Blazersedge Mailbag:  Criticisms

Time for another edition of the Blazersedge Mailbag. This one is more, ahem, "interesting" than usual due to the pointed focus of some of the questions. But what the heck. Here we go.

Dave,

You've been taking some criticism lately for your views. I won't do that. Instead I'll just ask how you come to your conclusions. Can you share with us?

Of course! Just click through to read answers to this and more.

If you're asking my process, I suppose it's like that of most folks. I draw on my own experience, league/team/player history, stats, re-watching some games, a little bit of reading other folks' opinions. After I dig for a while the picture usually comes clear and I write about what I see.

I suspect you're asking more about my philosophy though. How do I decide what to write and such. That's pretty simple too. I decided long ago I was going to write exactly what I saw and be honest about it. People's opinions do influence the work in the sense that they determine topics. If something is hot or timely or interesting to folks I'll probably choose that subject over something arcane or a dead issue. But I don't write for applause (though it's always nice) nor to make people feel one way or another nor to "temper expectations" nor to be controversial in order to get hits. If I'm going to address something I'm going to do the best I can to speak the truth in a comprehensive and fair fashion. Everything else is a side effect, really in the purview of the reader. I can put things clearly, maybe artfully, but I can't really control how it hits you. My only power and responsibility is to make sure you have the best information and analysis I can give.

One golden rule I have when writing and analyzing is that the game doesn't change just because people put on my favorite team's uniform. If a guy's a streak shooter before he comes to Portland he probably won't transform into a reliable shooter after he gets here. If I wasn't that impressed by a guy's play in Milwaukee I'm not going to give a rosier version if he becomes a Blazer. One long-standing tradition of fandom is to put the best construct possible on everyone and everything associated with your own team and the worst on the opponent. I try to be accurate on both ends. That means I get a fair amount of "You think the Blazers suck!" and "You're overrating all our opponents!" I understand how it looks that way, but neither ends up accurate in the long run.

What happened to the funny Dave? You're so pessimistic now! Is something wrong? Are you depressed?

Disclaimer: I shortened and cobbled that together from about six different e-mails.

Again this is mostly a matter of perspective.

On the use of humor...

I do tend to use humor in my writing and I have done so this fall here and there, but there's a cycle to it. At the beginning of every season you're finding out about the new team. Stimulus is everywhere and analysis is at a premium until you figure out the team's patterns and everybody gets comfortable with who they are. In that situation it's far more important to break down plays, players, stats, and trends than to throw in over-generalized and humorous one-liners or analogies. "The Blazers ran like somebody set their undies on fire" is an unsatisfactorily vague description until you've seen their new up-tempo attack a few dozen times. Therefore such statements are more likely to show up during an otherwise-routine late-February game against a cellar-dweller than at the beginning of the season when the games are plenty stimulating and informative on their own. (You'll also see more levity in the summer when humor is the only thing carrying you through.) I suppose that leads to the perception that I am less funny--better stated as more analytical--in the early season and during the playoffs than I am in the dog days of spring or summer.

On being a "pessimist" or not liking the Blazers...

The latter is patently ridiculous. I couldn't do this the way I do if I didn't love the team. As far as pessimism goes, that perception is cyclical too. I have the most likely outcome of 2011-12 as the Blazers being a playoff team, probably a first-round exit, second round if they get the right seed and matchup. That's not bad at all. But it's the beginning of the season and expectations are high, made higher by the hot start. Since my analysis is below the curve of your average Portland supporter, it's labeled pessimistic. Most seasons the Blazers goes through a rough patch, looking like they might come in below expectations. At that point when I stick to my guns I guarantee people are going to call me "Pollyanna" and accuse me of not telling the truth about the team. It happens every year.

Every once in a while I do change my own perspective. Rating Nicolas Batum higher after he played a few games as a rookie than I had watching him in Summer League was an obvious example. But when I do that I explain why and explain what's changed, either about their play or about my eyesight improving. But those times are rarer than not. Usually I'm pretty fair at figuring out what's going on.

That's not to say I'm always right. This is sports. Nobody is. But I give you the things that are most likely to happen and the reasons why. Often I can also tell you what needs to happen in order to generate a different outcome. Most of the time either the most likely event occurs or the difference happens because of the variation we discussed. This isn't because I'm a wizard or savant. It's a lot like a poker guy saying the smart move is to fold or bluff rather than draw to an inside straight. Every once in a while that inside straight card will hit. Inevitably some guy will stand up and yell, "Yes! I told you so! I called it! It's DESTINY!" He's "right" in a sense for that moment, but you wouldn't want to buy his poker instructional book and play by it.

On being depressed or having ulterior motives or something being wrong with me...

These are the silliest arguments of all...ones that really shouldn't happen much because they're not talking about basketball but about the person making the argument. That's not a good practice. The calculus on most of this stuff goes like this: "Dave is saying something different than I think. What I think cannot be wrong. Therefore there must be something wrong with Dave." The hunt is on to find the way in which Dave is screwed up so the argument can be summarily dismissed.

This is common to media types. People generally find it easy to shoot the messenger. A bunch of people I know in the business deal with it by preemptively dismissing fans, calling them stupid and refusing to hear what they have to say. I came to Blazersedge with the express mission to show that fans aren't stupid sheep...a pressing concern back in the Jailblazer Era. I promised myself then that I would not become one of those grizzled sports guys who puts down his readership, laughs at them behind the hand, ignores them. I still haven't become that guy. I read everything you write and think about it. You make that exponentially easier when you make your arguments about our common topic--basketball and the Blazers--and leave out the accusations about me which, when they're made, usually come completely free of any basketball context. In a way I'm glad for the comments, as they're the nearly-inevitable by-product of lots of people reading. But life would be better if people would direct their passion towards the team instead of against their friends and neighbors.

Come on, man! Have some guts and predict something great for this team!

I'm having a great time watching them right now. I don't think a meaningless, and probably inaccurate, prediction is going to enhance that, or their play. Plus I'm a lot less in the prediction business than in the business of describing what's going on right now and what it means.

As for the "guts" part--and this is the last thing I'll say in this vein--I think it takes more guts to stand by what you know than to just spout off something. This, too, is a cycle. During high times people show up and predict deep playoff runs and world championships for this team. There's nothing wrong with that, except along with those predictions often come accusations against anyone who isn't saying the same. But then when the team falls short of those lofty predictions the people who made them and flung all those accusations are nowhere to be found. They don't come back, they don't own up except in the worst ways..."You were right, this team SUCKS!!!" (Nobody said that in the first place though.) It's all drama, little substance. To me, that's not guts. Nor is it optimism. Optimism doesn't involve putting everyone else down, eh?

Just for fun and context, I dug up a couple of reactions to a post I did back in 2008 suggesting that while Rudy Fernandez was an exciting player, he might have had some defensive issues and the hype was probably outstripping reality. I'm not picking the most acerbic, accusatory, or worst of the comments...just a couple you can use to put the current criticisms (and the assertion that "things have changed") in perspective.

First, why do you feel that Rudy’s role off the bench indicates he’s not a star? Isn’t Manu Ginobli one of the Spurs’ "Big 3?" Isn’t John Havlicek in the Hall of Fame for playing the 6th man role with the Celtics?

Then there’s this statement from you: "Amongst all the Rudy hype it’s necessary to say that, speaking in generalities, there were 12 guys on the U.S. Team who are all better players than he, plus a guy on the Spanish team, plus a few more sprinkled around the tournament." Actually, in the gold medal game I thought Rudy often appeared to be the second or third-best (after the hated Kobe and the beloved Dwayne Wade) player on the floor.

That doesn’t mean Rudy is actually better than LeBron and some of the other Redeem Teamers. And Manu Ginobli and Luis Scola are certainly fine players also. But except for some obvious defensive lapses, I thought Rudy Fernandez, in his last two games as well as in the China game, appeared to be on the same general level as the best players in the tournament. Despite a game plan built around pounding the ball inside to the Gasol Bros, Rudy Fernandez was the second-leading scorer on the team, and, more importantly, was incredibly active all over the court. As Snapper Jones said during the Lithuania game, Rudy is a "difference-maker."

Although there’s no way of proving it, I’ll bet that Kobe Bryant would pick Rudy Fernandez as a teammate over several of his celebrated "Redeem Team" members. After spending a large portion of Rudy’s 17.5 minutes in the gold medal game playing Rudy at both ends—and noticably failing to dominate him—I think Kobe must have come away extremely impressed. I’m surprised that you didn’t have the same take, Dave.

This time, I think your caution has gotten the best of you. This kid can really play. Give him a couple years and I expect him to be vying for the NBA’s 6-man award.

Yeah...it went green. And this warning to me:

This post is certainly much more negative than it needs to be and am beginning to feel that one of your primary jobs is try to keep our excited Blazer fandom in perspective-which it might very well be.

Let us celebrate a little bit, cheer with us, get excited with us once in awhile. Enjoy life and enjoy the roses. Rudy had an amazing performance being guarded by Kobe Bryant and playing against the best players in the world and not only should that be recognized, but also should be the moxie with which he did it.

Rudy is a winner and has an incredible passion for the game. He has that certain something that will make him a champion. I don’t think those things should go unnoticed.

I appreciate your good work and click on your page every day while looking forward to the next updates, I just hope that you can keep your own self in perspective sometimes while you are trying to keep us in perpective as well.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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