6.24.2005

it ain't the vince lombardi, but us texans will take it

the spurs won their 3rd NBA championship in 7 years last night. and while it was an exciting games as all games 7's are bound to be, i for one am glad that the NBA playoffs are over. i've been saying this for a while, but i'm almost to the point where i don't enjoy watching professional basketball anymore. i've been harping on this for a few years now, basketball has been unwatchable since jordan won his last title with the bulls. this actually started in the late eighties when the pistons won their titles, but the presence of his airness kept us distracted from the declining quality of the NBA.

ever since the pistons won the championship with the bad boys, NBA coaches realized that it was easier to coach defense than it was to find or develop players who had real basketball skills. in other words, it's easier to coach someone to deny passing lanes then it is to teach someone how to drain turnaround j's. it's easier to teach someone to box out on the defensive boards than it is to teach someone how to dribble the ball effectively. please notice that it takes a great more deal of athletic skill to hit the j and to dribble the ball than it does to deny passing lanes and crash the defensive boards. as a result, we get a game devoid of athleticism and skill and one full of people not scoring. if i wanted to see people not score, i'd watch soccer.

don't get me wrong, the pistons play unbelievable defense, and i'm not saying that any schmuck could do what they do. but i do think it's fair to say that i could come a lot closer to playing good defense than i could to playing good offense. bill simmons, of espn's.com page 2 wrote a niece little bit the other day about this, and i'll just quote him to clarify my point
Sure, the purists appreciate the defensive rotations, the way Detroit protects the rim, how Bowen fights through screens and everything else. But we're headed in a dangerous direction and have been for 3-4 years now – at the highest level, the good defenses are too good, and smart teams (like the Pistons and Spurs) have figured out how to use bumping/bodying/clutching/grabbing to their advantage. So that puts the game in the hands of the referees, the vast majority of whom range from "mediocre" to "impossibly incompetent." Other than the Phoenix games, this entire playoffs has been one long continuous foul/non-foul followed by someone complaining about what was/wasn't called. What's fun about that?

Anyone who maintains this is "good basketball" comes off like a film school grad expounding the merits of a Todd Solondz movie – yes, we see your point and respect it, but the bottom line is that major movie studios aren't paying the bills on Todd Solondz movies...
as simmons implies, athletic talent and skill have taken a back seat to brute force and chicanery. take allen iverson. when he drives the lane, every team just mugs him , because they know that they can get away with it (which by the way, is a testament to iverson's greatness, that he can still put up 25+ points a game despite getting bodyslammed about ten times a game). i'm really not sure why the league hasn't done anything to restrict the contact that players make near the basket. because you can be physical without fouling, which is exactly what teams like the pistons and the spurs do. they play good defense by fouling you repeatedly. and the crazy thing is, you can be physical without fouling, i've seen it. i've been watching basketball since i was seven. teams like the celtics and the 76ers played extremely physically, but they managed to do it without the hacking that you see today.

now i fully admit that i might have G.O.D.S. (good ol' day syndrome), but i challenge anyone to watch the lakers of the eighties, or the celtics, the cavs, the hawks, and the nuggets of yesteryear, and tell me that today's basketball is as entertaining as it was in the eighties and the nineties.

what irks me the most however, is that this crappy (and basically illegal) style of play has been defended with an extremely specious argument (similar to an argument i made about the new england patriots earlier this year), the pistons and the spurs play "real" team basketball, as opposed to other teams that rely on a superstar, which somehow is reflective of a more moral paradigm of how we should live our lives in regular society. actually, it's a little marxist if you think about it. each to his own ability...the good of the collective over capitalism...not that i think capitalism is all that great. anyways, from my point of view, the pistons don't play team basketball more than any other team. how many assists per game did they average during the season? 21.8, good for 12th in the league, and virtually the same as the league average (21.3). how many players for the pistons averaged more than 10 points? 4, meaning that there are 23 teams that have more players averaging more than double digits (i know, i knoow, i should calcualate the standard deviation for the each teams scoring average per player, but i don't have the time or energy...incidentally, the correlation between # of players scoring over 10 points and winning percentage of a team is -.313. in other words, the more that the load is shared, the worse record a team is likely to have).

i know there isn't a good statistical way to keep track of team defense other than points allowed, but it seems to me, that the pistons are a middle of the pack team when it comes to one team measure and way below the pack on another. that's not to say that the pistons don't play like a team, but like pretty much any other team, they have a few guys who do most of the scoring, and everyone else pitches in however they can. the pistons are no better, no worse than other teams at being a "team". the fact remains, is that their players are alot more talented than the collection of talent on other teams. everyone knew kobe was going to fail, despite him being a top 5 player, because he had a big bunch of no talent ass clowns around him. same with iverson, same with even the mavs. the pistons have more talented players. any talk of them being greater than the sum of their parts is socially constructed bullshit created to fit some goofy hippie commune vision of society. actually, what it is is trying to construe the pistons as morally superior to other teams instead of physically superior. they are physically superior to other teams, morals has nothing to do with it. they're not any more selfless than the utah jazz or the sacramento kings.

like i said before, the point is not to bag on the pistons. they're a great team that plays crazy defense, and if this series is played 10 times, the pistons probably win half of them. my point is, however, is that basketball is not as fun to watch as it used to be, and that it has reached a point where it's almost unwatchable as evidenced by this year's finals. the second point is that the idea that winning via "teamwork" is a dumb myth. and some day in my life, i'll figure out how it's connected to race. cuz make no mistake, it most certainly is.

2 comments:

Erik said...

I don't have time to develop a good argument here, which is OK, because I agree with most of your post.

The problem with the NBA isn't the lack of good shooters or offense. Of course there are plenty of amazing offensive stars who can shoot the turnaround j today -- just as many as there were in the 80s and possibly more now that the rest of the world plays bball just as well (maybe even better) as the kids from the US.

The problem with the NBA isn't coaches relying on good defense. Good defense is extremely fun to watch. Ben Wallace blocking dunks is awesome. The chess match -- figuring out who is best to guard whom -- has always been a part of the game, but the war between, for example, Bowen and Hamilton was simply incredible. Very entertaining. Way more entertaining than the dunk-fest that they called a "series" between Phoenix and Dallas.

(and, by the way, Detroit's offense is easily the most underrated in the NBA)

The problem with the NBA isn't lack of talent or lack of personalities or lack of media attention.

The problem with the NBA is the referees.

I'm not going to make the usual "conSPURacy" argument here, because in my heart of hearts I know the NBA wasn't really trying to sabotage the Pistons. They couldn't be happy that Miami lost, but I doubt that they told the refs to fix the games.

Still, I think everyone in their right mind knows that designated "superstars" get all kinds of bonuses from the refs. They get to walk. They can foul freely and not get called (Duncan in this game 7 was a particularly egregious example). They get to the foul line constantly. And all of this bending of the rules means that the game isn't really basketball anymore. It's the Tim Duncan show. Or the Dwayne Wade show. Pick your star, they all get the treatment. Except for Ben Wallace.

And here's how race fits into it, Bob. The reason Duncan is a star and the Wallaces aren't is because Duncan is a "good" black person and the Wallaces are "bad." Chew on that.

It's not basketball that they play in the NBA anymore. Basketball involves teamwork and, frankly, intricate offensive and defensive schema that might not be as fun to watch as a slam dunk contest for a lot of fans.

But the reason bball isn't as good as it was in the 80's is because they're not really playing basketball any more. Except for the Pistons, and yes, the Spurs. This was a great series.

Bob said...

your argument makes sense except for the fact that the pistons have been also getting all of the calls for about a season and a half. seriously erik, watch the tape, the pistons foul constantly and did so throughout the playoffs and only about half of the contact was called. i know you'll go on and on about how everyone else gets the calls, but my observation is that the refereeing is consistently shitty for all teams. ask anyone outside of detroit and they'll tell you the same thing. the pistons are just as much the recipient of the noncalls as any other team. if basketball were officiated correctly, detroit's backcourt would foul out by half time of every game. for you to cry about how detroit got screwed by the officiating is hypocritical since you never say anything about it when it favors the pistons.

the referees are a big part of the problem, but the reason why it's a problem is because of the style of play dictates that the official has to make too many judgement calls.

erik, we can agree to disagree, but i can promise you, if the pistons weren't such a good defensive team, there's no way you would say that defense is more fun to watch than offense. good defense is all right, but there's a reason why the higher scoring teams draw bigger crowds and bigger television ratings. they play really good defense in the wnba, how come you don't think that is exciting? the premise that the average sports fan prefers a defensive style of play to a offensive style of play is ludicrous and would never stand up to any pseudo-proof that you put out there. as i've said before, ratings are down for a reason.

and the great thing about this is you're saying all of this because you're a good fan. of course you're going to defend the style of play that is advantageous to your team. but when it just ain't true, well you're no better than republicans douchebags who basically do the same thing. instead of defending (pun intended) things on principle, you only defend them when they're to your benefit. like i said, this is perfectly fine in sports, but it is what it is: myopia on your part.

i'm on a roll so i'm not going to stop. i'm not talking about a slam dunk contest you moron. the ironic thing is, the defensive style of play has actually contributed to the NBA becoming more of a slam dunk contest.

the mavs/suns series to most fans was way more entertaining than the pistons. but that's not even the point. i'm not comparing the pistons/spurs to the mavs/suns. i'm comparing it to lakers/celtics, to bulls/blazers, to the old pistons/celtics games. there was plenty of defense in those days too, do you remember the 1-3-1 trap that riley installed in the 87 finals? of course you don't. the point is not an argument for more offense, but for officials to allow a more fluid style of offense to be played. if that puts defenses at a disadvantage, well, too bad. don't you remember how beautiful it was to see the microwave come off that screen and curl for that 15 ft. jumper? or when the adrian dantley did a head fake, took a dribble and then shot. or how about how mark aguire could just flat out fill up the basket. that's what i'm calling for.

for the truly elite teams of our time (which this edition of the pistons is clearly not), good offense and good defense go hand in hand, not at the expense of the other.

the "conSPURacy" thing is hilarious. do you think that's how nelly says it?