A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Debunking the Fluidity = Athleticism concept

with 3 comments

Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks, Paul George, I...

Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks, Paul George, Indiana Pacers (Photo credit: MattBritt00)

For some time I’ve been the pusher you’ll find of “feel for the game”. In fact now that I am looking for it, a player’s feel jumps off the screen to me as easily as athleticism does to everyone else. While others exclaim over the length of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, I as much am looking at their natural feel and instincts.

I believe even for those who rarely or never use the concept, they are at least noticing when a player is more fluid, smooth or natural than others. What I’ve seen in the past by some, is the connection of fluidity and athleticism. That is another brand of athleticism that is leading to a more fluid game and movement.

While fluidity may be related to athleticism at least a little, I believe there is more reason to believe fluidity and “feel” is a mental trait. Consider this:

1. There is virtually no correlation between fluidity and the other forms of athleticism, such as athletic explosiveness. That is why players like Pablo Prigioni and Brad Miller can have excellent feel and fluidity, but among the weakest athleticism in the league. While on the other end, there may be athletic freaks like Javale McGee and Tyrus Thomas who are among the most lacking in feel and fluidity. Feel and fluidity seems equally distributed regardless of athleticism. Furthermore, fluidity and feel doesn’t decrease when a player ages, unlike other signs of athleticism such as speed or vertical life.

2. There appears to be a strong correlation between feel for the game and basketball intelligence. The most fluid and feel heavy players, often make good decisions and are able to recognize plays better. The vast majority of the leaders in assists per game, are players with a high feel for the game, helping them have the vision to make those passers. Likewise the ones lacking it, make poor decisions. Furthermore feel appears to be related to passing and vision. Sometimes there are elite feel for the game and fluidity players, who do not start as playmakers, but add it to their games later. The breakout of Paul George and Nicolas Batum as playmakers this season is an example of this.

3. Finally, perhaps the strongest evidence that feel for the game isn’t athletic, is its existence outside of athletics. Feel for the game is a concept that can be applied to any field where it’s acknowledged talent exists. Such as musicians, artists, writers of various forms, speakers, comedians, doctors, mathematicians etc. For example, for one to be a world class violinist, chances are that person needs an advanced “feel” for playing and the music that goes beyond what can be taught. In fields like this, there will be “naturals” and those for whom their ability is an unteachable gift that they make look too easy. It’s unlikely one has a chance to be a world class violinist without the luck of a natural, superior feel for it. Have you ever read someone’s writing where it feels like their words come out more naturally and more smooth than others can manage? That is feel.

None of this evidence is absolute, of course. But I believe when taken together, it’s enough to at least strongly feel, that fluidity and “feel for the game” comes from the head as likely a combination of innate instincts and mental conditioning from the way they initially picked up the game deep in their developmental past.

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Written by jr.

June 2, 2013 at 3:51 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I’ll agree with most of your points about fluidity and feel for the game but you seem to be hinting that this process can not be learned at some point. I would agree that when we are talking about a college or professional player their habits are pretty established. They are working on their strengths at this point and feel may be a weaker area, but that does not preclude that with some training they can improve at least the learned part of feel for the game. He some of it is innate, just as athleticism in some regard is innate. I do believe however that this aspect can be developed in athletes through greater self awareness and focus. Just my thoughts. Of course I train athletes mentally so perhaps I would think that. Cheers.

    Mike Margolies

    June 4, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    • Thank you for your response. I think you correct that it is likely more difficult for pro athletes to change their feel and instincts than athletes at lower levels due to the extra conditioning habits have had in the former.

      julienrodger

      June 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      • Yes, but more importantly I believe that most everyone else (including pros) can increase their fluidity via mental training. It’s just that they are rarely coached to do so. Nice blog post by the way.

        Mike Margolies

        June 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm


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