes the road less traveled is the best way to your destination.