4.22.2009

That Ghost Holds My Hand!

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Let me attempt to explain to all of you exactly why the "Z-graphs" (link is to overview) were so seductive. On a number of intuitive, if largely metaphoric, levels, they made perfect sense: Both center and point guard, the position's most often discussed in terms of "purity," are represented as untroubled rows of attributes. They flow from logically from one to the next, even as they start toward more nebulous areas. But insofar as we believe these positions to have some sort of enduring essence, it makes sense that they'd maintain an untroubled, un-sloped plane of description. Furthermore, this allows either the PG or C section to serve as a base—or, to reify the thought, a foundation. This is consistent with our understanding of big men to this day, but the Stockton/Cousy point guard who excelled simply at a select set of responsibilities essential to any functional line-up, no longer defines the position (sorry, Steve Blake). For instance, Chris Paul, arguably the finest in the league at this position, was almost single-handedly responsible for the scrapping of the "Z," since his chart was almost as "impure" as that of, say, Allen Iverson. Paul basks in legitimacy, as did forebears Isiah, Kevin Johnson, and Payton. The likes of Magic and to some degree, Kidd, are pure in heart but can't help contributing all the over the place as well.

I never felt like Rose/Beasley was really a small man/big man dilemma. Beasley's a total weirdo and an idiosyncratic player, more SF than some SF's, more PF than many PF's, and quite possibly to "tweener" what Arenas was to "combo guard." Rose, on the other hand, was a pure point guard (relatively, historically, speaking). But with Ricky Rubio throwing his name into the hat for this summer's draft, we finally are presented with a real small/big dilemma. Blake Griffin is big, athletic, fairly skilled, and automatic; Rubio is mercurial, Pistol-like as a descriptive quality, and a natural-made trickster with an offense. Griffin—stable, staunch, and unromantic—is exactly the kind of foundation proposed by the visual metaphor of the "Z". The connotations will bury you, so don't spend too much time there: Anchoring the frontcourt, providing insurance through boards, dunks, and interior defense, you build a team around a known quantity that, for lack of a non-slang term, holds it down at both ends. Indisputably. Today's point guard, though, isn't drafted to provide a foundation (as the "Z" would suggest), but a non-stop spark. They're playmakers, here to furnish the unexpected without betraying our trust, following their muse as responsibly as possible while taking the team with them. They are, in short, anti-foundational, always reaching upward and looking for that new angle or opportunity. That involves running an offense and controlling the ball, but its stability is exactly that assurance of ambitious play-making that sweeps up the rest of the team with it.

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For the most pure example of this impure point guard, you need look no further than Rajon Rondo, who has gone grievously underrated in this series exactly because he cares so little to project authority, gravitas, or emotion—those silly markers of "quarterbacking" that, ironically, have no place in Brett Favre-inspired mayhem.. I'm not placing Rondo in the same anarchic category as Westbrook, because he obviously fits into the Celtics (or rather, the team accommodates and respond to him). But instead of pin-point passing and orchestrated partings of the defense, Rondo just kind of speeds towards the basket or ball on every play, and then either ends up tossing in an off-balance lay-up, crookedly finding a teammate for the easy shot, or grabbing the rebound. Same goes for his defense: He'll lock down opponents, only to lunge after loose balls and errant passes not with a speedster's hubris, but because it's his job to make a play. He's fast, physical, and utterly undemonstrative. Rajon Rondo is the engine of that team, especially in this series, and yet he remains strangely elusive. You wonder if he's not just making every decision on the fly, in an off-hand manner that evokes nothing if not his childhood idol Favre. There's no need for poise, or bravura, because Rondo just blankets the court with his blinding speed and long arms. He's vague, even ectoplasmic, everywhere at once while only rarely making what feels like a statement play.

Does that make Rondo any kind of traditional "foundation"? Of course not. But if he keeps this up, then no lack of poise, or stability, can take away from the key role he plays on that team. Maybe Rondo is the ultimate postmodern PG. Not in the scoring vein of Isiah, or Magic/Kidd's augmented pure point-ness. Unlike Rose, Rondo is anything but immediate and tactile. If you blink you might miss him, because he does little to establish any continuity or sustained position of authority. Yet for all the fragments and impression he yields, for all his refusal to stand up and project authority, Rondo is doing exactly what a new, non-foundational PG should. He takes care of the ball, makes it move, creates shots for others, and consistently saves possessions when they appear lost. That he produces little that can pass for iconic or poised shows only that he's mastered the raw material of playmaking, and with it, a resistance to fall back on cliche or positional piety. Not a foundation, but a skyward gesture that sets parameters by remaining tethered to the team.

AYLER Don

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34 Comments:

At 4/22/2009 1:03 PM, Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

I like the idea that Rondo is the flux on the floor, just everywhere, moving, but I still can't pretend that I don't hate the Celtics. And that I want the 08-09 Bulls to be our new 06-07 Warriors.

 
At 4/22/2009 1:04 PM, Blogger Seth said...

This, too, is why Rondo doesn't fit, exactly, into the "Big Three" mold so insistently insisted upon by so many with regard to last season's Celtics. Your assessment on him is dead on; and it's getting hard to argue that Pierce or Allen is the "best" of the healthy Celtics when Rondo is consistently the only thing on the floor I can pay any attention too.

 
At 4/22/2009 1:28 PM, Blogger Ben Q. Rock said...

Painted Skin?

 
At 4/22/2009 1:44 PM, Blogger Headless Chicken said...

I think mathematics have a similar problem as we have with these Z graphs. Squaring the circle. And speaking of this the idea of the circle / pentagon might actually make some sense. Where you leave the PG you come back to the big man. We should take a look at Muggsy and Manute or Gheorge maybe?

 
At 4/22/2009 2:06 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

In some ways B Diddy falls into this same vein for me, the difference being he was recognized as the star and therefore forced into the traditional role. The legendary Warriors of '07 had enough spectacular playmakers to take the pressure off his back, and as such he played the best ball of his tortured career.

Rondo not so much, given the preoccupation with the Big Three. But when they leave what happens to him, will his spirit be squashed by the immense burden of being the new "foundation?"

 
At 4/22/2009 2:22 PM, Blogger G Wolf said...

You guys are silly with your love of the Z graphs. It's like you're sitting here rubbing two sticks together while the guys in the next cave over have a backpack full of Zippos.


wv: muffnest - late 70s slang for sexiest.

 
At 4/22/2009 2:33 PM, Blogger Robert said...

Absolutely fantastic post.

I've never said "Rondo is taking over this game."

But I've often found myself saying "Rondo took over that game."

Present participle v. past perfect?

 
At 4/22/2009 2:46 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

@G Wolf: I think it's more like Shoals and Ziller are making cave paintings, while the statheads are rubbing sticks together in the next cave. Different purposes.

 
At 4/22/2009 2:57 PM, Blogger coque9 said...

it's beautiful. the z-charts, the descriptions, the turning basketball into a metaphysical art, all of it...

how much acid do you do, freedarko?

 
At 4/22/2009 2:58 PM, Blogger dunces said...

My first instinct is to throw G-Wolf to the dogs, but if we accept that style has a function, it's quite likely that the work Pelton and co. are doing could give rise to the validation of what we consider unorthodoxy.

Let's ascribe to the Celtics management enough intelligence to know exactly what they were getting with Rondo. A sophisticated set of metrics might have indicated to them that despite appearances Rondo fulfills the role they needed from a point, right? So rather than reflexively shout "Apples and Oranges", does G Wolf have a point?

 
At 4/22/2009 3:00 PM, Blogger dooflow said...

the rhizomatic point guard as minor position (what Kafka & Celan do to German Rondo does to the position), heh. Then the play is always in a process of becoming and never truly set? Can I stop using strawberries and internets to describe rhizomatic actions and point to Chris Paul?

 
At 4/22/2009 3:37 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

I still can't tell if Rondo's ball fake is the most purely definitive aspect of his game or that which most defies it.

 
At 4/22/2009 3:59 PM, Blogger Seth said...

I would say that the most definitive aspect of his game is the way he behaves much like an spacecraft. It's gravitational, the way he approaches the goal at high speed only to reverse the ball's trajectory back outside; it's the basketball equivalent of an interstellar slingshot.

 
At 4/22/2009 4:19 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

If you see a dark-haired dude in the crowd at the United Center tomorrow night wearing a Rajon Rondo jersey, that's me. (Seriously.)

 
At 4/22/2009 4:54 PM, Blogger Sactown's Finest said...

a closing paragraph would be nice and why start with big man/little man comparisons then move onto Rondo. Continuity is always a plus.

 
At 4/22/2009 5:29 PM, Blogger Ritchie said...

It amazes me that people still make posts like G Wolf's every day.

 
At 4/22/2009 7:25 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

I've been going on an on with anyone who'll listen about Rondo and Durant, all season long, and it's not about dick riding this site, although I think you guys had something to do with my love for Randolph the red-eyed Reindeer. I love your discussion of Rondo in all ways but one. I do see a bunch of highlight reel maneuvers and one sentence might well suggest that on more levels then one.

"every decision on the flaw". Coupled that with the sick-wind blowing in the last pic and it evoked the high speed of bebop "I don't give a fuck" where dissonance, changed keys, and unintended themes are only a mistake if the audience and fellow musicians can't keep up. For Rondo this would manifest as bad-passes, missed assignments, and badly bricked shots but like the musicians, Rondo has mastered his craft.

The dudes in the pic look like they're blowing a hole in the atmosphere and Rondo looks to me like he does the same with his playmaking. A few times a game you hear the Boston crowd sort of "Oooh" for a sound to complement the flaw he is rending and that would be a highlight reel play. Game one he is in the paint getting around Noah, throws a behind the back pass fake which leads to a relatively easy layup. Nothing wasted. No desire to show up the defender. Rondo was creating on the flaw in no less a skillful manner then Joe Johnson exposed the flaw in Posey's ankles last postseason. Rondo is full of highlights.

The paradox exists that even with those highlights I could have told you that he is the hub of that team, with or without Garnett, but I never see the triple-doubles as they are happening.

 
At 4/22/2009 7:51 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That was a Freudian slip on my part. I meant to type "on the fly."

 
At 4/22/2009 9:04 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Which is just another level on which the Rondo magic rends flaws into style.

Who the hell is responsible for the Word Verifications for this site. They all play on real phrases and words.

 
At 4/22/2009 10:26 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Totally off the playoff topic here, but: Is Jeremy Tyler story just the same story as Brandon Jennings, but further down the spectrum? Will it be a slippery slope? I want to know what commenters think about this, from an FD angle. Is there something to say about this here, or is it just an interesting news bit?

 
At 4/22/2009 11:24 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4/22/2009 11:27 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Damn html to hell.

Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 junior, dropped out of his San Diego High School and said he would skip his senior year to play professionally in Europe This is happening. T minus 2 years 'til we got 18 year old ballers in the lig again.

 
At 4/22/2009 11:44 PM, Blogger Phil said...

my comment will really contribute nothing, but I really liked how you labeled Rondo as a "postmodern" PG.

 
At 4/23/2009 1:06 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

So then. There's the academic part of it, which is that Jennings was never going to be eligible. Then this guy Tyler drops out of school (although he's supposedly getting his high school diploma online [better finish before you end up in Croatian training camp, but whatever]). When you look back at Jennings' story now, it's this groundbreaking thing, and the academic part of the story has sort of faded. Tyler was set to go to Louisville, and was on time to graduate like a normal kid. In the NYT piece, the whole gist is that he just wants to be a better player. His high school team is no good. Everybody triple teams him, and he's tired of getting hacked and bruised. His dad is proud of him, and says he's as much of a man as any other dude who goes and gets a job.

Then you find out that Vaccaro is part of this, and it all gets a little nauseating. But part of me wants to think that's just him, just because he's slimy.

What the kid is doing, though, if you take Vaccaro out of it, isn't really slimy. It's taking advantage of the kid that's the slimy part. Just like Vaccaro leeches his little bit, the Euro coaches I'm sure are licking their chops. So is there a play-for-pay lesson to be learned there as well, or should we be protecting kids from this? Or should we be giving them a better venue back home, if only to keep American egos intact?

It all seems pretty inexorable to me. Looking down the line, however, the one product that seems to resonate back to FD would be a future clash of the Euro-trained prospect versus the NCAA-trained prospect. How will we react? It could be some sort of FD Reckoning, for which everything up until that point is just preparation.

 
At 4/23/2009 3:21 AM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

The first best thing I ever did was take a college semester abroad. The school got its use out of me too, considering what I paid to go through the course. Now, I could sleep in, miss class, go to the pub and pass out with donner breath but who says that is a good thing. I'm guessing we are seeing the coming up of the generation to partake in the last movable feast from Europe's pantry.

 
At 4/23/2009 10:02 AM, Blogger Ritchie said...

@R. Lobstah

High school ballers taking going pro in Europe like a semester abroad or even a gap year is a neat ideal but things won't be that easy for them. All of the comments from Jennings I've read suggest things have been challenging and it makes sense. In college ball or in a semester abroad you're surrounded by your peers. Maybe you were the exception but everyone I know that spent a semester abroad spent most of it hanging out with other Americans. If you are an 18-ish American kid balling overseas your teammates are older men, many of them foreign and some of them unhappy that you're a hotshot young American taking their minutes. And there's no doubt your average high school basketball star, especially those from lower class upbringings, is not as prepared to deal with the massive change in culture as a student with a year or two of college under his belt. Even one year of college exposes kids to a whole new world outside of their parents' home and allows them to adjust to living side by side with people with completely different world views. And throw in that the kid is now a professional basketball player and thus will be expected to take himself and his game as seriously as such. He's going from a guy who at worst disappoints himself or his team or his coach to a guy who is a serious investment.

Balling overseas is a massive change, with a lot of expectations and potentially not a lot of support. So there's certainly a big difference between that and taking a semester abroad or some time to travel in your late teens.

 
At 4/23/2009 2:49 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Richie,

I get where you are coming from and weakly alluded to that with the sleep, stagger, pub-hop, lifestyle I had the luxury to partake in. It'll take a unique human being to get the full "high-culture" value of living abroad and Childress, I assume, will be the sort of dude (even without his maturity level) who might get more out of the experience then say Telfair.

Some of the greatest styles came out of people who had to mature early due to very unstable circumstances. Think of all the artists who died young in contemporary measure and yet left behind works of maturity and complexity produced in their late teens or early twenties. The worst thing a young person can do is get involved with people and circumstances rooted in stagnation and boredom and only the most closed minded of youths will just shut themselves off from opportunities in exotic environments. I think the year or two spent in universities bring aboput maturity because of the time spent in a different environment, not because of the nature of university. I could probably well argue that university life is a stagnating experience to a greater degree then other, less well tended avenues to maturity are. At the same time the difference between being used by a university and all the adjustments anyone might have to make to university life doesn't seem to be more traumatic then living abroad and actually earning something with your hard work. In both circumstances failure has a hard price. In both circumstances success has it's pressure. In both circumstances you will be challenged to use your adaptive capacities. I think an inner-city kid can get more out of a year in Milan then in a year in Westwood.

 
At 4/23/2009 3:04 PM, Blogger Ritchie said...

R. Lobstah

I think we fundamentally agree. I don't actually think it's a bad thing that guys are taking their games overseas or that the tougher than college ball experience will not enrich their lives. I got a "halcyon days of my semester abroad" vibe from your post and thought it necessary to point out even if a high school baller has a great experience overseas it's not going to be great in the same way as a semester abroad.

 
At 4/23/2009 3:25 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Tremendous. Espcially the stuff on Rondo. Thank you.

 
At 4/23/2009 4:09 PM, Blogger Greg said...

is that second picture calling out a z-racism that the text shies away from?

 
At 4/24/2009 11:43 AM, Blogger Jamaalstar said...

perhaps as assistance to the z graph you could create a list of positional archetypes with player examples. point guard could include oversized distributor(magic,kidd,big 0), scoring lead guard (zeke,tony parker) z graph point guard (stockton, nash, mark jackson) and archetypes for rondo,rubio,paul, d.williams.

 
At 4/24/2009 11:45 AM, Blogger G Wolf said...

@Brown Recluse, Esq.:
The purpose is to categorize, compare and contrast, and ultimately make evaluations and judgments, right?

OK, just checking...

 
At 4/24/2009 12:25 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I notice that Shoals edited the text of his post from the original "making every decision on the flaw" to the current version, "making every decision on the fly". I liked the original better.

 
At 5/17/2013 5:46 PM, Blogger Jim Philips said...

I don't know it is quite an easy explanation but at least it is a little bit poetic. I will look at Sportsbook Betting community if there are something about it.

 

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