We’re Back With Idiot Wonder

September 23rd, 2012 by Colin McGowan

I’m glad the sportswriting world has embraced hackery. Or rather, we’ve embraced that everyone is to various degrees a hack. The knowledge that informs this sounds self-evident when stated in plain terms: you can’t know sports. That’s a nonsensical concept, and the people that hold fast to that idea tend to be ex-jock troglodytes or else just gigantic morons. You can only know things about sports. Writers like Bill Barnwell, Chris Brown, and John Hollinger demonstrate this, but the numerous stat and video analysis geeks remind us constantly: they don’t have predictive powers, and though math is sometimes involved, their use of it doesn’t produce well-wrought urns of analysis. They conduct themselves like sportsologists—the pseudo-scientific nomenclature is deliberate—constructing from data various models of how the games they analyze work. They’re not experts; they don’t hold pretensions to authority. (And when the rare sabermetrician or video analyst does write as if atop a sports knowledge throne, it’s every bit as insufferable as when Blowhard Broadcaster X sidles up to a microphone to condescend to you about how to defend pick’n’roll.) For the most part, they’re just obsessive people trying to figure stuff out.

If you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance you’re an obsessive person trying to figure stuff out about the Cleveland Cavaliers. You and me both, friend. I have figured out nothing. I spent forty minutes this afternoon figuring out which Thai place I wanted to order lunch from, and my brain’s still half-melted from finally watching the Bachelor Pad finale last night. We’re talking about a basketball team that might start four players who have played a combined 111 games in the NBA. I don’t follow college basketball; I haven’t been hanging out with Tristan Thompson all summer; and the only things I know about star formation are from watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos a few years ago, so it’s not even like I could make an apt analogy about the Cavs being in their “red dwarf” stage or whatever. Consider this video of a baby elephant learning to walk my cogent analysis of the forthcoming Cavaliers season. Ponder the metaphor. Or perhaps just point at the screen and squeal in delight.

But here’s the thing: I think this season will be fun. Not fun in the ecstatic sense, but fun like a watching a David Attenborough documentary while being punched repeatedly in the left shoulder by a five year-old. Fun like learning something while accumulating bruises.

I think this is the year the Cavs will start to make some sense. Not individual players per se, but the team as an entity. Two years after shoving the post-Lebron roster through a rice thresher, Chris Grant has assembled something that resembles a professional basketball team. Or at least the best college basketball team in the country. We’re finally going to see talent interact with talent. Kyrie Irving, already one of the twenty or thirty best players in the league, won’t seem so out of place. There are arguments to be made about how good the Cavs’ offseason acquisitions can be, but they’re already markedly better than Luke Harangody and Ryan Hollins. They have motor skills much more advanced than that of the average toddler and don’t handle the ball as if it were an irate lobster. They’re basketball players—they know how to make lay-ups and everything!—and Cavs fans will be treated to something like basketball.

Bad basketball, probably. It’s not like this team fills me with evangelical fervor. But it arouses my curiosity in a way last year’s team didn’t. (You really only needed to watch 30-odd games before you figured out Irving’s great, TT’s a project, Alonzo Gee’s an eighth man, and everyone else is varying degrees of not-good.) Dion Waiters moves through the lane like a bowling ball on a hoverboard, and Tyler Zeller is the Cavs’ first athletic seven-footer since before Brad Daugherty’s back lit up like a Lite-Brite board of pain. They were both asked after the draft how they fit into the team, and I remember being confused by the word “fit,” which implies there’s an existing structure into which one needs to position oneself. Rookies need to fit themselves into teams with mostly-solidified rosters like the Spurs and the Celtics. The Cavaliers exist in a pocket of collapsed space-time wherein Kyrie Irving stands solitary, dribbling a basketball through his legs with a look of unease on his face, and Tristan Thompson flickers like a hologram. Do whatever you want, rookies. You might not be good right away, but at least you’re corporeal. Fill the emptiness with reverse lay-ins and mid-range jumpers. No one’s going to stop you.

So bully to anyone calling themselves an expert, but they can’t possibly be right. This team is one shade lighter than absolute black, and I just want to stare at it for a while and let my tempestuousness simmer. I want to embrace not knowing stuff and write about the darkness and what might be inside it. Then I want to write about the nascent light that hopefully emerges and what it illuminates. That’s what we’ll be doing this season at Cavs: The Blog. (Yes, we’re back in full and rolling out preseason coverage all this week. Wake the children.) This is all to say we’d be pleased if you would join us. It’s probably best if we travel in packs. Things are about to get weird.