While doing some blog brainstorming the other day, Franklin (who, mercifully, will be losing his penname sometime in the very near future) and I realized that we never came up with a concrete definition of what constitutes a “Diss player”.
You see, there is a certain pressure to carve an analytical niche for yourself if you are attempting to write about basketball on the internet. There are many armchair basketball “experts” out there, and if you want to be included in their ranks, you need to find a way to talk about the game and produce analyses that will eventually set you apart from the rest of the herd. The best blogs have done so by either using two separate but equally important (and intrinsically intertwined) methodologies: statistical analysis or discourse analysis. Some great blogs do both, but by and large, the blogs (and bloggers) who have set themselves above the rest have used some sort of analytical talent to generate excellent content and provide different ways of looking at the game, and the players who play the game.
For example, a brilliant blog that has used statistical analysis to separate itself from others is the Wages of Wins Journal. The Journal, founded and edited by economist/author Dave Berri and former Mavs’ stats analyst Wayne Winston, has put invaluable work into assessing which statistics are most important when it comes to winning basketball games, and which players are the best at providing those valuable assets for winning ball clubs. Statistics such as wins produced, win share, and adjusted plus/minus have illuminated the usefulness of a number of different skill-sets, and have glorified the efforts of players who heretofore were seen as little else members of a supporting cast. Shane Battier’s rise to prominence, at least in the world of analysis, is largely due to Dave Berri and The Wages of Wins. And while they’ve doled out respect to the standard cast of All-Stars, they’ve also shown us why Landry Fields, Ronnie Brewer and Chuck Hayes deserve our praise as well. I would argue that a Wages of Wins Player is a player who produces things that help teams win games (and more often than not, those things tend to be rebounds).
An equally brilliant blog — and one that has gotten love from us before — is the now-defunct FreeDarko. As Franklin asserted in his review of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, FreeDarko focused on players whose careers told a good story, and who, through their play on the court, and their actions off the court, crafted a particular relationship between themselves and their fans. Crafting an “emotional connection” with the game was of the utmost importance, and it seemed to help if the player’s stylistic skillset made them valuable warriors in the positional revolution, a term coined by Bethlehem Shoals which referred to players who eschewed the traditional boundaries of positionality and did things on the court that made them unique, awe-inspiring, and above all, entertaining. So while FreeDarko (who did their old fans a solid and released FreeDarko Player Rankings on Shoals’ latest project, The Classical) loves stars like Rajon Rondo, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they also lust over guys like Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee and Paul George. FreeDarko found brilliance in Gerald Green, Gilbert Arenas and Rashad McCants — players whose skills disturbed traditionalists but delighted fans across the board.
With these towering monoliths of homegrown basketball analysis in mind, it seemed incumbent upon us, as small fish in a very big pond, to attempt to create an archetype that would define what a “Diss player” is. Moreover, it seemed necessary that such a creation represent an “original” contribution to the larger field of basketball analysis, and would differ from the players preferred by other blogs. Now, Voltaire was correct when he said that, “originality is but judicious imitation, and that “the most original writers borrowed one from another.” As such, it was inevitable that many of the criteria that defined favorite players of the blogs we admire will naturally be ours as well. Our task, then, was to attempt to explain what exactly we liked about the players we liked, why we seemed to like it. Additionally, it seemed important to tie statistical analysis into such a definition, in an attempt to provide a fuller picture into what makes a Diss player a Diss player in the first place.
A “Diss player”, of course, is different from a “Diss guy”. Diss guys don’t have to be current players, and if they are, it is not mandatory that we enjoy their style of play. In fact, Diss guys, by and large, have been defined by what they do off the court, rather than what they produce on the stat sheet, or on television. Diss guys are simply meant to be celebrated for the things they do as basketball players and human-beings. There is a certain glory in being a Diss guy, but it isn’t permanent, and certainly not a defining trait.
Instead, a “Diss player”, in its ideal form, refers to someone or something that apparently is a bit more complicated than a Diss guy (hence our inability to define it). A Diss player can be analyzed broadly, but in fact, is beloved (and investigated) because he represents more esoteric, specific parts of the game that don’t always appear on the stat sheet, or in articles describing what the player brings do his team or the league. Diss players do not necessarily have to be “good” — that is, they do not have to necessarily affect the game in a positive way, or really have a skill-set that dazzles the fans, or makes them feel emotional about anything in particular. Their contributions don’t have to come on the court, and they don’t have to be lauded for efficiency, professionalism, candor, or any of the things that normal talking heads judge quality pros judge their players by. None of these things are held in especially high regard.
Instead, I would argue that most important trait of a Diss player is that they are outspoken in some aspect of their professional or personal life. This does not necessarily have to be on the court, nor does it have to be to the media. Instead, this “outspoken” quality must present itself in some way that distinguishes himself from the rest of his peers. The Diss has organically developed a distrust towards “quiet consistency” — that is, players and organizations that do things too professionally, and simply become the sum of their stats. We appreciate unapologetic performances of individuality; nay, we demand it from the players who we enjoy watching. So in that vein, it seems necessary that a Diss player portrays himself — both to his teammates, his fans, and the larger viewing audience who may or may not give a shit — as a living, breathing human being. They are in many ways the anti-FreeDarko player, who are often compared to Greek gods or inanimate objects in their analysis. Instead, a Diss player oftentimes seems too human: their shortcomings and failings as professionals, as well as their mistakes and quirks as a human, make them more relatable, and in many cases, more beloved. And in the end, this, really, is how we like them best.
So for example, LeBron James, for all his faults, is clearly a Diss player. His outspoken-ness takes many forms, most of it positive. He is outspoken in his brilliance as one of the best players in the game, and is unafraid to use the full bevy of his talents to enable his team to win. He has remained confident about his decision to leave his home state and the team that drafted him to join his friends and pursue excellence in Miami, and has altered his personality to become a better teammate, and in turn, a winner. We saw his game mature as well — gone were the lower percentage jump shots, replaced instead by trips to the post (according to Synergy sports, 120 times over), and free throw attempts. And for the first time in recent memory, we saw LeBron publicly concerned about issues beyond his brand, such as the murder of Trayvon Martin. This unapologetic performance clearly cemented LeBron as a Diss player.
But then again, Andris Biedrins, who is LeBron James’ opposite in nearly every single way, is a Diss player as well. If you go by Wins Produced, LeBron James is the most valuable player in league. Andris Biedrins is among the league’s worst. No one’s PER has taken as big of a drop as Andris Biedrins over the last three seasons, and he’s increasingly found his name besmirched due to sexual and financial transgressions. Yet, it is his failure to launch that makes him so beloved, in a strange, esoteric way. One can’t help but pity someone who can’t seem to catch a break, or who has clearly been affected by some sort of mental trauma that affects their professional life. Biedrins clearly isn’t lazy (though given his proclivity towards missing games, one wonders about his conditioning), but something has happened that changed him, as a professional basketball player, forever. It is that precipitous fall, and the unknown of what’s to come, that makes him a Diss player, and one we are happy to give our attention and generate analysis.
Perhaps the best way to point out who are Diss players is to focus on players who have the skillset that we, as Diss-cussants, look for, but for whatever reason, have not found the professional or personal inspiration to put them all together. This doesn’t necessarily mean the player is a bust — far from it — but it does mean that the player could become more Diss-friendly, and enter the pantheon of Diss players (as it is an honor bestowed to so very few), if they became outspoken in some aspect of their game, or life. If that’s unapologetic scoring, great. If that’s untapped potential, fine. If it’s steady contributions, and a staunch, outspoken unwillingness to be anything but themselves, right on. But now is the time to show us.
We implore these players to get started for two reasons. The first is that, simply put, it’s time to get started. According to statistics from the RAM financial group, the average NBA career lasts about five seasons. The NBA is a highly competitive field, and it takes a lot of hard work and luck to distinguish yourself above others. It’s important to not waste too many years figuring it out. Secondly, by finally becoming what we want them, as fans, to be, we can get a better understanding about what statistically and intrinsically constitutes a Diss player, and do a better job cataloging their existences here on the blog.
Selfish? Perhaps. But only by understanding them can we better understand ourselves. And there’s no shame in being a Diss player.