Friday, April 24, 2009

A Brief Digression Regarding a Personal Philosophy of Basketball

At Peachtree Hoops, Drew asks "Can you enjoy another team's superstar in the playoffs?":
See I think Dwayne Wade is awesome. I have always enjoyed watching him play. During the Olympics, dude was a revelation. I had no ill will toward him going into this series. Just fear. And yet, two games in, and I have begun to loathe him.

...

That fourth foul on Joe Johnson last night was a dumb risk by Joe, but the flop by Dwayne Wade was just loserish. You got made fun of for that kind of stuff when I was eight. A few minutes later Dwayne was called for an offensive foul and played hurt for the next possession. The crowd cheered as he lay on the ground. I don't think maliciously as much as they just knew he was not injured. You did not even make fun of the kid that faked injuries back in my eight your old world. You just talked about him behind his back.

And it is not just Dwayne Wade. Watch Paul Pierce or Chris Paul. And you know what I blame? The hand checking rules. They have given birth to flops 35 feet from the basket. They have created whiners and people that are skillful at drawing fouls (and notice how I didn't say contact). Everything is a complaint because literally everything can be a foul, and if you are a superstar, you are just used to getting fouls called when you are fouled. And the whole thing just builds on itself to where you are faking injuries for a possession and falling down 80 feet from the basket. If you are the fan of the other team, it all just piles on top of the awesome so that you forget about respecting the skill and start asking, "What's to like about this guy again?"
I'm a great proponent of allowing offensive players unfettered access to their destination. I abhor hand-checking on or off the ball. At the same time there is nothing that gets me more excited than seeing a defender move his feet and keep an offensive player in front of him. Anyone who has played competitive basketball knows that that is the most difficult thing to do on the court even before beginning the attempt to extrapolate the increased difficulty of what one watches considering the difference between the skill level and quality of athlete one faced at a scholastic level and that which populates an NBA playoff game.

I also think that part of the reason that Drew hates Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce* and their style of play is that the ability to draw fouls is essentially what elevates them above Joe Johnson. Every free throw they take** (at least after the fourth or fifth) is a reminder of what keep Joe Johnson from being an obvious All-Star caliber player. Perhaps, my recollections are hazy but I don't believe that I was the only Hawks blogger to marvel at and celebrate the valuable accomplishment of Marvin Williams (in Joe Johnson's absence) going to the line 20 times in Charlotte.

*Is it possible this author is still not entirely over the rampant hand-checking and outright jersey-grabbing that was allowed to diminish the impact of Paul Pierce's crossover when he was at Kansas? It is very possible.

**And, again, Wade hasn't shot many free throws this series because the Hawks have defended him well without fouling.

Now, does Drew have a good point about flopping? Absolutely. He has an excellent point. The greatest frustration for a basketball fan today is the referees' collective preference to call fouls (or the degree of a foul) based not on contact but on how a player falls. This practice encourages both deception and the willingness to increase one's risk of injury for a relatively minor in-game advantage. Neither benefits the game.

I don't think we should just accept this state of officiating as the cost of doing better business on the possessions that don't involve a foul call but I can live with it (as long as efforts are made to identify and correct this bias) if it means a style of basketball that rewards skill, both by insisting on a balance in ability* between offensive and defensive players and encouraging coaches to put more skilled basketball players on the floor at once. The game's never going to be perfect. It wasn't perfect 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, nor is it perfect now but I do believe it's better than it was 10 years ago despite the NBA continuing to abdicate, to detrimental effect, the opportunity to create a better basketball development system in America.

*Right now you can't attempt to defend skill and quickness simply with strength. At least on the perimeter. I think using strength to defend a player attempting to establish position in the post is a fair and valid complement to moving your feet.

David Aldridge's most recent article for NBA.com is about how the hand checking rules have changed the game:
Scoring average has increased from an average 95.6 points per game in the 1997-98 season to this year's 100 per game. Overall field goal percentage has increased from 45.0 percent in '97-'98 to 45.9 percent this season. Three-point percentage has gone up, from .346 11 years ago to .367 this season. And fouls have gone down, from a league average of 1,837 fouls in 1997 to 1,726 this season. The statistical-based Basketball Prospectus wrote at the beginning of this season that the game's pace -- defined as possessions per game -- had increased from its nadir during the lockout season of 1999 (around 88 possessions per game) to around 91 per game in the 2007-08 season.
Aldridge quotes Larry Brown (who admittedly had a massive influence on my understanding of the game at an early age):
"You can't even touch a guy now. The college game is much more physical than our game."
I'll close with Gregg Popovich, whose quote neatly brings us back to the series at hand:
"If anybody, it would be Larry. [He] worked a lot about, as simple as it sounds, keeping people in front of you. He'd rather give up a jump shot than a layup. Over time, percentage wise, that fuels you. Larry was really big on that."
Aldridge's entire piece is worth your attention.

1 comment:

THHB said...

I love that you are still bitter over the Pierce treatment while at KU---

I feel the same way about Anthony Roberson---ok, I couldn't say that with a straight face.