Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Triangle (or Square)

A gentleman who goes by "Professor Pete" writes:

>>I've been reading through your archives and I like how you've developed the argument that talent isn't enough to make a great player... You've pointed out effort and character as necessary ingredients. Anything else? How about a synthesis of the system? (We profs love that kind of thing.)<<

Well...thanks! If an actual professor likes the stuff, it must be good, right? I hadn't thought of anything I haven't mentioned already. Maybe readers can help with an area I've missed. But for the professorial types out there who like things neat and organized, I guess one could develop a triangle of player attributes surrounding what we've talked about.

One point of the triangle would be talent. This would include basketball skill (shooting, rebounding, defending, etc.) as well as physical attributes (strength, size, quickness, leap, and the like). If you wanted to get more technical you could separate those two categories, creating a square. For our purposes we'll mush them together and leave it as a triangle.

Another point would be effort. This would be loosely defined as "maximizing your talent". It would include hustling on both ends of the court, setting (or using) picks well, getting balls that come in your direction (what Henry Abbott calls being "sticky"), keeping hands and feet moving...basically giving energy during the game and doing little things right.

The final point would be character. This includes unselfish play, willingness to find and accept a role (being "coachable"), ability to remain dedicated and contribute to the teams and its goals even when they don't center around you shooting the ball, locker-room presence, and the like.

Strength in all three points is the hallmark of the truly great player. Our own small forward corps gives us examples of players imbalanced towards one or two of the points. Viktor Khryapa is strong in effort and character, less so in talent. Ruben Patterson had great athletic ability, defensive skills, and low post scoring, plus he gave plenty of effort, but he was lacking in the character department. Darius Miles has boundless talent, but his effort and character are inconsistent. All three have good points and all three are NBA players, but none are great, nor do they approach greatness. In fact the jury's still out on whether any of the three can actually help a team win.

Fans and executives alike tend to overvalue the top point of the triangle. Talent is necessary, but you're far more likely to overpay for it. The value of a construct like this is that it helps us look past the obvious and quantify, or at least talk about, some of the things that differentiate a Magic Johnson from a Stephon Marbury.

Basketball is a team game. Because of the small court and number of people in play, it's the major sport most susceptible to dominance by a single, talented player. But in turn, its players (however talented) are more susceptible to the vagaries of synergy. Talent alone can't explain what happens out there. Our own championship history, both won and lost, shows us that.

Thanks, Professor! You can start the wall diagram now.

--Dave (


Anonymous jorga said...

As a former teacher (mini-prof?) I like the triangle. I see this triangle spinning - with none of those three as the absolute apex. You've analyzed three current/recent Blazers and I'd like to read your opinion of more. I'm also curious as to what former Blazers you think were strong in all three (when they were with us, not after they bloomed elsewhere)

And a question: can effort be taught once a player reaches the NBA? If so, who among current players had their effort questioned in college play but proved those reports false? Who gets the credit - the coach - the player - or the synergy?

11:16 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Great comment/question. Let me think on this (especially the learning/teaching aspect) for a couple hours and get back to you.


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