March 30, 2010
I can't believe I'm going to waste another part of your day talking about how pathetic the state of basketball "analysis" is in 2010, but until these people go away and until websites keep thinking a slim freelance price tag and a few angry emails are worth it, I guess we have to keep fighting these things.
Dan Shaughnessy has been around a lot of locker rooms. He's seen a lot of basketball, and he could have quite a bit to teach us. Why he's taking the privilege of a press pass and access to the best player of his generation and one of the best coaches in NBA history and coming up with barroom drivel in the heat of a playoff race is beyond me.
Dan Shaughnessy doesn't think Tim Duncan(notes) is among the 10 best NBA players of all time. And for that, I really have no response. Not because I'm aghast at the prospect of Duncan either being left out of the top 10 or in the top 10, but because I have absolutely no clue - nor have I ever really considered - who, exactly, would make up the top 10 players in NBA history.
That sort of ranking never struck me as analysis. And I was the guy, who, if I wanted to keep a job at SI.com, had to rank weekly the top 20 players in the NBA during the 2006-07 season for that very site. I guarantee you Shaughnessy had no such edict.
I'm the guy that does nothing but watch games all night, games during the day and old games over the summer. I'm the guy who was writing about the NBA online well before any other online NBA scribe (or any online guy, though I think Bill Simmons has me by a year) you've read today or will read today. I'm the guy who's obsessed with this league and obsessed with getting it right about this league.
And I've never really felt it worthy analysis to try do any "off-the-top-of-my-head-I'd-take ..." rankings. Tweets, maybe. Chats? Sure. Interviews? Sometimes. But in a column? Is that really answering any questions for anyone?
Then I read the column, which was terrible (in general and in comparison to how great Shaughnessy's piece could be if he pursued greatness, and especially given the greatness of the subject matter at hand) and hit CTRL-F to try and find the first mention of the word "defense."
It was used once, in a sentence that also pointed out how great Duncan is at throwing outlet passes. And this is who we're learning from.
Someone who equates defense with outlet passing and makes it share the same throwaway sentence. Never mind defense is half the game, that an all-world defender will always be as important and as destructive as a 25-point scorer. Never mind Tim Duncan, in his prime, was both of those things.
Never mind, in the history of the NBA, there have been, perhaps, four of those guys. Wilt, Jordan, Kareem and Duncan (late add-on: Hakeem, too. What was I thinking forgetting him?). Maybe Shaq in 2000-01, definitely not Russell (didn't score enough), probably not Malone (a fine defender, but not a game-changer).
Never mind pace or changes in landscape or role or minutes allotment or function or form or context or the fact that Shaughnessy lists Bob Cousy ahead of Duncan. Never mind that Bob Cousy shot 37.5 percent for his career and couldn't guard a tree. Oh, but Cousy helped revolutionize the game with his derring-do. Well, then why don't we toss Jumpin' Joe Fulks in the top 10? After all, he essentially created the modern jump shot, and that was pretty revolutionary. But does influence outweigh actual contribution?
Ah, crap. I'm getting into it. This pointless argument. This is why I like bars with no TVs in them, ones that feature patrons who either have no idea what I do for a living or who wouldn't care to talk sports even if informed.
What I want to go away is the idea that this somehow is a form of analysis, or that this makes us smarter, or that this sort of drivel is designed to do anything more than to inflame. People accuse me of the same thing when I write something they don't agree with, or something that Tim Legler wouldn't agree with, but believe me when I tell you the less attention sent my way, the happier I am.
And ranking things, as I found last summer, is the quickest way to enrage. Because a healthy chunk of sports fans can't handle nuance. They can't handle being told, "there are a lot of things this person does right, but this aspect of his game needs to be worked on." They'd much prefer the difference between "two" and "three."
But I don't think that of most fans, otherwise I wouldn't write how I write - even when I rank. Dan Shaughnessy does think that of sports fans, those moist-brow'd masses who can barely fit on their bar stools and who can't wait to hear what Dan thinks is the difference between "nine" and "12."
Because, you pathetic plebeians, Dan gets to go to games for free and you don't. He couldn't tell you the difference between possession rates from 1961 and 2004, but he'll mention San Antonio's rather limited relative population and exposure three times to his one description of Duncan's defense. No matter that any 700-word retelling of Duncan's career should at least be filled with about 400 (literal) words about his defensive aptitude, how he was able to show on screen-and-rolls, how his team was a dominant defensive force for a decade without having to foul a single soul, with Duncan doing most of the heavy lifting.
Never mind that, for this effort, Shaughnessy was paid, given a courtside seat and free parking and access to Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan following the game.
This is what results. No analysis, no insight, nothing. Just something for you to either get angry over or nod your head to. It certainly shouldn't teach you anything. Nothing you couldn't glean for free with three minutes spent at dougstats.com.
I don't know if Tim Duncan is a top 10 player of all time. I'd have to think about it for a while. I'd have to do more than take Duncan's self-effacing tone as evidence that supports his top 15 status, because unless Tim starts mainlining the truth serum, he's going to constantly smirk and dog himself. I'd have to work on a column like that. And the result would probably go a lot longer than Shaughnessy's column.
Why? Because there would be nuance involved. Because there would be questions asked, some not answered, and there would be actual breakdowns of the differing contexts that existed between someone playing in an era with 85 possessions per game and 120 possessions per game. It would probably include discussions about the difference between eras that see an NRA-endorser in Karl Malone get to go on stage at country and western concerts to raucous cheers, and one that forces some of Bob Pettit's teammates to eat at different lunch counters than him.
But I probably wouldn't write that. Why? Because I don't care. I care so much about getting it right with this league that I don't care who is eighth and who is 42nd. Others do, and they have a nice niche and I'm sure they're happy with these things, but I'm not -- unless my employer strongly hints that it might be a good thing to do for the site. It's happened twice before, and it might happen again, so who knows?
Daft as I am, I still realize the uneasy incongruity between swearing up and down that you don't care about something and then doubling up the word count in a reaction to an opinion you supposedly don't care about.
I also think quite highly of the people that follow this sport. And I also think that if you're - if we're - to be told something, then we should be told "why" as well. Not just talked down to. Because in every column you write, you are reintroducing yourself to your old readers and introducing your voice to new readers. Even if you repeat yourself, so what? You have to stay humble and constantly restate your qualifications without appearing simpering or insecure.
That doesn't mean listing your qualifications or telling people, "See, I'm old! Respect me!" It means earning that respect each time out with every new discussion you create.
Because with all the information at our fingertips, the sheer breadth of voices and easy ability to just while away the days learning, learning, learning about the things you love ... we have to be on top of this. Because it's when you learn not to love that it is when you learn not to care. And while I really don't know or care where Tim Duncan ranks on the list of NBA all-timers, I definitely know that all I got from this piece was that Dan Shaughnessy doesn't care enough about us, the readers, to state a point that moves beyond, "eh, Duncan in the top 10? Not feeling it."
I don't know how you could write about Tim Duncan and not feel more.
As stated, I don't know where Tim Duncan ranks, but I can tell you that even in the dog days of a low season for him, with March Madness having its way and the Spurs losing theirs, I feel quite strongly about Tim Duncan. About his gifts. About his poise. About his abilities and about his smarts. About his long limbs and about his big brain. And I appreciate what he's given me, what I've had the pleasure to watch since 1997.
Whether I'd have him in my starting five or rounding out my all-time All-NBA Third Team doesn't matter. What matters is what you're telling people you don't know, something you've just gotten to see and care enough to write about. And when we get away from caring what those people are seeing, which I think is clearly the case here, we lose the point.
Also, Bob Cousy?