Around the NBA: 12/07/10

December 7, 2010
Nick Matkovich



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  • Everyone ends up miserable after a good compromise, or something to that extent. Thank you much Henry Clay. One side has given into the outrageous demands of the other. The other side feels taken advantage of as well. Sure she'll go out with you, so long as you go to her cousin's interpretive dance recital.

    The marriage of two unlike worlds benefits those without a devotion to either side of the argument. These individuals can clearly see both sides of the coin. It is not a "heads" world for them.

    The logic holds true in evaluating athletes in professional sports.

    On one side we have the staunch traditionalists. Rocky Marciano was the greatest boxer ever. No one ever hit a running back harder than Dick Butkus. Life appeared greater at that time because these talent evaluators were younger, more susceptible to being wowed by such a moment. These are the bird dog scouts, most common in baseball, who hustle and bustle from town to town, hoping a Mickey Mantle or Larry Bird will drop from their sycamore. Their quest to find greatness is measured by the splinters in their rear, accrued by years of sitting on bleachers in towns off the beaten paths of beaten paths. Player evaluation is practiced with solely their left and right eye and an ability to read a box score.

    The numerically aroused sit on the other side of the fence. Theirs is a world where numbers tell the entire story. The world is quantitative in nature. Gut instinct is removed for cold hard data. You want to play a hunch? Try your luck somewhere else because numbers tell the entire story. A player's value is not measured by a box score alone, there exists more data, there must be more to better define a player and his actual value.

    The argument between both schools of thought percolates every time the Houston Rockets and specifically, their general manager Daryl Morey are brought up. Morey is the torch-bearer in the numbers game of professional basketball because he has been the ideology's most ardent supporter and proprietor.

    The nuts and bolts of professional basketball are ordinarily measured by the gold standard of a box score. You, the astute student of the game, know that points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots and personal fouls (among other things) are put on display as a supposed showcase of a player's ability, or lack thereof of playing basketball. No one cares how the sausage is made; you just want to look at the finished product.

    Morey decried the box score in an article from The New York Times Magazine, saying, "Someone created the box score, and he should be shot." Capital punishment notwithstanding, the way executives and talent evaluators measure a player's efficiency has changed over the years. Morey won't come out and disclose the exact data he uses to measure a player's value since the stat craze is somewhat new to basketball as opposed to baseball, but the numbers behind the numbers tell a greater story.

    You have to credit Morey for being innovative, especially in a cookie-cutter world that constitutes the building of an NBA Franchise. The salary cap places every team in the same financial situation. How a general manager allocates the team's budget is such a vital part of the job that the only time an overpaid player looks good is when he's coming off the books. In baseball the Yankees and Red Sox can eradicate mistakes by throwing bags of money on a problem to unhinge their disappointment from an AJ Burnett type contract. Basketball executives work under much tighter constraints.

    The ability to bargain hunt and surround your superstars, in this case Yao Ming with complementary players will give your franchise the opportunity to make a big move if such an opportunity presents itself. Side note: we can argue the merits of how big of a superstar Yao Ming is another time, but his contract makes him a superstar in a sense that a general manager like Morey has to delicately weave supporting players around him to avoid going deep into the luxury tax.

    With this devotion to numbers, it is not the only way to evaluate a player's worth. Most forward-thinking general managers or team presidents, including Morey will likely tell you that cohesion must exist between data and talent evaluating. Discounting one method in favor of the other will do little to help the organization move forward for years to come.

    So we'll still be treated to stories of Pat Riley discovering Dwyane Wade while jogging on the treadmill during Marquette's Final Four run. The nostalgia of finding someone will never entirely eliminate the ability of a person to judge someone's talent.

    How the two worlds mesh will tell the tale of the type of long term success an organization reaps.

    Morey's innovation is the starting point for a different way to evaluate a player's worth. Make Mr. Clay proud and marry the two. Your franchise will enjoy the benefits.

    Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.