A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Miami

We never have proof, but we do have evidence: On Howard vs James

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The talented Ethan Sherwood Strauss over at Hoopspeak just wrote a piece on the “dirty little secret” about Dwight Howard‘s MVP candidacy relative to LeBron James:

My suspicion is that story plays a role here, too. While many metrics-oriented writers have no issue with the Decision, they’re realists about what that does to LeBron’s MVP chances. Also, the Heat did not help his case by ducking preseason expectations. So it makes sense to back the politician, er, player who can win.

But, some stat-steeped writers just plain prefer Dwight Howard as an MVP. The oft-cited reason is “defense,” and Howard is great at it. Orlando is a top defensive unit, despite carrying some doughy sieves (I call them “funnel cakes”) on the roster.

Dwight’s defense is laudable, though I ask: Is there really a way for us to know if he’s defensively better than LeBron? While center is probably a more important position on that end, James can play multiple positions. LeBron’s defensive plus-minus exceeds Dwight’s which could mean a whole lot and could mean absolutely nothing. And, how much of Orlando’s stingy success is attributable to Stan Van Gundy’s team principles? Scott Skiles seems to always turn lackluster rosters into rabid rim shrinkers. Coaching could trump talent when it comes to cohesive basket prevention. Choosing Howard on the basis of his defensive superiority is fraught with subjective judgments, even if the goal is to better appreciate winning basketball.

I think he hit upon something key with his general thesis. There is absolutely a tendency for people to use defense as a black box trump card. Of course I can’t just leave it at that: The reality is that that we can’t really even prove Dwight over Derrick Rose or anyone else either. We have no method of measuring a player’s impact with absolute certainty. That may seem like I’m be ridiculously cautious, but the truth is that every single person involved in this analysis is supplying a layer of causal narrative on top of observations and stats, which is something I elaborated on last week here. We do however, have evidence that we can use supporting the “Dwight’s better on defense” argument:

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Written by Matt Johnson

April 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm

James the Abdicator

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'The Decision' & Miami is in a Frenzy!

Image by xynn tii imagery. via Flickr

In many ways, 2010 was the year of LeBron James.  Unfortunate to be in the situation where you emerge as the biggest story around and have so many of the storylines be based around things you did wrong and reasons why everyone should hate you.  So many opportunities has James given the world to hate him that’s it was hard to pick which narrative to go with.  James the Quitter?, James the Traitor?, James the Selfish?  All work.

For my part, I don’t hold LeBron in near the negative that many others do simply because of his choice to leave Cleveland for South Beach.  Certainly I’d have respected him more if he’d said he was staying Cleveland because he saw it his duty to help his city though tough economic times – but how can anyone expect that kind of maturity from a 25 year old famous because of what he can do with his body?

Of course, the way he left Cleveland, making a spectacle of himself, was ugly.  Beyond that, he’s seemed to hit every branch of hater tree on the way down since then.  Starting with his walkabout performance in the 2010 NBA playoffs, following that up with (alleged) stubbornness against his new coach in Miami, and then just recently, showing he doesn’t care about other players by advocating for contraction of weak NBA teams, and then proving to be both clueless and dishonest by claiming that he didn’t even know what “contraction” meant and that he had been talking about something else (he wasn’t).

In the end though, the most enduring narrative shift of 2010 for LeBron will be as abdicator.  As the man anointed as King James, expected to be the next Michael Jordan leading his modest supporting cast to a dynasty, and who then took off the crown not having the stomach to risk continued failure to reach the promised land with all aspects of his team’s strength reliant on him alone.

What’s so fascinating about this is that basketball is probably the only major team sport in existence where such ridiculously high expectations exist for a superstar, and those expectations are not entirely reasonable.  It is still a team sport, and no Michael Jordan didn’t do it alone either.  Jordan didn’t start winning championships until he had a supporting cast far stronger than the one James had in Cleveland.  While it is very much reasonable to expect great basketball players to play on some great teams because of the immense impact one player can have in the sport, it is irrational to expect that the best player will magically come out on top.

The other narratives surrounding James, and really those surrounding the other athletes I’ve written about, are often much less forgivable in my book, and yet they are also much more easily re-shifted.  Mayweather can kill the coward narrative by manning up, taking on Pacquiao, and coming away victorious.  Mayweather and LeBron both can grow past the various selfish and immature narratives simply by growing up.  I don’t see how LeBron ever makes the abdicator label go away.  He can make sting less by achieving great success, but his career will now always be viewed through a lens colored by The Decision.

Written by Matt Johnson

December 31, 2010 at 5:39 pm