Oh, the doldrums of summer in the NBA. The draft has long since passed, free agency has dried up, and fans sit waiting in restless anticipation for that glorious opening tip of the new season on October 27th. However, it appears fans aren’t the only ones anxious for the start of the season, as Heat big man Hassan Whiteside and newly-crowned NBA champ Draymond Green entertained themselves with some good old fashioned twitter beef.
Apparently taking issue with the small-ball paradigm shift currently sweeping the NBA, Whiteside took to Twitter to air his grievances.
“Small ball only works on centers that can’t score #factsonly I wish you would put someone that 6’6 on me #careerhigh #highschooldays” Hassan Whiteside (@youngwhiteside), August 25, 2015
Insert 6’ 7” small-ball poster child Draymond Green. Fresh off his first NBA championship where he moonlighted as The Warriors’ center, the outspoken forward defended his craft, questioning Whiteside’s scoring ability.
“Can you score doe? Bigs becoming dinosaurs” Draymond Green (@Money23Green), August 26, 2015
Shots fired! While Whiteside averaged almost 11.8 points in less than 24 minutes per game (a whopping tenth of a point higher than Green’s average, incidentally), the jury is still out on his back-to-the-basket game, as many of his points came off of alley-oops, offensive rebounds, and put backs. The big man did show promise in the post when he got it there, shooting 51% on his 100 attempts, but half a season is hardly enough to make any definitive conclusions. Undeterred, though, Whiteside fired back.
And go small-ball the Warriors did. Against the likes of the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Rockets, and Cavs, Golden State rode their small-ball lineups to an NBA championship, facing centers like Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Timofey Mozgov.
Many would even argue that by inserting swingman Andre Iguodala into his starting lineup in game four of the Finals, Steve Kerr catapulted the Warriors to their first-ever championship using small-ball. Emboldened by his championship and new $82 million contract, Draymond got one last dig in there.
“82 million reasons to flop and the d league ain’t never been 1!!!! But keep wearing shirts chasing that 2k rating #thefinerthings” Draymond Green (@Money23Green), August 26 2015
D-League insults aside, the crux of this argument is an interesting one. Is the prototypical NBA big man a relic of the past? Is small-ball the new way of the NBA world? Of course, neither of these propositions is entirely true; there will always be a place in the league for an athletic 7-footer who can block shots and rebound, and it is also true that the game has evolved in a way that encourages smaller, more perimeter-oriented lineups.
An important point to be made, though, is that no team can go all small all the time like the Warriors did to start game four of the Finals. In fact, two of three of Golden State’s most-used lineups last season featured a traditional center in Andrew Bogut.
Lineups will always be dictated by situation, opponent, and the personnel at your disposal, and not every team is equipped like The Warriors are to go small. In order to play small-ball, you need lockdown perimeter defenders, and guards and forwards who rebound their position. Without them, opponents would have a cavalcade to the basket with no one there to protect the rim or grab misses. Teams who lack this personnel are able to compensate for perimeter mistakes with a big man (see: Hassan Whiteside).
Neither small-ball nor the big man are going away any time soon, and it’s in the best interest of teams to utilize their specific personnel to put the best lineups on the floor, small-ball or not.
Ultimately, though, Whiteside is the one with something to prove next year, not Green. Draymond and Golden State have already proven their model; they won a championship utilizing small-ball while Whiteside and the Heat watched from home. If Whiteside wants the last laugh, he and Miami will have to prove that big men do indeed still have a place in the league.
follow Ryan Thorner: @rgthorner
photo via llananba