Sunday, January 29, 2017

Only Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson Are Allowed To Know Things

Pictured: Not Coaches, So, Idiots
Tonight, deep into garbage time of the Warriors' confetti bucket job on the Clippers (honestly, NBA, can't we just flex out of blowouts? Grizzlies-Jazz could have used some love, and as the rest of this post shows, less of the ESPN "A" Team would be wonderful), the crew threw it to some writer, who put forth the entire reasonable proposition that Portland's Damian Lillard, the most noted All-Star Game snub from the West, might have been a more deserving pick than the Warrior's Klay Thompson.

The writer, being a writer, cited some facts. Facts, in the manner of statistical, empirical evidence. Facts, in the manner of opinions based on that evidence. Facts, based on the reaction of people close to the Warriors. Relevant facts! As a basis for an argument. I was surprised too, this being ESPN. Anyway, those facts.

a) Thompson's shooting percentages are down. He hasn't been as effective shooting the ball this year as last year. That's kind of important, seeing how Thompson is a shooting guard.

b) That decrease in proficiency is also kind of unexpected, given that Golden State now has Kevin Durant replacing Harrison Barnes, which means that Thompson, well, can't be facing the same kind of defensive attention as he did in 2015-16. It also passes the eye test from the Warrior games that I've watched this year. Dude is more open, and a lot less double teamed.

c) It's difficult at times to measure defensive effectiveness in the NBA. If you play against centers, there just aren't that many who are offensive machines; you just aren't going to have too many games where the guy facing you is a threat to put up 30+ and put you on national television highlights. Defense in the NBA now really is much more of a team experience, with switches and zones, and everyone has to be able to go close out on shooters. I get that it's hard, and for people of A Certain Age who like the world the way it used to be, just counting statistics resonate. So and so scored 20 points; he's a good player. His opposite number scored 30, maybe not so much, but also maybe still, because in scoring 30, maybe he took 30 shots and turned it over a dozen times. You can be a bad player with good counting numbers. You can be a good player with bad counting numbers. Any number of guys have proven this. It's not even a new story.

But here's the thing -- we do have stats now to measure defensive effectiveness. We count deflections along with steals, count shooting percentages when faced by a primary defender, and so on, and so on. These statistics are data, and the thing about data is that it doesn't discriminate.

So if I were to tell you that of the four star Warriors (Durant, Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson), one of the four has a markedly worse defensive rating, based on the number of points scored by the Warriors versus the number of points scored against when they were on the floor... wouldn't that be, well, relevant as to whether they deserve to make the All Star Game?

Especially when that person is Thompson, who we've also established isn't playing as well this year on offense?

Especially when basketball history is rife with guys who have trouble on defense when their shot isn't falling, because that's kind of human nature?

So, having made this sound, reasoned and cogent argument as to why Lillard might be a better pick than Thompson this year, I'd like to point out the following.

1) Dude isn't saying Thompson is *bad*. He's just saying not as deserving.

2) Dude isn't saying that Lillard is better than Thompson for anything more than, well, this year and this moment. Which is what an All Star Game is supposed to reward. It's not a lifetime achievement game, it's the best of this year.

3) Dude isn't even saying that Thompson is bad at defense. Just noting that his numbers are down this year.

Oh, and if you hate numbers? Dude also said that all of this jibes with what THOMPSON'S OWN COACHES ARE SAYING TO HIM, in their attempts to motivate him during yet another long regular season, in a year where anything but a championship means Shinola to the Warriors. (And to be honest, if I were on the Warriors, I'd be bored by basketball pretty often, too. They've pretty much solved it for now.)

If you disagree with this, there are reasonable ways to do it. You can talk about Portland's won-loss record as a way of questioning Lillard's performance. You can wonder about the sample size of 40-odd games. You can talk about how acclimating Durant has likely hurt Thompson most of all, discussed injury situations, or cited how Kerr likes to put Thompson out with the bench guys more than the others, and how the Warrior bench has been unsettled with personnel changes.

There are intellectually honest ways to discuss this. Plenty of them, actually.

Now, how did ABC's announcing team react to this?

Like, well, asshat jocks who Know Things that no one else can know, and weren't ashamed to Pull Rank.

Van Gundy said that the next time a writer told him who was good on defense, he'd pretty much take a crap on his desk. Jackson concurred. Then they spent the next two minutes extolling the virtues of Thompson on defense, DESPITE THE FACT THAT ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE LEARNED GENTRY, Steve Kerr, THE GUY WHO COACHES THOMPSON EVERY DAMNED DAY OF HIS LIFE, isn't satisfied with him on defense right now.

The segment ended with everyone bowing to the wisdom of Van Gundy and Jackson, because They Know Stuff.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm getting well and truly tired of ignorant people thundering that they know more than the people who actually build an argument with facts because They Know Better.

That kind of utter crap needs to be called out in the new political climate each and every time it occurs, because when ignorant people "win" arguments through nothing more than bluster, we all lose. Reality on reality's terms. PLEASE.

Oh, and one last and final freaking point that even Van Gundy and Jackson would have to concede?

NO ONE IS PAYING YOU TO COACH THEIR GODDAMNED TEAM RIGHT NOW.

So you aren't coaches, either.

And when you were coaches, you didn't win squat. Jackson was, of course, the last coach to keep Curry from being an MVP, and the Warriors from being champions and monsters. Van Gundy's best claim to fame is that he's willing to be scrappy while losing, and that he's got a brother who has also never won a title.

Which means, by your own logic, you can't know anything either.

So why are you employed by ESPN, especially when it's your job to know and learn about basketball, and you are utterly unwilling to learn anything that contradicts what you already think?

Thank God these men aren't in politics, or medicine, or law, or anything else where The Stupid does more than irritate...

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