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Offseason Thoughts: Watching Basketball

What do we watch when we watch the NBA?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

How do you watch the Timberwolves when they play? For that matter, how do you watch basketball?

This is not about the methods of which a person watches a game. That rarely matters. Unless, of course, you are a cord-cutter like myself who relies upon the Reddit gods for NBA access. Then you have to ignore all messages in the last few minutes of a game as you are usually three minutes or so behind the real-life time. The benefit, however, is you get to watch the in-game NBA halftime shows (shout out to the Senior Dancers).

Instead, it is more interesting to examine what we pay attention to when we are watching basketball. Oftentimes, this becomes a difference of focusing on what is the most immediately apparent, such as watching the player with the basketball who is trying to score, as compared to watching the rest of the team.

For myself, how I have watched the game has greatly evolved by writing, as well as reading, Canis Hoopus. The intricacies of the NBA, particularly with player movement on offense and defensive rotations on the other end of the court, become much more interesting and nuanced as compared to the general one-on-one style of basketball. We become aware of who is mucking up the spacing or revel in the intelligence of a player like Ricky Rubio who is able to orchestrate the team (and the opponent) to produce the optimal result.

Although, that direct focus can cause one to lose an appreciation for what is actually happening in front of our eyes. When watching a game that I know I will be writing a game recap of, I find that I often am making copious notes throughout the game. When the first set of rotation players checked in, who was playing well, when a player did something notable on offense or defense, what the score was each quarter and if there were any interesting statistics. Rarely, if ever, do any of those notes make it into the recap of the game.

Sometimes, there is something lost when one is not simply watching as a fan. There is a palpable difference in watching the NBA Playoffs, for example, just as a fan of basketball rather than watching the Timberwolves in order to parse out if the team is living up (or down) to the current narrative. There is something simpler to it.

This dichotomy will be especially true for the upcoming year, as there will be just so much more that is new and different to pay attention to. How does Andrew Wiggins deal with hanging out in a corner on offense while Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns run a pick-and-roll, how does Jeff Teague marshal the offense and push the tempo, how does Towns fare on defensive rotations with Taj Gibson in vs Gorgui Dieng?

All of these questions will require careful attention. But then, there will also be the times when it is just better to be a fan, to take in the greatness of a Timberwolves team that is playing legitimately (hopefully) good basketball.

This type of debate is rather similar to the one about how the Wolves did the offseason. On one hand, they seemingly squandered resources, traded away a fan favorite for rather little, and may have hindered future development. On the other hand, they got Jimmy freakin’ Butler.

It is the divide between being a fan or a critic. However, it is probably important to be able to vacillate between those two polar opposites, as that provides a more holistic view of the game.

What do you end up paying attention to when watching the NBA and the Timberwolves?