Saturday, November 1, 2008

What's more important, skill or talent?

Interesting column on Bloomberg about what's more important, skill or talent.

The column describes TNT analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley debating who is the best player on the NY Knicks.

Smith said it was Stephon Marbury. Barkley argued that it was Chris Duhon, "saying that just because Marbury has the better skills doesn't necessarily make him the best player."

[Duhon is pictured here.]

Said Barkley: "I won't say Duhon has more skills. But he's a better player.''

As the columnist points out, "It's an important distinction, one that the Knicks -- and other professional sports teams -- are beginning to understand. You see, superstars such as LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers are blessed with superior skills, which can be developed, AND talent, which can't."

Here's an excerpt from the article:

Take Duhon, who as a college kid played for Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who, as luck would have it, picked Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni as one of his assistants on the U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Beijing.

D'Antoni the other day recalled a conversation with Krzyzewski, who said Duhon is a coach's dream because he never gets tired.

That isn't to say Duhon can play 48 minutes a night. Rather, Coach K was saying that Duhon won't get bored, distracted or sulky during the emotionally taxing, 82-game season. Not even in January, the basketball equivalent of the national pastime's dog days.

"I can't tell you how much that means to a coach,'' D'Antoni told me.

It's a matter of skill versus talent. The rebuilding Knicks are tilting toward talent, which encompasses so much more than a player's ability to put the ball in the basket.

"It's a delicate situation,'' D'Antoni said when asked about Marbury's benching after last night's 120-115 win. "I know he's not going to be happy about it.''

That's what Barkley was getting at, and what Smith was missing, in the Duhon-Marbury debate. A player's willingness to admit a mistake, or accept the coach's decision, even one he doesn't agree with, is a talent.

So, too, is a player's willingness to put forth maximum effort and place the collective good above the individual. They're talents you either have or you don't. Too many don't. They get by on skill alone.

"The minimum you can give the fans is something they can be proud of -- playing hard every night,'' D'Antoni said. "If you're playing to the best of your ability the New York fan, who is pretty sophisticated, they'll appreciate it. That's the way basketball should be. If we play well enough, get some excitement going, they'll come to us. You earn your right.''