This is a must-read piece by Zach Lowe of SI, (and formerly of ESPN TrueHoop Boston Celtics affiliate CelticsHub.com). I couldn’t even block-quote anything because the entire piece is filled with absolute informative gold. Go over there and read the piece first before diving into my analysis.
Anyways, in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outlier’s he discusses this 10,000 hour concept of greatness wherein greatness in any domain requires 10,000 hours of practice. In the book he gives examples, from precocious musicians to Tiger Woods, and explains how they had all had instruction in their crafts from extremely early ages, allowing them to accumulate the requisite 10,000 hours before their peers; the greatness wasn’t entirely innate.
So Lowe says that at the panel, this topic comes up and Jeff Van Gundy and Daryl Morey cite Tracy McGrady as someone who only had 1,000 hours of practice, basically saying he should have been much better, should have been great, but he didn’t practice hard.
I have to take exception with this.
It’s true that McGrady didn’t partake in the team’s practices when in the NBA and didn’t work hard. And that definitely hurt him and hurt his team in terms of unfulfilled potential. But the ‘team practice’ is not what ‘practice’ in this context is. Practice in terms of becoming a skilled basketball player entails the hours a child/adolescent puts in learning to dribble with his left hand, learning to shoot layups with his left hand, learning to correct his form etc. Van Gundy and Morey, according to Lowe, talk about T-Mac’s great natural gifts like his size and IQ, but they fail to account for his actual ‘skills’, skills that in no way could have been innate. You don’t just learn how to shoot fallaway jumpers like T-Mac can overnight. You don’t just learn how to dribble like T-Mac can (at his size) overnight. Those things absolutely took an insane amount of practice during his youth.
So yes, while McGrady may have hurt himself when in the league by not putting in the hours, I think it’s fallacious to limit the data to that period. Skill development occurs much earlier. (I go into detail on this in the Ariza series.)
Another interesting point raised in the Lowe article pertained to Battier: Van Gundy stated that Shane was a player who did not put in much time working on his individual game. A pity. For someone so ferociously dominant as a team force, one can only wonder how much more effective he could have been had he even been moderately competent at the individual level. For a player so smart, why was Shane not smart enough to know he could help his team to improve his basic skills? Was it just a diminishing returns theory?