In The NBA, Size Mattered

In The NBA, Size Mattered

No one really knows who first asked the question or made the statement that size matters. Yet its ramifications replay over and over in daily life. With a big day like Super Tuesday this week it dominates politics and newsreels in election years like no other. Bernie is too big of a socialist for a capitalist country. Hilary too big of an establishment entity to soften a rebellious electorate. Trump too big of a (insert your own noun here) to (insert your own job title here).

The doting wife of Politics is Economics and size sometimes matters there on an equal marital standing. Only in 2008 were the banks too big to fail and yet ironically the government too small to bail them out. With TIME magazine’s article threatening the logical calculus behind another impending collapse only last week, it seems we often listen but rarely do we learn to change our ways. The hallmark of any good marriage you could say.

It goes without saying that we’ll eventually drift into the sporting realm at some point and then in now. Footballers this season think that Chelsea is too big of a club to go down from the Premier League and that Leicester is too small to win it all. While the former may not happen due in part to the dire form of those below them, the latter becomes more and more likely despite their salary totaling a tenth of last year’s winners. Even luck seems to be going their way with last minute winners and their rivals faltering as Arsenal did when they failed to beat a second string United team. United dug so deep into their squad that shirt number 51 trotted off the bench in the second half. Regardless, ask any success story and they’ll tell you at times, it’s better to be lucky than good.

Hopefully this doesn’t lead the way to us all experiencing the 2017 recession or a (insert name here) inauguration speech in the very same year. (And yes, parentheses can successfully allow me to dodge any and all implied political judgements while leaving them to you the mindful reader and for us to remain fast friends.) (See, I just did it again.) (And no, despite Spotlight’s Oscar win I won’t be tackling the third wheel of unspoken chat in religion any time soon). (That’s for next week).

But squaring that unspoken circle, avoidance of any mention of another of this year’s winners, Adam McKay’s masterful screenplay for the Big Short is as difficult as it should be timely. Adam succeeded in reaching a place where every commentator aims for, to make something understandable to those who care not to. The politely disinterested among us use size matters statements to maintain an active interest in topical conversations, while not having to delve too deeply into the 27th and latest CNN Republican Debate. Be honest, we’ve all done it on a myriad of topics beyond the big three.

Disclaimer: I continue to do it every week with my mere passing interest in English Football. I was born in Leicester, about 100 miles north of London and therefore I’m a Foxes Fan. Surviving pub chats in the UK without a passing knowledge of the nation’s game is tantamount to social suicide. Can I tell you who started at left back for them this weekend? God no. Does that matter? Hell no. By the time we’ve established that I know they won 1-0 against Norwich to maintain their lead at the top, the conversation has moved on.

Just like this has. Or back to the man behind Anchorman who took an alarming stab at the establishment in his acceptance speech by saying "Most of all, if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires: Stop!" Talk about biting that hand that feeds you on the topic of your greatest achievement.

Most of Adam’s well-meaning sentiment was defused in the next commercial break thanks to an advert from American Express involving political satirist and SNL regular Tina Fey. I mean, no one and I do mean no one does underlying contradictory irony like America. But just like everyone’s favorite 1970’s misogynist newscaster, Adam made an underlying great point. When it comes to matters of size and weirdo billionaires no one knows more than the NBA.

After another computer game virtual reality performance on ABC’s other weekend primetime slot, by its chef du jour Steph Curry, the Warriors of Golden State are still on pace to sweep the awards. Even if, just like the Oscars, the warrior spotlight now shines on some things that are becoming somewhat negative. With reports of a heated locker room debate of their own that would put most Republican candidates to shame, the Warriors could be close to cracking. Only a few months ago did their Small Center (It’s only a matter of time before that joins Small Forward in hoops vernacular) say, "We're trying to win another championship. That's what we're fueled by. I think we've gotten greedy, but a good greedy. I think it's way better to be greedy for success than hungover on success. I think we're on the right end of the spectrum, which is great."

But that’s a not a very big spectrum you’re looking at when it comes to greed. Walking that fine line is tough and it must be disconcerting for anyone on either side of the locker room door to hear Draymond apparently say “I am not a robot. I know I can play. You have me messed up right now. If you don't want me to shoot, I won't shoot the rest of the game.” Counting four uses of “I” and only two uses of “You” could be seen as divisive. Especially given his previous statement which was balance more in favor of the “We”. The “I’s” have it.

Pat Riley warned the world of the Disease of Me in his 1990’s book The Winner Within. Derived from his experiences as a Laker Champion and how he battled just such outbursts in the locker room during the marathon prospective back to back champs endure. In those days he shared more than just a tailor and barber with the financial elite. The native New Yorker Riley cut a very similar look to another greedy exec, one Gordon Gekko. Imitation being the most sincere form of flattery begs the question of who the Warriors see when they look in the mirror. Riley won big in his first go round with the Lakers as a player in ’72 and then coach in ’82, ’85, ’87 and ’88 while the fictional mirror image was ruling Wall Street. His encore as an executive spawned titles in 2012 and ’13 right after Gordon’s second act in “Money Never Sleeps”.

What separates most reporters and coaches is a direct experience of sporting success. Heated debates border on argumentative at every turn. A wrong word or sideways glance escalate things at the speed of sound. Just ask Blake Griffin. Players discard shoes after blow out losses, convinced that they’ll jinx other shoes in the closet. It’s not to say the locker room transcript holds the key to the Warriors success any more than those of Hilary’s Wall Street speeches does to her campaign. It just gives you a fleeting peak behind the curtain. Something to refer back to in years to come. The award winning, “I told you so” that is the Big Short if you will. Reporters, Anchormen and Journalists stake their reputation on it, the same way Steph does when he lets fly with 40 foot game winners and upstart wannabe champions do with undeserving injury time winning goals.

People read too much into big statements because it’s easy and they want to. Some resonate and win awards. Others become the paper my fish n’ chips from A Salt & Battery in the west village were wrapped in this weekend. Or at least it used to. But times they are a changing. Uber is the world’s biggest taxi firm which owns no vehicles. Facebook is the world’s largest media outlet that doesn’t write any articles. Even Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation supplier who owns no property.

The Warriors have evolved the game of basketball and not just with their lauded lineup of death with Iggy at the Power Forward and Green at the Small Center. In a game where intentional fouls and the death of offensive rebounding have led to the slowing of the fast break’s importance, the Warriors buck the trend. Scoring twice as many points on the break as ten other teams, they somehow have the only winning record in the top four running teams. Quite a feat. Fast breaks and the highlight dunks the networks crave for their cutaways are dwindling thanks in part to the insistence of big men to rebound and start the slow break with a dribble. All very impressive. We get it. You’re seven feet and can bounce a ball while chewing gum. Can you now please outlet it to a guard who can do the same, only quicker? You’ll be much better off on the business end of this break as a finisher off a rim run. Trust me. Speed and size matter it seems.

The Warriors brain trust have evolved the game and reduced David Lee’s career to rubble at the same time. With the pace being removed from the pace and space game, the champs doubled down. While still leading the league in 3v2’s and 2v1’s in transition they found a sure fire way to generate the same numerical advantage in the half court. Using their 1-4 middle screen roll Steph more often than not absorbs the focus and rightly so. But a willing passer, the release of the defensive switch, hedge or double team allows Green to play ball at the foul line. With a 4v3 advantage in the final quarter of the court, a single decision leads to a wide open shot. With forty plus percent shooters in each deep corner and a seven footer readying for a lob from the baseline, the defense has an unenviable decision to make.

To get back to this rant, Green shooting the 14 footer is a key part of opening up those other options. Just like on the break, the player with the ball needs to be an active threat, otherwise the three defenders can all stay home. The peek behind the curtain may have revealed a lack of confidence in what is without doubt the lowest percentage option within that play. A 90% dunk or two 40% corner three pointers both return more over time than a 50% mid ranger two. Ironically, to defend this play in such a manner requires a big, long center with mobility to zone the paint, allowing the corner defenders to stay home but not succumb to the lob pass.

So maybe Centers are too big to be effective or others not big enough. And maybe greed is good. Or maybe we’re at the top of the rollercoaster readying for the descent. After all, Jordan never played Olajuwon in 1994. Or the Timmy and the Admiral led Spurs in 1999. Were the wing driven Bulls lucky enough not to face a big man that could match them?

“Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated… The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” G. Gekko

The Warriors are doing it right, right now. On the break. In the half court. They find the big numerical advantage where others cannot. It’s up to the rest of the league to capture their essence to halt the evolutionary spirit of the Small Center and a back to back champion. The same as the evolution of a small club to the premier league’s peak. The evolution of a (insert adjective) presidential campaign. The evolution of a book to a screenplay.

If size mattered, then the elephant would be the king of the jungle and Jeb would still be running. But sometimes speed kills. And the lion is quicker than most and stronger than some. Just like the Warriors with their size and speed, it’s the killer combination that matters.