The Mythos of Pure Basketball

Whenever the topic of basketball comes up, one can always be assured of the person who will repeatedly stress the points of "pure basketball". These are the tenets that were taught to us when we were just learning about the game. We were taught that point guards should be passers, not scorers; that big men were the singular key to winning championships.

But what is missing in all of this is that basketball is a living entity. It grows, changes, and adapts as the rules and players that it consists of evolve as well. The basketball that we watch in our television screens is a far cry from the basketball of the Bill Russell era. We have come a long way from being a mostly white basketball league that played below the rim and had no three point shot. 

The main point I would like to reach out is that we as fans cannot keep up the belief that basketball is a rigid formula wherein there is one, and only one, configuration towards success. 

One of the most popular sayings is that big men win championships. While this is not wrong, I believe that it is a very narrow way of looking at things. People like to look at championship teams and note that they all had great big men, but what they seem to miss is that those teams also had great players on the perimeter. It is not players that win championships, it is teams, and to win a championship you need solid players at positions 1 through 5. Why don't we review the last few championship teams?

2009 - LA Lakers - They had all star Pau Gasol up front with Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, but also had Kobe Bryant (Finals MVP) and Trevor Ariza

2008 - Boston Celtics - They had Kevin Garnett up front but also had Paul Pierce (Finals MVP), Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo

2007 - San Antonio Spurs - They had Tim Duncan up front but also had Tony Parker (Finals MVP) and Manu Ginobili

2006 - Miami Heat - They had Shaq up front but also Dwyane Wade (Finals MVP)

2005 - San Antonio Spurs 

2004 - Detroit Pistons - They had Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace up front but also had Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups (Finals MVP) 

To say that big men are the be all and end all of winning is to ignore the humongous contribution and impact players have on the perimeter as well. None of those champions would have won without their perimeter players much like they would not have won without their big men.

Another popular idea is that "pure" point guards are undoubtedly better than scoring point guards. For this one, I would like to quote Jesse Blanchard of 48minutesofhell: 


"Any discussion on players who make their teammates better inevitably turns to playmakers like Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Lebron James or Manu Ginobili. Or to a defensive presence like Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan, who cover for their teammates.

Such narrow views are why people rail on and on about “pure” point guards without realizing that a player who can completely break down a defense makes it easier for his teammates to find open shots by operating against scrambling defenses  even if they aren’t racking up a great deal of assists."

While "pure" point guards in the mold of Jason Kidd do help their teammates by boosting their numbers since they are not interested in scoring, I don't believe anyone should discredit the way scoring point guards help their team as well. Whereas teams can leave Jason Kidd alone since he is not a huge threat to score, scoring point guards require help defense. When two players are defending one player, that means someone is open. And that open shot is how they help their team. They may not get the assist because the ball could be swung around the perimeter for an open shot, but a point guard who is a threat to score indirectly makes open baskets just as much as other purer point guards do. 

What I'm trying to say here is, to look at basketball with such a narrow and myopic view is completely wrong. There is so much more to basketball than what meets the eye. Every year new ways of doing things and new ways of looking at things are emerging.

We see this in the rise of advanced statistics and with the seven seconds or less Suns era. No one but Daryl Morey would have started 6'6" Chuck Hayes at center, it's completely unconventional. But it works. The SSOL Suns were one Joe Johnson broken eye socket/Robert Horry hip check away from an NBA championship. Before this year's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, everyone would think that Dwight Howard is a pretty valuable shot blocker. Now we know his blocks are very low value blocks since most of them are goal tends, blocks on jump shots, or go out of bounds.

Basketball is not a cut and dried sport. If we do not open our minds to new ideas and viewpoints, then we might as well go back to removing the three point shot and the shot clock.

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