“I’m a basketball minimalist.” Brett Koremenos rocked my psyche with that self identification. The term now haunts so many of my NBA thoughts.
Brett offhandedly used his invented phrase over Gchat, in reference to the inexorably fluid spread pick-and-roll attack. It’s an approach that requires four three point shooters, one of whom waits for the pick from a non-shooting big man like Tyson Chandler. The offense conquers because it exists in just too much space for a defense to hug. It’s practically a cheat code.
For the offense to be even feasible, the Knicks need Tyson Chandler to compensate for all those defensively-deficient shooters with defense and rebounding. He does that, but he’s also about as good an offensive player there is to do it on seven shots per game.
Tyson Chandler can’t shoot well, or dribble well, and he’s a bit skinny. Though, I sometimes wonder whether he’d be worse for his team were he any more blessed in those categories. His lack of a jump shot has led to a cartoonish 70% field goal mark. His lack of a handle has led to one turnover per game. His lack of bulk means fewer shotclock ticks sacrificed to the altar of dribble-dribble-back-down post-ups. New York’s big man enters a game, and only expertly controls a manageable amount of reality.
The reigning assumption is that the best center must be someone who does a lot, especially in the scoring department. Chandler might be changing that notion, if we would only bother to notice what he’s doing.
Catch-all player performance statistics are inherently problematic, because the value of taking a shot will always be up for debate. I do like Win Shares on Basketball Reference because the metric rewards volume shooting less than some other stats do. This is not
I like Kevin Durant because it’s impossible not to. His image is one of understated charisma and Beckley told me to believe the hype. Durant is for real. You really do come away liking him. He really does look you square in the eye and project a laser glare of incandescent respectful decency. There is a magnetism to his quiet magnanimity, and it’s drawing new coverts by the day.
So if Kevin Durant is overrated, it’s for the best possible reasons: Because he’s genuinely nice, cool, committed to his craft, and captivatingly so. The world isn’t such a bad place if this is what causes someone to get a little too much renown.
But I’m here to wet blanket the recent buzz, less as an attack dog and more as an awed observer of how one man can spawn a cult of personality in two consecutive summers.
Oh, you don’t remember the last Summer of Durant? Way back in 2010, KD presaged a supposed league takeover by showing Turkish players what for. Back then, many observers shaped his excellent performance against (mostly) non-NBA talent into a story about a man conquering more than just Ersan Ilyasova. Kevin had evolved. He had learned how to win, how to lead and how to marry kind humility with the blood-lusty killer instinct of a depraved assassin warrior patriot. Obviously, putting ball-through-hoop on the world stage equalled a personality transformation that would propel him to better put ball-through-hoop at home.
Well, Durant went into 2010-2011 with the MVP as his to lose and promptly…lost it. It was not that Kevin played poorly. Far from it, a PER of nearly 24 does an All Star do. It’s just that his season made the summer look like a mirage (it was). It’s just that
My feeling: Lovers of the objective choose Dwight over Derrick, but they choose Dwight over LeBron based on the subjective. This is the irony of a clear MVP battle line, our generational war between metrics and Maudlin: Stat-hurling Howard backers might be taking D12 for some of the same reasons pundits pick Rose.
Dwight is a better MVP than Derrick in terms of on-court contributions, a point made well enough to chase Rose supporters into the vagaries of narrative. But, stories are powerful, in so far as people want them to be reality. “Iverson has an indomitable will” was more compelling than, “Shaq is still larger than other people.” Nobody roots for a guy who could step over a standing Tyrone Lue. In the end, Iverson’s cult of personality culled more votes than Shaq’s real contributions. Story favors the small guard.
Today, a new small guard, a similar story. Since Rose’s raw numbers can be questioned, his narrative is greased with “contagious passion,” “work ethic,” and “desire to win.” This is when pundits usually credit a player for being “humble” as though basketball victories are God’s reward for hating yourself. The point here isn’t to deride Rose–who deserves to love himself with a suffocating hug–but simply to parse the rationale of his MVP supporters. Theirs is a case built on factors we cannot quantify, ghosts we cannot touch.
The opposing camp is replete with basketball writers who focus on the tangible, often with the kind of focus that cuts diamonds into razor blades. And they are in near unanimity on backing Howard, which I find curious because LeBron James would be a more viable candidate, statistically speaking. By many measures, James is a better choice–albeit marginally. He’s leading Howard in PER, WARP, and WS. Dwight has a better
Because he’s still the best player and media narratives aren’t worth joining. For all the mockery incurred, expectations ducked, elderly players paid, Miami’s likely headed for the 2nd seed. Apparently that’s not good enough because Wade’s too good. Or it’s not good enough because the Heat treated fans to a free agent celebration–like a team that actually wants to entertain ticket holders. Or it’s not good enough because LeBron James made a PR mistake while granting himself a promotion–like a man giddy over getting the hell out of Gilbert’s Cleveland.
Or, because media members need to teach him a lesson in the form of pretending basketball history is a fairytale, written in crayon. Almost seamlessly, fresh-faced cherub Kevin Durant is chucked for halo-hat Derrick Rose. We crave a twinkly-eyed, ascendant American Idol whom we can hoist like baby Simba. Derrick’s team won more, so he’s the more acceptable metaphorical rebuke to James’s impurity. Forget KD, let us ascribe the same “winner” qualities to this other innocent who also hasn’t yet won a playoff series.
LeBron can’t be MVP because the award is something it isn’t. It’s not just the “Most Valuable Player,” but instead a witch’s brew, derived from causation fallacies, preseason expectations, market size, and media story crafting. I hear it tastes like Budweiser Chelada. I’d rather stomach something rational.
Would a Rose choice by any other name..
Some would say that we should have a separate award for the most statistically dominant player. I respond: Would you like to have a dumber MVP debate than the current one? Also, isn’t the single honor straight forward to the sentient? Any reinterpretation of “Most Valuable” confuses my English-loving brain. When I hear, “Look, BEST is different from MOST VALUABLE,” it sounds a lot like, “Look, I think
“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.
Beckley: This week’s meme makes me wonder if we’re breaking our own rule against player hating. Why can’t we just root for a quiet kid with a great jumper and a smile that makes you want to invite him over for dinner with your grandma?
Well, here’s the rub: I don’t think a single analyst would pick Durant as the best Small Forward in the league, yet 15 out of 25 ESPN experts picked him to win this year’s MVP. Eerily, nearly the same percentage of GM’s (66%) predicted that Durant will hoist the Maurice Podoloff trophy at year’s end. Is it this a dastardly conspiracy bred in the bowels of NBA headquarters to anoint Durant the league’s most shining, unsullied star?! Meh…maybe it just makes sense to pick Durant.
Perhaps more than any player besides Chris Paul or Steve Nash, KD’s team’s fortunes will rest on his jagged shoulders. Without him, do the Thunder even win 30 games? Meanwhile Kobe and LeBron/Wade’s teams look like locks for 55+, and many believe it will take 65+ wins, injury to a key teammate or face-melting stats for either player to win another.
Anyways, what kind of logic can be applied when predicting such an inherently subjective, vague, screaming-match-inducing award? You think it’s Paul’s year, even though we both believe he’s the league’s second best player behind LeBron. In your prediction you mix in a variety of factors external to on court performance, is it possible that ESPN’s experts and NBA GMs are doing the same? Or is it a heaping, steaming pile of Timberwolf that anyone other