The Warriors and Cavs coaching staffs didn’t create the concepts. They just had the most success with lineups with a shorter average height, and with bigs who don’t necessarily play a traditional back-to-the-basket style on offense.
NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas knows a bit about being a small guard and having success in the NBA. The 6’1″ point guard won two championship rings, was selected for 12 All-Star teams, five All-NBA teams and he won an NBA Finals MVP award in 1990.
After his playing career, Thomas enjoyed an up-and-down run as an NBA executive. He was part owner and Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations with the expansion Toronto Raptors in 1994.
In Toronto, Thomas built a promising young roster when he drafted Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Marcus Camby. Thomas recently appeared on Brandon Robinson’s Scoop B Radio to discuss his time with the Raptors, Small Ball and many other things hoop related.
When I put together the Toronto Raptors, if you remember the power forward position at that time was a position of strength, dominance, and you had to be physically strong to play that position,” Thomas said. “The shooting guard would be coming off of the power forward and the center would be your offense. During that time, what I talked about with my scouting staff and also our ownership group at that time was that we have to find a way to change the game and really affect things out on the floor. We came up with what we called the Raptor Two. And Raptor Two basically had to be a power forward that could also have guard skills, he had to be able to switch the power forward and the shooting guard and not lose ground.
One of the first trades that I made was for Doug Christie. The game was getting smaller, we had eliminated the power forward position and made it a very skilled position, so I’ll fast forward then I”ll take you back to McGrady. The thing that I left Toronto with was Stoudamire, Camby, Christie, McGrady, and they drafted [Vince]Carter, that was the blueprint.”
What Thomas describes in the power forward position sounds a lot like the Warriors’ Draymond Green or even Cleveland’s LeBron James. Both men are essential pieces of their team’s offense and versatility.
“If you fast forward to today’s basketball, that’s the way the game is being played. We caught a lot of flack for going that way 20+ years ago. But the way the game is played today if you had Camby inside, Carter, McGrady, and Christie as your wing players, and Stoudamire as your one, you’re pretty good.”
Indeed, that does sound like a formidable starting five, but McGrady was just 18 years old and still developing into the elite offensive force that he became. Also, the team had three players who needed the ball in their hands to be successful. Could Carter and McGrady have learned to play off Stoudamire?
It’s not out of the question, but it’s far from a given.
It should be noted, Thomas wasn’t the first to introduce this concept. Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks head coach Don Nelson was a strong proponent of skilled bigs who could do more than play with their backs to the basket.
Still, it’s interesting the Warriors and Cavs didn’t invent the wheel, but they still appear to be the teams that perfected it.