defense and morality

Discussion in 'Pistons and NBA' started by professor, Apr 25, 2006.

  1. professor

    professor Bench Warmer Forum Donor

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    i begin with a quote, taken seconds ago from the broadcast of game 2 of sacto vs. san antone: "a jumper by bruce bowen! a great defensive player, so any points you get from him are a bonus!"

    this drives me mad! i've never heard someone say or write: "peja stojakovic stayed in front of his man! a great offensive player, so any defense you get from him is a bonus!"

    i mean hitting an open 15 foot jumper as Bowen just did seems pretty much as elementary a skill to expect from a professional player at his position as staying in front of his man seems to be.

    so why is that? why does it seem to be okay to be a one-sided defensive player, but not a one-sided offensive player? bethlehem shoals, at the freedarko blog, wrote something about this some time ago, if i'm not mistaken, but i can't find it now, and don't remember it well enough to know for sure whether i'm just repeating less eloquently his argument.

    but i think it has to do with morality. i mean morality in the sense of holier-than-thou moralizing, and of a particularly American variety. there's something, i suspect, that strikes people as profligate and incontinent, if not just plain lazy, about a great offensive player who never works on his defense. a defensive player who never works on his offensive game, is a "hustler," a "tireless worker," "gritty", etc.. an offensive player who never works on his defense is selfish, leaving his teammates to play 4 on 5 on the defensive end. but a defensive player who does the same to his teammates on the offensive end is always measured in such a way that his defensive contributions are judged on balance to outweigh his offensive deficiencies.

    a long time ago, a sociologist named Max Weber wrote a book called "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" in which he examined the ways in which the puritan work ethic fit perfectly with and fed into the needs of a new nation born on the eve of a rapidly industrializing world. it's something like this that i smell in quotes like the one with which i began. as if being a great offensive player didn't take any practice or any work during games (ask rip if his offensive efficiency has come or comes without effort). and as if being a %%%%ty offensive player isn't just as much of a liability to the team as being a %%%%ty defensive player. if anything, it seems to me that decent team defense can mask defensive liabilities; but it takes a really prodigiously balanced offense to mask the weaknesses of one poor offensive player. but that's debatable and I don't want to stake the validity of my argument here on that aside. and i'm certainly not trying to reverse the judgment: to make it okay for offensive minded player to play no defense. i'm just saying that such players -- whether they be offensive or defensive "specialists" -- help and harm their teams equally, given equal teams around them.

    the larger point (which I might not have gotten out clearly and still might not with this reformulation) is this: this disparity in judgment about one-sided players is wrong and, I think, part of a sick morality that equates virtue with effort and effort with quality so that anything that looks easy (like a Rip mid-range jumper, or a Stojakovic triple) must be somehow wrong, or must somehow be paid for or compensated with the requisite effort somewhere else (as though they'd stolen something). Meanwhile, the obvious effort that Bowen (or Ben, dare I say it) expends on defense is a self-compensating virtue and so relieves that player of the burden of moral judgment.

    just had to get that off my chest.
  2. mercury

    mercury Bench Warmer

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    That was a pretty good rant for someone who doesn't type much :P
  3. SKluck

    SKluck First Round Draft Pick

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    Very interesting take.

    There's no doubt offense-minded players do put great effort into their game. But I still think it is a matter of skill vs effort. While there is some innate skill involved with defense, it is mostly effort. A smooth shot is skill, a lot of times its just something you have or have developed over time. So you could actually make the argument that good offense takes as much effort as good defense, but once you develop a shot, you don't really have to "work" much more.

    Sometimes you make shots, sometimes you don't. Whereas with defense you must ALWAYS put out the effort against your opponent, you can't slip. Scoring machines like Kobe and Bron and AI just jack up shots and their supreme skill carries them most of the time. So they could have a "lazy" night and still put up 25+. Another reason that good defense is more respected than offense could be that it is more visible. You can tell when a defender is working hard, pestering his man, but shooting doesn't really look all that hard from an effort standpoint.

    NBA players, or sports players in general are seen as rich bums for the most part. Fans respect the effort all athletes put into their sport, sure, but does Shaq really deserve 20 million a year for what he does? The public sees these guys as getting paid WAY WAY more than they should. Let's be honest, most players slack off, and players like VC and TO don't help their cause much. So when you see a player break out of the norm and APPEAR to put forth more heart, energy, and effort than others, you take notice.

    I don't think it has to do with morality or "noble" defenders, but more about effort and what appears to be more difficult.
  4. max

    max All-Star

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    They say defense is correct but the offensive guys do get all the props and TV time. Everyone tunes in to see if kobe can score 50.
  5. rdang

    rdang First Round Draft Pick

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    #1 reason why:

    Defence wins - in ANY sport.

    Proven time and time again.
  6. LanierFan

    LanierFan Bench Warmer

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    Actually, I think I HAVE heard someone say that any defense you get out of Peja Stojakovic is a bonus. It wasn't complimentary, but I seem to remember it. :)

    Not to get into Max Weber (his goatee ruled, BTW), but a big part of the Protestant ethic is deferred gratification. Good works now, heaven later. And defense in the NBA is a classic case of this, because the fact is you don't always get rewarded.

    Play hard defense in high school and college, and the guy misses his shot or turns it over and you're a hero. Do it in the NBA against the wrong guy on the wrong night, and he burns you to cinders while fans talk about what a sieve you are. You have to have faith in the rightness of what you're doing, even when people are selling posters at halftime with your face in Vince Carter's crotch.

    Everybody in the NBA plays defense, but it's only a few dozen guys who play it hard all the time regardless of how their shot is falling or their team is doing. Those few dozen guys are the true believers, the saints and martyrs, the guys we'd like to be, and so we either admire them or pay tribute with Milwaukee Bucks-like whining that acknowledges just what pansies we are in comparison.
  7. professor

    professor Bench Warmer Forum Donor

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    SK, I think you helped make my point:
    So when I see Rip running and running and running some more to get open, he's not working? (And that's just to pick the most obvious case). Even a player who works more off the dribble works hard to get that split second of open space to pull up and shoot, or slip by his guy for a floater.

    Here it seems you are confusing chance variations in output ("sometimes you make shots, sometimes you don't") with controllable consistency in input (you must always put out the effort). Apples and oranges. I could just as easily say, "on offense you must ALWAYS put out the effort against your opponent, you can't slip. But sometimes you make shots, sometimes you don't. and on defense you must ALWAYS put out the effort against your opponent, you can't slip. But sometimes you get the stop, sometimes you don't."


    I'm not denying natural talent. But I wonder how many hours, days, weeks, months and years of work went into that "supreme skill"? But even if it didn't. Let's say they never did anything to make it possible to still be effective on a "lazy" night. That's exactly my point: that we invoke moralizing adjectives (like lazy) when we talk about these issues and that we apply them disparately to offensive-minded versus defensive-minded players.

    Yeah, that's what I said: we punish the offensive player because it appears easy (i.e. their effort isn't always as obvious or visible), whereas the defensive effort is obvious. A discerning and observant sports fan should be able to see beyond those apparent disparaties in effort.

    My point exactly, if this isn't a moralizing argument ("rich bums", "deserve 20 million a year", "slack off") I don't know what is.

    Maybe I should have made clear that by morality I mean discussion of something in terms of virtue and the lack thereof ("good" and "evil" or any of their more nuanced and moderate companion terms). In that sense, what could be more noble to an American than a guy who works hard at a job (defense) that doesn't carry a lot of glory, and concedes the more glorious parts of the job to others. And, conversely, what could be more despicable to an American than a guy who gets the glory for doing something "easy" (offense), while leaving the thankless grunt work to someone else.

    What's wrong with this ethos, applied to the hardwood, is

    a) that (with the exception of spot reserves paid to come in and nail 3s or wreak havoc on the opposing point guards) any of the 150 starters in the NBA, as professional basketball players, ought to be seen as having as their minimal job description to help their team put the ball in the hole and to help their team keep the other team from doing so

    b) being great at helping your team put the ball in the hole takes just as much effort (though that effort is admittedly sometimes less visible) than helping to keep your team from putting the ball in the hole.

    c) sucking at either of these things makes you -- all other things being equal -- a liability for your team.

    Yes, LanierFan. Thanks for pointing that out. Deferred gratification is a big part of it. And obviously there are moments in any life when the ability to defer gratification is useful, not only to oneself but also to others. The thing with deferred gratification in the Protestant ethic is that it's whacked way out of balance. It is an ideal of life on this earth as one long continual deferral of gratification (a semblance of denial that masks the secret gratification that deferring gratification brings the person) that generates a resentful, judgmental cluck of the tongue at anything that looks easy.

    I definitely think that anybody on the floor who is not working hard in a game, or who has not worked hard to put in time to improve weak parts of their game on either end of the floor should be called out for that (that's one reason why, much as I love and will never tire of recognizing his contributions, I won't forgive Ben his terrible free throw shooting and also why, much as I love to watch Nash and think he's a phenomenal offensive point guard, I wouldn't forgive him his terrible defense). I just think the calling out should be done equally and am struck by the fact that it is not.


    "You eat your fundamentalist pie. But just a piece you understand, you'll get the rest up in the sky."

    Johnny Cash, "In your mind" -- from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack.
  8. lemonpen

    lemonpen First Round Draft Pick

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    Well Prof, it seems to me the pre-conceived notion you identified may well explain the underlying reasons for such sharp division of opinion characterizing our season long Evans -vs- Delfino debate.

    So it was really about our own shortcommings, not those of CD or ME. :mad:
  9. roscoe36

    roscoe36 All-Star Administrator

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    Amen LanierFan.

    @ Professor - I comprehend the working class hero concept. And yeah, there is a nobility in Ben scoring 20 points. Not when compared to other players in the league, but certainly when compared against his typical body of work. 30 points in a game for Ben would be the equivalent of Kobe's 81. Relativity.

    There is also something to be said for the fact that a scorer getting 30 in today's game is not a remarkable feat anymore. It's passe. 40 points gets some attention, and 50 becomes the talk of the week. But where baskets (from the field and free throw line) are so proliferate, how can anyone get excited by a 28 point game anymore?

    There is more to this than the psychology of the masses. Supply and demand plays a large factor as well. The seasons are long and remarkable performances happen at least twice nightly from scorers.

    But how many games go by without a 15+ rebounder? Or someone with 4 blocks? How often does a defender harass Ray Allen into a miserable shooting performance, and then on the bottom of a back-to-back hold Nowitzki to less than 20 points in a win?

    It's scarcity, which in some way can be tied to your ideas about "moralizing" because those sacrifice rewards based on faith are also fleeting in their availability.

    It all hinges on scoring being effortless and defense being the by-product of great effort. Likely they are the same, but perception is reality and Vince Carter exposes hoop making as a sweatless ballet.
  10. jetscreamer

    jetscreamer First Round Draft Pick

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    Not sure of the morality arguement. But if you execute a pefect offensive play that results in a shot (not a bunny) you might still miss 55% of the time. However if you blow a defensive assignment and it results in a shooting foul or a lay-up/dunk. You have given up more than you likely produced..... All five have to play defense because if the weak link is exploited a high percentage offensive shot will ensue. You may need only kobe bryant to get a 55% pecent shot off. That being said championship calibur basketball demands mostly two-way players like pistons and spurs.
  11. Slippy

    Slippy All-Star Administrator Forum Donor

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    My take on this is that 90% of the TV audience and 100% of the non basketball playing world understands scoring a bucket. You don't need to know how to play basketball to get the satisfaction of tossing a ball into a hoop so when a guy can stroke shots, people can identify with that and comprehend what is going on.

    What commentators try to do is add to the understanding of the game. People understand good defense less. A lot less. Some of the most elusive aspects is playing positional defense. You need to spend 15 seconds on a reply to get that point across. A timely 3 needs no introduction.

    So commentators yap more about those things.
  12. professor

    professor Bench Warmer Forum Donor

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    I'm pretty much down with what you say here Micro. Perhaps I overstated my case (but being a professor that's partly my job, as it also appears to be my job to be unable to make a point in less than 400 words -- any brevity you get from the professor is a bonus! i'll work harder on that side of my game) :eyebrows:

    Most basically, my rant was motivated in part by the patent absurdity of the statement that any offense you get from Bruce Bown is a "bonus"... he's a starter on the world champions! He doesn't have to be their best player, but he certainly should be competent at executing the few offensive responsibilities/opportunities he is given (which, as a matter of fact he is).

    But I was also motivated by own Nietzschean enjoyment of downright dominating excellence stomping out overachieving mediocrity. Perhaps I am still capable of being awed by a guy who can drop 30 a night. It may be more common than consistent lockdown defense (though there are 3 players this year who averaged 30 a game; probably there are about that many players who average a comparable level of defensive prowess). But even if it is, it's no less amazing to me and no less valuable.

    I just love to see great players expose the mediocrity and weakness of the rest and I hate to see that mediocrity excused or, worse yet, turned into some sort of virtue. Perhaps I'm odd here, but I don't look to the Association to find guys I can identify with; if anything it's the opposite. If I want to see mediocrity and weakness overcome by hard work, I can just watch my own home movies. I tune into the NBA to see surpassing athletic excellence, especially when it's harnessed to regular old, raggedy human psychology and so subject to unpredictable ups and downs in its expression (part of what I love about this Pistons team, as I've posted elsewhere, is that though they are always capable of dominating on both ends of the floor, they don't always seem to feel like it; but it's never the case, at least not this year, that they couldn't if they did feel like it; never the case that they don't because they are mediocre).

    Finally, in my view, it takes nothing away from the greatness of a one-dimensional player to call him out on the undeveloped side of his game. If anything, it is for me an expression of respect: as in, you are too excellent an athlete to be sub-competent at any part of this game, even if you will only dominate in one part.

    (By the way, the same rush of Nietzschean joy comes to me when the Pistons lock down a team full of mediocre offensive players who night in and night out look like scoring machines because the league, overall, is set up to make them look that way).
  13. dba

    dba All-Star Moderator 1x Fantasy Champion Forum Donor

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    Not quite your point, but I was wondering how much scoring in the game has changed. So I looked at the nba.com historical stats for scoring. They only list the top 20 for each year, but still..

    For each year - Year / # players averaging 30+ / # averaging 20+

    1960 / 3 / 14
    1965 / 3 / 11
    1970 / 1 / 20(+?)
    1975 / 1 / 15
    1980 / 1 / 19
    1985 / 1 / 20(+?)
    1990 / 1 / 20(+?)
    1995 / 1 / 20(+?)
    2000 / 1 / 20(+?)
    2006 / 2 / 20

    If I were able to add in some scorer per team measure, to account for a lot more players and teams in the league today than twenty years ago, I suspect that you would see more high scorers in the past than today on a relative basis.

    So, why do we think there are more high scoring games now than in the past?
  14. OLD SKOOL HQ

    OLD SKOOL HQ All-Star

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    mhem...excuse for interrupting, but, guys...what the hell are yall talking about!:frusty: NO soup for u!


    Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...........:nod:
  15. buddahfan

    buddahfan Retired from Forum

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    I will begin by stating that I do not understand your use of the words prolifigate (wasteful) and incontinent (uncontrollabe) within the context of your post.

    I would appreciate it if you could clarify how the use of two words fit within the context of your post and the point that you were trying to make. Having said that I would like to posit the following.

    Serious basketball fans recognize the difficulty in being effective and effficient on offense. If you watch Kobe do the things he does especially when he drives toward the basket and somehow manages to consistantly get the ball in the hoop despite being hacked multiple times you know that he wasn't born with that ability. Most NBA athletes, I would say 99% are athletically gifted but so are the hundreds of college players who never make it into the NBA each year.

    Serious basketball fans know that it takes work, in fact more work to excel on offense than it does on defense!!! That is why great offensive players are recognized and loved more by fans, managment and the press.

    To become an effective and efficient offensive player in the NBA takes years of hard and tireless work. To become a great defensive player takes two qualities. The ability to move your feet quickly laterally and above average agressiveness.

    A lot of people confuse the lack of agressiveness with lazyness. This however is not true in all areas of our society. To become a great doctor, inventor etc does not take being agressive. However to become a successful salesperson usually requires a lot of agressiveness. To become a great parent does not require agressiveness.

    However in sports it does come closer to being an axiom, but then again it depends on the sport. The more contact there is in the sport the more that agressiveness is seen as a valued quality. Great defense in the NBA requires contact by the defender through agressiveness. However great offense in the NBA also not only requires agressiveness, but a lot of self confidence and years and years of hard work.

    Bottom line is that both abilities, to be a great offensive player and/or to be a great defensive player require exceptional physical gifts but to be a great offensive player takes a hell of a lot more years of hard work.
  16. basketbills

    basketbills All-Star Forum Donor

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    The word incontinent has not been used much since Larry Brown left the team and prolifigate has never been used in a Piston forum.

    This was a very interesting post professor. It brought to mind images of past pickup basketball games where the young fellas all thought they were MJ on the offensive end and then they played like Steve Nash with Mononucleosis and a double hernia on the defensive end.

    It was show time when they were handling the ball and when anyone esle had the ball the shuffle stepped along just waiting for the only part of the game they were interested in. Load of fun to play with guys like this.

    That's why I disagree with your theory. Defense is not recognized as much as offense by the fans so in order to be a great defensive player you have to be unselfish.

    Great offensive players can be lazy...(witness Vince Carter) but great defensive players can't.
  17. buddahfan

    buddahfan Retired from Forum

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    I didn't know that Vince Carter was a great offensive player. I must have missed something on the way to the arena. Just because you got the moves, which he does, and can shoot a lot, which he does, does not a great offensive player make.

    C-Bill is a great offensive player because he gets his teammates involved and makes more than his share of game winning shots on a NBA title team.

    Vince Carter is the modern day incarnation of Pistol Pete Maravich. You can have Vince I will take C-Bill.
  18. basketbills

    basketbills All-Star Forum Donor

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    Thank you for making my point. Pete Maravich was named one of the fifty greatest players of all time despite his deficiencies on the defensive end. With Vince Carter the same frickin thing. He jacks around all game long missing shots and then makes a couple at the end and everyone thinks he's a hero.

    Laziness is rewarded with recognition and acclaim.
  19. buddahfan

    buddahfan Retired from Forum

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    Yes Pistol Pete was named one of the fifty greatest ever but then Bad Boy Bill wasn't which goes to show you what that list is worth.

    Because of the intangibles I would take Bad Boy Bill over any center playing today except for Shaq and Tim Duncan who is more of a #2 than a #1.
  20. buddahfan

    buddahfan Retired from Forum

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    Just to clarify. I love Big Ben's game and of course his leadership. But maybe its a personal thing, without disrespecting Big Ben's game I would take Bad Boy Bill over him.

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