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Grasping at Straws - ESPN Style

Did he really say "bandwagoning" ... he didn't, did he?
Did he really say "bandwagoning" ... he didn't, did he?

So as we've been enjoying the playoffs to this point, I've been trying to decide how to respond to a video that the Whirlwide Liter put up to help squash all of this "Spurs are really good" talk. Israel Gutierrez is an NBA Analyst for ESPN. He's worked for a couple of Miami news outlets and is now with the mothership dishing out his knowledge of all things NBA on and other mothership outlets.

Prior to the playoffs, Gutierrez made some points as to why the Spurs wouldn't be hoisting the O'Brein trophy at season's end. I decided to take a look at his argument to see if he has any real reason for flapping his gums.

The video:

So let's get Israel's points laid out here. Gutierrez says the Spurs:

  1. Are the top seed
  2. Have won 21 of 23 (at the time)
  3. Are the 2nd best scoring team
  4. Have depth for days
  5. Have the best coach going.
However, despite all that, he states that the Spurs are not championship material -- and I don't believe for a second that he hates saying that. Regardless, here are his arguments as to why they do not meet the Gutierrez Championship Material test (my title, not his) or GCM for short:
  1. Yes, they can score, but a top 2 scoring team hasn't won it all since Jordan did it, and the best a Spurs title team ever finished in scoring was twelfth.
  2. They are deep, but depth doesn't translate the same in the playoffs.
  3. Titles normally go to Superstars (plural, he points out, in case we're unfamiliar with word forms).
  4. Tony Parker is a top 5 MVP candidate, but is probably only the 5th best PG in the playoffs.
  5. Manu Ginobili is underrated, but not that underrated.
  6. Tim Duncan is equivalent to David Robinson and needs the next Tim to get him another ring.
  7. Maybe they can "break the championship mold" but as far as being favorites are concerned, things don't add up.
I cannot believe that this guy gets paid to be on television. He points to several different factors, none of which prove that the Spurs are not title contenders. Let me address some of his points:
  1. What does being a top 2 scoring team have to do with anything? It means they're good at offense, not cursed. This point is completely out of the blue and makes no sense.
  2. I agree with him that depth doesn't translate the same in the playoffs. That doesn't mean that it should be entirely discounted as a wasted benefit either. Depth is good, just maybe not as good in the post-season.
  3. Titles do normally go to plural superstars...except for those times they didn't. Good point. More talent generally wins more titles. Good to know.
  4. Tony Parker is "arguably" the 5 best PG in the playoffs, you say? Here's who I'm guessing he's talking about: Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. Ok, sure you can argue that Parker isn't as good as any of those guys, but does it matter? If somebody is the 5th best soccer (futbol) player in the world, can he not still be a superstar? Is someone's superstar status challenged by how many other excellent players there are at his position? Is there a finite number of superstar slots available and when one player moves up into that rarefied territory, another player's name must have it's slot on the "Superstar Board" moved down?
  5. Manu is underrated, but not THAT underrated. (Pauses to calm himself and take a breath.) What does that even mean? Is he really good, but most only consider him good? This makes so little sense, it's beginning to make my head hurt bad, but not THAT bad. Ridiculous.
  6. Tim Duncan is not David Robinson. I love both guys and probably Robinson a little more, but Duncan is not at the same point Robinson was in 2003 or even 1999. Duncan can still dominate a game, as he's done this year. Duncan's minutes are limited to leave gas in his tank for the post season, not because his back seizes up on him and he has to receive treatment just to walk around, as reportedly happened in Robinson's last season. While it's true that Duncan isn't the same guy that he was in 2003 where he dominated nightly, a decline from that level still leaves a LOT of room to go before getting to David's final year. I've said it here more than once this year, you would be hard pressed to name 5 big men in the NBA that are clearly better than Duncan. That's still pretty darn good.
  7. Mr. Gutierrez, let me just save you some time on your little caveat at the end of your fevered ramblings. You are wrong. The Spurs may NOT win the title this year and I would even say they aren't the favorites, but they certainly are made up of championship material.
A final word on his final word
This isn't about one of his points, so I'm not going to number it. But it deals with both HOW and WHAT his points are, changing stances, and how disingenuous his entire video is.

After he lists all of the good things the Spurs have accomplished this year, he begins his case with "But championship material? I hate to say it, but, "NO.'" However, after presenting his case (which as I've shown is no case at all) he ends with, "...but title favorites? It just doesn't add up." Which makes me think that 1) he did this spot off the top of his head, or 2) he didn't look it over to see if he ended up where he was headed.

Proving that the Spurs aren't the favorites is a VERY different proposition than claiming they're a team that lacks what's necessary to win the final game. The first only requires introducing evidence that another team has a better claim to be considered the most probable champion. The second necessitates a skillful deconstruction of the arguments in support of the team's championship hopes. But that's not at all what he offered.

Instead, he set up an argument with a lesser proposition (that the Spurs don't pass the GCM) only to end with a greater one (that they shouldn't be considered title favorites) which is nothing more than an old bait and switch. Which introduces another possibility, 3) that Gutierrez knew exactly what he was doing, and intentionally made his conclusion different so that his words would be easier to eat, if it came to that.

At the beginning of his "parting shot" he says that his statements will seem like hate to all Spurs fans, but just take it as a dose of reality. "Fine," I thought, "here we go," wondering what nugget of truth he'd discovered that would outweigh my entire season's worth of coming to know this year's Spurs team. But all that followed was conjecture, hyperbole, and non-sequitur seasoned with a bit of trite conventional wisdom and misplaced condescension. Which leaves me to believe, in the absence of any reality being imparted, that I'm not the one whose castle is built on a bunch of sand.

If that's the best case he can make in order to stop all of the "Spurs bandwagoning" he mentioned, then this team likely IS good enough to win it all. And judging by the GCM test, if you want to discredit the Spurs, you've got to grasp at straws in order to claim they aren't good enough.

(Takes the proffered straw.)

Thanks for the reality, Mr. Gutierrez. It tastes a lot like Kool-Aid.