Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Welcome the Innovation?

Since the Rockets have now been eliminated, I'll go ahead and publish this month-old post....

With my 76ers suffering perhaps the worst loss of my history of sports fandom (some of those Eagles NFC championships and the 1993 World Series may come close), I'll turn my attention to bigger picture issues.

Mark Titus tackles the question of whether the Houston Rockets are fun to watch.  The body of his article had me arriving at the same conclusion -- that the strategy may be entertaining from the Rockets, but would not be if it were universally adapted. A separate but related question is whether the innovations in strategy that the Rockets have made are ones that should be encouraged, discouraged, or allowed to run their course through the league, a question I find interesting.

Baseball is probably further down the road on batting and pitching strategies reducing balls in play. The NHL faced this with the neutral zone trap.

In considering this, I think there are some relevant questions.

Does the innovation result in an aestheically superior game?

Which is the question Titus's article sought to answer.  Some tangential questions:

Does this change reward athletic skill? Effort? Discipline? Luck? Are these they types of skills we want to see more of?
Does it put the game more in the hands of players or coaches?
Does the innovation reward effort? 
Does the innovation have any impact on player safety?
Does the innovation enhance or diminish the impact star players can have on the game?
What if this innovation were adopted universally? And in lower levels of the game?

This probably isn't a universal standard. But in general, we want sports to reward talent and effort, favor putting the game in the hands of players more than coaches, be as safe as possible, and give its stars a chance to shine. The neutral zone trap fails these tests. I'm not sure about the Rockets.

For some, it can be difficult to tell. It seems that it should be obvious for the NBA to embrace the individual greatness and fierce competitiveness that Michael Jordan brought to the game. But, he became the template for all future stars. He launched a series of hero-ball that we're still not quite out of.

If you determine that the innovation is harmful, then there's the decision of whether to intervene. Which leads to further questions:

Is it likely this tactic will be imitated? Does it rely on unique or rare skills from a certain player or group of players?
Is there a counter other teams can deploy to neutralize the tactic?
Are the interventions likely to cause more harm than good?

Hack-a- is an annoying strategy that requires little skill to execute, and either takes start players out of the game or has them doing the thing they do poorest. But is has multiple counters (including making the damn free throws) and interventions may cause more harm than good.

In the Rockets' case, the main rule is the 3 point line. When it was put in, it was not with the anticipation that teams would take 50 3 pointers a game. It seems there's some adjustments that could be made without impacting the soul of the game

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