Bruce Bowen as Role Model


My appreciation of advanced statistics was borne out of my love for Bruce Bowen. Odd, huh? Bowen finished last season with a PER of a mere 5.37. But think about it.

Great defense is sublimation. According to current measures it’s only vaguely quantifiable, but it elevates the game of basketball. It takes takes basketball to a place of beauty. Bruce Bowen was beautiful to watch.

My hope, however naive, is that basketball’s youngest practitioners will catch an eye for the beauty of dominant, seemingly unquantifiable, game-changing defense, and, in turn, desire it for themselves.

On New Year’s Day 2009 I wrote a piece called Bruce Bowen and the Evolution of the Box Score.  It was a call for an improved box score, one that would benefit basketball by better communicating the value of hard-fought, committed defense.

Despite what you may think of him, there is much in Bowen’s game that is worthy of imitation from the young. Younger players, those in middle or high school, let alone college, won’t model their games after Bowen. Why? The basketball universe neither provides the necessary windows through which young players can appreciate what Bowen does nor accessibility to the concrete measurements such players would need to model themselves after Bowen. Statistically speaking, their eyes are elsewhere…

Young fans and future basketball players aspire toward numbers because they are inspired by the numbers they read after each game. This is basic psychology. “Hey, man, did you see that Dwight Howard put up a 30-20? I’m gonna do that.” This is far more common to hear than a comment along the lines of, “Did you see that Bowen held McGrady to 4-16 and forced him into two offensive fouls?” It would only benefit the world of basketball if young players had more measures to aspire toward, especially helpful defensive measures. In this way, the NBA has some obligation toward box score reinvention–stat hawking plays a large role in the formation of young players, not to mention its contribution to understanding the game. If basketball is religion then its moral values are stats. If, as one example, charges drawn showed up in the box score, players would listen more intently to their coach when he was explaining defensive rotations. But that, of course, would also cause Joe Player to think more deeply about defensive schemes.

But this morning I’m not thinking so much about finding numbers that can accurately express Bruce Bowen’s contribution to basketball. And I’m not concerned about providing better measures for young players to aspire toward. I’m just happy to have witnessed the supreme splendor that consistently chases a man three feet off his preferred spot.

  • GMT

    Although I don’t necessarily model my approach to a basketball game after Bowen, I’ve always been more excited about playing defense than offense. I always try to shut down the offense of the other team, and maybe get 3 or 4 shot attempts in the process.

    Just to give a frame of reference, I’m a 20 year old college student, and I’ve played on intramural teams the past couple years.

  • SpursfanSteve

    the NBA doesnt want anyone to play defense. if you look at all the rule changes the past few years, they want higher scores because higher scores= higher ratings. Its a business and the NBA, oddly enough, has no loyalty to the actual game of basketball. Otherwise, Bruce would be a first ballot hall of famer.

    Like GMT, i have and always will love defense more than putting points on the board. I play intramural ball as well and mostly all i do is play D and then stand around the 3 point line in case we need to swing the ball around.

  • Robby

    Bowen is a great guy on and off the court… his contributions to the Spurs championships and community is very admirable… his Jersey #12 should be retired…

    Also, i’m hoping that he might be able to join the Spurs training and coaching staff… he could be a great mentor to George Hill and Malik Hairston…

  • Furious

    Yeah, chasing a man off his spot consistently is nice, but nothing rivals the pure basketball beauty of kneeing a man in the crotch.

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