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Santa Cruz Warriors Stand Tall As One Of Many Teams Embracing Small Ball In NBA D-League

Heading into the regular season, Joe Alexander and the Santa Cruz Warriors are one of many teams preparing to embrace small ball in the D-League once again.

Sam Greenwood

Joe Alexander, the eighth overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, has returned to Santa Cruz to embark on a second season with the Warriors of the NBA D-League.

Since first hitting The Association hardwood, Alexander has had to fight off ongoing injuries over the years. What's more, at 6'8" and 230 pounds, he's continued to face questions about his true identity as an NBA player --- what position should he play? Where does he fit? Does it even matter?

Ironically enough, Alexander's role in much more defined in the D-League. He's a big man. Given the way he's able to assert himself down low, and the general (smaller) make-up of the league as a whole, allowing him to serve as a 4/5, much more so than a 3/4, comes as a no-brainer.

"Right now, it looks like I'm one of our biggest guys. That's just the way it works out in the D-League," Alexander told about playing for Santa Cruz. "Sometimes, those [smaller] teams can give bigger teams trouble. We end up going small sometimes, regardless. It's not something I'm personally not used to. We've seen it before."

Playing a big role in small-ball doesn't appear to be something that concerns the 27 year old whatsoever. Preparing to embrace such a style of play in the minor league is becoming somewhat of a requirement these days, and James Andrisevic, an assistant coach for Santa Cruz, can see why.

"This is all pretty fast-paced. The thing about smaller guys is that, when a guy has good size, he's going to play in the NBA," the coach said. "There aren't too many guys that are that tall, as well as that skilled, who aren't in the NBA. We'll definitely play against bigger guys, though, and we'll have to be ready."

Alexander is considered more of a tweener in the NBA, but in the D-League, steps in as more of a bruising big man. Should this be considered playing out position? On one hand, Alexander isn't exactly showcasing what he might be expected to do on a big league level. But on the flip side, he's gaining more versatility, and his size and stature allow him to be more dominant down in the low post, both offensively and defensively.

He happens to believe this is a positive thing.

"I think I always have an advantage, because people look at me and expect something different. No matter how much film they've watched or what they've seen from me, they always manage to assume something about my game," he added. "No one expects me to jump as high, run as fast, or be as physical. I'm always at an advantage. D-League or no D-League."

Alexander continued, "People should expect me to be physical. They can expect body contact. Based on my body type, a lot of people look at me as a stretch four, and I am, but I can also mix it up inside."

Heading into the regular season, Santa Cruz has also inherited James Michael McAdoo (6'9" and 230 pounds) and Mitchell Watt (6'10" and 225 pounds) as affiliate players from Golden State. While the pair figures to occupy the four and five spots in the starting lineup, Alexander should still be ready to eat up plenty of "big man" minutes this season. After all, he experienced relative success in such a role last season, having averaged 13.7 points (on 52% from the field) and 7 rebounds.

If one thing is for sure, it's that the Warriors will encounter plenty of mismatches (both those in their favor, and some that aren't). Luckily for them, they seem to know what's coming their way.

"You just try and do your homework," Coach Andrisevic added. "You have to know they're personnel and what they like to do. You find ways to knock what they're trying to do."