2016: The Four Horsemen of the Argument-pocalypse

Hello and welcome to the brand new BusterDucks.com, where I will be posting all of my draft articles going forward (and all of my draft articles from the past two years are now on here as well). You can also now find me @BusterDucks, because I finally gave in and got a twitter handle. Anyway, we’re about ten weeks from the draft, and my goal is to get up an article every weekend leading up to the draft. We’ll see if that actually happens. Anyway, enough with the introduction, on to the action!

I approach draft analysis different from, well, just about everybody. Typically, draft sites focus on individual prospects and then project how they are going to do at the NBA level based on, well, whatever system they use to project. I approach the draft from the opposite angle. I will not be examining 2016 draft prospects here probably until sometime in mid-late May. Rather than look at prospects and see how they fit in the NBA, I look at the NBA and then try to find prospects that fit. After all, the goal is to win an NBA championship, right? So, if that’s the goal, knowing how to reach the goal is the single most important piece of the prospect evaluation puzzle. A player with skills ill-suited to winning an NBA championship, no matter how good those skills are, should not be a highly-ranked player. Conversely, a player with skills well-suited to winning an NBA championship should be ranked higher, even if it appears he is unlikely to ever develop them to a high enough level to be NBA-caliber.

Before I get in to the meat of my draft series though, I wanted to address four common misconceptions/arguments/fallacies that I see far too often that really need to go the way of the dodo.

“The Exception”

“The Exception” argument is a simple one: any general rule or statement that has even a single example of somebody who doesn’t fit is invalid. When presented like this, it is immediately apparent why this argument should never be used. Other than tautologies and laws of the universe, there are few things in life so well-defined as to never have even a single exception. Let me present this another way.

Everybody, whether they are aware of it or not, uses heuristics all day every day. They are the only reasonable way to approach many aspects of life. As Wikipedia puts it, a heuristic:

is any approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals. Where finding an optimal solution is impossible or impractical, heuristic methods can be used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Heuristics can be mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, stereotyping, profiling, or common sense.

Can you imagine trying to go through life without ever making a single decision or judgment without doing everything necessary to find the correct or optimal answer? You’d be paralyzed, unable to move or do anything. It’s not feasible. The same thing applies when it comes to judging NBA teams and players and NCAA prospects. It is truly impossible to find any useful rules or guidelines for projecting players if held to the standard that it has to be perfect. Rather, it is much more feasible and useful to attempt to find “satisfactory” rules. There are always going to be exceptions to the rules. But the exceptions are only useful if something about the exceptions can point to a flaw in the rule or otherwise provide guidance as to important factors to be looked at. Ultimately, what I aim to do is find these satisfactory rules. Anybody who wants something more than satisfactory seeks the impossible.

And if you simply want there to be no rules, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but I don’t think the solution to “we don’t have perfect knowledge” is “pretend we have no knowledge”.   So please, by all means, attack the rules, point out flaws, make counterpoints. But never use “but one or two players don’t fit!” as an attack or counterpoint. It’s not useful, it’s not relevant, and it’s not productive for conversation. Yes, at least one or two players don’t fit. But if we had perfect rules, it would be pretty damn easy to project things, wouldn’t it? The goal is to get close, not be perfect.

“Time Changes”

This should not surprise anybody, but things in 2016 are not the same as they were in 2006, or 1996, or 1986…point being, things change. So why do so many people pretend that basketball in 2016 is the same as it was in 2006, or 1996, or 1986?

This one is a little more understandable, but I still see it often enough that I feel the need to explain why this is such a frustrating argument. The NBA has been changing and evolving so, so rapidly that it seems insane to use an example from years ago as relevant now. The Razr was a great cell phone. Iconic even. But it would be considered outdated by today’s standards, right? It can’t do most of what a phone is expected to do these days. While it may not be as obvious, the NBA is no different. A top team from even 5 years ago would not be as good as a top team from today. NBA teams have evolved. The skills of NBA players have evolved. Schemes have evolved. Rules have changed.

Most importantly, this means that each year, it needs to be re-evaluated what is necessary to be a valuable NBA player. Again, going back to cell phones, just a few years ago, it was all about how small a device could be. Now, devices are getting larger and larger. Things change, and things change quick. The NBA is changing just as quick, even if the change isn’t as obvious.

Constantly be re-evaluating what is working and what isn’t working at the NBA level. It is changing so, so, so quickly. At this point, I’m not looking more than about 3 years back. Anything further back just isn’t very relevant to today’s NBA. When you watch this year’s playoffs, look for what is successful and what isn’t.

“But the Experts say!”

This one is just a straight up fallacy, yet I see it all the time. “Chad Ford said…”, “The mock drafts sites say…”, “If NBA teams think it, that’s good enough for me…” or any other variant of this. For these arguments to be relevant there must be two showings.

First, there must be a showing that the expert is talking about the same thing being argued about. That is, somebody like Chad Ford is trying to project the actual draft order in his mock drafts. If the argument is regarding who is a better player, Chad Ford’s mock drafts have no relevance, as they are discussing something else entirely. It is very important to identify whether a pundit is projecting quality or just guessing at the draft order, as those are often going to be two very different things.

Second, there must be a showing that the expert is actually right more often than the average random person or average statistical system or average mock drafter. It is quite frankly amazing to me how many people do not actually care about whether or not the experts they cite are accurate. Look at any draft. How many teams made brutally bad picks in hindsight? Many! Quite frankly, there is no reason to give any benefit of the doubt to NBA teams, because NBA teams have proven absolutely terrible at drafting. Their track record is just flat out bad. Traditional mock draft sites don’t do any better. Many statistical systems fare far better than these so called experts, and as I’ve written about before (and will certainly write about again), statistical systems would likely look even better if their highly-ranked undrafted players got the opportunities highly-drafted players got.

So stop with the “but the experts say”. The “experts” aren’t any better at this than anybody else. The fact that they have built good websites or are paid a lot or have experience doesn’t mean anything. Results matter. Look at the results.

“You’re Just Wrong”

This is just unhelpful. If you’re going to tell somebody they’re wrong, be prepared to back it up, and be prepared to back it up without resorting to one of the above three arguments. Those are bad arguments and do not help you make your point. If you think somebody is wrong, provide an actual, non-fallacious explanation as to why. If you cannot do so, consider that the argument may be right, even if instinctively you disagree with it.

These four arguments are very very common and detract from the conversation wherever they are used. Unfortunately, I felt the need to address these now because of how common they are and did not want to have to individually address them each time I posted a new article. Hopefully, people will stop making these arguments so that conversation can be far more productive and interesting.

Next week’s article: NBA Formations