An exercise in scouting

Basketball analysis is a funny thing.

You read blogs much like this and many others in order to hopefully glean some information, theory or insight about the world of the NBA and the sport of basketball. We’re all supposed to be experts. I mean that’s why you read us, right?

Supposedly, I have a good enough understanding of the sport that it causes you to at least devote your time and attention to skim over what I have to say and see if my “expertise” plays nicely with your thoughts on the subject. If they do, then we’re best Internet friends and I’m a genius to you. If they don’t then I’m a hater and you hope unspeakable things happen to my family.

That’s generally how this Internet thing works.

How do I garner my opinion on the subjects in which I choose to delve into? First, I watch a crap ton of basketball. It’s definitely an unhealthy amount that will eventually lead to me basking in my own senility as I try to convince my grandkids just how special Ryan Gomes was capable of being from the corner 3. Secondly, I pour over advanced stats to look for ways to confirm or deny what I feel I learn from watching all this basketball.

For the most part, I do a decent job of not making myself look like an idiot when I’m discussing basketball from this process. But ultimately, it’s hard to know just how much of it is real and how much of it is me pretending it’s real.

Look at Harrison Barnes coming from high school to the hallowed institution of University of North Carolina. He’s supposed to be a pure scorer that creates infinite problems for opposing defenses. He’s supposed to be prepping his one-year college résumé to legitimize his candidacy for the number one draft selection in the 2011 NBA prospect harvest.

But an interesting thing happened on the way to March Madness – I found out he’s not that good. I’ve been able to briefly converse with several NCAA basketball players over the past year. Some of them could be considered middling players just looking to finish off their free education, and some of them are projected to go in the first round of the next draft. Whenever Harrison Barnes’ name came up, I got a resounding waft of players not being that impressed.

No matter what players I talked to, the sentiment about Harrison Barnes was he didn’t live up to the hype. So far through his freshman season, that player-led analysis of Barnes has been validated.

It makes you wonder if our analysis means much of anything when players clearly see things we have a hard time figuring out.

By all archaic measurements of defense we have, Derrick Rose is now a very improved/good defender. He’s 28th in the NBA in points per possession given up. He’s 39th in isolation defense and 41st in defending the pick-and-roll. I think it’s safe to say that Derrick Rose can flat-out defend now.

Or is it?

After the Blazers win over the Bulls Monday night, Nicolas Batum told this to reporters after the game (via – Joe Freeman):

“We know that Derrick Rose is a good offensive player,” Batum said. “But you have to play defense, too. He can’t guard Dre. You gotta play defense. He can’t play defense, so that’s why we put Dre inside and try to attack him. He did a great job. Had 25 (points) and 11 (assists) tonight.”

Uh… what?

All we’ve been spoon-fed and ocularly inebriated with is Derrick Rose’s new and learned defensive prowess. But if the French Prime Minister of Defense is saying he’s not a good defender, what are we supposed to believe?

I know I’ve seen Rose play defense and play it fairly well this season. In fact, it’s helped me somewhat catch up to the fanboys who have despised me for the past 8 months while I try to explain to them why he isn’t pissing rainbows and crapping Shar-Pei puppies. But if the reputation around the league is that an 80-year old point guard with a set shot and slow feet can just attack Derrick Rose, then what the hell have I been watching?

The point of this isn’t to argue the merits of what Nicolas Batum is saying. It doesn’t really matter if Rose is actually good on defense or bad. It doesn’t matter if Batum is a “hater” or a prophet.

The point is that maybe I/we really don’t know what we’re talking about. Maybe everything we’re doing is just guessing. The players are the ones that have to go out there and play. If they know they can attack a young guy that all of us think has improved, maybe last year’s scouting report is the same as this year’s scouting report.

The player’s opinion is definitely more important than our analysis. It’s generally going to be biased and arrogant, but that doesn’t make it wrong if they’re out there physically proving it’s correct.

It doesn’t mean we’re always going to be wrong, either. I would assume the majority of the top-notch blogging (Dwyer, Ziller, Mahoney, etc.) is going to be correct in its assessments. The advanced stats and League Pass replays will show us many things that will find common ground with how the players feel about the game.

However, sometimes those stats and opinions won’t mean anything. It will simply come down to the players feeling they have an advantage, no matter what the numbers profess, and showing that it’s still a matter of one man’s ability trying to outdo another man’s ability. The notion that Derrick Rose simply can’t play defense against Andre Miller will spit into the face of perceived progress and tell it to kick rocks.

It can just be that simple.

Basketball analysis is funny that way.

Seth Carstens