Saturday, June 9, 2007

Why people, myself included, don't like Bruce Bowen

Here is the link to Jemele Hill's article on Bowen. In the article she tries to break down, mostly by questioning Spur and Cavalier players, why Bowen is good and why people hate him. She keeps the article grounded in the info she gets from players. I wanted her to delve a little deeper and so I've resurrected my readerless blog in order to work my way through why I wish Bowen would become a high school teacher right now instead of, as he explains he would like to do, after he retires.

Bowen is a good person. He is into working in the community and contributing as best he can. No one ever knocks Bowen for not having a good heart. So what's the deal here? Why aren't people souped about having a good guy, when all we ever do is complain about all the nasty, naive, egotistical people in the NBA?

If we watched basketball to see people with the highest moral standards putz around with a ball, the Spurs would have a lineup of Kim Jae Dung, Muhammad Yunus, Jimmy Carter, John Hume and David Trimble, going up against the Cavs' Jodi Williams, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, José Ramos Horta, Yasser Arafat and Yitzak Rabin. Click the link if you like - those are all winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. I'm guessing the basketball fans reading this (allow me to, just for a moment, delude myself into believing I have an audience) don't know who most of those people are. And although that's sad, it's also no surprise.

It's not a surprise because people like watching basketball, the game of basketball, played well. They are interested in seeing people who affect the game of basketball. Why do people get more souped about bball than life? Because it's easier to understand. There are rules that make the winners and losers clear. It's a real drag to try to figure out why so many bad things happen in the world. Too complicated, too frustrating.

Now let's take a minute and step back to break down why Bruce Bowen is in the NBA.

Here's an Eric Snow quote yanked from Hill's article:

"My man AI [Allen Iverson] used to call him 'Happy Feet,'" Snow said, "because he's always moving his feet. He's just irritating. He's always constantly moving, constantly has his hands on you. If there's ever a limit to what a defender can do, he'll always be to that limit."

So there's a skill. He is quick on his toes, is, perhaps because of physical gifts, able to move more quickly than most defenders, and more importantly, than most offensive players. He is also probably mentally talented. He has trained himself, learned the way his opponents move and is good at figuring out their next move and cutting them off before they make it. Man, that's pretty cool. This guy can do something that other people can't do. With a combination of some special physical skills and mental acuity, he plays some excellent defense. I like to see scoring, but I want to see players score by making amazing plays, not by running by lazy defenders for easy slams. I like to see players make amazing plays, be forced to be creative, to use their amazing talents to score. Bowen forces them to make amazing plays in order to score, and that's great. I'm happy, at least so far in this analysis, that Bowen is in the NBA. He makes me more interested in watching.

But Bowen does more than that - he takes advantage of the rules. He, as Snow explains, constantly has his hands on you. He will kick you, stick his feet under you. Anything to throw you off. Is that basketball? If referees were omniscient beings and could control every aspect of the game with exactitude, and I told you to tell these refs, program them to make the players play basketball as it should be played, would you tell these refs to allow Bowen to put his hands on players, trip, elbow, even jump kick other players? No, you wouldn't. You'd say those are extracurriculars, which until we found these omniscient refs, we had to deal with. My point here is that if the NBA was perfect, Bruce Bowen wouldn't have the talent to be in the game. Or he would at least be a much less useful player.

But wait, there have been other guys who make a good chunk of their living by taking advantage of the rules. Laimbeer and Rodman come to mind. Why don't we hate them like we hate Bowen (the players may have, but the fans didnt)? Well, unlike these excellent anti-heroes, Bowen shows no interest, no self-awareness about his sacreligious tactics, his antihero status. He doesn't laugh when he gets under your skin. He doesn't die his hair, get all tattooed, dress in drag, make controversial comments. He just goes out and in his even, long and expressionless face, does the same thing every night. He's robotic. How can I connect with or root for a player when, as far as i can tell, he has zero sense of humor? This used to be a knock on Duncan, but TD has learned to express himself more on the court, to chill out. Bowen is still as humorless as ever.

Furthermore, when you talk about Laimbeer, you're talking about a guy who led the league in rebounding and free throw percentage and was a force from the three point line. Rodman was perhaps the most dominant rebounder ever (18.7 rpg in 91-92, led the NBA in rebounding for 8 straight years). Bowen doesn't put up any stats, not even steals or blocks. He has been among the leaders in 3pt shooting a few times, but I can't count that since he only shoots from two spots. These other guys had other talents besides roughneck defense, which makes them easier to root for.

If Bowen isn't like Laimbeer or Rodman, who is he like? He's like Shaq! Now don't press click away just yet, read on for a bit and you'll get where I'm going. In the '90s, people thought Shaq took advantage of the rules, bowled over defenders, was successful more as a result of his size than his skill. He didn't play basketball the way it was meant to be played. He was no fun to watch. Over time, however, people have realized that Shaq's game has more nuance to it. He is a very good passer, a leader who inspires his teammates to play above themselves (just look at how he rallied a Wade-less Miami team above .500 in the latter half of this past season). Also, as Shaq has aged, he has lost some of his ability to dominate. He is still just as big, but he has lost some athleticism. By witnessing this, we fans have been forced to acknowledge that a lot more of Shaq's dominance had to do with athleticism and skill than with size. Bowen, in ten years as pro basketball player, is still the same one-dimensional schmo.

Let's do another hypothetical here. Let's give every NBA player, in addition to all the skills they already have, the, "I'll do whatever I can get away with to stop my man" attitude. The NBA would be miserable to watch. Almost all the creativity and fantastic athletic feats that we love to watch in the NBA would be stifled. Steve Nash would spend most of the game on the floor holding his balls. NBA rosters would grow to the size of NFL rosters just so they could keep enough healthy bodies available. On the bright side, ratings would dip so low that the general public would finally have a better knowledge of Nobel Peace Prize winners than of professional basketball players.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Thoughts on Observation Deck

I'm working on grad school applications so time is limited. That's why I haven't done any picks in a while. Not that I was doing well anyway. When I have more time again I plan to go back and do an analysis on how I was doing with my picks on a team by team basis. Sort of a self-audit.

Dwyer's recent column

The Observation Deck makes some interesting observations and some misleading observations. We'll go over the more misleading and more interesting ones.

First Dwyer talks about how the paint is officiated today.

His premise is that, while the NBA did need to respond to the increase of players taking charges, their response only made the problem worse. They figured, well, if we make it illegal to take a charge right under the basket, then there will be fewer charging calls. What they didn't consider was that all those calls that used to be charging calls now became blocking calls. The problem of the game being slowed down remains. He argues that what the NBA should have done was allow, "contact [that] doesn't give a clear advantage to either the offense or defense..." That it should be a non-call.

There are two potential problems with this idea:

1) Although I don't see this being the case, the NBA might argue that it is too much to ask its referees to interpret when contact is or is not advantageous to a team, that the gray area would be huge and, although there would be fewer calls, the officiating would inevitably be very inconsistent. I understand this argument, but i am of the opinion that NBA officials are experts at gray area. I would guess that something like 2/3s of the calls made in any one game might be non-calls in another.

2) The second point here is more difficult to get around. NBA players make a hell of a lot of money and owners want their investments protected. If you make contact under the basket a little more legal, then these athletes that owners are paying millions are more likely to get knocked down in mid-flight. They are more likely to get hurt. Yes, in the 80s we had a lot of above the rim players, but today there are many many more, making much more $. THese guys have a lot further to fall. The top leapers in the NBA can get almost 4 feet in the air. If someone takes their legs out, the come down on their wrist (ala richard jefferson when he missed 49 games in 04-05), they are much more likely to get hurt. The NBA has a responsibility to protect its owners' investments.

In googling for some charging data I found another interesting article that covers the same idea. It's from 2003, but Dennis Hans' points are still relevant. Oh Keon Clark, you were such an explosive shot-blocker!

Hans feels the same way as Kelly. He is annoyed that the less difficult and less exciting play often has a higher reward. He's sick of watching the immobile Jason Collins. Good lord, so am I.

He proposes that the solution is to get rid of the semi-circle, so refs don't look at the call as black and white. Keep the circle in their minds, but tell them to focus more on "the precise position of the defender when the driver reaches the point of no return — that is, the point at which the driver cannot change his directional path even if he wants to."

He explains the point of no return as, "PRIOR to [a player's] second-to-last step... If you need to accelerate or change direction, you do that by altering how and where you place that second-to-last foot." This, I think, is a very good point. How often do you see a player get called for a charge, when it is obvious that there was no way he could have avoided it? How often is it that a defender slides into position after the offensive player has no way of stopping? You may call it good defense, but I call it a loophole in the rules. It's not good basketball. If a player lowers his shoulder, or puts his head down and barrels straight over a player who was just standing there waiting for him, charge, definitely. Otherwise, let's reward skilled play. Let's make the defenders make a play at blocking shots or, better yet, keeping players out of the paint.

Now I'm not advocating punishing a defender that guesses right. If I'm guarding a dude and I have a feeling he's about to make a move to his left, I jump to his left and he still runs right over me, that's a charge, but if I am making a move into the paint and between the time I take the step leading into jumping and the time I shoot, a defender jumps in front of me, that shouldn't be a charge.

The very important distinction between these two situations is that in the first one, the defender is able to anticipate what the offensive player is going to do before they take that action. In the second scenario the defender doesn't make his play until after the offensive player has no choice. There is no outwitting going on in the second scenario. Offensive players should be punished for poor decision-making. Defensive players should be rewarded for having the awareness to anticipate the offensive players' next decision, not just for being brave enough to take a big hit.

Tony Barone making a turnaround in Memphis?
You can't compare pre-Fratello and post-Fratello stats. The Grizz were just getting back into the flow of things with Pau back when Fratello was fired. Although I believe Fratello had to go and that Barone is wise to go up tempo and give young guys more PT, I don't think it will result in many more wins than Fratello's style would have, this year. The payoff with getting rid of Fratello is that you get the same number of wins, but your young players get more experience, and maybe next year you see some improvement in wins. Improvement that a Fratello coached team would not have seen.

Ariza vs. Jared Jeffries
I don't see why Dwyer feels it apt to compare Jared Jeffries to Trevor Ariza. Isiah Thomas did not trade Ariza for Jeffries. At the behest of his coach, who I believe, at the time, had more support than Thomas from owner James Dolan, Isiah Thomas traded for Steve Francis. Yes, he could have had Ariza for less $ than he gave Jeffries, but its not like the Knicks were the only team to pay a player worse than Ariza more $. I don't really know if Ariza is a better player than Jeffries right now. They both can't shoot, they both play good defense. Ariza is can jump a lot higher and is an excellent dunker, but his offensive game is even more unpolished than Jeffries'. Ariza has no handle, is awkward around the rim when he can't dunk, has no perimeter shot at all (Jeffries is a poor shooter, but can at least make the occasional jump shot). Dwyer says that Ariza has been a solid contributor in Orlando, but the Magic were 3-6 when Hedo Turkoglu (hardly an all-star) was out and Ariza played extra minutes.

Sean May is underappreciated
You bet he is. I agree 100%. The main reason he is underappreciated is because he's been hurt so much. He's a smart player, something the new NBA puts a premium on, not just in it's guards, but in bigs too.

Free Mo-Pete!
Fred Jones isn't overrated. We all know he sucks. Sam Mitchell is the only one who thinks he is good. This guy is a moron. I can't believe his team continues to win. The only thing that frustrates me more in the NBA is that KG is still on Minnesota. Morris Peterson is good. He is good defensively, he is an excellent perimeter shooter. I don't see why Sam Mitchell would choose to play tough with him, if that's even the reason why he's coming off the bench. Anyway, he's on 3 of my 4 fantasy teams so the Raptors need to use him or lose him.