Basketball is a game that automatically puts an advantage on taller players. However, the truth of the matter is, no one team is ever built perfectly. The coach’s job is to develop a philosophy or a system that maximizes the weapons that he has, even if the team lacks size or ceiling. So, do you want to know how to win basketball games with a small team? Read more and find out.
What Does it Mean to Play Small in Basketball?
To play “small ball” does not necessarily mean you play the shortest guys on the team. It simply means you play your best guys that give you spacing, shooting, and playmaking. More often than not, the best shooters and playmakers on a team are guards or forwards, leaving out the power players and the big guys. The need to play guys with all-around skills led to the evolution of stretch 4s and three-point shooting centers, the very essence of the small ball basketball offense.
Here’s the thing, though: Does that mean basketball players are getting literally smaller, particularly in the NBA? Not necessarily. For the past few years, the average height of NBA players hovers around 6-foot-8, the highest it has been in decades. The idea of the “small ball” is not about the height; it’s the style of play.
In theory, you can put a lineup of Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Kawhi Leonard and call it “small ball.” All of them can handle the ball, create, and play on the perimeter, but none are traditional post-up centers or big men. Hence, that lineup can still be considered “small” even though the shortest guy in that group is Leonard at 6-foot-7.
What is the Best Basketball Strategy for a Small Team?
The best basketball strategy for small teams and perhaps the best basketball game strategy as it is played now is the small ball.
As mentioned in the previous section, the small ball offense could work even if you don’t have the tallest players. It basically does not care about positions. The concept is to push the pace, space the floor with shooting, and take advantage of your speed.
To illustrate how effective small ball is, the Golden State Warriors of 2015 practically eviscerated teams using that concept. (They continue to do so in 2017 and 2018, but they have Kevin Durant, so that’s kind of unfair.) They started the 7-foot Andrew Bogut during the 2015 Finals run, but closed with a team composed of Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala. None are taller than 6-foot-8 and are all basically guards and forwards.
Anyone in that unit was a threat from 25 feet, so it forced the defense to stretch across a wider territory. The defense was less effective that way and could not help off each other, plus the distance limits communication. Eventually, as the Warriors began their attack, it led to all kinds of scrambling from the defense, and they just drove and kicked their way to the championship.
What Basketball Defense is Best with a Small Team?
While offense is highly doable with a small team, defense is another story. A small team can still be an elite defensive team, but it’s harder to do. Still, even though the cards may be stacked against a small team, it’s not impossible.
1. Full-Court Press
Smaller teams should be the quicker teams and therefore, must push the tempo. There’s no better way to force bigger teams to play into your hands by implementing a full-court press.
A full-court press is when all five defensive players pick up full court. They pressure their man even before the ball is inbounds. This forces the other teams to pass and move the ball up the floor quicker. The defense forces the ball to a corner and traps, making the other team more vulnerable to turnovers and steals.
The advantages of a full-court press, though, is that it could be exhausting. Additionally, it may not work against disciplined teams or the opponents may simply figure it out along the way. It also leaves the middle floor open and spreads out your defensive personnel.
2. 1-4 Defense
One of the keys to winning basketball games versus a small team is to pound the ball inside. It makes sense because nobody down there can stop or block your shot. So as a small team, how can you prevent opponents from scoring on you in the half court? Well, a 1-4 defense might work.
The 1-4 defense works exactly as it sounds. It is a unique type of zone defense where the “1” is positioned over the free throw line and picks up the ballhandler in a single coverage. The “4” behind him covers every area below the free throw line. When the ball reaches anywhere below the free throw line– corner threes, baseline cuts, and low-post offense– it’s an automatic double-team.
Obviously, this could only work primarily against bigger teams that try to pound the ball inside to take advantage of your height. If that said team has good outside shooters, then this defense will be rendered useless and should be abandoned.
3. Amoeba Defense
The amoeba defense is a defensive basketball game strategy that combines elements of zone and man-to-man. It is basically a diamond-and-one and is designed to stop dribble penetrations and low-post offenses. The glaring disadvantage of this defense are the wings. The amoeba is also a gambling defense which could lead to fastbreaks and easy layups, but if the other team figures it out, it’s also time to put it aside.
What is the Best Offense for a Small Basketball Team?
Good basketball offense for small teams requires movement. The small ball strategy is a type of motion offense that takes advantage of the offense’s quickness while neutralizing the size advantage of the bigger defensive team.
Another excellent offensive strategy for small teams is the fastbreak. You simply have to push the tempo and try to score before the defense is set.
Even the pick-and-roll may be used by a smaller team against a bigger team. The goal is to pick out the slowest and biggest defender on the other team and have him guard the PNR. Most likely, he will get picked apart by a smart ballhandler every time up the floor. This will also take the big man out of the paint, so there will be less rim protection down there.
7 Basketball Tips to Win a Game with a Small Team
We have already discussed some offensive and defensive basketball strategy for small teams. At this point, we would like to drop some knowledge about the little things that we think are keys to winning basketball games for small teams.
1. Push the pace
The best way to beat a bigger opponent is to wear them down. Running them out of the gym isn’t a bad idea, especially at the high school, AAU, or college levels.
2. Be pesky
If you have a small team, teach them to be as handsy and pesky as possible. Taller and bigger players “touch you up” in the lane to make their presence felt, but for small teams, make the bigger guys afraid to even put the ball on the floor.
3. Work on conditioning
The key to sustain a faster pace is to build up stamina. There’s no use pushing the pace if you can do it for only a couple of quarters. You have to develop the mindset of pushing the tempo THE WHOLE GAME. You can only do that if your endurance is up to par.
4. Work on floaters
For teams who have short basketball players, one way to diversify their individual offensive game is by mastering the floater. It is an effective shot that neutralizes the size of the defender while saving your own energy.
5. Improve ballhandling
Ballhandling, or dribbling, is one of the most effective ways to break opponents down individually. It also helps smaller players find gaps on the defense and amplify their quickness. Without a good handle, you can’t get past opponents.
6. Get Stronger
Strength is always required in basketball and more so for smaller teams. Bigger squads make it a point to bang and pound on smaller players, so it’s important to get stronger and prevent yourselves from being worn down. What’s more, if you develop strength, it will add zip to your passes, making your fastbreak game even deadlier.
7. Develop Teamwork
There are always concerns when your team is smaller compared to others. But to even out the playing field, you all need to play together as a team. Developing team chemistry is important in executing the offensive and defensive philosophies that are keys to winning basketball games.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Win With a Small Basketball Team?
The best strategy to winning is turning disadvantages into advantages. For a small basketball team, what they lack in height, they probably make up for with speed and quickness. From there, they can develop basketball strategy for small teams.
One of the best basketball philosophies a small team can implement is the “small ball.” Technically, the small ball offense does not actually require all players to be short; what it means is that the five on the floor can dribble, pass, and shoot. This stretches out the defense and creates spacing, which leads to better quality shots on offense.
Another basketball strategy that works effectively for small teams is playing fast. A fast-paced offense takes advantage of the team’s quickness while exploiting the other team’s size. For a more diversified offensive attack, small teams may also use the pick-and-roll to hunt the other team’s biggest and slowest defender.
While offense is fun for small teams, defense is another story. A good defensive basketball strategy for small teams is to pack the paint to prevent inside scoring. The 1-4 defense and the amoeba defense are examples of paint-packing defenses. Another excellent defensive strategy that plays to a small team’s strength is employing a full-court press. This forces bigger teams to play faster, causing turnovers which could then lead to fastbreaks.
Of course, to allow a small team to implement these strategies, they should develop all the qualities and skills to make everything work. They need to make their presence felt by being pesky, develop dribbling skills, develop strength and endurance, and most importantly, play as a team. In this way, small teams connect and communicate much better on both offense and defense.
All of the basketball philosophies and attributes mentioned in this article are effective methods on how to win basketball games with a small team. While it’s true that you can’t teach size, you can’t teach speed, either. So whatever hand you are dealt with, the key to winning is working hard and causing your liabilities to become useful assets.