Dirk, The Daring (Cliche Slayer)
For those of you that are too young to remember the early days of video games, there’s a particular one that I thought would be relevant in my rant today. Dragon’s Lair came out in 1983, and it attempted to combine two of the emerging technologies of the day: laserdisc and video games. Laserdisc, when compared to the technology at the time, was the premier source of video display giving Dragon’s Lair a futuristic feel next to it’s sprite-based brethren. Additionally laserdisc was superior to VHS, which meant this game was probably better than the movies you watched at home on your own tv.
On the other hand the limitation of the computer hardware at the time meant that the game play suffered. Dragon’s Lair wasn’t able to animate new sequences, rather it just played pre-made ones. The gamer had to move the joystick in the right direction (at the right time) to proceed to the next frame, whereas the wrong selection would mean the game would play one of the (usually somewhat humorous) death sequences. So instead of an open form type of game (like Pacman) it was the arcade version of Choose Your Own Adventure.
The main protagonist of Dragon’s Lair is Dirk the Daring who is a tall and thin knight with a long face and a square jaw. Dirk’s job was to navigate a haunted castle, slay a dragon, and save the princess. Although you might think that I’m heading towards the easy analogy of Nowtizki’s namesake defeating the treacherous Miami Heat, that’s not at all why Dragon’s Lair came into my head today.
As a youth, Dragon’s Lair was a frustrating game to play. The reason being that there was only one correct way to play. For each scene you had to know and execute the exact timing of the sequence to survive. Unlike Pacman where you could take a wrong turn & live, Dragon’s Lair was much less forgiving. Often you’d die a hundred deaths at a particular scenario before you learned how to solve it by watching someone else. Learning technique from others was common in the early days of video games, but in Dragon’s Lair it was a must.
Often in sports it feels as if there is a similar rigid set of proverbs to help fans understand the game better. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to your local AM radio sports show, and you’ll be set straight on the proper way to view sports. Call in with your own unique perspective, and you’re likely to be insulted and laughed off the air. Many of these slogans have taken the original event and tossed aside much of the data for the shorter and simpler motto. Losing that context means the deeper understanding of history is lost to the cliche.
While these rules of thumb can help in a pinch, often they are taken for law, which can stunt rational discussion. However the Dallas Mavericks winning the 2011 title may have stomped all over some of these slogans.
The Dallas Mavericks have used advanced stats to their advantage in the front office (Wayne Winston), with the head coach (Rick Carlisle), and even with the coaching staff (Roland Beech). Mark Cuban is such a believer in advanced stats that he chose his coach based on plus-minus numbers:
This will merit a more complete post in the next couple of days, but it’s clear that there is a debate in stat geek circles about whether adjusted plus/minus is even relevant. Cuban is a big, big believer that it is, and he uses it as part of his evaluation of both players and coaches.
He told the audience during one Q-and-A session that adjusted plus/minus was one reason he hired Rick Carlisle to coach Dallas. The numbers Dallas had (mostly courtesy of Wayne Winston) showed players improved their adjusted plus/minus after being traded to Carlisle-coached teams.
Given that the Mavericks rely heavily on numerical analysis shows that proper statistics have a place in the league. As Cuban once noted about teams that don’t use statistical analysis: “There are times when another team puts five guys on the floor and you get excited.” In this case, the statistics were meaningful and directly impacted the series (see below).
Dallas’ coach Rick Carlisle inserted a cold-handed J.J. Barea into the starting lineup mid-series. In games 1-3, Barea shot a pitiful 5-23, but Carlisle’s stat-savvy team thought they had an advantage when he was in the game. The diminutive point guard started game 4, and shot a sizzling 16-32 (57.8% eFG%) the rest of the way. It’s been shown that coaches of professional sports teams tend to play conservative to a fault, so having a manager that will buck the trend can gain an advantage. Clearly a case where the cliche can hurt the team.
I thought this adage was debunked when Detroit won their last championship. Apparently the Pistons were not the proof that this was false, instead they were the exception that proved the rule. Probably the recent incarnations of the Celtics and Lakers with multiple All Stars helped remove the 2004 Pistons from memory.
However it’s hard to apply the 2-3 superstar criteria to the 2011 Mavs. Sure Dirk is one of the best in the game, but who is the second star? Thirty eight year old Jason Kidd had a 14.4 PER in the regular season, and hasn’t been on an All-NBA team in 7 seasons. Shawn Marion hasn’t been an All Star in 4 years, and Tyson Chandler’s only hardware in 10 seasons is one year on the 2nd Defensive Team. Not to say that these players aren’t valuable, and in fact I’d say the opposite. However they aren’t “stars” by any definition.
Additionally the Mavericks won the title against the most top heavy team in NBA history. LeBron and Wade are undoubtedly two of the game’s top 5 best players, and Bosh has been to the last 6 All Star games. Most championship teams feature multiple Hall of Fame level players, but it doesn’t mean that a team can’t win a title without being so overbalanced.
Much like life, the NBA is a complex system. Narrowing it down to cliches attempts to turn it into a rigid game, much like Dragon’s Lair. However reality has shown that the game is too elaborate for a simplified five word statement.