The Golden State Warriors are going small again, and it makes as little sense as it ever has.
Part of the coach Mark Jackson’s penchant for playing David Lee and Carl Landry, both slightly undersized power forwards, together is being explained as a necessity. With Golden State actively trying to win every single game they play—preseason or otherwise—Landry and Lee give the Warriors two legitimate, proven NBA frontcourt players. When Festus Ezeli, the Dubs’ only capable center, is on the bench, Landry and Lee are a better option than any combination that involves Andris Biedrins or Jeremy Tyler. Or so it would seem.
But Jackson’s habit, and his stated regard for the combo are problematic.
First of all, we’ve all seen the Warriors play small since the beginning of recorded history. Or 1992. Whatever.
The point is, we know how this turns out. Maybe Lee and Landry look superficially good together. Maybe they have nice box scores. But it’s ridiculously obvious that they give up way more on the defensive end than they get offensively. Neither one is even an average post defender and neither assists his teammates by sliding over to help on defense.
Sure, both can score. But putting the two of them out there is practically an endorsement of 20-plus years of failed strategy in Golden State. Playing small absolutely doesn’t work unless the unit is so devastating on offense that it forces the opposition to shrink its own lineup. Big beats small in the NBA. That might change someday, as Zach Lowe points out for Grantland, but that day isn’t coming anytime soon. And even when/if it does arrive, it’ll involve superstars like LeBron James with the talent to play out of position.
Is everyone sitting down? David Lee and Carl Landry aren’t LeBron James.
So, even if it means sacrificing something on offense and looking cosmetically less appealing as a whole, the Warriors have to ditch this small-ball nonsense. The franchise showed it understood the importance of being big (for lack of a more refined term) by bringing in Andrew Bogut and drafting large wings in Klay Thompson (2011) and Harrison Barnes (2012). So this has to stop.
More specifically, the Lee-Landry pairing doesn’t even necessarily make sense on offense. The two tend to operate in the same areas and it’s hard to get maximum value out of both if they’re on the floor at the same time. When Landry’s in the game, he needs to isolate on the post and go to work on his man. The best pairing for his game involves a bulky center who can crash the boards when Landry takes his shot and help cover up his defensive weaknesses on the other end. Lee needs that same bruising mate up front (Australian pun intended).
Here are a couple of alternatives, ugly as they might seem: Let Ezeli foul out and give Andris (if healthy) the backup center minutes. I don’t care how it happens, but Lee and Landry shouldn’t ever see the court at the same time.
So let’s stop the madness, please.