“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 4: The Preseason Analyst Blues

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley and Ethan, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.


Beckley: Ethan, despite the delightful bounty that was the first full week of NBA preseason action, this week in NBA news has been slower than George Muresan hedging on a high pick and roll. Writers and fans everywhere are wrestling, often within a single sentence, over whether the NBA Preseason matters. How many preseason-related articles have you seen that don’t caution “keep in mind this is just the preseason” before going on to say “but this piece of analysis matters for the regular season.”

48 Minutes of Hell tried to lay this issue to rest by using actual data to support the thesis that eyesight be damned, the preseason matters! Still, I can’t shed the memory of Deshawn Stevenson, in an obviously personal vendetta, airmailing an early shotclock 3 over Gilbert Arenas with a ridiculous grin on his face– then remaining in the game to get his prescribed run. Yet, while it’s obvious that most players don’t care about these games nearly as much as LeBron James’s Mom, they are still out there “playing.” I have to watch! I must be learning something!

Ethan, can you offer a counterbalance before I fall off the ledge and declare that the Timberwolves are the West’s sneaky sleeper after starting 3-0?

Ethan: Beckley, keep in mind that “keep in mind, this IS Summer League” is King NBA analysis meaning-killer. Nothing has mattered less than Summer League, not even Muresan’s toenail clippings.

(When asked about his Summer League play, Sisyphus replied: “I never existed and I’m a symbol for futility. I just dunked on Brandan Wright”)

Here’s where it gets “meh”ta. I can ignore the hard work of 48MinutesofHell with the same lazy impulse that causes us to dismiss the preseason as immaterial. You see, I don’t need a bunch of games or stats to think about, I already “know” preseason doesn’t matter. Problem solved!

Or, I can stare into the abyss of questioning whether non-season, quickly-forgotten games “matter” because they are predictive. And when we study preseason, it’s like rubber necking–not at a car-wreck–but at a particularly dicey intersection. Eventually, fate will water our bloodlust–but what a slog in search of and for meaning!

Hey Becks, way to throw me a metaphysical pretzel after a 15 hour work day! Almost fell asleep on the late-night BART. The fear of passing out, then waking up to an old homeless man licking my face–while he crouches in a chupacabra pose–popped my eye lids like steaming mussels. Opened the door, opened the laptop, and you’ve banished me to thinking hard about preseason. For this you deserve more than 48 minutes in hell’s seventh circle.

Beckley: Hmm, so you’re making a distinction between a predictive relationship and a meaningful relationship? Like that public transportation demon that now knows where you live, I can follow you.

But here’s another perspective to consider: Former child star and TruthAboutIt.net head honcho Kyle Weidie told me the he watches the preseason carefully, but never consults the scoreboard to see how the Wizards are whirring. His theory is that the results of preseason play are meaningless, but to the trained eye, the content of each game is rife with significance. I tend to agree. I watched Gilbert Arenas all game to see how he responded to playing almost entirely off the ball. Here’s what I saw: a few times he came off screens in retro-Agent Zero mode—unprepared to catch and shoot, feet all over the place, holding the ball and looking to go one-on-one. Other instances, he looked brilliant—sprinting off of a screen, he caught with feet squared and drilled an 18 footer, his liquid mercury release reminding the amnesic NBA community why he was once such a tough cover.

The overarching story of a preseason game may be much ado about nothing, but what about the sound and fury of this “Emo-Gil as a SG” meta-narrative? Is it worthy of analysis, even if it’s told by the occasionally idiotic Arenas?

Gilbert took Michael Vick's image rehab advice far too literally...

Ethan: Right after you typed this, Arenas injured his groin. Maybe implacable Gil felt redeemed through pain like The Pawnbroker?

To what you said about looking and learning, yes there can be something gained from viewing preseason. But seen basketball often deceives those of us who aren’t David Thorpe. So, I’m inclined to side with 48minutes over Kyle here–if we’re splitting a pool cue in two, and leaving the room. Stats over the seen, analytics over observation.

Per Arenas being a sad, wing-clipped albatross: I’m not sure that story matters because the Wizards likely won’t. Gilbert’s personal story mattered to many, because he used to be great at basketball. Now his story matters to few, because he’s not. The Arenas sideshow is now analogous to a late-season Wizards game: It’s seen only by those in the DC area, with a few NBA League Pass obsessives along for the ride. When you slaughter a lamb, blood geyser-gushes before slow, small spurts empty what’s left in the veins. These recent Feeling Blue Beard anti-antics are the final, life-signifying spurts of a dying career.

Continuing the nihilism, I’m not sure the world cares about Arenas as a shooting guard. As in, not sure about Arenas off the ball when I’m not sure he can even play at all. But Beckley, why do you care about Gil in the preseason? Boring life? Bad parenting?

Beckley: The Pawnbroker? Really?! Thank you for adding a reference to a movie that makes Metropolis look like Backdraft.

Speaking of David Thorpe, one of his new clients, Yi Jianlian, has been sprinting his way to breakout dunks in nearly every preseason Wizards game. (Hubie Brown voice) Here is a skill, because being down the court first is a skill, the he did not have last season manifesting itself this year. But who really knows if this improvement will result in the Wizards winning more games?

Coaches are looking at their own players and sets, not worrying about match-ups and countering the opposition’s game plan. So the consensus seems to be that these games might reveal something about player development, when players aren’t just loafing about the court, but very little about how the team will play together. You know, they’re meaningless… but not irrelevant.

For our sanity’s sake, let’s just leave it here and move on to the regular season.



Related posts:

  1. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 3: B-A-N-A-N-A-S!
  2. “Mama there goes that meme!” Ep. 1: Carmelo Anthony wants to be traded
  3. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 2: Beat those Heat!


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