Sep 10, 2012, 12:38 PM EDT
The biggest challenge for any player in the NBA is the same one so many children struggle with: how to play with others. Particularly those whose talents are self-mobilized. When you think about it, much of the NBA is centered around essentially de-actualizing human beings.
Self-actualization is a concept used in psychology usually in regards to the maximizing of one’s potential. It features ideas like “autonomy,” “spontanaeity,” “comfort with solitude,” and “peak experiences.” It’s built around the idea of being all that you can be, essentially. But the key there is that it’s you being all that you can be. It’s about lifting your personal potential to the fullest measure, while still being able to live comfortably with other human beings. And part of that is accepting who you are.
So if you’re Dwyane Wade, or Kobe Bryant, or even Tyreke Evans, what is the most self-actualized that you can be as a basketball player? I’d argue that it’s clearly being an independent scorer who’s able to break down the defense and create offense based off your own isolation abilities. In other words, a volume shooter. In other words, a ball hog. We (rightfully) view that approach as negative when we talk about it conceptually. We want our players to be selfless, to make their teammates better, to be the kind of guy who always makes the right play.
At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.
In reality, we reward results. Michael Jordan is lauded for being able to make his teammates so much better, essentially a revisionist history built around the fact that the jump he made starting in 1991 had more to do with efficiency and production as it did with selflessness and “getting it.” Kobe Bryant is put over the flames for the decisions that he makes, but only when they result in a loss. “It’s a make or miss league” extends to the way we view players as well. Bryant hits the game winner (which statistically, he doesn’t do very often), and no one’s going to criticize him for taking the shot, because, well, he made it. You look stupid talking about someone in those terms after he just stepped up and drained a jumpshot in the closing seconds of a professional basketball game that meant the difference in a win and a loss. You just do.
You know the difference between Kobe Bryant and Tyreke Evans in terms of how they play and the role they execute, at this point in their careers? Kobe’s a lot better at it. He’s not a different player than Evans, and while he’s got a lot more under the hood in terms of mental awareness and skills to turn to, they still do essentially the same thing. They have similar assist numbers (though Bryant has a higher assist rate, a more accurate determinant). They don’t always shoot, because that’s going to get you yanked (well, it would have, Bryant could have and often did completely ignore such ideas last season but no one was going to blame him, and also, at this point, it’s Kobe, who’s going to?). But what’s their instinct?
If these players were truly “self-actualized” in terms of their game, they would allowed to simply be autonomous, independent scorers.
Wade’s much the same way. Like Bryant and Evans, Wade is at his best when he’s using a pick to get a poor fool on an island. His best seasons came when the Heat were most reliant on him, dependent on his skills. I’m not saying that Wade, Evans, Bryant aren’t playmakers, they can be and often are. In fact, their teams are often at their best when they filter more of their skills towards playmaking while also using their unique scoring advantage. But if we’re talking about making them into the most they can be, those things are brilliant for them, but not conducive towards winning.
Which is what Wade discovered last year. Wade struggled last year due to injury and age, but he also shifted how he operated in the offense. Just because he wasn’t shooting didn’t mean that he turned into LeBron facilitator. If anything, James’ facilitated Wade the most (James assisted on Wade scores 85 times in the regular season, 33 times in the playoffs, more than double the next closest assist-maker for Wade – by comparison, Wade assisted James the most, but the margin between he and Mario Chalmers was much more narrow). But Wade moved to working off-ball, to working on offensive rebounds, to slashing to draw defenders and give James room. You can say it was because James is the superior player, but even if he wasn’t, Wade would have gone to that approach. Why? Because of that word again: results. It just worked.
Bryant faces a similar situation in Los Angeles this year. You can debate about whether Dwight Howard is a better player than Bryant, or whether Steve Nash is, or whether Pau Gasol is. But that shouldn’t be the determinant in how you approach your offense. It should be based on results. If giving Steve Nash the ball and letting him freelance is the best approach to the team, then that should be the model. If it’s running the pick and roll with Howard, then that’s the model. Equal distribution between Howard and Gasol, Nash and Bryant in the pick and roll, whatever it is, that’s the key. It’s not based off of what your best weapons are, because that doesn’t always work. Otherwise, the Bucks would be better.
It’s unlikely that a system that self-actualizes Bryant is going to be the optimal, is the point. More weapons creates more stresses on the defense, which produces easier mechanisms which produces higher percentage looks and easier shots, which is going to produce more efficiency. This seems like a really complicated way of saying “ball movement and playing as a team is better” which is a stupidly simple concept that’s been reinforced a million times in sports and sports film history. But the modern NBA demands a bit more exploration. Because we’ve specifically seen players self-actualizing their individual, anti-team talents and have great success. The Spurs’ championship offense began and ended with Tim Duncan. Yes, the terrific supporting players and ridiculously good system built by the coaching staff had an impact, but the model was for Tim Duncan to be the star that the Spurs’ universe rotated around. (2007 may be the exception to this, the year Parker rightfully earned Finals MVP status, but it wasn’t as if you could say Duncan wasn’t the focus, just that Parker was simultaneously splitting that role.)
Jordan. Olajuwon. The model of having one guy go bonkers really did work from 1991 (maybe even further if you want to make the argument for Isiah’s Pistons), all the way to 2008. Then the Celtics kicked off this arms race, and here we are.
Think about it. How many times has a team won the title with their point guard the best player, with the facilitator the best player on the floor? We have to go back to either the 2007 Spurs team, and that one is clearly rife with mitigating factors, or to Isiah’s Pistons, dependent upon beating the crap out of the other team. What we’ve seen is self-actualization, letting guys do their thing, works.
But the environment has changed. And it’s less about all the other star-studded teams because those teams aren’t putting up 125 offensive ratings and having three guys score 40 a night. It’s not the talent. The defensive systems have changed, which kick-started the accumulation of talent to override that. But now the defenders are better, because the talent is better. It’s a vicious cycle. And the solution is to get back to the idea of ball movement and of team-actualization.
A key element in actualization is an “efficient perception of reality.” And on the singular level, this is difficult to translate to team success. This is manifested, essentially, as confidence. The “you want guys who aren’t afraid to take that shot?” is built out of their own knowledge that they can make that shot. They may not have an efficient perception of reality, but in that sense, those players are not self-actualized. This is essentially the difference between J.R. Smith and Kobe Bryant. Smith and Bryant both feel they can hit that shot. The difference is that Bryant has been able to. And the slide that’s occurred with Bryant’s standing in the league mirrors his ability to convert just those shots, the pull-up 40-foot three.
But on the team level, the best teams are those that have an efficient perception of reality when it comes to what they do well. The Mavericks in 2011, by example, knew what they did well. The Heat in 2012 discovered this very thing in the playoffs. They stopped trying to force their reality, to be the villains they said they wanted to be in 2011, to be a team that played with a traditional center, a team that resisted everything going through LeBron, and instead accepted reality. He is not just the best player, but the player most capable of creating quality offense.
Bryant may find himself in a similar situation as Wade this year, having to accept coming off screens to shoot, having to be used to spread the floor. It’s a test of what he has always said about himself, that he just wants to win. By his definition, for him to really be self-actualized, he must do whatever leads to victories. In the past, he’s always been able to justify his shooting as in pursuit of that goal, even if it was simply an extension of his own self-actualization as a player. Now he may have to de-actualize his own game to team-actualize and bring the title.
If we consider the hierarchy of needs, he has what he needs, but that’s a subject for tomorrow.
Jun 18, 2013, 2:42 AM EDT
Manu Ginobili starts hot, Danny Green knocks down threes, and every time the Heat make a run the Spurs are there with an answer. All series long the Spurs have had answers — they are the best counter-punchers in the league, the best team at forcing you into tough decisions then exploiting your mistakes. And…
Jun 18, 2013, 2:19 AM EDT
The Clippers and Celtics keep inching toward a deal. A much-discussed one that would send Kevin Garnett and the rights to sign coach Doc Rivers to Los Angeles. The Celtics would get DeAndre Jordan and a pick or two. The sides are close but there is no deal yet so they will talk again Tuesday,…
Jun 17, 2013, 10:45 PM EDT
The next time the Bulls play a game Derrick Rose will be suited up and playing. Hopefully by a couple games into next season we can all move past the “why didn’t he play last season?” crap. But for now the issue keeps coming up in Chicago. It came up again recently when Bulls legend Scottie…
Jun 17, 2013, 8:54 PM EDT
Metta World Peace was in rare form today. He was on Sportsradio 610 in Houston — and let me say as a guy who has done a fair amount of radio spots with some quality hosts there, the buzz is all about Dwight Howard coming to the Rockets. If they are talking hoops, they are…
Jun 17, 2013, 7:02 PM EDT
The Celtics and Clippers are still discussing the trade that would send Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers to Los Angeles, but the whole deal is predicated on Rivers wanting to coach the Clippers. So, even if the Celtics and Clippers agree how to handle Eric Bledsoe, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, Rivers still must give…
Jun 17, 2013, 5:51 PM EDT
Victor Oladipo has worked out for the Phoenix Suns. In Phoenix, he said he already worked out for the Orlando Magic and planned to work out for the Cleveland Cavaliers, though it’s not clear where those sessions occurred. Oladipo is preparing for the NBA Draft in Bowie, Md., which is about 20 minutes outside Washington,…
Jun 17, 2013, 5:26 PM EDT
Phil Jackson is unquestionably one of the greatest coaches of all time, but he didn’t get there by placating people or considering the feelings of others — especially those with seniority or who were holding down a higher-level position within the organization. Speaking at an event last week where Jackson was plugging his latest book,…
Jun 17, 2013, 5:12 PM EDT
Allen Iverson’s post-NBA life has been – sad to say, predictably – rough. He’s reportedly losing a lot of money and suffering from alcoholism, and those closest to him are especially worried. Unfortunately, it can get worse, and it might have already. TMZ: Tawanna Iverson just filed legal docs, claiming Allen recently asked for permission…
Jun 17, 2013, 4:36 PM EDT
The Mavericks enter the off-season as one of the major players in free agency. Not only do they have money to spend, but they also have a history of championship level contention, a still very good Dirk Nowitzki, and Mark Cuban to close the deal when it’s time to make the pitch on why the…
Jun 17, 2013, 4:34 PM EDT
This is the time of year when teams and agents create smokescreens so thick, firefighters can’t get through them. So, approach any report like this with a healthy dose of skepticism. But also consider that a beat writer for a major newspaper was confident enough to report it. There’s a fine line, and from the…
Jun 17, 2013, 4:20 PM EDT
The Utah Jazz are updating their scoreboard that will sit high above center court at EnergySolutions Arena, and as you might imagine, the team is pretty excited about it. From the official release: “Miller Sports Properties today announced plans for a new center court high definition video display system that is seven times larger than its predecessor,…
Jun 17, 2013, 3:22 PM EDT
The subject of players selling contact to officials, or even downright faking it in hopes of duping a referee into blowing a favorable whistle has become a hotter topic than ever this season, thanks to a new anti-flopping policy enacted which was designed to clean this mess up. It hasn’t had the desired effect, however,…
Jun 17, 2013, 1:58 PM EDT
When I went to San Antonio to write this piece on Gregg Popovich (and, later, this piece on Tim Duncan) I was told, time and again, that the most popular San Antonio Spur in town, by far, is Manu Ginobili. At first, I found it a bit curious. I mean, Ginobili has been a terrific…
Jun 17, 2013, 1:43 PM EDT
There is once again momentum to the idea that Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett (then later likely Paul Pierce) are headed to the Clippers. It may or may not happen, but a smart GM like Danny Ainge has to start planning for any eventuality. So, if Doc Rivers is gone from the bench in Boston,…
Jun 17, 2013, 1:22 PM EDT
This was expected to happen, but now it’s become official. Monta Ellis is going to opt out of the $11 million he is owed next season to become an unrestricted free agent, reports Chris Broussard of ESPN and other sources. Ellis is seeking 19.2 points and 6 assists for the Bucks last year. He is…
Heat must accomplish something they haven’t been able to in a month if they want to repeat as champions
Jun 17, 2013, 12:45 PM EDT
SAN ANTONIO — After falling to the Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, the Miami Heat find themselves in a most uncomfortable position. In order to win the championship that they were heavily favored to at the outset of the postseason, they’ll need to accomplish something that they haven’t been able…
Jun 17, 2013, 12:08 PM EDT
UPDATE 5:45 pm : This is getting close. The Celtics have agreed no Eric Bledsoe but they want the Clippers to take on one of their bad contracts, either Jason Terry or Courtney Lee. How that shakes out is really all that’s left, according to multiple reports. 12:08 pm: If you’re a Clippers fan who…
Jun 17, 2013, 12:07 PM EDT
SAN ANTONIO — Danny Green has been on a record-breaking tear with his three-point shooting through the first five games of the Finals, and he’s been a key reason the Spurs are taking a three games to two series lead back to Miami with two chances to close the Heat out. It isn’t just the…
Jun 17, 2013, 11:42 AM EDT
Tim Connelly has been a rising star in the front office world. He was with the Wizards and was hired away by the then Hornets (now Pelicans) to be an assistant general manager there behind Del Demps. Now he’s made the leap to the big chair. Connelly is going to be the new GM of…
Jun 17, 2013, 10:56 AM EDT
SAN ANTONIO — The MVPs for the Spurs Game 5 win you know — Manu Ginobili came back like the prodigal son to have a huge game, Danny Green knocked down any shot given inside the San Antonio city limits, and Tony Parker continues to be the guy who should get the Finals MVP award…
- Metta World Peace says Howard isn’t going anywhere because he has a hold on his… um… those 16
- In praise of the brilliant, baffling Manu Ginobili 20
- If Doc is out, who is in for Celtics? Maybe Del Negro, Frank 15
- Where does Celtics’ Rivers, Garnett trade to Clippers stand? They’re talking. 28
- Boris Diaw’s defense slowed LeBron down. I know, right? 26
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- LeBron James: “I just have to play better” (77)
- Heat’s Big Three dominate Game 4 to even the Finals at two games apiece (74)
- Report: Clippers, Celtics talks to send Garnett, Rivers to L.A. stalled (72)
- Reports: Jason Kidd finalizes deal, will be Nets new coach (62)
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