I understand that we have struggled to play our small ball lineups properly. With Kuzma, LeBron, etc playing the 5 resulting in us giving up rebounds and easy baskets around the rim. The signing of Tyson Chandler was a sigh of relief to many fans, as now we will have somebody to give us minutes off the bench while McGee rests.
While this was a good move by the FO, I want to show why we don't have to abandon the small ball strategy just yet, but rather, we have not been executing properly. There are 3 things we can do better...
Let's look at a team that loves to play small ball -- Houston -- as they are coached by D'Antoni, one of the modern pioneers of this idea. In last year's playoffs they went up against Utah, who boasted the DPOY big man in Gobert. Normally, this would have spelled a death sentence for Houston in the same manner we have struggled, but we can learn from how they dealt with the mismatch and used it to their advantage.
Notice below how Capela sprints hard after the missed shot, forcing Gobert to switch onto Tucker. Now I understand Capela isn't your prototypical "small ball" center, but the idea is the same. The Lakers play at such a high pace that if our small ball 5 ran harder in transition, we could create a mismatch easily.
Gobert ends up getting involved in the PnR with two smaller guys, and giving up this shot:
Extremely simple offense.
2) Half court Defense
This is where we give up a lot of rebounds.
Let's look at the same series as before. Houston's defensive communication is a lot better, and by game 3, they know to switch everything. This means that it takes away the easy options out of the PnR for Utah, but gives Gobert the ability to clean up on the offensive glass. Watch how Ariza switches but boxes out HARD. Although the shot is off, this would have prevented Gobert from following up. Ingram could easily be doing the same thing. Combine this with getting out quickly on the break and forcing mismatches on the other end like I described earlier, and you have a very deadly gameplan.
Just to give you an idea of how we are doing on our box out numbers... this is from our game versus Portland the other day. Clearly a lot of room for improvement, in something so fundamental.
3) Half Court Offense
The easiest way to take out a big man with a small ball lineup on offense is to involve him in weakside action. This takes the big man out of the paint and gives you a clear lane to attack with a quicker lineup. Especially if you have a small ball 5 who can shoot the 3 (Kuzma, LeBron), the big on defense has to honor that threat. It's easy to exploit this if you have lots of players who can attack the rim and make plays - which we do (LeBron, Rondo, Ball, Stephenson, Ingram, etc).
Look at this example from the Boston-Philadelphia playoff series. This is an extremely basic version of what I am talking about. This isn't even happening on the weakside, but notice how Horford sends Baynes to the corner to pull Embiid out of the paint. Tatum then executes perfect weakside motion and slips the screen to get an open layup at the rim with nobody there to stop him.
Roster wise, we are equipped to do everything I have described. Even with Chandler, we do not have to give up on small ball just yet. Rather, we just need to be smarter about how we execute based on the advantages we have - in transition, defense, and offense - and gameplan appropriately around them.