The Small Ball Revolution And The Sixers


“Small ball is dead in the NBA,” seems to be the cry of a lot of close NBA followers. It’s not just fans. It’s analysts, diehards, coaches, and even general managers. Seemingly, we’re entering a new era in the basketball world, one that shuts the door on big men being able to dominate games utilizing their physicality.

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  • Some coaches are easy to adapt, loving the fact that small ball is being ushered in as the normal ideal, but others have a tough time with it. Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards head coach, was highly criticized last season for being reluctant to go with a small lineup. He was blamed for their second half of the season that featured plenty of losses.

    When the playoffs came, Wittman gave in, and it worked beautifully. The Wizards swept the Toronto Raptors in their first series, and put up a fight against the Atlanta Hawks. After they were eliminated, Wittman admitted to the media that next year, small ball is the way to go.

    It’s easy to picture a team like Washington adopting small ball. Their centers are not that big, if you ask me. Marcin Gortat is 6’11 and 240 pounds. Look at a the Philadelphia 76ers, and it’s a much different story. Rookie Jahlil Okafor is expected to get the start, and he’s no light guy.

    Okafor is listed as the same height, but 30 pounds heavier than Gortat. As another NBA center put it, the small ball revolution is huge in the NBA, but there’s still no reason for a classic big man to not dominate, without having to stretch his shot out.

    Hassan Whiteside came onto the NBA scene last season, and exploded with talent, showing the world that he, “just wanted to get his 2K rating up.” He had been in the NBA system for a long time, but largely a member of D-League teams before coming to the Miami Heat last year and averaging over 11 points. Prior to that, he only had 29 total NBA career points.

    Typically, when you go with a smaller lineup, you want even your ‘big men’ to take shots that are further away, and carry more range on them. Whiteside’s rational approach within his tweet to this phenomenon is backed up by his shooting statistics from last season. 52.2% of his shots were taken within three feet of the hoop, and 35.4% were from 3-10 feet.

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    Clearly, Whiteside isn’t falling into the trend of the small ball approach that many teams are adopting.

    What we can get from this is the fact that Jahlil Okafor can thrive in this league. While all the signs of the trends of gamelans in the NBA point to us believing Okafor is going to be shut down by defenses, it’s clear the traditional big man is not completely dead.

    Okafor doesn’t have a long shot, but will dominate the paint, just like he did at Duke.

    At the same time, the Sixers aren’t completely ignoring the fact that stretching their shots is a good idea. According to Keith Pompey of, Nerlens Noel is working on his jumper, so they still could be trying to transition Noel to be a stretch four, a popular component of the ‘small ball’ game being adopted all across the league.

    The point is, traditional big men do still work in the NBA. Whiteside’s Tweet gets us all thinking. Have we been brainwashed with information telling us the era of traditional big men dominating the paint is over? I think yes.

    I think this Reddit user puts it best when they say, “buckets will never be outdated.” This is exactly what I feel about Okafor. He will find a way to get the ball in the hoop, and if he has to adapt, I’m sure he will. But for now, he’s a dominant big man that I’m excited to see play as he attempts to shut doubters down.

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