For casual fans not yet indoctrinated into the night-to-night loveliness of NBA League Pass, it might seem odd that the big titans down low are increasingly becoming some of the most creative and useful facilitators. Marc Gasol runs a lot of Memphis’ sets from the elbow – even more so now that Mike Conley is out. Last year, when Derrick Rose was out with another leg injury, Joakim Noah did the same for Chicago, despite the ugliest jumper in the Association.
With stretch power forwards also becoming a de facto part of the contemporary game – requiring the same tenets of all-around skill as the man in the five-spot – a connection between the two traditional bigs has gotten a lot easier and a lot more common. Teams increasingly rely on four shooters and a rim protector, as well as a pace-and-space attack, so big men are beginning to resemble the so-called “soft” European bigs who came over in the post-Dirk exodus to start the current millennia.
In today’s game, court awareness is a must for both the power forward position and the big man on the block. As such, two playoff teams, the Rockets and the Clippers, have developed a chemistry between their two bigs that’s turned a largely obscure big-to-big alley-oop into the rule rather than the exception.
We’re talking about the bond between Josh Smith and Dwight Howard and the one between Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The first pairing already decimated the Mavericks in the first round:
Smoove’s ability to create creases in the Mavs defense when catching the ball beyond the perimeter wall, but in front of the backline, has led to a number of Dwight oops, something he’s preternaturally designed to flush. That baseline defense, including the rotating big, has to step out on Smoove, making Dwight an easy target for the lob. And it’s not like the telepathy between the Rockets bigs is a new development in the postseason. They connected on a pair of big-to-big oops against the visiting T-Wolves back in March, running a high screen and role that should be shown to high school teams across the country:
The Smoove-Dwight ESP makes sense when you remember they were AAU teammates with the Atlanta Celtics before the jump to the NBA. Even last night, they ran a gorgeous play with Dwight spinning past a helpless STAT for yet another alley-oop coupling.
Of the 19 field goals where Dwight scored off an assist in the 4-1 series win over the Mavs, Smoove assisted on 10 of them. They are a big-to-big behemoth. But are they the best in the NBA? Another pair, one who will have to overcome a 3-2 deficit to face off against the Rockets in the Conference Semifinals, might just be their equal.