Thinking Strategically about Any Aspect of Basketball (or Anything Else):

  • Strategy is a hard issue for most persons to think about, unless they are the kinds of persons that like to juggle a lot of balls in the air, while they walk to the store through a disaster area to try to get some MREs from a rescue truck that keeps moving around unpredictably distributing food to survivors.

    The simplest, salt of the earth group of human beings likes for someone else to look at the situation, then be told what to do in clear, logical terms to achieve an objective. We are all in this category on most subjects.

    The next group up in complexity likes to think in terms of a fixed context with some contextual fits, some fixed rules (rules are limits and incentives), in which interplay evolves. Such folks often think they are sophisticated and say: if we do this, then they will do that, and so what would we do next. These are the worst kind of game theorists.

    The next group up grasps that context evolves along with opportunity sets with each play, again with lots of contextual fits and rules, and so play is evolving both to choices and changing contexts.

    The next group up grasps that context not only evolves, but can be channelled in its evolution, again with lots of contextual fits and rules, and that interplay evolves, as context evolves and that some players can channel the context and interplay more than others.

    The next group up looks at what the last group works with through either rational or non-rational choice models of decision making. Previous groups relied on rational choice models. This current group gets all puffed up about their analytical acumen, because they dare to include non rational criteria for player choices.

    The next group up says that choices are never entirely rational, nor entirely nonrational, but some combination of both and made with varying and evolving information sets subject to shaped and channelled game spaces and player choice and counter choice evolving down paths of play with both foreseen and unforeseen consequences feeding back into the evolution of play.

    The highest group, at least that I have experienced, does what the previous group does but introduces intentional deception on both sides and compromise of regulation to the analysis.

    Most persons that fancy themselves to be thinking strategically, are not really strategists, because they are not comfortable with getting everything moving in the game being analysed.

    One needs to keep this sort of thing in mind when making assertions like: “Good defenses can stop any scheme,” or “give me a great player…and I don’t care what kind of defense you play, I can score.”

    They are simplistic assertions that fundamentally ignore the messiness of reality, especially when reality has rules and rule enforcers that grow compromised, various agents driving compromise, complex interplay, rational and irrational choices being made, and foreseen and unforeseen consequences being triggered in pursuit of even the simplest of goals.

    Red Auerbach was about as wily and unblindered of a mind as has ever engaged in thinking about the strategy of the game. Thank heavens he was never on the side of one of America’s enemies in a war. Because his was a brilliant mind. He kept his best prescriptive epigrams on the game conspicuously simple and conspicuously open ended; that is, indicative of an open ended strategic environment.

    Red juggled a lot of balls as if it were a cake walk. He coached. He conditioned. He strengthened. He innovated. He drafted. He negotiated contracts. He cut persons. He fired persons. He won more titles than anyone else. He coached and built teams. He general managed and built front offices that operated and marketed a team. He part owned and built ownership structures. He managed with coaches and player coaches. He presided. He got the most out of all kinds of persons. He was smarter than everyone he worked with, probably by several orders of magnitude. He could communicate with illiterates and highly educated persons and everyone in between. Coarse as he could be, and often preferred to be, he was the only authentic renaissance master of the game that the game has ever produced. Period. No one. Phil Jackson finally exceeded Auerbach’s record of 9 NBA championships and so far has 11. Jackson deserves the label of greatest NBA coach, because of it. But understand that Auerbach won 9 NBA rings as coach and 7 NBA rings as General Manager or President. Phil, stay in shape pal. You need to win 5 more just to tie Red. Red is up in heaven laughing every time he hears talk of Phil beating his record. No one else before or since comes close to Red Auerbach’s combined accomplishments in basketball. Not Wooden. Not Allen. Not Phil Jackson. Not Pat Riley. All these men are fleas beside Red Auerbach and each of them would admit it.

    So what did the greatest mind the game has produced have to say in a memorable way about basketball.

    “Basketball is like war in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up”

    Notice that he implies no end to the dynamic. Notice that he is not overly specific. Yet its implications are infinite in all directions. It is not a judgement of what is right, or wrong, correct, or incorrect. It is a profound insight into what is. With the insight, go to work on defining and solving any particular problem you think you confront. Red was Sun Tzu with a cigar.

    “Just do what you do best.”

    OMG, is this deceptively elegant, or what? Notice he does not specify that what you do best has to be the same forever, or that it has to change, or what it might be. Notice the unspecified “you” implies the individual AND the coach AND the team AND the organization.

    “An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise.”

    The importance of this to strategic thinking is beyond ranking. Strategic thinking distills to thought about what could be if we read our situation clearly and play our cards wisely in a timely fashion. Performance is the fuel strategy burns to achieve its objectives and goals. Promise is the narcotic of strategy. Performance equals foundation and existing structure of a fort plus what can reasonably be erected in time for a fight. Promise is the high ceiling gun emplacement for the gun that will never be finished in time for the fight. OADs need solid foundations and tall first story walls, because their high ceilings are never going to be finished in one season. And so on.

    From these three insights, plus tireless work, and more cunning in every aspect of the game than anyone before or since, and his share of luck, did championships flow like water from a deep, clear, and endless spring.

    Avoid both the simple and the simplistic, for if they do not fit they will fail you for sure, and if they do fit, they were neither simple, nor simplistic. They were elegant.

    Avoid the unnecessarily complicated–especially the baroque.

    Elegance of fit is the goal.

    Elegance is the truth stated with just enough complexity to accomplish feasible coherence.

    Be as accurate as possible, but never over accurate.

    Be as inaccurate as necessary, but never more so.

    Perfect accuracy is for suckers.

    Reduction is for dolts.

    Elegance rules be it by design, or chance.

  • @jaybate-1.0 And strategic thinking must be beyond good and evil if Ratface is a strategic genius.

    At what point does it stop being evolution and start being corruption? (Rat-torical question)

  • @approxinfinity

    rat-torical question = PHOF

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