also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
The Blindness of Expertise
4/27/06 - Pistons 83-98 Heat - Pistons down 2-1
I only just resisted titling this post "Is Flip Saunders An Idiot?" because it seems clear that a man who is paid more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes can't be all 'tard, but... there's a strong chance Flip Saunders is an idiot in some sense. If you did a Family Feud-style survey with the question "Who Is Going To Defend Dwyane Wade in the conference finals?" survey would say:
- What are you talking about? You want a mango? I am from France. (37)
- Um... I don't know his name, but probably the guy who looks like a heavily abused Stretch Armstrong doll? (34)
- Tayshaun Prince, you idiot. (31)
The third opinion would be given to you by anyone with even a smattering of NBA knowledge all the way up to, say, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant, players of Wade's bionic shooting guard ilk who have run up against Stretch and who -- if not exactly stopped -- have been decently contained. Tayshaun is popularly regarded as the Kobe-Lebron-McGrady-Wade stopper, one of the few players in the league with both the size and the quickness to stop the NBA's unstoppable. Only an idiot or an expert would do anything other than stick Tayshaun on Wade and forget about it.
An expert? Si. A while ago, Bill Simmons sat down to talk/email($ -- archive) with writer, public intellectual, and spectacular jew-fro* possessor Malcolm Gladwell for his "Curious Guy" series. During this exchange the curious blindness of expertise was brought up during a discussion about -- you guessed it -- Isiah Thomas. Gladwell immodestly proposes that he would be a better GM than Thomas. He backs up his assertion like so:
So why do I think I would be better? There's a famous experiment done by a wonderful psychologist at Columbia University named Dan Goldstein. He goes to a class of American college students and asks them which city they think is bigger -- San Antonio or San Diego. The students are divided. Then he goes to an equivalent class of German college students and asks the same question. This time the class votes overwhelmingly for San Diego. The right answer? San Diego. So the Germans are smarter, at least on this question, than the American kids. But that's not because they know more about American geography. It's because they know less. They've never heard of San Antonio.
And now horrible, horrible San Antonio intrudes upon us once again whenever Dwyane Wade is astounded to find Tayshaun Prince guarding someone else.
In last year's conference finals, Dwyane Wade shot 44 percent and scored just under 24 points a game with Prince checking him every step of the way. That's good, though it was probably aided somewhat by Wade's rib injury. But Wade is a scary mofo who shot 48 percent from the field a year ago and 49.5 this year. If you can get 44 percent you take it and run. Go ahead, guess at Wade's shooting percentage through three games in the conference finals. No, that's too low. That's also too low. Just give up.
68.8 percent. Sixty-eight point eight.
Some of that is a fluke based on small sample size, but when Wade is pulling up for his uncontested WadeJumper(tm) he is not even troubled by Hamilton's presence. Riley is beating Saunders' head in with one simple adjustment: going big. With Antoine Walker and Udonis Haslem in the game, the Pistons line up Rasheed Wallace against Haslem, Prince against Walker, and Rip against Wade. Wade shoots 70 percent; Wallace's role on defense is to watch Haslem do nothing; Prince struggles against Walker like he does against most players who are 50 pounds heavier than him. None of this makes any sense. Gladwell sounds the bell for the sports fan who can't believe how... why... aaargh:
The point is that knowledge and the ability to make a good decision correlate only sporadically, and there are plenty of times when knowledge gets in the way of judgement.
It's a cold comfort.
*(I'm not sure if Gladwell is Jewish or not, but his hair damn well is.)