Small ball: OUA vs. NBA
Photos C/O Sachi Chan
There is a tendency in basketball to think big. It used to be true that the bigger the player was, the greater the advantage. Think of Shaquille O’Neal. He was one of, if not the, most dominant player in National Basketball Association history. Quite frankly, the reason why he was so dominant was because he was bigger and stronger than everyone else. Makes sense, right?
While it might be true that height is an asset in a game with a ten-foot net, there are ways to challenge this. With the increasing move from the paint to the arc, teams are looking for other opportunities to make buckets.
The value of height in basketball was challenged following the recent NBA trade deadline, after which the Houston Rockets became the smallest team in the league, with no players over six foot seven. This is very different from the rest of the league. Only the tallest player on the Rockets meets the league-wide average height of six foot seven.
Remarkably, a total of 11 per cent of the league is over seven feet tall, so you’d think the six foot seven center on the Rockets would have a tough time guarding opponents.What the Houston Rockets are doing is referred to as small ball, and to any Ontario University Athletics fan, this is very familiar.
OUA teams have been playing small ball for quite some time. Out of the teams who choose to disclose the height of their players, only 25 players in all of the OUA are over six foot seven. The average height between all 25 players over six foot seven comes in at six foot eight and a half. In addition, the OUA has only two players who are seven feet or taller. To give context, there is a minimum of 15 players per team and a total of 20 teams in the league, with the largest rosters reaching just under 20 players.
Clearly, the OUA is a much smaller league than the NBA, which recruits top-notch talent from around the world. However, the OUA is still significantly smaller when compared to other collegiate level athletics associations. The National Collegiate Athletics Association, for example, regularly hosts talent above seven feet on many of their division one programs,.
The OUA’s shorter roster leads to faster-paced games that are focused on shooting or quick cuts to the hole rather than focused on slow, grinding out offence with bigs backing down the defence. The big man is more or less non-existent for the OUA. In fact, there are even teams without any players over six foot five, like the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks. Having shorter players means that scoring can't come from big men with their backs to the basket. Instead, these teams must rely on skilled shooting.
The smaller teams and faster pace does make for exciting basketball, and certainly higher scoring games due to more three-point shots, but is this good for basketball? With the NBA getting perpetually smaller and the OUA looking the same, we have to ask ourselves, is this the future of basketball?
It very well could be, especially if the OUA embraces the strategies of teams like the Houston Rockets.
Positionally, the OUA plays to traditional roles of basketball. While there are exceptions, the majority of centers in the OUA play like centers of the past like Hakeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal, and leave the shooting to the guards. These are the fundamentals of basketball, but rules are meant to be broken and the innovative are rewarded.
Let’s look at our Marauders to see how they shoot from three. They do not prioritize three-pointers, with top scorers Jordan Henry and Kwasi Adu-Poku taking less than a third of their attempts from beyond the arc. But should they continue this way? Working on the three-pointer is a tough task, but well worth the time.
Pounding the paint is tried and true, but with the emergence of smaller teams and the continuing reign of the three-pointer in professional leagues, the OUA has room to adapt. They could benefit from taking advantage of the smaller skilled players they inevitably have and go all-in on small ball.
In order to be more successful, coaches could stand to benefit from taking notes from the pros and start experimenting more from the three-point line. This could help to crack the scoring code that many famous players like Steph Curry and James Harden use, and ultimately lead to long-term success.
Any team in sports history that was ahead of the curve has been considered a wild card, whether it was “Dr. J” dunking or the Golden State Warriors changing basketball by making their team all about the three ball. As they say in Vegas, you have to bet a lot to win a lot. In this case, the OUA should play small to win big.