A couple of weeks ago, Duncan Smith, editor of PistonPowered (* unofficial non-Dan Feldman edition) tweeted this:
If you’re “team eye test”, which best describes your number aversion?
A: I don’t know where to find the numbers
B: I don’t care to find them
I saved it, because it reminded me of a post I’ve wanted to write for quite a while. I love the NBA. I follow it religiously. And outside of a small handful of writers, I find most of the content written about the league I love unreadable. Which is a weird statement from someone who has spent a good chunk of his adult life writing about the NBA.
Duncan’s tweet, though, illustrated a key problem I have. There’s a belief that there are two camps among NBA fans: the old school “eye test” folks who firmly believe the lens through which they view basketball is the only one that matters, and the “new wave” analytically-inclined “smart” fans who voraciously digest any overly-convoluted metric they can find to help explain what happens on the court before trusting anything their eyes tell them.
As a hobbyist NBA writer, I used to identify more firmly with the latter category. Stats are instructive. I easily fell into the habit of using advanced stats as a bludgeoning tool in my writing to make my takes seem more informed, more relevant, more differentiated than competing takes out there that relied less on numbers and more on the “eye test.” They weren’t, of course, and a big reason I stopped writing about the NBA regularly is that I sincerely worried that my voice was not adding anything relevant to an increasingly crowded, increasingly bro-ey conversation.
Not that ‘eye test’ people are saints either. Eye test writers and fans have a distinctly Trump voter aura. Probably a big crossover in the Trump/eye test Venn Diagram.
But I don’t think either “camp” really exists. Yeah, steadfastly “eye test” people can be simpletons and overvalue counting stats because its easy for them to take off their socks and tally up rebound totals. Yeah, “stats” people can be so preoccupied with justifying why certain metrics are superior that they forget to actually pay attention to otherworldly athletic abilities that make athletes fun to watch. There’s probably no right answer, and to be honest, people who devoutly identify as one or the other are REAL obnoxious.
Anyway, Duncan’s tweet jarred a random thought I’ve wanted to write out for a while. As per usual, I kinda forgot about it and didn’t write anything. Then tonight, some dude named Peter Healey responded to an innocuous tweet about Ben Wallace with this:
2 things that never come up: 1)Ben was only very good for maybe 6 years. 2)He couldn’t guard quicker 4s and 5s off the dribble
More than any other guy he’d be sunk in today’s league. Couldn’t shoot, wasn’t an elite roll guy, couldn’t switch nearly as much you think
I mean … takes like this are about as easy to brush off as Ben Wallace stopping Shaq at the rim. Wallace’s “6-year peak” was as good defensively as any center not named Bill Russell. He switched out on and smothered point guards defensively, yet somehow couldn’t stay in front of “quicker 4s and 5s off the dribble?” Who are these quicker-than-PGs-4s and 5s we’re talking about populating the league in Ben’s era, Percy? Jerome Moiso? Keon Clark? He’d be “sunk” in today’s league? Because athletic, rim-protecting, defensively-minded centers who are offensively limited aren’t, as they always have been, extremely valuable?
As I’m wont to do, I responded to Preston’s bad take on Twitter. Then, in true “I have a stupid take but then get sad/emo when people tell me my stupid take is stupid” fashion, Phillip responded. Then I responded some more. Then I noticed that Payton was giving catty responses, feebly trying to drag other smart people – including Stephen Rodrick who has written goddamned cover stories for Rolling Stone and Ben Gulker who has been writing about the Pistons longer than anyone not named Matt Watson – and I got super annoyed. To paraphrase the great Ben Gordon, humble yourself, Perry.
So his bad take brought me briefly out of my basketball writing retirement to say that basketball writing sucks because of the take economy that is propagated by people who think making purposefully statements contribute to any better understanding of the game. Oh, Ben Wallace, an extremely fun, unique, by-his-bootstraps, prideful, championship player wouldn’t excel in an era of basketball when a bunch of Ayn Rand-humping Silicon Valley tech bro venture capitalists have reduced the game to people thinking sprinting to corners to launch threes is the only valuable skill a player can possess? THANKS FOR YOUR INSIGHT, Pierre! Maybe next you can tell us why Scottie Pippen would actually suck today because he shot below 33 percent from three for his career, or why Anthony Mason wasn’t a fun-as-hell point forward because he probably couldn’t have guarded today’s wings. Seriously, please hammer us with more “well actuallys” for people who innocently enjoy watching beautiful basketball players.
Basketball is art. Who cares how people watch it? When you overvalue statistical analysis or contrarian takes to the point of killing the unique style and individuality that truly makes basketball the most creative of sports, what’s the point? Your voice is not adding anything of value. It’s noise.