Good Big vs. Good Little
There’s a saying that goes something like, “Good big players always beat good little players.” The thought is that, everything else being equal, a good big player (center, power forward) is more valuable than a good little player (guard, small forward). The truth of the matter is that they need each other, though.
A big man without someone to throw him the ball is relatively useless, as he probably won’t bring the ball down the court and get himself into good offensive position. A small ball-handler, though, can bring the ball down and create his own shot on a drive or coming off a pick or whatever. As we know, however, those shots simply are harder to make than low-post shots.
Occasionally, a team gets great players at both positions, but for most, they must contend with either an adequate big and a great small or an adequate small and a great big. Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each scenario may provide some insight as to why your favorite team plays the way that it does.
The truth of the statement likely lies in the notion that a great low-post defender cannot be locked-up with any consistency. On the other hand, when a shooter’s shot is off, he can be defended. Even with great shooters getting 30+ points, if they’re shooting 40% then the defender’s done a good job.
The other two bonuses of big men are rebounds and fouls. More defensive fouls are committed close to the basket than far away from the basket. Rebounds are a bit trickier. Offensive rebounds are not nearly important as defensive rebounds. To be sure, an offensive board can be a great momentum swing and/or provide a much-needed extra scoring opportunity. However, it is more important to stop the other team from doing just that.
It can therefore become difficult for a much-needed offensive big to change mind-sets and focus on the appropriate offensive or defensive. One might think that it’s not that hard – but it really is that hard. Try this: read something very carefully and intensely for 20 seconds. Then, switch what you are reading and do that for 20 seconds. Do that a few dozen times and then try to adequately and eloquently explain both things that you have read. It’s just not easy to do.
What is common is that your favorite big player cannot do both. What is more common is that he never does either very well.
Of course, this is a problem with small players, too, but at least on the perimeter he can rely on the quickness, reflexes and natural aptitude at anticipation to at least cause some problems for his offensive mark. Moreover, his job is not (usually) to get back into the lane for the rebound, and, in fact, if he gets 5 boards in a game, most fans and media applaud his effort.
It is therefore my opinion that a truly good big man will benefit the team more than a truly good small player because of what a good big man brings to the table. However, there are more small players who fit the definition of what makes a good small player.