Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Andorian analysis of certain team sports

   It was occurring to me that over the past several years, the Knicks' repeated attempts to "buy" a championship team have failed miserably.   The Yankees' attempts to do the same thing have by and large succeeded.  Which allows us to weave our Andorian methodology into our analysis of team sports.
  Baseball is largely a game of individual statistics.  The role of the "and" is less prominent in baseball than it is in basketball or football.   Each batter faces off individually against the pitcher.  Each fielder individually fields ground or fly balls.  Sure, the shortstop has to throw to first base.  The catcher suggests how the pitcher should throw.  However, there are a finite variety of plays that can be run.  It is not necessary that players acclimate to each other to perform well.  Baseball is largely a game of individual performances.  If the pitcher pitches well, and the hitters and fielders perform at a high level, the team does well.  The "or" predominates, and the "and" benefits from a powerful "or".   A team of superstars, all in their prime, will thrive.  As George Steinbrenner repeatedly proved, championships can be bought.
   Basketball is different.  The performance of each player is highly dependent upon the actions of his teammates.  An offensive talent cannot thrive if his teammates don't get him the ball.   While few doubt that Karl Malone would have been an excellent player on most teams, it is unlikely he would have been a great player were it not for a John Stockton repeatedly feeding him when he was open. (And Stockton would have been fairly mediocre were it not for Malone.).  I believe we can say that in basketball, to a greater extent than baseball, the "and" predominates.  The "or" is certainly not subjugated by the "and".  Great teams invariably have at least a couple of great players.  But the "or" is largely dependent upon the "and".  Great players cannot thrive unless they work well together.  And that is why attempts to buy or design great teams have often failed so miserably.  The Knicks are a prime example.  An idiot named James Dolan disregarded the advice of several people more knowledgable than he was and traded away several budding players to acquire a superstar named Carmelo Anthony.   The team already had one superstar, Amare Stoudemire, and he believed that adding a second would create an unbeatable combination.  It didn't happen.  Carmelo shot and shot and shot, missing more often than he hit.  Amare faded.  The team sank. Similar examples abound.   Lebron James believed that teaming up with another superstar, Dwayne Wade, and a star, Chris Bosch, would guarantee a ring.   While no one could deny they did well, they fell well short of his unrealistic expectations.  He and Wade could not consistently have 40 point games on the same night.  When one was hot, the other took a back seat and sometimes lost interest.  In basketball, it seems, the whole if often considerably less than the sum of its parts.
  I would submit that the "and" predominates even more in football than it does in basketball.  The team moves like a multicelled animal up and down the field.   The quarterback can only throw if his blockers are protecting him.  No one would ever say that a football team can win without excellent players.  However, cohesion is built into the game, and more than any other american sport, a prerequisite for success.   The receiver can only catch if the quarterback's throw is relatively on target.  The vaunted touchdown, the momentary victory of the "or" that occurs when a player separates himself from the others in the endzone, only occurs when the "and" functions at the highest level.  The number of plays that can be sketched for a basketball team is great, (particularly in comparison to that can be drawn up for a baseball team.)  The number that can be sketched for a football team is infinite.