The Nature of Comparisons

If you haven't noticed, people love to throw around player comparisons when it comes to the NBA draft. If you read a few blogs out there (no I'm not trying to call anyone out on this blog-we're family), the first 7 picks in last year's draft went down like this:
1. The next Tim Duncan
2. The next Scottie Pippen
3. The next Ray Allen
4. The next Dwyane Wade
5. The next Karl Malone
6. A total reach!
7. The next Kobe, who turned out to be nothing like Kobe.

This years draft consists of these top prospects: The next Dwight Howard, Tayshaun Prince, Larry Johnson, a more athletic Ray Allen, Tony Allen, LeBron in Wilt Chamberlin's body, Damian Lillard, the next Kobe who turned out to be nothing like Kobe, and a taller Javale Mcgee meets young and athletic Dikembe Mutumbo in Denver.

A few notes of comparison:
1. Last years' draft was definitely better, because look at how much better those pros are than the ones re-starting their careers this year!
2. Ray Allen isn't that special, because you can get a different model of him anytime you want. You can even upgrade the athleticism!
3. The total reach won rookie of the year!
4. No one's quite like Kobe.

If you disagree with any of the comparisons, that's fine, because there's a floor category for this years picks. In the same order I presented them before, you can denigrate the members of this years' draft class as the next Greg Oden, Nic Batum, Michael Beasley, Brandon Rush, Iman Shumpert, Sam Bowie, DJ Augustin, Nick Young and Hasheem Thabeet.

All joking aside, do you think that the media can get a little carried away with these comparisons? If not, then last years' draft had A. the greatest PF of all time. B. The greatest 2nd banana of all time. C. The greatest shooter of all time. D. One of the top 5 shooting guards ever, and E. The second greatest scorer of all time. Maybe these comparisons are a bit much.

Now, comparisons are not all bad. They are an easy way for the media to describe a guy, and they help the reader get an understanding of what a player is sort of like. But there are also some big problems with relying on comparisons.

1. They tend to be more closely related to resemblance than to skill.

This is why you almost never run into a cross-racial NBA comparison. Cody Zeller and Anthony Bennett are two PFs who project to have a decent jumper, and so Zeller gets compared to David Lee and Bennett gets compared to Larry Johnson. But if you saw these comparisons reversed, you might scratch your head.

Otto Porter and Tayshaun Prince have similar body types and shot form, so they get compared. Alex Len gets compared to Gasol and Jonas because we have to link our Euros together. I understand that these players might have a similar style of play, but rest assured that physical appearance has been the main cause of many of the comparisons that you have read.

2. Just because someone plays like someone else doesn't mean he's as good as that person.

Victor Oladipo plays hard-nosed defense, and so does Tony Allen. Nerlens Noel blocks a lot of shots, and so does Larry Sanders. Now, Tony Allen is probably better than Larry Sanders, but that doesn't mean that Oladipo will be better than Nerlens Noel. Say Noel does play like Sanders, but he does it at a much higher level, and Oladipo plays like Allen, but at a lower level. Will these comparisons have been way off base? Not necessarily, but they don't really tell you how good someone will be, only what kind of player they will be.

3. They're shortsighted historically.

Outside of the true greats, you almost never hear a draftee compared to someone who has been out of the league for a few years. This wouldn't be a problem, except that we sometimes use comparisons to pigeon hole a player because we can't think of a successful NBA comparison in the league today. We can disparage CJ Mccollum as the next Randy Foye, but nobody wonders if he's more Sydney Moncrief or Joe Dumars.

4. Once players are established, they are very hard to compare to one another.

One of the joys of basketball is that we keep discovering players who are utterly unique. Is there anyone quite like James Harden? What about LeBron, Tim Duncan, Steph Curry, or Kevin Durant? Each and every player who is in the NBA has spent tens of thousands of hours perfecting his craft, and to say that two players are the same is to ignore all of the intangibles that are needed to make it this far. Take the recent comparison of Kyrie to Kevin Johnson. It was said that KJ was a lot like Kyrie, but without the jumper. So basically, one of the absolute core components of Kyrie's game can be removed, and that's a good comparison? That's like saying, "Luke Walton is a lot like Larry Bird, but without the shooting." Not all that helpful. I contend that even if you could make the closest comparison possible, the two players involved would have teammates who know the difference and have a very clear preference, because basketball is more than stats. There is just so much that happens on the court that is hard to quantify.

5. They leave themselves open to easy rebuttals, when you may not be completely off.

If you say that Ben Mclemore is a more athletic version of Ray Allen, you've made about as bad a comparison as you can make. So someone will quickly point you to Ray Allen's stats and you will be soundly defeated. But say that the beauty of Mclemore's shot does lead to him being a prolific shooter, and that his ability to shoot will open up his ability to drive the lane. I'm not saying this will happen, but he could be a really nice player, even if the comparison isn't fair.

So what's my point in all of this? The fact of the matter is, it's much easier to say that a player is like someone else than to describe his game in detail, and this can lead to laziness. Not all the time, and I'm not trying to accuse any individual on this site, but I do think that we're all in danger of giving very poor analysis at times. This sort of laziness in no means typifies the debate on here, but it can really make an argument pointless really fast. Someone can use a damning comparison to refute solid analysis, and the argument can turn juvenile fast.

I'm not saying that we can't use comparisons, but I'd like to see us use them carefully. Try to couple your comparisons with some insight into your reasoning. Don't just repeat comparisons you've seen elsewhere without considering their validity first. Use comparisons sparingly, preferring actual research. Don't fight a comparison with a less favorable comparison.

These are just some thoughts that have been going through my head as the draft approaches. I think this site provides some of the best Cavs coverage that there is, and I thought I'd offer a humble suggestion for how we could keep FTS the best.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff at FearTheSword

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