The Anti-Small-Ball Movement Intensifies In Memphis

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph
Dec 15 2012 Salt Lake City UT USA Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph 50 and center Marc Gasol 33 defend against the shot of Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson 25 during the second half at EnergySolutions Arena The Grizzlies won 99 96 Russ Isabella USA TODAY Sports

A look at last season’s NBA Final Four shows that small-ball might be given too much credit. Memphis, though praised most loudly during the playoffs for playing “big” through its bigs, wasn’t alone in subscribing to an anti-small-ball sentiment. Along with Indiana, and to a lesser degree, the Spurs, the Grizzlies decided to buck a trend that’s been emboldened by Miami’s three-year dominance: that small-ball holds the key to the NBA’s long-term design.

Out of the four teams, three of them used their height as an on-court advantage. Though their playing styles differed, with Memphis running their offense through Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and the Spurs through a kaleidoscopic pick-and-roll and lanky paint presence, they all had the tools to test Miami’s greatest weakness: size.

Of course, in the end, Miami still prevailed. But not without a little luck and not without an unspoken admission that their small-ball antics might be somewhat of an expired anomaly. Why else did they take a gamble on Greg Oden?

Two Miami Heat championships haven’t detracted from Memphis’ own long-term projections. They continue to believe that their success will come from adopting an anti-small-ball rubric. It’s not a move to contest the folly of small-ball basketball rather a desire to exploit it. After all, we’re not many years removed before the likes of Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas, Anthony Davis, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Brook Lopez, Nikola Vucevic and others make a convincing case for height again.

The Grizzlies have prepared for that coming reckoning, and for the closing window before it arrives, by sticking to their height-first approach. They recently picked up Fab Melo, a seven-footer, from Boston and earlier in the offseason they sent Darrell Arthur and their rights to Joffrey Lauvergne for efficient backup center Kosta Koufos. Melo is an immense question mark but can perhaps develop some under Gasol’s and Koufos’ wisdom. It remains to be seen.

This offseason Memphis also addressed some of their shooting hiccups by landing Mike Miller. And before the Trail Blazers signed Mo Williams, they were targeting the guard for his scoring ability, shooting prowess, and facilitating strengths―all of which the Grizz desperately need.

But mostly they’ve dug in their heels when it comes to their principal agenda.

Which is as follows:

1) Secure A Solid Backup For Marc Gasol

2) Give Youngster Ed Davis More Minutes

3) After More Minutes, See If Davis Can Replace Zach Randolph Who Is Aging Beyond His Assets (And Cost)

4) Keep The Anti-Small-Ball Movement Moving Forward

Beyond that, the Grizzlies still have other questions looming regarding their roster―like who starts at small forward―but they’ve struck to the script that got them to the Western Conference Finals last year for the first time. It hasn’t yet yielded them a championship, but their anti-small-ball movement isn’t going anywhere. It has only intensified.

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Bogar Alonso
Bogar Alonso is a dedicated student of the hardwood, soccer pitch, boxing ring, and tennis court. He is a regular NBA contributor to XN Sports. His work, involving more than just sports, has appeared on The Creators Project, A&E Networks, XXL Magazine, and others. Follow Bogar on Twitter @blacktiles