11/14/2019 0 Comments
If you’re feeling lonely tonight, call me. I’ll probably answer, haggard and delirious, as I barrel down a Lower Alabama backroad at about 1:30 a.m.--that’s 2:30 for my East Coast readers. Sweet Darlin’ will be comatose, the Littlest Gamecock will be out, and the only company I’ll be keeping will be those scheming deer. It’s a drive through the prettiest country I’ll never see, besides those snippets that get washed out in my high beams; and my mind will meander with the road. If the Honda Odyssey (Ol’ Shadowfax) had a feature that transferred the driver’s thoughts onto a document, I’d have this blog written before I hit Atlanta. Alas, it does not. So, before I careen over the threshold of the South’s largest, most crowded screen door into the inscrutable darkness west of Atlanta, these are The Things I’m Thinking About.
Load Management (but not by choice) (a large enough thing)
The NBA has been zesty so far. While no one in college basketball cares to be good, the NBA is just the opposite. Literally everyone besides the Knicks and the Kings are elevating their play. All over the league, has-beens (Isaiah Thomas), also-rans (The Phoenix Suns), and afterthoughts (Andrew Wiggins) have reawakened in a sort of reverse-zombie phenomenon. It’s a pleasant plot twist in a story whose advertised protagonist, Zion Williamson, was dispatched in the opening credits (Thanks, Ja Morant, for softening the blow).
Perhaps we should have expected this, as the extinguishing of the Warriors stirred nascent coals of hope in the league’s neglected backwaters. The most interesting stories happen when there is no true King--just ask Hamlet, MacBeth, or Game of Thrones. However, as so many in the league put their best feet forward, so many more are inexplicably preoccupied with who is sitting down.
In a season of “Future Stars” and “Unprecedented Depth”, we must bear the conversational rabbit hole of “Load Management”. For starters, there’s a hollow semantic debate about what “Load Management” even means. Is it resting in practice? Limiting minutes in games? Taking games off? Getting more sleep? Defecating responsibly? Is it any or all of these things? It’s a sparkly term people think makes them sound smart (like “ironic” or “literally”, two other words victimized by the rhetorical carelessness of moron discourse), so people rush to use it before someone else does. Talking heads have sacrificed hours of pontification to this spiraling maw of a topic.
There’s simply no discussion to be had. Sitting stars is, objectively, a good thing for franchises with comfortable paths to the playoffs. It’s a mental and physical break that expands roles for players further down the depth chart. None of these players are complaining about getting more run. Building depth while limiting chances for key injuries helps teams compete in the long-term. Greg Popovich knew this a while ago. Even back in 2006, I watched a Larry Hughes-led Cavs team vanquish my Bobcats while a healthy Lebron reclined in a velvet blazer. Of course it makes the league (and ESPN) uncomfortable because paying customers don’t get to see their heroes. Whatever. Let the moneymakers pitch their temper tantrums. If they don’t want these teams to sandbag during the regular season, then they shouldn’t allow over half the league to make the playoffs. If you covet the in-season competitiveness of college football, then contract the postseason. Don’t vilify teams trying to work within a competitive system you’ve designed to make you as much money as possible.
For the fans who can’t appreciate this, I don’t know what to tell you. Likely you’ve loosely applied the sacrosanct tenet of “showing up for work” to a competitive realm that bears little resemblance to a corporate 8-5. Take a deep breath; this is not a big deal. There are plenty of other reasons little Jimmy is lazy, the Socialists aren’t coming for you, and climate change is still a hoax---just ask Tucker Carlson.
What really annoys me, though, is my waste of 5,000 characters on a useless NBA storyline. This season deserves a loftier narrative.
What Are We Missing Out On? (a medium size thing)
As a sports fan, this question keeps me up at night. Too often, we assume that great talent can transcend any circumstance; that if someone was THAT good, we’d be able to see it. This fallacy dooms our analysis, and those athletes to whom we unfairly apply it. Minkah Fitzpatrick was one of those athletes. Based on his production with the Dolphins, people were more than happy to plop him into the maligned category of BamaBusts. It didn’t make sense. Minkah was transcendent at Alabama, a combination of size, speed, and smarts that made it look like Saban had pulled a body-switch with a first-rounder. Even Minkah’s talent, though, could not conquer lining up as a linebacker for the Dolphins and spending an inordinate amount of time in the tackle box. Now that he’s back at free safety for the Steelers, he’s had 4 interceptions and a touchdown in his last three games. He might be your Defensive Player of the Year.
Jadeveon Clowney’s story with the Texans started the same way. They drafted the best prototypical pass-rushing DE since Julius Peppers to make him play OLB in a 3-4 scheme. The man spent more time chasing tight ends and running backs than doing what he was born to do. Eventually, the Texans wised up, put his hand back in the ground where it always belonged, and he became a Pro Bowler.
This glaring misuse infects more than just football. The currently-rising Suns, for reasons more abstract than space itself, spent seasons trying to convince Devin Booker he was a point guard. Devin Booker, that consummate spot-up shooter and willing slasher, who barely even dribbled at Kentucky, a point guard? It was madness. When they finally paired him with a real distributor, it released the solar flare that is his season so far, where he’s scorching (please forgive me) the league for 25 points per game on 51% (!) three-point shooting.
These examples are myriad and troubling. When coaching, systems, and cultures conspire to squelch talent, we all suffer. Draymond Green, himself, says he would have been out of the league in two years had Mark Jackson remained his coach. How many untapped, unsupported Draymond Greens are out there, languishing in a situation that robs us of their talent? 5, 500, 5 million? It keeps me up at night. (But it also gives me hope that I might still be right about Shabazz Napier.)
A True Thrower of the Football (a smaller thing)
There’s a frustrating fallacy of football thinking that conflates having a great arm with being a great thrower of the football. The fact is, as paradoxical as it sounds, they are two very different things, and I don’t think you can teach either one. People with great arms win workouts. They can zip it, rope it, and sling it anywhere to anyone they want. They intoxicate people with their power, their potential, but it’s a fool’s infatuation. Give me a great thrower of the football, anytime.
Great throwers don’t necessarily hit the 60-yard go route, or rope that sideline throw from the far hash. They might not have the best arm, but they do the most with it. They anticipate breaks, and let the ball go early. They lead receivers away from defenders instead of trying to force balls between them. Great throwers alter velocities based on distance, understanding that a changeup will do for completing that 10-yard crossing route. Great throwers make the mundane look sublime, as they feather that wheel route right into the RB’s breadbasket, and give a lead on that wide receiver screen pass. Their feet are constantly moving, creating angles for throws that a lesser quarterback might just force. Big arms are a blunt instrument. Great throwers are a filet knife.
There are big arms, like Mitchell Trubisky and Jamarcus Russell, and there are great throwers, like Connor Shaw and Kellen Moore. The overlap of these categories holds the great NFL Quarterbacks. When you’re evaluating your prospects, just don’t forget the latter.
For the Mountaineers (a tiny thing)
As convenient as it was to be busy, I wasn't intentionally ducking this week's podcast. Thanks for adding your spritz to this cold shower of a football season. You held us to twenty nine yards rushing and made us mount a pathetic comeback in our own home. If the moniker of best football team in the Carolinas not named Clemson is something you'll accept, I bestow it willingly. Now leave me be, unless you're bringing a towel.
Until next time, keep Carolina on your mind.