February 2, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

In basketball, why do west coast teams score more in general? NBA, NCAA, recreational - why is that?

I don't believe it is merely confirmation bias either. I've played in numerous spots on both coasts. On the west coast, recreationally the culture seems to be that more people feel comfortable shooting or scoring, and playing defense is not that big of a deal. On the east coast recreationally, that doesn't seem to be the case (shooting), and defense is more respected, so to speak.

Are there articles or research that attempt to examine this phenomenon in basketball? Or for those of you who have played on both coasts, I'd be interested in hearing your explanations.
posted by cashman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd guess for the same reason that other sports styles vary regionally. In Texas soccer is much more physical than elsewhere. In the west it's more focused on individual skills, and in the northeast team tactics. Similar observations can be made globally. Why these differences occur, I have no idea but my guess would be that it's like a regional accent. There's no physical or cultural reason that southerners talk the way they do, it's just that you talk/play like the people you talk/play with and when that's somewhat geographically restricted you develop collective proclivities.
posted by cmoj at 2:28 PM on February 2, 2011

I think it is simply the stereotypical attitudes. Blue collar east coast, scrappy, aggressive, where the west coast is more creative and live and let them be. No hassling with the tough D. When I used to play on W 4th St, if you smoked a guy with a nice move, it was a dis and he was going to hack you next time or play tough so you would not embarrass him again.
posted by AugustWest at 2:31 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do not know much about basketball, and I have no idea where there's enough data behind your observations, but in American football (aka gridiron), a "West Coast Offense" is one that is much more aggressive and risk-tolerant, often at the expense of defense.

So I suggest that maybe it's a coaching philosophy rather than a players' preference.
posted by rokusan at 3:43 PM on February 2, 2011

As much as pro sports wonks like to believe that fans have no impact on how the game is coached or played, they do. Money talks, butts in seats makes money. East Coast fans love defense and strategic play and gritty, tough-it-out games, and East Coast teams hire managers, coaches and players who'll give it to them.

West Coast fans are more into the show and spectacle, they love speed and big-risk plays and shoot-out games, and West Coast teams hire managers, coaches and players who'll give it to them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:40 PM on February 2, 2011

Wow, what a thought-provoking question. I'm not certain I'd ever thought of the origins of that perception, but it's definitely a well-formed one. For the NBA, when I think of the East, those brutal Pat Riley Knicks teams of the 90s certainly seem to exemplify "Eastern" basketball while the teams for me which are most closely identified with offense all happen to have been out west: the Doug Moe run-n-gun Denver Nuggets in the 80s and, more recently, Don Nelson's Warriors (both the run TMC version and the more hapless late-2000s incarnation [you could throw in the early 2000s Mavs too]), Rick Adelman's beautiful Sac-town motion offense teams, and Mike D'Antoni's 7-seconds-or-less Suns.*

However, as much as I hate upturning everything I learned as a basketball player and fan growing up on the East coast (East teams are tough! West teams are soft!) I think the geographical groupings are merely a coincidence. It's coaching philosophy, not location which are more accurate indicators of whether a team is more offensive-minded or defensive-minded. See for instance the examples from above: Don Nelson and Mike D'Antoni. Don Nelson's installation of run-n-gun (as well as the molding of the team to fit his philosophy) in Golden State during the 90s elevated the team into an offense juggernaut. When he went to Dallas, same deal; he molded the team to become the league's top offense. When he went back to Golden State, he once again took them from a middle-of-the-pack offensive team to being one of the top two offenses for the rest of his time in Golden State.**

As for D'Antoni, when he left Phoenix and west east to New York, he brought with him is more frantic pace, moving the team up from 21st in scoring to 4, 10, and 2nd (this year) with limited personnel. It's the coach's emphasis which causes a team to adhere to a specific style, not the location of the team--at least in the NBA.***

When you start to look at colleges and high schools, I think yes, geography may play a larger role in how a region plays basketball. For college, it's partially true because coaches generally stay longer at specific schools, thus building an identity. I can't think of East and West coast examples of college except for probably the defensive-minded Georgetown teams led by John Thompson, the ones with Dikembe, Ewing and Alonzo, but that was probably due as much to personnel (GT developed a reputation as a center factory, thus, all the great centers which went there and gave Georgetown its fearsome defensive reputation) as his own philosophy. But again, even if a coach stays at a school a long time and the region begins to reflect the area's style of play, it's still the coach's philosophy of play which originally drove the creation of a particular style of play that a region is known for.

So now we reach the high school level and below and the chicken and the egg question gets really interesting. So, do regions actually have particular styles of play? Are these merely anecdotal or do they have some seed of truth to them? Today, with every kid being able to watch the same NBA games, I think regional styles of play are probably less of a thing (though I haven't played ball on the West Coast, so please feel free to dissent): everybody emulates whatever is hot in the NBA. When Iverson was the rage, I remember me and all my friends spent hours on our crossovers and these ridiculous dribble moves. I imagine the same was all over the world. Perhaps back in the day, when local basketball teams didn't travel as much, when high school coaches didn't attend national basketball camps with uniform packets of drills and sets, when kids idolized their local court legends instead of folks in the NBA, you probably did have more regional styles of play that developed. But alas, globalization strikes down another local flavor.

HOWEVER, even though that regional flavor may no longer be what it was, it perhaps still does exist, and will continue, if only in perception long past when its true. All this brings to mind this [alas, paywalled] John McPhee story about lacrosse in his most recent collection, Silk Parachute, which was originally a New Yorker article (though it might've been a straight reprint, don't remember). In it, he talks about how lacrosse came to be Baltimore's chosen sport, from youth leagues on up to Johns Hopkins famed lax team, and how the sport slowly migrated out to other cities, most specifically to upstate New York, Princeton, and out west to Denver and California. Again, we see the way fans and even coaches have built in perceptions of how players from a particular region play. The Baltimore kids have a certain prep-school skill and art to handling the ball, while the New York kids are known for being more hungry to the ball and physicality--big brutes (just like in basketball!). It's a great read and hopefully relevant to whatever the hell I was trying to explain here.

*You might be tempted to include the Showtime Lakers, but contrary to popular belief, they weren't the league's top scoring offense during their heydey the way the Nuggets offense was. Just look at these unprecedented numbers from the 81-82 season. The Nuggets outscored the 2nd top-scoring team by 12 pts(!). Someone who knows statistical analysis better than I do can tell you how much of an outlier that is. They absolutely destroyed the curve. The Lakers, on the other hand, for all their flash, were only the league's top scoring team once during the 80s (though they were perennially in the top 5). They may have been the most efficient (someone else can check) and the flashiest on the break with Magic Johnson leading the way, but if we're talking about who had the most freeflowing offenses (basically "chuckers"), then pace shouldn't be adjusted for, we should just look at raw scoring numbers. So those Nuggets I think your quintessential/stereotypical example of a West Coast team that's great offensively but doesn't care about defense.

**Didn't work out quite so well this time for Donnie.

***As for whether West Coast fans prefer show and spectacle more than East Coast ones, leading each conference to hire coach's based on their respective fan bases preference, I and I imagine 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden each night would beg to differ. I can't think of anyone who, if they can divorce themselves from the emotions of the period, thinks those Knicks teams from the 90s provided better athletic performances than they do today. Great drama and entertainment--ugly basketball.

posted by jng at 11:57 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and as for defense being respected more here on the East? I guess it depends where you play. I can take you to courts where people will get absolutely angry if you get up in their face like a Duke kid guarding the ball. Blocks and steals and making your man miss are still certainly celebrated, but to play good D through sheer will and effort? Not cool. Way better to act all nonchalant and let your man score than to be a pest and "ruin" a game. And then I could take you to gyms where a really good screen that knocks your man to the floor will get you a shout out of praise, even if it doesn't lead to a basket. All depends on the court.
posted by jng at 12:08 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've read that a lot of it has to do with the playgrounds. For instance, here in NYC, defense is key because you're often playing half-court and/or in a cage. There's no room to run. If you can't defend, someone will score.
In other parts of the country, like the west coast, there's more open space for courts, so players learn to move the ball more.
I think it was very briefly touched upon in The Pivotal Season: How the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers Changed the NBA, but I'm not sure. I don't remember an extended discussion -- just more of an offhand comment about east coast versus west coast players.
posted by puckupdate at 6:32 AM on February 4, 2011

See - meanwhile OKC Vs Dallas will be like 125-117.
posted by cashman at 7:13 AM on May 15, 2011

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