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My dad is a sports fan.  Basketball used to be his number one sport, but today, sad to say, I think he might prefer to watch golf - certainly if Tiger is playing.  Still, he watches at least part of most Clipper games and most Laker games also.  He's not a partisan hack - he follows both teams.  But as a regular reader of this blog, I suppose he does get more of the ClipsNation propaganda.  Still it's interesting to get his perspective on stuff as a less partial observer.

After the Friday night win he said something about hustle that has more or less been floating around out there, from Ralph and Mike, in Citizens' comments, etc.  People say these seemingly banal things, that no one could possibly prove.  Stuff like "No one is going to out-hustle this Clippers team."  Stuff like this comment about Anderson Varejao from a TrueHoop eMail the other day:  

...I feel like when you see his big hair flopping around, the Cavs just have more bounce to their step. I'm not sure if he gives them confidence or it is just his exuberance that enhances that of the players around him, but I really feel like there is a big difference in the team's energy level when he is on the floor, both offensively and defensively. All three of those things are unquantifiable by standard statistics.

So what about that?  Does hustle win ball games in the NBA?  Can it make the difference for a team that is up against a more talented opponent?  My dad thinks it can.  Here's his argument (I'm paraphrasing):

  • The NBA season is LONG.  82 games, 4 quarters each game.  That's 328 quarters.  No player (not even Anderson Varejao) and no team is going to have the same energy level for 328 quarters of basketball.
  • A team that DOES put forth a consistently high level of effort is going to give itself a chance to win basketball games.  Particularly a team that might be taken lightly on the schedule (say, for instance a traditional doormat playing without their injured superstar - your Generic Clippers).
  • Dad is particularly impressed with Ruben Patterson and Brevin Knight and surprised that the Clippers were able to sign them so inexpensively.  Patterson and Knight have been in the NBA for 9 and 10 years respectively, in large part because they are hard workers.  Let's face it - we're talking about a 6'5" forward who can't shoot and a 5'10" point guard who can't shoot.  These guys had two strikes against them from the day they were drafted, and here they are a decade later.  
  • Hard work is contagious.  (This is the point of the Varejao comment above.)  When your teammate is busting his butt, you're going to want to work hard too.

Part of me thinks this is all hogwash.  Or maybe I want it to be hogwash.  We're talking about people who are paid millions of dollars to play a game.  If they're not driven by their own competitive spirit and a sense of self-respect to always play hard, then they don't deserve to be on the court.  But the simple fact is it's a job to NBA players, and no, they don't always play hard - we know that from Vince Carter and others.  

Having said all that, the interesting thing is that the Clippers seem to be out-talenting their opponents thus far, as opposed to out-hustling them.  At any rate, the fact that they built leads, then let them slip away, and then finally put the game away at the end, seems more like the fingerprint of a talented team that has lapses in concentration than an undermanned team that is winning on sheer effort.

I do think this Clippers team will give a strong effort night in and night out.  And that effort, combined with enough talent, and maybe some opponents who get caught napping, will keep the Generic Clippers in a lot of games this season.  The question then is going to be, can the Clippers find a way to win in the fourth quarter against really good teams?  Because every team is going to work hard in the fourth quarter of a close game.