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Nick Young, Jordan Crawford And The Black Box

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When I was a senior in college, I took a class called Introducing New Media.  I figured it'd be one of those blow-off classes I could get away with while blogging and slaving at the school newspaper.  Instead of taking a class where I had to learn brand-new concepts, I figured I might as well do something where I was embedded in that world anyway. 

As we all know, college classes are almost never what they seem.  This wasn't a new media class as much as it was a class about literature and the technologies used to transmit them.  There were a ton of papers and I definitely handed in at least one a week late.  But it was actually kind of a cool class, because we studied the way a medium affects the way literature is received.  At the end of the year, we finally got into the new media stuff, and there was one concept that really intrigued me: technological convergence.

The theory is essentially as follows: as our technology advances, there's a tendency to want to create one device that allows you to do pretty much anything.  That device is known as the "black box," and the theory is the "black box theory" for shorthand.  That's the idea behind the smartphone.  It's a telephone that lets you make calls, check email, go on the Internet, play games, (sometimes) watch TV, take pictures and, if you have an iPhone, listen to music.  Proponents of this theory suggest it's only inevitable that we'll soon get to the point where one device allows us to do practically anything. 

The theory's run into a lot of problems, though, for one specific reason.  Sure, it's nice to be able to do all those things with a smartphone, but when push comes to shove and you want to watch a movie, where are you going to do it?  Are you going to use your smartphone or are you going to curl up on your couch and use your home entertainment system on your 50-inch HDTV with surround sound?  As long as you're home, the choice is easy. 

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because I was thinking about this theory when thinking about Nick Young, Jordan Crawford and how to build an elite NBA team.

What does it take to build a winning NBA team?  In recent years, there's been a trend towards wanting multi-dimensional players that aren't tied down to a position or a skill.  Your KGs, your LeBrons, your Josh Smiths, your Russell Westbrooks, etc.  The logical extension here is that the NBA will soon be a place where everyone on the court needs to be a black box. 

At the same time, is a "black box" team really ideal?  The Mavericks won the NBA title with guys who had fairly defined roles.  Jason Kidd was the distributor.  Jason Terry was the shooter.  Dirk Nowitzki was THE MAN offensively.  Tyson Chandler was THE MAN defensively.  They defeated a team of black boxes, with three all-world wing talents who did a lot of the same things.  Then again, the Mavericks also had Shawn Marion, the quintessential "black box" player, and the Heat were effective with a center who basically only was good at one thing (pick and roll defense).  See why this is complex?

Anyway, back to Nick Young.  In this analogy, Young is like your home entertainment system.  For specific uses, it's great.  For watching a movie, nothing is better.  For hitting a spot-up jumper, almost nobody is better than Nick in the league.  For watching sports?  Your home entertainment system is great.  For hitting transition threes?  Nick's pretty damn good.  But would you ever use your home entertainment system as a computer?  Of course not.  Would you pack your home entertainment system to watch a movie on the train?  You can't.  It has a specific use and it is very good at it, just as Young has specific skills that he does well.

This would make Jordan Crawford the black box.  Crawford is capable of scoring in bunches.  He can shoot open shots.  He can handle the ball and make plays.  He can fight on defense.  He can exhibit a sort of fearlessness that wakes up the whole team.  But at this point, does he do any of those things especially well within a team setting?  Will he ever specialize enough to do any of those things at an elite level?  At this point, the jury is still out.  Crawford's basically like your smartphone.  In a pinch, he can take pictures, upload video, watch TV, listen to music, check email and surf the web.  But like the smartphone, is Crawford really replacing any of your more specialized devices?  Would you ditch your computer because you can just use your smartphone to surf the web?

To make matters more interesting, Young is a free agent.  This is like if you're losing an income stream and need to decide what is worth keeping.  Do you need your home entertainment system when it could potentially soak up more of your resources, or can you get by with your black box when you want to watch a movie? Is it worth having your home entertainment system if you still lack a more foundational device like a laptop?

I don't have an answer for any of these things.  My point, though, is that most media scholars accept that while our world is featuring more black boxes, we will never reach a point where one device makes all the others obsolete.  Embrace specialization for what it is.  There's value in having players on your basketball team like Young who specialize.  Don't get caught up in having a team with too many black boxes.  At the same time, black boxes are helpful too, and a group of specialists means nothing without some black boxes sprinkled in.

Now you see why the Nick Young situations has no easy answer.