NBA Roundtable: Is small-ball dead?

Profile Picture: Ryan Murphy

September 15th, 2020

BetAmerica has teamed up with Covers and OddsChecker to break down the latest news and trends from around the Association. This week NBA columnists Jason LoganSam Farley and Ryan Murphy discuss the NBA MVP award, the future of small-ball, and Mike D’Antoni’s next landing spot.

The NBA Finals MVP is named after Bill Russell and the All-Star Game MVP is named after Kobe Bryant. Who should the regular season MVP award be named after?

Jason: Jordan. Jordan. Jordan. Jordan. Regardless of what we think of MJ after ingesting The Last Dance on repeat during COVID quarantine, MJ is a five-time regular season MVP winner (and probably should have won more. I’m looking at you Karl Malone) and should be honored with his name on the award. And change the statue to Mike punching Steve Kerr in the face.

Sam: I think we can all agree a refresh is needed. It’s probably too early to name it after Luka Doncic, but give it another 20-30 years and let's see. In all seriousness, I think it should be named after Wilt Chamberlain. Let’s do it NBA!

Ryan: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets my vote. Not only does he hold the record with six regular season MVP awards, but he’s also a 19-time All-Star, a six-time champion, and the leading scorer in NBA history. Those are serious bona fides. Kareem was easily the most dominant player in the 1970s, and it can be argued that he enjoyed the longest prime in league history, as evidenced by the fact he won a pair of NBA Finals MVP awards 14 years apart. The NBA shouldn't even bother with a traditional trophy – just give the winner a pair of golden goggles.

True or false: The Rockets small-ball experiment was an unmitigated failure.

Jason: "Unmitigated" is a strong word. Houston was a failure: it lost. However, that loss came against two all-time greats in a weird postseason situation in which player motivation may have been a bit iffy in those final games of the series. You’re going to need more than P.J. Tucker and his really cool sneakers to make up for a lack of beef in the middle. Get the right "center" and I think small ball can succeed. 

Sam: I totally bought into small-ball and thought the Rockets would beat the Lakers, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask. It was a failure this season, that much we can say for sure, but it wasn’t an unmitigated failure. I don’t think it’s something we’ll see again for a while, but given the issues it caused opposing teams at various points, it’s possible that we'll see elements of it in the future. Small-ball could end up being a key moment in the evolution of the game.

Ryan: False. The Lakers demonstrated just how devastating small-ball can be when they ditched Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee after their Game 1 loss and rolled out a lineup featuring Anthony Davis at the five and Markieff Morris at the four. Granted, that configuration may not fit a purist’s view of small-ball, but it did prove how effective the strategy can be with the right personnel. The real irony for the Rockets is that they were better equipped to play small a year ago before they swapped Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. Russ’ inability to nail open threes against L.A. contracted the court and allowed the Lakers to double-team James Harden, thereby negating Houston’s greatest strength.

Mike D'Antoni is suddenly a free agent after parting ways with Houston. Where do you expect him to coach next?

Jason: I don’t see him getting a NBA head coaching gig right away. If he wants to, I think he could bring that style of play to college basketball and really make a splash. The NCAA is a better fit for a smaller lineup and trigger-happy attack, and D’Antoni could recruit players to best fit that system. It would be kind of like bringing Paul Westhead’s Loyola playbook back to its roots. But that’s if he wants to. He could take a year or two off and then get another job in the pros.

Sam: I’d like to see him in Philadelphia. I can’t really see how it would work, or that the personnel fit with his preferred way of playing, but it would be fine. Let’s get D'Antoni to Philly!

Ryan: I expect D’Antoni to jump back into the job market immediately and to land a gig with the Pelicans, where he’ll replace his old protégé Alvin Gentry. New Orleans already has the shooters D’Antoni covets for his space and pace offense and he could create an absolute monster by converting Zion Williamson into a small-ball center. NOLA is such a natural landing spot that I’m amazed it hasn’t already happened.