SELF IS THE NEW STATS
Tune in elsewhere for Dr. LIC's Black/Jew essay and a truly epic Shoals Unlimited (BOTH UP NOW!).
I really don't like to go back and do an entire post on something from another post that I failed to clearly explain the first time around. It smacks of self-obsessed perfectionism, which is to say, it can obscure whether or not the material really matters that much. But like most of you, I am mortal, impatient, and occasionally busy, which means that my favorite part of yesterday's post got condensed—maybe compressed—into this impenetrable passage:
The challenge, then is to somehow quantify stupidity on both side. Wide-open lay-ups, drives into four defenders, cherry picks, full-court drives, gambling for the steal on every play. . . these are the markers of deviance, and big surprise, the ball I love. Remove them, and pace could truly be universalized. I wonder, though if there's not a slippery slope, or two of them, on either side of an equilibrium forever in question. Where you set it, what represents the mean, is strictly a matter of preference.
To review, the purpose of yesterday's post was to address "D'Antoni inflation," and determine if such a thing were truly statistically possible. Such an investigation would help us all better understand just how to view Kobe's 61-point game; like, if the numbers were completely inflated, then how much of a statement game could it have been? Ziller proved that adjusting for pace alone yielded no conclusive difference, so we delved into the possibility of a qualitative difference. The anecdotal evidence for this is rich, if a little perverse: Namely, players suck after leaving D'Antoni. This feeds into Simmons's claim that D'Antoni screws with the game's collective brain, the LSD of its sporting era, and some never quite recover. To actually "deflate" stats requires some standard by which we filter out "good" plays from "crazy" ones. Simmons suggests no such things, but unlike home runs in baseball, here we are talking about a difference in style—something that clearly manifests itself on the basketball court. One could conceivably draw distinctions, as opposed to estimating, via advance trigonometry, which balls wouldn't have gone the distance if struck by a non-roided up batter.
I was not, however, endorsing this sorting of play-by-play data, because applying the kind of criteria Simmons hints at is both totalitarian and self-defeating. For one, as you can guess, the line between stupid and inspired is preciously thin in the NBA, or at least the NBA as I prefer it to be. When you start to judge plays based on how rational they are, or whether they represent the most efficient form of execution, then you end up fast in Dave Berri territory. That's not to say that D'Antoni teams, or Nelson's Warriors, aren't at the far end of that spectrum. A normative basketball, though, would force you to pass judgemnent on individual basketball acts, regardless of context, overall flow of the game, or symbolic pay-off. Not exactly friendly soil for revelation or transcendence. This also raises the question of whether all basketball contains such imperfections, and thus the goal would be to adjust teams for their relative "stupidity", or punitively hold them all to a single standard.
The latter seems downright evil. You could end up with very, very strong teams punished for not being sufficiently perfect, or not pursuing a single-minded approach to the game. In an even yuckier version of things, the standard is not any particular team that season, but a nameless, faceless archetype, such that the players and teams that have come to define "smart" ball would still have to measure up to an ideal. It goes without saying that truth lies in creation-through-example, not a coach's imagination. The former brings up the question of where exactly you put that mean. Would it be based strictly on that year's numbers? Or is it inserted arbitrarily, a reflection of one's own stylistic preference? In both cases, deflation becomes an essentially political act.
To bring it back to reality, we are on some level talking about the primacy of identity-through-style. Is the game not defined by particular players and teams, the limits of the reasonable charted anew each night? If a man finds himself through "foolishness," well the, who plays the fool? There is only a "wrong way" or "bad plays" if they result from clear misapplication and lead to indisputable wreckage. So what if the Suns screw with people's heads, or there are clear-cut "D'Antoni players?" It's like acid casualties from the sixties. Are we really suggesting that era should've stayed clean, so it would be easier to compare with those that preceded it?
Oh, and only because it can never be said enough: The Suns didn't win any titles, but they have changed the definition of "stupid." Point guards now matter more than centers. Every team plays some small ball now, no one milks the clock. Phoenix itself ran away from the very low rumble of change that they set into motion. Perhaps the right thinking here is that D'Antoni's stats are ahead of their time, and those who emerge from his teams suffering from a permanent time-travel hangover. I've had those, and they suck. Maybe we should be looking at inflating former Suns' numbers so they accomodate a greater amount of "stupidity."
Note: Al Harrington is the Rosetta Stone of this shit.