The Chamber of Groupthink (AKA Pack Journalism)

I’m not a basketball fan– I grew up in an area that didn’t have an NBA franchise or a good local college (Minnesota) and then moved to city that didn’t have one. But I have one general-purpose comment that applies to the Kevin Love mania:

Most of the opinions the media writes or broadcasts will be wrong.

Sociologists have documented an odd phenomenon. If you ask 10 people to view an event, write down their accounts independently:

  • Without telling them anyone else will be writing about it
  • Without letting them talk to each other

If you read the 10 accounts, you will come away with a substantially true picture of events, The accounts will agree on many points. Where they differ, it will be because some people noticed or emphasized different information than others. The different bits will fill in the details.

This will be true even if the people have biases. In fact, a careful reader will often be able to balance the accounts and get a substantially correct version– even when they haven’t seen the event.

But… if you inform the ten people that they will be working together– and then have them prepare a version jointly– their consensus account will be worse than any of the ten. The process of ‘getting everyone on the same page will result in a story with less detail, more omissions and often more bias. 

Why? Psychologists call it “groupthink.” in order to seem ‘intelligent’, each person will dial back on their own views and say what they think everyone else will say. Rather than present different views, argue about which seems the most correct, pick the right one and edit it, they’ll build a compromise version that nobody is prepared to argue with– but isn’t very accurate. 

This phenomenon occurs when people post their projections– NCAA brackets, playoff picks and mock drafts.

Sometimes the consensus occurs because there really is a superior choice that everyone can see. But often the consensus is wrong– and the louder the consensus, the more wrong they turn out to be. .

t’s a little early to close the book, but it really does seem like Andrew Luck was the best player in the 2012 draft (just as Peyton Manning was the best player in 1998),

Not to pick on the guy when he’s down– and there are a lot of people you can blame for this fact– but six of the first seven players taken in the 2010 NFL draft have made the Pro Bowl. The only one who hasn’t is the one everyone agreed couldn’t miss, and had to be taken first: Sam Bradford.

The year before that, it was Matthew Stafford that everyone had to have. He’s also missed.

Every year, there are consensuses that Coach X or GM Y or Free Agent Z will transform a roster. That rarely turns out the way people expect. 

Not being a basketball fan, I might be dead wrong to doubt the consensus opinion that Kevin Love is a great player– who, combined with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, will vault the Cavs to the NBA championship. But I find it extremely hard to believe.

1. He’s been in the league for six seasons and his team has never had a winning record. I’m guessing there has been a great NBA player who has never gotten his team over .500 before– maybe Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich. I’d guess it hasn’t happened often. 

I know, I know– how can you win on a team with nobody around him? Well, Kevin Garnett was on some pretty weak teams. But he had his team at .500 or better 8 time sin 12 years

2. When he missed 64 games in 2012, it didn’t hurt Minnesota. In 2011, he plays 55 of the 66 games, makes the All-Star team and Minnesota goes 26-40 (.394 winning percentage). In 2012 , he plays only 18 games and the Timberwolves go 31-51 (/378).

Yeah, they replaced Wesley Johnson with Andrei Kirilenko. They also replaced Love with Derrick Williams. In 2013, Love returns and has a season that makes everyone drool over him, Minnesota goes 40-42.

Those two items there make me reluctant to believe Love is all-world. In baseball, one player can’t lift a team. It’s even less likely in the NFl, unless you’re a starting QB and you’re joining a playoff team that lost its star QB the year before.

But in the NBA, yeah– one player can mean 10 wins. 

3. His shooting percentage is horrible for a PF. I’ve done enough research to know that a missed shot– which turns the ball over 75% of the time– is a bad thing. I know that his best year shooting (.470 in 2010) is below average for his position. 

I know he shoots 3-pointers and they drag his average down. Why does he do that? Also, his 2-point field goal percentage has never been over 50% until this year.

4. His defense isn’t good. He does get rebounds, but he doesn’t do much else. His stats at 82games say most of his value is offensive. Kyrie Irving isn’t much of a defender, either.

Then you add a couple of other factors.

  • Kyrie Irving has played only 181 games out of 230 in the last three years
  • Anderson Varejao (who will be the center) has played only 115.
  • Tristan Thompson isn’t much of a center.
  • The Cavs have added a bunch of older players.

Plus there is this. The team that started all this “build a troika” stuff was the Boston Celtics, who added Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce. But they won one championship– and I think that happened largely because Rajan Rondo turned out to be better than anyone expected. Miami won 2 titles– anmd was upset twice.

There have been a bunch of attempts to try this, and many have failed. Remember Dwight Howard and Steve Nash?

Obviously this can work. Everyone stays healthy; the guy who’s never coached in teh NBA gets everyone adjusts their styles . But will it?

I’d feel a lot better about it if I didn’t hear the Greek chorus. That’s usually a reason to worry.


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