Just because statheads like Daryl Morey think they see the game best doesn't mean they do. We let a fan, a coach, a GM and a player make a case for having the best seat in the house. Then we surveyed their brethren* to rank the league's players. Just for fun.
*Representative samples of each of the five groups responded to our questions. For fans, SportsNation fielded the first seven questions; Bill Simmons represented them in the rest.
THE CASE FOR THE PLAYER
Elton Brand, 76ers forward and nine-year vet:
"Players can tell right away when a guy starts slowing down. We can see it on his body and in his game because we know what the player used to be capable of. And we know when a guy has improved because we quickly realize we have to guard him differently.
"We also understand a player's situation. Is he taking 25 shots on a bad team, or doing most of his damage against second and third units? If he's part of a great unit like Detroit's or Boston's, we know his stats might not be big even though he's a big-time player. We know what's behind the stats.
"We're also in the best position to gauge toughness. A tough player finishes by going into contact instead of fading away. He gets hit and gets right back up. Allen Iverson might not be the strongest guy, but he gets bruised and plays hurt, so we know he's tough. On the other hand, we know if a guy is sitting out because he has a pinkie injury or a slight ankle twist. The fans don't know why the guy is out, but we do: He's soft."
THE CASE FOR THE COACH
Paul Silas, Former head coach (Clippers, Hornets, Cavs):
"A coach is in the best position to judge talent, because he is focused on a player's fundamentals. Others may look at jumping ability, skill level or innate talent. Coaches look beyond that, because they have to fit a player into a system. So they notice how he runs a play, whether he plays hard, if he knows how to back cut, if he rebounds well. And they see if he puts himself in the right position to do those things. Yes, GMs and players are concerned with winning, but not nearly as much as a coach is, because he can lose his job quickly. That's why coaches look beyond stats. Stats can be deluding; players who put up big numbers might not do the other things that help you win.''
THE CASE FOR THE GM
Willy Walker, Sonics GM, 1994-2001
"The GM makes the final call, so he's the only one who gets to assimilate info from all the other sources. He doesn't rely solely on science, like stat geeks, or on art, like scouts, who have to uncover players' subtleties, their strengths and weaknesses. Unlike coaches, who feel pressure to win right away, the GM can balance immediacy with a long-haul outlook. And while players get a feel for how good a competitor is on the court, a GM sits back and considers all the nuances that contribute to winning. We're looking at more than final numbers, too—we care what a player does at certain times of the game and in certain situations. After a while, we get a feel for whether a player only produces in short bursts or if he can sustain consistency in longer minutes."
THE CASE FOR THE FAN
Bill Simmons, Sports Guy and self-described "last NBA fan":
"I would make a better NBA GM than 80% of those who have the job. I never would have spent 60 mil on Eddy Curry or passed on Chris Paul or been seduced by Chairman Yi posting up a chair. I couldn't be talked into taking expensive has-beens like Jermaine O'Neal. I'd gravitate toward sure things instead of if-this-guy-makes-it-I'm-a-genius! types.
"The keys to my imaginary success? Common sense and an untainted mind. This is why I don't trust stats; there's a place for some of them, but only when applied to specific situations. And if you concoct a system that ranks Shane Battier (one of the best defenders alive) below the likes of Reggie Evans, I'll have a problem respecting those rankings. Do we need 45 more variables to prove LeBron and CP3 are really good? And how can we statistically evaluate how Nash's unselfishness permeates everyone else on his team, or how Duncan allows other Spurs to get theirs until they need him to drop a 25-18 on somebody. You can't. That's why you have to actually watch the games.
"As for coaches, why take them seriously when nearly all of them get fired within three years? They're passed around like airplane peanuts. Reporters and broadcasters? Obviously I know more than they do. I watch eight games a night while they're sitting in press boxes, standing around huddles, applying makeup or arguing with each other. I make fun of my friend Ric Bucher about this all the time: While he's shopping for fancy suits, I'm watching four fourth quarters at once. Trust Buch for fashion tips; trust me for hoops.
"You can't go wrong listening to the common fan. The Celts acquired Alaa Abdelnaby in 1992 and he had a decent game shortly after arriving. My dad was there, so I called him for a report. Turns out Alaa waved happily to a friend in the stands during a key timeout. 'He looked like a Little Leaguer,' Dad said. 'He's never gonna make it.' And he never did.
"Another victory for uncluttered minds."