Monday, July 6, 2009

Mercuriality and Rasheed to the Celtics

You may have heard the big news by now: Rasheed Wallace to the Celtics. This is frightening and awesome. Rasheed Wallace, Carolina alum, three-draining big man, and the one-man technical factory that referees across the league love to hate is joining forces with Kevin Garnett, who is, with the possible exception of Kobe (since he might be a sociopath and all), the scariest player in all of basketball, who is capable of making giant, grown, powerful men ON HIS OWN TEAM cry in the middle of games, and who may be the modern embodiment of barely controlled rage. This is absolutely frightening and awesome. Would you want to play against them? I mean, in the end, I might take Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis over these two, but for sheer intimidation and on-court psychopathy, it would be difficult to beat the KG and Sheed pairing.

Also, Rasheed Wallace is one of the current known leaders in the latest of my Google-based metrics, a simple one that we're going to just call Mercuriality. In the fine tradition of the Epithet Certainty Score and the Kobe Test, you arrive at this score by counting Google hits. To measure a player's Mercuriality (it's always going to be in caps, I think), you just search for "mercurial [player name]". Maybe, we can refine this later, but for now, here are some benchmarks.

Allen Iverson 10,300
Ron Artest 4,490
Rasheed Wallace 1,150
Stephon Marbury 359
Gilbert Arenas 188
Kobe Bryant 159
Lebron James 71
Kevin Garnett 1
Tim Duncan 1*
Yao Ming 0

*"Kobe is a little too impatient and mercurial. Tim Duncan is so calm and composed, he gets suspended for laughing." So maybe really, 0. It should be 0.

So, as near as I can tell, a lot of my favorite players have a high Mercurialty. AI is in a class of his own, while Ron Artest (of course) and Rasheed Wallace are the only ones even in the neighborhood. What does this mean? Well, Mercuriality, it's important to note, doesn't reflect anything actually about the player, but rather merely about how people on the Internet talk about the player. So looking at this list, let's try to suss out what exact sense of mercurial these writers are getting at.

1. Of or pertaining to the god or planet Mercury.
I wish that we talked about basketball players in more astrological or classical terms. I feel like we don't get to hear enough basketball players described as "saturnine," though if I had to bet on it Anthony Randolph probably will be the first. Anyway, a prize to the first person who writes the definitive treatise on astrology and the NBA.

2. Erratic, volatile.
This is probably it, especially if you, emphasize the pejorative sense. I like almost every player high on this list, but I know they are not beloved by all of basketball. I know some people find their pugnaciousness and swagger distracting and Not the Right Way to play basketball, but I think it has it's place and shouldn't be separated from their game. The erratic volatility of AI is what lets him dream up such ridiculous crossovers, the mind-bending drives to the hoop. Rasheed Wallace and particularly Ron Artest thrive on the threat of barely contained violence as a part of their intimidating defensive games. But, fine, you don't want the technicals and you don't want the distractions. I respect that, I just don't agree.

3.Lively, quick-witted, spry.
In an ideal world, this is what I wish people were saying when they were describing players as "mercurial". I think this sense is a factor in what players get described as mercurial, but it's clearly a secondary factor to the volatile sense: focused and predictable psychopaths aren't labeled this way, note Kevin Garnett's low Mercuriality. Using only this sense though, we would all dream of our favorite teams point guard to be mercurial. As people use it now, I still wouldn't mind.

The truth of the matter is pretty simple. Chris Littmann, who writes over at The Baseline (and does great work, incidentally), referred to Ron Artest as a "mercurial forward" this past week, and I got all excited about seeing the cliche at use in the wild. I called him on it and he admitted what I guess we all really knew deep down, "I suppose it's the nicest way of saying "This guy is *&#$ing crazy."" Which, when you get right down to it, is almost all I really want out of my favorite players.

A player or team with high Mercuriality is still, almost certainly, worth following and watching. Post your findings and Mercuriality ratings in the comments.

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