This is my Thursday column.
Since the Warriors won the NBA Finals, San Antonio’s moves might have flown under the radar for Bay Area basketball fans. The moves were subtle, but they will affect the Warriors, could affect the Warriors big time.
Let’s back up and examine what the Spurs did.
They agreed to terms with two free-agent power forwards — four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, and two-time All-Star David West. The deals will become official when the NBA’s moratorium on signings ends Thursday.
Why did San Antonio sign those two power forwards? Well, other than the obvious reason — they’re good.
Think of the Spurs’ signings in context of the Warriors, the team to beat in the NBA. To make the Finals next season, the Spurs probably have to go through Golden State. If you were running the Spurs, how would you attack the Warriors? What is their pressure point? Who is their weakest point?
If you answered Draymond Green, you get an A-plus.
If you didn’t answer Draymond Green and you’re shouting obscenities at me through your computer screen, relax. I realize Green is one of the best defenders in the NBA.
But now that the Warriors have traded David Lee to the Boston Celtics, Green is the only power forward left on the team. And he isn’t really a power forward — he’s a tough small forward. He’s merely 6-foot-7.
As good as he is at defending, we’ve seen him struggle against tall power forwards who can shoot. Who can shoot over him. Guys like Aldridge (6-11) and West (6-9).
The first five games of the playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (6-9) scored on Green almost at will. Randolph shot 53 percent in those games. Green couldn’t get his hand up far enough to contest Randolph’s jump shot or his baby hook in the post. The Warriors had no answer for Randolph.
But Green made Randolph work, and Randolph ran out of gas in Game 6, shot 5-for-14. And the Warriors won the series. Randolph couldn’t win four-out-of-seven games against the Warriors by himself.
The Grizzlies had the right idea, but not enough power forwards to make the idea work.
Now the Spurs do. Aldridge and West can keep each other fresh and take turns wearing down Green if the Warriors play the Spurs in the playoffs next season.
First, Aldridge can back down Green, shoot over him and try to demoralize him. Aldridge averaged 26.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game against the Warriors last season. He played like a Hall of Famer.
When Aldridge gets tired, the Spurs can replace him with West, who’s not as good but can bang and bruise Green in the post — soften him up for Aldridge when he comes back in the game.
The Warriors have no power forward on the bench who can give Green a breather against those two because the Warriors have a team full of wing players and centers. Against the Spurs in a possible and now more difficult playoff matchup, Green might wear down by Game 6 — possibly even sooner.
Last season, the Warriors became a championship team and an elite defensive team when Green became the starting power forward. He is the strength of the Warriors’ defense. If the Spurs expose him as a weakness, San Antonio could break the Warriors’ will and take away their confidence, and then series could be over.
How do you like your small-ball lineup now, Golden State?
Small ball is the new trend in the NBA. The Warriors beat the Cavaliers in the Finals with extreme small ball. They benched Andrew Bogut and moved Green to center because he could guard Cleveland’s unskilled center Timofey Mozgov, but Mozgov couldn’t guard Green. Series over. Now other teams want small lineups, too, and the Warriors are the NBA’s trendsetters.
San Antonio doesn’t follow trends — the Spurs lead. They go against the trend. They see through the trend and exploit it.
You can almost hear Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich scoffing at a coaches’ meeting this offseason: “Let the Warriors play small — we’ll play big and we’ll crush them. Draymond Green will beg for mercy.”
I’m not saying that strategy will work, although it might. It’s an answer to small ball and it’s worth thinking about.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.