Check Into Tomorrow

For serious, I swore I was going to take it easy over All-Star Weekend. Instead, some links:

-Joey and I frantically work through the implications of a shorn AI.
-Ty and Carter pay snide attention to the non-dunk parts of All-Star Saturday.
-Over at TSB, my Then and Now column overviews the weekend. No, "overview" is not a verb, except for here. Read and comment on this one so it stays alive.

Oh, and after much deliberation, we've decided to gently call out TNT for their Sunday intro. No, not because of its forgettably racist overtones, but because it's invocation of "spirit animals" and "style" was just a little too close to home. Probably not as glaring as the the ESPN mag deal, but still, we're left feeling something between flattered and slighted. Plus, they really should've dug a little deeper into the desert ecosystem.

Now, onto brighter places, or at least those that thrive and scamper in the fields of discourse, not envy. Michael Lewis's Battier/NBA Moneyball/how Morey works piece has seriously shaken up the basketball world. At least the kind that reads the Times. Some have been blindsided (ha!) by this sudden and gaping window into Morey's methods. But what's really made an impact is the fact that Battier, formerly thought of as that annoying Duke whose fantasy numbers means you have to draft him, but will automatically forfeit your team's claim to likeability, is portrayed here as a truly advanced stylist and a compelling figure. It was, in many ways, an FD-ization of Battier, albeit as a means toward an end.

Central to this version of Battier is the idea that he's not simply a scrappy guy who likes to defend and do "the little things," a hungry opportunist who imposes himself on the game by taking over the real estate no one else wants. Instead, Battier remains constant as "a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths." What's more, compared to the hustle guy who hits the floor on every play, Battier pursues a far less brute version of the glue guy—who even in Morey's parlance, can be seen as seeking some form of attention as an assertion of style. It's not just that his contributions only really come through in advanced stats; compared to Battier, a lot of other intangibles experts come across as single-minded and, in their lack of ego, almost showy. Battier is on another level, versatile and evasive. He's nothing less than the Right Way version of apositional icons like Lamar Odom and Shawn Marion—a player who, while dependent on context (whether instantaneous or long-term, as in a system) for direction, is valuable precisely because of his ectoplasmic net effect. And in Battier's case, this requires more flexible math than the box score offers, as if Shane himself provided the impetus for a change.

It's no accident that Lewis sees fit to include a healthy dose of Battier's biography, devoted in large part to his identity in the game as a mixed-race youth. Presumably without irony, Lewis explains that Battier followed the ultra-black Chris Webber at Detroit Country Day, but realized he could never be that player. Of course, Webber himself had plenty of identity issues, but on the court, there was no question he was a super-charged, highly-skilled power forward who had "superstar" scrawled all over his corpus. Anyway, the Life of Battier:

And yet here he was shuttling between a black world that treated him as white and a white world that treated him as black. ''Everything I've done since then is because of what I went through with this," he said. "What I did is alienate myself from everybody. I'd eat lunch by myself. I'd study by myself. And I sort of lost myself in the game."Losing himself in the game meant fitting into the game, and fitting into the game meant meshing so well that he became hard to see. In high school he was almost always the best player on the court, but even then he didn't embrace the starring role.

To me, this perfectly sums up why Battier is both so frustratingly hard to pin down, and in some ways, so fittingly the role player of the future. The pure specialist is as much of a dinosaur as the 20ppg scorer who offers little else. Not to conflate race and style too much, but think about Battier: Sure, he appeals to conservative fans and lacks swagger, but he's also long, versatile, and has been known to make pinpoint, aggressive plays. You follow from there. "Meshing so well that he became hard to see" is a statement about style, but it's also a reflection on identity. Battier's neither a black guy playing white, or someone whose white game is arrived at through means often associated with a certain stran of black player (the difference between Battier and Outlaw is. . . ). Granted, most of this is pat, but if Battier is next level when it comes to this "flow of the game" stuff, it might not be by coincidence that he also confounds easy race-based stereotypes on the court. He doesn't transcend oppositions; instead, he hangs out in everyone's margins, impossible to explain and thus posing a riddle to both sides. That shared terrain, that intersection of margins, is vast and unexplored, and it's only natural it would give rise to new kinds of players and a new way of seeing the game.

And yeah, there is an Obama reference earlier on in the story.


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At 2/16/2009 1:31 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

That Michael Lewis has potential, I think he'll go places.

At 2/16/2009 3:33 PM, Blogger Logan said...

Have to commend your most exceedingly Hip-Hop moment: Expecting a call-out not only when folks rep your ideas, but your principles.

You're like those doods from Handsome Boy, but your cult following is even smaller.

At 2/16/2009 3:41 PM, Blogger Dave Fonseca said...

Such pathos in Battier.

The man marks the dividing line between "phony hustle" and true presience.

At 2/16/2009 6:27 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

That was a very interesting article. I wonder to what extent many of the good (+ intelligent) players do have a conscious/quantifiable understanding of these statistics and which players understand these numbers on an instinctual plane.

Is it ironic, given the stereotypes of intellectual-ineffectualness, that the Houston Rockets is the team that employs such advanced statistical analysis to "figure out" basketball but is also the team with probably the biggest dissonance between on-paper potential and successful application of said potential?

Also, I can see this practice being (is?) bastardized for purely financial reasons and not to build a better basketball team. Who are the Battiers of franchise-profitability, Danny Granger and Scot Pollard?

At 2/16/2009 10:31 PM, Blogger The Till Show said...

The pure specialist is as much of a dinosaur as the 20ppg scorer who offers little else.

Ben Gordon and Kevin Martin beg to differ. But nice piece on Shane Battier

At 2/17/2009 3:24 AM, Blogger wondahbap said...

What was the real point of that Lewis' article? I wasn't too sure when I first read it, and even less so now.

Is Morey supposed to be a good example of how moneyball could work in the NBA? It's not like Houston is thrifty but fairly successful like Oakland A's, nor are they rich and very successful like the Red Sox.

Moneyball stats and basketball do not mix. The game is too fluid. Battier is a great defender because he just is. He always has been. Sometime you have it, sometimes you don't. James Posey is reading this article and saying, "No shit!"

Maybe Carl Landry, Luis Scola, or Chuck Hayes would have been better examples of Morey's "genius(?)". But a #6 pick?

What was the point of that article? The real reason Shane Battier isn't a bust? Or that not all NBA players are flashy egomaniacs?

At 2/17/2009 12:21 PM, Blogger DocZeus said...

I think the key to Shane Battier's success is his opponents get lost staring into the majesty of Battier's head fat folds. I know I couldn't resist the temptation of wanting to squeeze his head if I was playing hi.

At 2/17/2009 1:21 PM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

@wonda: I think the point was to contradict this piece of convential wisdom: "Moneyball stats and basketball do not mix. The game is too fluid."

At 2/17/2009 1:33 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

The other van gundy,

That much I know. I don't think the article accomplished the contradiction well enough. Or at least, Lewis didn't choose good examples.


Pippen, Battier, and Oden. 3/5th of All Head Fat Folds Defensive 1st Team.

At 2/17/2009 2:11 PM, Blogger SeanBS said...

Battier's draft position doesn't matter because Morey didn't make the pick. If the point is to find value, then the question is whether Battier is worth 6 million a year (yes) and whether he was worth Rudy Gay (arguable).

Landry, Scola, and Hayes should have been featured more prominently, for sure. But it was the right call to make Battier the focus of the article because of the eye-popping shit Morey says about him: that he plays at a superstar level, that he's the difference between being a borderline playoff team and a contender. Unless his stats say that stuff about Landry, too, like Hollinger's stats used to.

At 2/17/2009 2:26 PM, Blogger Darkofan said...

Darkofan: The Lewis article nicely cites Steven Jackson's strong statistical propensity to go to his left , even though he is better going left, as well as the anti-metricizing player, Manut Genobli, too spontaneous to be charted.

At 2/17/2009 2:40 PM, Blogger Darkofan said...

Darkofan: erratum; The Lewis article notes Jackson liking to go left even though he is better going right.

At 2/17/2009 5:03 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...


Good Point.

At 2/17/2009 6:34 PM, Blogger Rebar said...

battier has been a standby of my nba live teams for years. the computer always undervalues him and he is exceedingly versatile. i've always thought he was a cool cat too. he's the best dookie to ever exist.

At 2/17/2009 8:39 PM, Blogger Dave Fonseca said...

Also, as the article states, Morey came on after the T-Mac and Yao contracts were inked. And, of course, those two are always hurt.

Im curious as to why Morey's willingness to gamble on Artest is not included in the piece.

At 2/17/2009 9:51 PM, Blogger drinkof said...

Battier faceguards relentlessly. I'm just saying ...

At 2/18/2009 5:23 PM, Blogger Robin said...

This is stuff that rockets fans (like TheDreamShake) have been saying for years.

And despite Battier's reputation for being a good defender, he's a better help defender than he is a on the ball defender. Watch how frequently he moves into passing and driving lanes, and how willing he is to switch incessantly when needed.

Also: "He doesn't transcend oppositions; instead, he hangs out in everyone's margins, impossible to explain and thus posing a riddle to both sides."
Battier is the Robert Altman of NBA players?

At 2/18/2009 5:28 PM, Blogger Robin said...

Also, if you watch Battier frequently enough, you'll see some rare blocks that come out of nowhere and are certainly much too athletic to be expected from Battier. and they don't look calculated either.


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