Every avid basketball fan has discussed with their peers about their thoughts about one player or another. It is an integral part of fanhood. Now more than ever, due to unprecedented access to information regarding players and teams, fans have evolved into “fanalysts”(Fan + Analyst = Fanalyst). Everyone brings in their biases, narratives, and expectations when talking about different players. These differences of opinion many times lead to heated debate. Unfortunately, these debates rarely lead to any sort of definitive conclusion. Instead, it leaves both parties further entrenched in their positions. These debates happen in living rooms, barbershops, and basically anywhere basketball fans meet up to talk. But no platform has facilitated such passionate debate as much as the social network called Twitter. The beautiful thing about talking basketball on twitter is the unprecedented access the user has to hundreds (if not thousands) of opinions at the click of a mouse. As one would expect, plenty of things get lost in translation and conversation gives way to contempt. I think this is because most of these debates don’t have any kind of consistent context. Context is vital in evaluating anything, especially basketball players.
What is context when talking about a basketball player? The truth is, no player preforms in a vacuum. Context in this case describes the circumstances under which the athlete performs. What team does Player X play for? Who are Player X’s teammates? Who is Player X’s coach? What kind of system does Player X’s coach run? What is Player X’s role in his coach’s system? These questions are important because their answers give us insight into why certain players do what they do.
One debate I see often is whether Rudy Gay of the Toronto Raptors is really a star caliber player, or just a volume scorer that shows flashes. Most of those who say Rudy Gay is a star player say that he passes the MOTE test (My Own Two Eyes). He has a 6’9” frame, elite athletic capabilities, a good perimeter shot, can finish around the basket, can handle the ball, and makes difficult plays that the average player simply can’t. His detractors point to his inefficiencies such as his poor shooting percentage (40.6 %) and poor shot selection. 76% of his field goal attempts are jump shots, and he only puts up a 38.6 eFG% (82games.com). These statistics don’t indicate the dominance expected from a star player, but his talents and abilities are undeniable. So which is it? Is he a star or not? The answer lies in how he is being used by the team he is on. Rudy Gay started this season on the Memphis Grizzlies, a contender in the Western Conference, 43% of his points were assisted. On a rebuilding Toronto Raptors team, only 34% of his points were assisted. He simply had more help in Memphis. He had a poor shooting year in both places this season shooting 40.8% in Memphis and 40.3% in Toronto, but this isn’t his usual standard. In fact this is the first time he’s shot under 45% for a season since his rookie season. In Memphis, they played from the inside-out, utilizing their stellar big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Defenses couldn’t key in on him defensively as much as they do in Toronto. As far as Rudy Gay’s place among the stars is concerned, time will tell. He’s still only 26 and is on a team that doesn’t have an identity yet. Their former #1 overall pick in Andrea Bargnani is being chased out of town. They also have some intriguing prospects such as Demar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. The latter two are in their rookie seasons and are still learning the NBA game. Derozan is also still developing his game and is showing flashes of a bright future. For Gay, finding your place in a situation like this in the middle of a season where your role isn’t quite defined isn’t an ideal one to judge him on.
Another debate I see and engage in frequently is the comparison of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant to New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. They are both on teams that are second place in their respective conferences. They also lead the league in scoring averaging 28.4 and 27.4 points per game respectively. How they are regarded by basketball fans and the media is where their major difference lies. Durant is the new darling of the NBA and regarded by many as the second best player in the NBA behind Lebron James. Anthony is regarded by many as a career underachiever that has top 5 talent but was rated in the teens by most of the preseason rankings. Those who point to Durant as the superior player point to his higher efficiency and assist numbers. Durant is shooting 50.2% from the field and averaging a career-high 4.5 assists per game. Anthony is shooting 43.5% and averaging 2.5 assists per game. At face value Durant is clearly the better offensive player, he scores more, with more efficiency, and gets more assists. But there is more to this argument than meets the eye. They have very different roles on their respective teams. Durant plays alongside another offensive juggernaut in all-star point guard Russell Westbrook. This keeps offenses from loading up on him the way they do Anthony. Durant’s role players have also proven themselves to be very useful compliments to his skill set. OKC shooting guard Kevin Martin can score from anywhere on the floor and is especially adept at the 3pt shot. OKC big man Serge Ibaka has vastly improved his offensive game this season and has expanded his range to the 3 point line. This creates plenty of room to operate because help defenders can’t come help off of Durant’s role players. Anthony doesn’t quite have the same pieces to work with. His most viable second option is mercurial guard JR Smith. Smith is frequently compared to former Knicks guard John Starks who was as streaky as they come. Smith has the ability to carry a team as well as the tendency to completely shoot his team out of contention with ill-advised long, contested jumpers. Point guards Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd have seen their peaks and valleys as far as shooting the ball this season. Kidd shot below 25% from 3 point range in the month of January this season. Felton is also a streaky shooter, defenses seem to encourage him to shoot long jumpers rather than allowing him to enter the lane. Amare Stoudemire was supposed to be the all-star Carmelo came to New York to play alongside, but he has only played a month this season before another surgery has put him on the sideline for the rest of the regular season. As far as supporting casts go, Durant definitely has a better one at this point in time. From a statistical standpoint, Durant has 52% of his field goals assisted as opposed to only 41% for Anthony (82games.com). Durant has a lot less creating to do when it comes to finding his shot. So who is better offensively? It depends on who’s style you prefer. They are both great offensive players but are still very hard to compare because they aren’t in identical situations.
When It comes to comparing players, it’s very easy to make blanket statements or point to numbers that back up your bias. Try and take a deeper look as to not just what the player does, but why and how he does it. The debates are fun, but be objective. The fact that you dislike a player’s style doesn’t make him a worse player, it just means you don’t like him. Understand that, get past it and make a logical case for your point. Also, use these discussions to learn something, I’ve picked up so much basketball knowledge from other people by simply listening to what they are saying rather than just trying to be right.
Thanks for reading this!
Feel free to leave any comments to me on twitter @ChiefIke
“We used to call them Super Chickens. Now they are once again Super Eagles,” said another supporter in the capital, Abuja, dressed from head to toe in his team’s colours of green and white. Fireworks flickered across the sky as celebrations continued into the night. “We are champions,” said David Oji, another follower, tears streaming down his face, “For once we are the best at something good.” (via African football: Nigerian heroes | The Economist)