Small ball (basketball)

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In basketball, small ball is a style of play used by a team that sacrifices height, physical strength and low post offense/defense in favor of a lineup of smaller players for speed, agility and increased scoring (often from the three-point line).[1] Some teams employ a non-center dominated style of play.[2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Teams often move a physically dominant player who would typically play the small forward position into the power forward position. Examples of players who have been used in this role include Kevin Durant,[7] Carmelo Anthony,[8] and LeBron James. A small forward who can play as a power forward may be known as a "hybrid forward",[9] cornerman or tweener. That individual would play alongside either a traditional power forward (shifted into the center position), or alongside a center. The vacant small forward position would then be filled with a swingman, a slasher small forward or shooting guard or a three-point specialist.

The advantage of using small ball is that the power forward position is occupied by a faster, more agile player who can outrun and outmaneuver the opposing power forward. In many cases the player may have a better three-point shooting percentage than a traditional power forward, which (as well as increasing points from three-point plays) can help spread the opposition defense. The opposing defender will come out to mark the player on the perimeter of the three point line, allowing space for teammates to run in and score around the basket. A player occupying this position, with a high three-point shot success percentage, is coined a "stretch 4".[10] When utilized by the Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra called this style of play "Pace and Space".[11]

While the style of play does have advantages, there are several disadvantages. The addition of speed and agility comes at the cost of strength and height. The lack of "big men" can make it more difficult to guard the space under the basket while on defense; it can also prevent the team from having a low-post offensive threat when attacking. Rebounding is often sacrificed; for example, in the 2012–13 season, the Miami Heat, playing small ball, had the most wins during the season of any team in either conference, but were the worst team in either conference, by a wide margin, in total rebounds.[12]

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