The Link Between Effort and Execution

I hate it whenever people say that games are "low effort" because it's such a cheap, cop out answer. It's basically saying that we have given up thinking or analyzing, so all we are going to do is what we did, but harder. 9/10 times in the NBA, that is not the actual problem. Usually, the problem is either talent, execution, or decisiveness. The Celtics have the talent, but it was obvious that they weren't decisive or executing at a high level. When that happens, effort is meaningless and impossible. For example, if I told you "Call Karen and tell her that the meeting is starting now", but you aren't sure which number Karen is (decisiveness) or you don't know exactly where the meeting is (execution), it doesn't matter how hard of a worker you are, you aren't going to be able to get Karen to the meeting on time. Meanwhile, everybody says how bad of a hire you are because you are super slow to inform people on urgent matters. I mean, you had a whole orientation, so you should have it down, right? That is what I feel like we did with this Celtics team, especially on defense.

My theory is that the Celtics weren't confident in executing Ime's new system, but nobody wanted to admit it. That is why everything looked so slow to start the season. Obviously, the blown coverages look bad, but there's something about being unsure that really robs the pop out of a defense. Rotations are there, but they aren't aggressive. Doubles happen, but they don't create a ton of pressure. In addition, when things do go critically wrong, the gears grind even harder because you have to figure out how everybody else is going to respond, which may or may not be what they are supposed to be doing, assuming you are even sure that you know what they are supposed to be doing. The rabbit hole continues, but on the outside, it just looks like... Nothing. It looks like standing around. It looks like low effort.

I think the last couple games show what the Celtics defense looks like when they are confident. The last few minutes of the Raptors game was mesmerizing. The switches were sharp, the double teams were crisp, and it just felt like everybody knew where they were meant to be. I was on my feet. My wife thought I was crazy. She asked me why I was so excited at the end of the game, even though the Celtics clearly had the game in hand. I just told her that everything is coming together.

Overall, if I had to say one thing, it is that effort is more often a symptom than a disease, especially in pro sports. More likely, a lack of confidence, a mismatch or disagreement between role and skill set, injuries, familiarization with a system, all these things play a role. We were a little spoiled with Brad Stevens, who was one of the greatest teachers of basketball I have seen, which is why he was so successful in college without many blue chip prospects. He implemented a system that made the Celtics an immediate defensive force. That doesn't usually happen. Usually, it takes a bit of time for everything to come together. I think patience will pay off.

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