The last four NBA finals have been dominated by 4-out styles with Dallas winning with Dirk as a stretch-four of sorts, then Miami adopting the spread pick'n'roll with James as a small ball 4 and dominating the Finals until the Spurs matched them with a similar approach.
There's some question over whether 2015's best small ball team, the Golden State Warriors, can handle the pounding that comes when you play a team like the Grizzlies but the most likely 2015 champions have all embraced this style.
Even the NCAA tournament ended up coming down to a Wisconsin team led by a stretch-5 in Frank Kaminsky vs 4-out Duke with the more athletic Blue Devils emerging victorious.
Dukes victory points us towards the next evolution in the game, building 4-out teams that can play defense well enough to stop other 4-out teams. Golden State is also ahead of the pack here with their lineups of long wings that allow them to switch pick'n'rolls and avoid getting beat to the rim by athletic opponents.
Boston and Milwaukee are looking to accomplish the same result, fielding a team of long, athletes that can space the floor on offense and handle getting spaced out on defense. The days of elite Ds being the ones that put two true bigs on the floor may be over unless one of those bigs is also capable of playing on the perimeter ala Anthony Davis, Chris Bosh, or Serge Ibaka. Those teams will be at a major advantage.
Given the game's evolution towards this style, here is the ideal NBA roster construction for a 4-out team that can excel on offense with the spread pick'n'roll or on defense with a switching style:
Ingredient 1: The lead ball-handlerThis is the player who takes the ball up the court, runs off high screens, and initiates the action for the offense. One major trait of 4-out basketball, particularly the kind that can switch on defense, is that this player doesn't have to be a traditional point guard.
In fact, it's best if he has enough size to guard a variety of different wing players so you can give him some rest on defense by putting him on a player that won't be moving around as much.
LeBron James is the ultimate example here, a 6'8", 260 pound freak that can guard every position on the floor and act as a point-forward on offense. James Harden would be an example of a player big enough to hide on a wing without getting punished.
The key is that this player can get to the rim and kick the ball out to other players.
Ideal examples: LeBron James, James Harden
Ingredient 2: The 6th manThis should actually be another lead guard, perhaps a younger player that's being developed behind the main ball-handler. Ideally he can also be hidden on multiple players on defense if he can play off the ball to allow lineups where both the lead guard and 6th man share the floor together, all the better.
That means an ability to be efficient on catch and shoot 3's.
Ideal example: Eric Bledsoe, Dwyane Wade
Ingredient 3: The perimeter stopperThe next few pieces to the puzzle are all going to be 3'n'D players of different shapes and sizes but hopefully all within the 6'4" to 6'10 range with good length and the ability to space the floor with shooting.
The perimeter stopper is the one that you put on the other team's main ball handler. His job is to mirror and harry that player all over the floor so that your own ball-handler doesn't have to.
Ideal example: Danny Green, Tony Allen (if only he could shoot!)
Ingredient 4: The wing stopperThis is your better of the two wings at guarding perimeter players that you bust out to handle teams that run their offense through a bigger, small-forward type rather than a cat-quick point guard or shooting guard.
He needs to be able to shoot 3's and space the floor, anything more than that on offense is pretty much gravy.
Ideal example: Kawhi Leonard, Greek Freak
Ingredient 5: The stretch 4This guy is someone that can make things hard for a post player that you use if the other team likes to run offense through a player like Anthony Davis or Blake Griffin. He's long and athletic enough to switch on the perimeter but he can also front or bang with a post-up player.
On offense he needs to be able to shoot 3's and space the floor and be a good rebounder, particularly on defense but ideally on O as well. It's best if he can also attack the rim some off the dribble, or be a high screen partner if the other wing is particularly limited on offense.
Ideal example: Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green
Ingredient 6: The rim protector and screenerPlaying center for big men is becoming much simpler, you want to be the quarterback on defense that directs traffic and protects the rim and on offense you set good screens up top for the lead guard and then roll to the rim.
It's important that this player can guard a post-up center on another team without needing lots of double-team help or else an opposing 4-out team with a great low-post center will manage to space you out despite you fielding an athletic 4-out lineup of your own.
If those skills are present, you're set. Of course, there are additional skills that would also be nice to include. If this player has shooting range to pick'n'pop or play 5-out on offense, all the better. If they can post-up there's no harm in having that option.
If they are a dominant post-up player that you can surround with four shooters like Orlando did back in the day with Dwight Howard then you are really cooking.
On defense, you would need to ice or hedge on screens that involve this player instead of switching unless he has absurd foot speed like Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, or the incoming Kentucky bigs Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Ideal example: Andre Drummond, Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bogut, Tim Duncan
Ingredient 7: Someone that can post-upIt's best if at least one of the players mentioned above can be a player that the offense can run through while they're in the post. Teams are probably going to double the post less and less in the future with the understanding that even good post-up players are often too inefficient to justify leaving a 3-pt shooter wide open.
However, since your aim is to have as much length on your team as possible, if you have a player that can murder opponents with post-ups then you add another major dynamic to the offense and reduce options for the opponent.
This player could potentially be the 6th man rather than having another top lead guard on the roster, especially if the center can help space the floor.
Ideal example: Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol
Ingredient 8: Heat check playerThis player wouldn't have to be a huge part of the team, but they could be involved in lineups where there isn't a need to lock opponents down with tons of defenders and the offense wants to really get things in high gear.
They could be one of the wings, or the 6th man if he's really good off the ball, all that matters is that they aren't a total hole on defense and they can come off screens and light people up.
Ideal example: JJ Redick, Kyle Korver
Obviously you'd make an exception for a unique stars like Stephon Curry, who's only a solid defender and could be attacked by a big wing if you tried to hide him, or Dirk Nowitzki who's awful at defense but exceptional on offense.
Some teams even get rim protection from athletic wings, the main point is to make sure you are filling these roles.
Now assuming you had all these ingredients, you could play a variety of lineups to attack different types of opponents.
The main/defensive lineup:
The secondary lineups:
Then the really nasty, crunch-time, blow them away lineups:
Blow them away with points
Crunch time, get the best and most versatile players on the floor
This is the direction the game is clearly headed in, and players that don't have fits within this type of roster construction are going to need to have special abilities or else their value will drop.