For years I've been a proponent of this thing called the 20 Game Rule. I didn't make it up, I just liked it enough to support it. For those unfamiliar, it is essentially the concept of not judging your team until you've had a good sample size (ie. 20 games) to pull from.
Here's the thing though, last year I ditched the rule after just a few games because the team just stunk out loud from the get go. This year we have a special team that has clicked from that first news conference, bonded in Italy, and kept on rolling into the season. 20 games? I needed about 20 minutes in that very first preseason game against Toronto to know this team was special. So what gives?
The concept seemed sound. The season is long and lots of things take time to play out. Look at the Warriors who started off 0-6 and now stand at 12-10. There are countless examples of teams that started out strong only to flame out later.
Clearly you can't account for injuries or other odd turns of events (like the Palace Brawl). Also, once the playoffs start, all bets are off (ask Dirk Nowitzki).
On the other hand most of the time you can look at a team and get a pretty good feeling of how they'll be that year. You can predict that they will fall into one of three major categories. Lottery, borderline playoffs, and the elite.
When the Heat won the title and was poised to repeat, they came out and laid an egg early in the season. You could just tell that team didn't have "it." A few years ago before they broke out, Bill Simmons told us in the preseason to watch out for the Suns essentially based on observing how much fun they were having and how good they looked at first glance.
Sometimes, you just know. Sometimes your first impression is the best one. Sometimes what your gut is telling you is the same conclusion you'll come to after a lot of research. So what's that all about?
As it happens, a friend of mine gave me a book that has one answer. In his book "Blink," Malcom Gladwell describes this phenomenon thusly:
This new notion of the adaptive unconscious is thought of, instead, as a kind of giant computer that quickly and quietly processes a lot of the data we need in order to keep functioning as human beings.
I think we are innately suspicious of this kind of rapid cognition. We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it.
Maybe that is it, maybe not. But it is a fascinating concept. There's a lot more to the theory and I've only really read the intro, so I can't really vouch for it, but it makes some sense intuitively (which is exactly what he's talking about).
So sometimes you can look at a team and just tell that they will be terrible (like last year's team) or sometimes you can just tell that they'll be something special (like this year's team). And maybe 20 games is just another mile marker on the road to the playoffs. A time to take stock and understand why you know what you know.
So until I change my mind, I'm dropping the 20 Game Rule. From now on, I'm going with my gut.