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Memo To Warriors: Small Backcourts Don’t Win

December 3, 2011

When the Golden State Warriors hired former point guard Mark Jackson as head coach, my first thought was great, another year of the small backcourt. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tons of fun to watch. I think that Monta Ellis is a top-20 talent in this league while Stephen Curry will be a multiple-time All-Star (his ‘old school’ attitude and work ethic the main reasons). I also think they play surprisingly well off of each other, with Monta’s attack and Stephen’s shooting. I just believe, out of principle, that small backcourts don’t win in the NBA. Sure they get you on SportsCenter and put people in the seats, but ultimately it doesn’t translate to playoff success. And judging by recent rumors out of Golden State I think the Warriors agree with me…..

Reports are that the Warriors offered Monta Ellis to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for small forward Rudy Gay. While talks were mainly one-sided and didn’t progress, it shows that GM Larry Riley has seen the light. This franchise rode ‘small ball’ as far as they could in the Don Nelson Era (Part 2). Okay, so it did get them into the 2nd round of the playoffs in 2007 (the ‘We Believe’ run) but you could make the case that talent-wise they were as good as anybody that year. It was definitely a weak playoff group. The Utah Jazz that ultimately beat them weren’t more talented, they were just bigger. You could even argue that the Warriors were more talented than the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers that year (The Lebron James Show).

The small backcourt is a bad move in today’s NBA. Sure hand-checking is all but eliminated out on the perimeter, but that helps everyone score not just small guards (see Tony Allen and Sam Young). In the age of the big shooting guard, small backcourts cause too many mismatches on defense. Asking Curry/Ellis to guard the likes of Joe Johnson, Demar DeRozan, and Kobe Bryant is just plain suicide. Those guys just look right over the defense at 6-7/6-8, making the easy play every time. Having a small two-guard only works if you have a big defensive point guard for matchups purposes. It’s been proven. In 2001, the Philadelphia 76ers used big PG Eric Snow to offset small scoring dynamo SG Allen Iverson…it got them all the way to the NBA Finals. Fast forwarding 10 years later, the Dallas Mavericks used a similar strategy with Jason Kidd at the point. They often played the tiny J.J. Barea or the defensively-inept Jason Terry alongside him. This lineup was a major component in winning the championship last season.

Back to Golden State, it’s not like the small-guard lineup brought the Warriors better ball-handling last year. They were tied for 22nd in the league in turnovers with 14.6/game, and it had nothing to do with David Lee’s elbow injury. While the ideal situation would be to trade Ellis for a bigger guard to play alongside Curry, it’s not necessary. Restricted free agent Reggie Williams is an underrated talent and has started in the past. Small forward Dorrell Wright is coming off a breakout season and can also play some 2-guard. And let’s not forget rookie SG Klay Thompson whom the Warriors are quietly ecstatic about. There will be life after Monta in the bay, that’s fo’ sheez (‘hyphy’, it’s a bay thang).

I don’t think the helter skelter game created by a Ellis-Curry backcourt is going to get GSW into the playoffs in 2012….only solid defense and conventional lineups will.

Hopefully Mark Jackson and Larry Riley get the memo.


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{for more Warriors coverage, checkout the GSW Team Page}



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9 Responses to Memo To Warriors: Small Backcourts Don’t Win

  1. Maaaaaavz on December 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I’ve read quite a few of your posts and I’m a big fan. However, I did notice that you take a shot at Jason Terry whenever the context permits. NBA is full of guys who can score and can’t D-up (Joe Johnson, Mello, …). If Jet scored a few more points nobody would complain about his subpar defense. Besides, it’s good enough for a championship, right?

  2. Spitter14 on December 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    if one man can make it work it would be mark jackson. the small backcourt can thrive on the bay!

  3. Carlson on December 10, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    I do not understand why people are so in love with small guards. Did they forget about Magic Johnson?

  4. Goose20 on December 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Hell no. The small backcourt is dynamic and a tough matchup…the Warriors are back!

  5. Goldman on December 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    If it ain’t broke…………….

  6. clarence on December 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    looks like Reggie Dub is headed outta town. we gone miss williams

  7. Swedish Meatballz on December 19, 2011 at 8:22 am

    tyler and udoh are the future bigs in the bay

  8. rick anderson on December 26, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    While you make some good points here, the Clippers however are also playing to PG’s together in Paul and Billups. They look fine to me (blew out the Warriors on Christmas Day).

    • Martin Knezevic on December 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Rick, you make a great observation. The Clipper backcourt is very good with 2 point guards, but Chauncey is not your typical PG. He can guard opposing SG’s with his size. My point in this article was on more the defensive end, rather than offensively (on offense two small guards a tough to guard). Billups’ defensive abilities and size are an exception.

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