For going on three years, the Golden State Warriors have essentially dominated the NBA by playing “small ball.” Play four shooters and a rebounder, stretch the defense, and move the ball around. If done correctly, it can be very effective.
Perhaps because somebody else came up with it first, Coach John Calipari has been hesitant to put such a guard heavy lineup on the floor for the Kentucky Wildcats, even with solid depth at the position.
On Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks, however, with Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel in foul trouble, the Cats finally put four guards on the floor with Bam Adebayo.
With a guard playing the power forward position, typically Mychal Mulder for Kentucky, the idea is to pull a post defender out of the paint. That opens up the floor, giving more room to drive to the basket.
It also creates space for shooters to get open looks. Kentucky benefited from both of these scenarios on Saturday.
“It was a good opportunity,” Mulder said. “We pushed the lead open a little bit at that time and I think it went well.”
The four-guard lineup even allowed Dominique Hawkins to play more and show he can be productive as a fourth guard.
It is also important to point out that De’Aaron Fox had a career-high 27 points against Arkansas, using that open lane to get lay up after lay up.
The primary challenge to putting such a lineup on the floor, though, comes on the defensive end.
“As a guard trying to guard a big like that, especially that guy, he was a pretty big guy,” added the 6’4” Mulder. “I was just trying to keep the ball away from him. Try to front him as much as I can, fight for rebounds, fight for position. As long as you’re fighting I think you’ll be fine.”
“I loved the fact that he fought and didn’t give an inch. He makes us different, but you’ve gotta fight. You’ve gotta battle,” Coach Cal said of Mulder. “It’s nice to know that you have one more option.”
Cal went on to say that he is unlikely to use the four guard lineup for more than four or five minutes at a time. However, after getting a spark from the smaller group in a game that was close at the time, expect him to be a little quicker to go to this group in certain situations.
If Willis or Gabriel find themselves in any bit of foul trouble, or even if Coach Cal is just trying to send them a message, Mulder will get the call at the power forward position to see what he can do.
You can also look for Kentucky to put four guards on the floor against a zone defense in an effort to find some space and get some open looks from three.
Whether he just wants to get more shooters on the floor or he is hoping to catch the opposition off-guard, we can expect Coach Cal to throw four guards out here every now and then just because he can. Even if he does not utilize this lineup every game, it is a great weapon to have in the arsenal.
What did you think of Kentucky’s version of a small-ball lineup?