From the Many. . .
Big surprise, in college I was drawn to philosophy early. Eventually, I was bitten by the Continental bug, writing papers about Levinas and improvisation. Meanwhile, some notable percentage of my buddies in arms had gotten all Analytic on me. Those relationships were never the same again.
I've heard that these days, the two sides are trying to patch things up. The flights of fancy and grand systemic thinking that fascinated me decided they needed an anchor; on the other side, the Anglo stuff started to acknowledge stuff like culture, context, history, and the possibility that ratty, wild-eyed "thinking" had a place in methodology. I'm not sure if that's exactly how the equation works, but this reconciliation is a great way to bring up Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10.
While I'm aware of the futility, or at least the limitations, of box score stats, they're still an important part of player mythos for me. In short, you might be inclined to think of FreeDarko's interpretive ravings as a return to an even more primitive time, when sports were much more literature than science. That would put us on the Continental side of things: ecstatic, expansive, and possibly total bullshit. Then there's the world of advanced statistics, a positivism that dissolves phenomenon and their traditional measures of them into lies and inaccuracies, leaving in its wake a new, more precise form of inquiry.
Given all that, you'd expect PBP 2009-10 to only interest me so much. Any well-organized, impeccably-researched guide to every team, every player, and every important theme for the coming season, is fine by me; in this respect, this book is absolutely indispensable, and has very nearly hamstrung me when it comes to writing to writing my own previews. But I don't just respect PBP 2009-10, or find it a handy reference tool. It's insistently readable, consistently eye-opening, and, from where I'm sitting, an invaluable ally in the project FD has sought to undertake from day one.
To go back to that fateful split, the central cause for disagreement was over Truth itself. In a practical sense, it boiled down to whether Truth was ecstatic and sprawling or harsh and precise; follow through on that, and you end up with a disagreement over whether or not Truth actually exists or not. Any truce would proceed from the assumption that neither side had a monopoly on Truth—that each, in its own way, valued and sought to illuminate a different facet of the same phenomena. The two approaches would complement each other, provided they accepted this common purpose rather than focus on antagonization.
After reading over a few chapters of PBP 2009-10 early last week, I told Kevin that what struck me most was how funny it was. He was confused, and I couldn't explain what I meant—as readers of KP know, that's rarely the first impression you get from his writing. But then I settled on this passage about Lawrence Frank as my case in point:
Lawrence Frank is the dean of Eastern Conference coaches, entering his fifth full season at the helm of the Nets, yet he is also the second-youngest NBA head coach and will not turn 40 until next summer. Frank has generally been an average coach during his time in New Jersey, winning or losing depending upon the talent he has been given, and doesn’t have any clear statistical profile. If the Nets cut him loose at season’s end, Frank will get another chance quickly, and deservedly so.
It is virtually impossible to read that without laughing out loud. Why? Because it lays bare the sheer absurdity of Lawrence Frank's career, the mess that much of the East remains, and the bizarre culture of coaching hires in the NBA. Only a very, very small percentage of the Association makes perfect sense, lacks wondrous imperfections, or really does fit together like clockwork. PBP deconstructs traditional statistics to reveal something that's, well, more true than the usual drivel. Watching the TNT crew of experts last night, I couldn't believe how oblivious or wrong-headed they were. FD takes root in all the material that Reggie Miller fails to pick up on, but that's right in front of you every time you turn on the television. PBP is the other side of this coin, tearing down empty myths and conventional wisdom so we can see what a complex, and convoluted, game pro basketball really is—and what a bizarre state so many teams find themselves in. That can mean "totally fucked," but also "unique and beautiful like a snowflake." Or both.
Not to get all Oklahoma! on you, but I think there's a reason Kevin Pelton and I get along in real life. While our approaches couldn't be more different, stylistically-speaking, at the end of the day we both want to illuminate the NBA, to make sure fans get a chance to appreciate it as both well-considered quantitative analysis and as FD's poetic meltdown—the qualitative. At the end of the day, though, I know we're talking about, and value, the same league. Not just that, it's the same version of the league. Presumably, anyone reading FD feels like we make something about the NBA more clear than it would otherwise be. This clarity, this belief that there's a "real NBA" to be conveyed, is also the point of PBP 2009-10.
Note: I'm guessing that this Gelf piece by myself and Tom Ziller gets at some of the same stuff. Oh, and that Ziller fellow, he's like the embodiment of everything I'm talking about here. The grand synthesis, if you will. Track him down and haunt his house.