Commentary

Hollinger's PER Diem: Nov. 17, 2008

The NBA is moving away from small ball, with teams starting to load up on big men in their starting five, writes John Hollinger.

Updated: November 17, 2008, 3:01 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Smallball is dominant; that's the word on the street. But perhaps it's losing some of its luster. Not only are the Suns, who made all this popular in the first place, playing with a much more traditional lineup, but I now count three teams among those who have defied the trend and gone big -- real big.

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The most notable of the group is Orlando, which last season started 6-foot-10 Hedo Turkoglu, 6-10 Rashard Lewis and 6-11 Dwight Howard together in the frontcourt. That was an exception, we thought, because of the outstanding perimeter skills of Turkoglu and Lewis -- neither of whom really plays like his height.

But more recently, two teams have gone to huge frontcourts and had some success with it.

In Sacramento, the Kings responded to Kevin Martin's absence by playing 6-11 rookie Jason Thompson alongside 7-footers Mikki Moore and Brad Miller in the frontcourt. While Thompson has had some trouble chasing smaller players around the perimeter, the lineup has seemed to give the Kings some much-needed rebounding help, and in fact they've played reasonably well, given Martin's absence and their general talent level.

In Toronto, the Raptors unveiled a similar big lineup against Miami yesterday, playing 7-foot Andrea Bargnani at small forward alongside 6-10 Chris Bosh and 6-11 Jermaine O'Neal. The Raptors won, and Bargnani seemed more at home playing on the perimeter than he ever has as an interior player, so unlike Sacramento's temporary big lineup, I expect this one to last for a while. And if they have success with it, it could soon spawn more imitators.

New Jersey, for instance, could easily move Yi Jianlian to the 3 and play 7-footer Brook Lopez and 6-10 Josh Boone up front. (Actually, there are myriad combinations given all the bigs on the Nets' roster -- most notably, they could work productive rookie Ryan Anderson more heavily into the mix this way.) Like Bargnani, Jianlian has perimeter skills and has never seemed totally comfortable playing in the paint, and like Toronto, the Nets have an open sore at the small forward spot.

The Hawks are another team that could use this look more often, once Josh Smith comes back -- they've liked the results they're getting by pairing Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford together in the frontcourt and moving Smith down to the 3, although a lack of frontcourt bodies might prevent them from utilizing this option as often as they'd like. Several other teams are candidates to use this look from time to time, including contenders such as the Lakers and Jazz.

Maybe it will fizzle and teams will go back to playing small, but it's an early trend to watch. After years of teams shifting lineups smaller and smaller, we might be heading in the opposite direction.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.