Monday, November 19, 2007

Time to get in your All-star ballot!

Apparently the NBA all-star ballot for the 2007-08 season has been released, and it's brewing up some controversy (see item five).

First, let's just agree on one thing: it is way too early for anyone to be voting for all-star starters. No team has played more than ten games yet, and the all-star game doesn't occur until after most teams have played 50 games. Does anyone really believe that they've seen enough basketball to say right now who the best players over the first half of the season have been? I didn't think so. Anyone who votes right now deserves to have their vote thrown out (unless they vote for a Sixer, in which case it should count twice...).

The absurdity of the NBA's voting makes me want to support the effort to get Shane Battier and Antoine Walker voted as all-star starters...

The biggest absurdity, by far, on the all-star ballot is that Antoine Walker is listed as a guard. No one thinks he's a guard. He was an undersized power forward for most of his career, but he also occassionally played small forward. He's never played shooting guard, and he never will. The reason he's listed as a guard? Apparently, Ricky Davis was going to be listed in that spot before being traded for Walker, so the people in charge of the ballot just moved Walker into his slot.

Wow. That was lazy. (On a related note, I had no idea that a group of sportswriters was in charge of determining who, and at what position, will be listed on the all-star ballot. The league isn't capable of handling this internally? Or do they just want to be able to pass on the blame?)

The omission of Devin Harris from the ballot entirely is also absurd. By my count, he's better than thirteen of the twenty-four guards listed on the western conference ballot. Apparently he pissed off the wrong sportswriters.

Finally, I think it's absurd that Tim Duncan was listed as a center, rather than a power forward on the ballot. Sure, he spends some time in the pivot, particularly at the end of games, but not that much. Most of the time he's on the floor, he's playing with a true center. And that's been true for his entire career-- first with David Robinson, then Rasho Nestorevic, and now Fabricio Oberto and Fracisco Elson. He's also been listed as a forward on the all-star ballot every year of his career until now.

Duncan will still clearly be an all-star (even if Yao Ming wins the fan voting, Duncan will without a doubt be selected by the coaches as a reserve), so this "controversy" isn't really that important. That said, I think the debate over Duncan's position does bring into relief something I've thought for awhile: the way the positions in the NBA are split between guards, forwards, and centers doesn't really match the way most NBA teams are constructed these days.

For the most part, I tend to think of NBA teams as having "Bigs" (centers and power forwards), "Swings" (small forwards and shooting guards), and "Points" (point guards). I just think the difference between power forwards and centers is generally much smaller than the difference between power forwards and small forwards. And the same is true with the difference between between point guards and shooting guards compared to shooting guards and small forwards.

I'm watching a rerun of the Spurs-Rockets game at the moment (or I was, when I first drafted this post), so let's take these teams as examples. For the Spurs, Oberto and Elson are nominally the centers and Duncan is nominally the power forward. Is there really a difference between these players (besides skill level)? Bruce Bowen is called the Spurs small forward while Manu Ginobili is their shooting guard, but Bowen generally guards the other teams best perimeter scorer, regardless of whether he is listed as a shooting guard or small forward. Tony Parker, on the other hand, is clearly a different type of player than either Ginobili or Bowen.

For the Rockets, Yao Ming is clearly an interior player. And because he's 7'6", I guess he is a bad example for my cause. That said, Chuck Hayes, the Rockets starting power forward, also is exclusively an interior player--he's much more similar to Yao Ming than he is to Shane Battier (although clearly shorter and less skilled than Yao). Battier is the Rockets small forward, but his game (perimeter defense, three-point shooting) is much more similar to that of Tracy McGrady than it is to that of Chuck Hayes. Battier and McGrady function for the Rockets in a similar fashion to Bowen and Ginobili for the Spurs. Mike James/Rafer Alston are different types of players, and serve as the Rockets point guards.

Are there still combo guards in the league? Absolutely (Charlie Bell on the Bucks is the first one that comes to mind, but someone like Brandon Roy might also fit the bill). But for the most part, I think these players are less common than players that split the difference between being
shooting guards and small forwards. Are there also combo forwards in the league? Again, absolutely (Al Harrington comes to mind). But I think these types of players are much less common than players that split the difference between being centers and power forwards (now I'm watching a rerun of the Lakers/Pistons game, or I was when I reached this part of my first draft, so I'm watching Kwame Brown and Rasheed Wallace right now--both of whom split the center and power forward position).

I guess all of this is just a way of saying that I find the normal position distinctions (the ones used on the NBA all-star ballot) to be odd considering the ways I think the positions on the court are actually used.



Louis said...

I concur that it's way too early to start balloting for the All-Star game and am stunned by the laziness of the writers listing Walker as a shooting-guard. Was there any reason for changing Duncan's position listing.... this seems like more work for the sports-writers (and the example above points to their unwillingness to do more work).

As to the utility of the position names and functions, I think the problem comes from the fact that he pro-game has evolved into blurred position lines in a way that the college and high school game has not. This probably has a lot to do with the amount of zone defense played at the lower levels which frequently forces people into set offensive and defensive roles.

Sam Cohen said...

Not sure I understand why zone defenses force people into more set roles than man defenses. Can you explain your logic a little more?

Louis said...

When going up against a 2-3 or 2-1-2 zone, teams counter by setting up with a point-guard at the top, a person on each wing extended, one at the high post and one going box-to-box. They swing the ball around to get the defense moving and frequently stay in the same general area so that their teammates know where to find them and to avoid letting one person in the zone cover two players. Thus the point guard is at the top, the shooting guard and small forward on the wings, the center at the high post (if he can pass) and the power-forward goes box to box and sometimes out further on the baseline.