Saturday, March 6, 2010

Greatness, Specifics Unnecessary

Let's talk Greivis Vasquez, star of the Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team.

He commits a plethora of turnovers and takes poor shots on a consistent basis.  He's not a pure shooter.  He's not a pinpoint passer.  He's not a shutdown defender.  He's not lightning fast.  He's not a supreme dribbler.  He's not noted for an exceptional vertical leap or dunking ability.  But he's indisputably a college basketball standout, one of the most dynamic players in the country.

Imagine an artist.  Are his brushstrokes great?  No.  Is his use of color great?  No.  Are his ideas great?  No.  How in the world could he be a good artist, let alone the best in his region?

Greivis Vasquez is the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, bar none.

How does one explain this?

Here's how:

"He's a terrific offensive player," said broadcaster Jay Bilas during the Duke/Maryland game on Wednesday.

Basketball is always broken down, at its core, to offense and defense.  Hockey is offense, defense, and goaltending.  Football is offense, defense, and special teams.  Baseball is hitting, fielding, pitching, and baserunning.

Somewhere along the line, specific skills started getting broken away from the group and evaluated by themselves.  Forget being an excellent offensive hockey player, for instance  --  Are you a great skater?  Are you physical?  How's your wristshot?  Can you backcheck?  Can you penalty kill?  How's your ice vision?

And this is all well and good, except for the fact that a player who grades out as excellent in one category and mediocre in the others receives a lot more credit, prestige, and press than the player who can do everything splendidly but nothing top-notch.

As far as I can remember, Bill James broke this down first, describing why Darrell Evans was one of the most unappreciated players in baseball history.  Evans did everything.  He played defense, he hit homers, he got on base, he helped his team win... and he's now fading from memory.

Greivis Vasquez is a better player than a lot of Maryland Terrapins of years gone by, but he doesn't shoot well enough, pass well enough, dribble well enough, and play defense well enough to be considered in the conversation with any of the specialists.  For example, Vasquez or Juan Dixon?  That's ridiculous, right?  Dixon could shoot better than Vasquez with his eyes closed.  End of story.  Vasquez or Steve Blake?  Also ridiculous, right?  Vasquez is nowhere near the passer that Blake was.

Well, yes, but in a way it's like saying that Cal Ripken was no good because he didn't hit homers like Cecil Fielder or hit for average like John Olerud or steal bases like Tony Womack.

Vasquez deserves his due.  It remains to be seen whether he'll be accorded it.

You know, winning some games this March could help his cause.

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