Thursday, September 10, 2020

"form a theory of which [NBA] player on the floor is his team’s most vulnerable defender, and then focus all your attention on that guy"

there exists a good trick for turning even hideous, miserable, defiantly anti-fun basketball into something worthy of your attention. Instead of following the ball or closely observing the actions of the offense, form a theory of which player on the floor is his team’s most vulnerable defender, and then focus all your attention on that guy. In the same way that focusing on the line of scrimmage while watching a football game will give you a deeper understanding of what the hell is happening in a given drive, watching whichever poor sucker has been picked out as the guy to hunt down and destroy in an NBA playoff game will give you a better view of why things are going the way they are in a stretch of play, and will be 100 percent more interesting to watch than James Harden pounding the air out of the ball for another 20 seconds of your life.


It’s not an exaggeration to say that the work an offense does to hunt down the defender they view as most vulnerable, and the effort a defense puts into hiding and protecting that defender, make up what is really happening in an NBA playoff game. With defenses dialed up to playoff intensity and the field of teams narrowed down to the best of the best, precision and timing that in the regular season went into producing a certain type of shot are instead spent hunting a favorable matchup. The player in the crosshairs of all that effort is the game’s main character, and watching him is like watching The Bourne Identity, except the guy doing all the high-stakes dodging and improvising is a lanky, loping doofus, and is the least physically impressive person on screen, and every time his pursuers catch up to him his shoulders slump a little more and his chest deflates and he loses a couple inches of height, and his shoes are pale blue, and he is Duncan Robinson. There’s plenty of drama in the ball going into the hoop, but you won’t miss that by focusing your attention on the guy being singled out on each possession—if anything your view of each bucket will be enhanced by the dramatic arc and the misery chiseled across the agonized rictus of the game’s overmatched central figure.
The article identifies the worst defender on most of the remaining teams.