It has become fashionable for grown men to issue brutally critical, often injurious opinions anonymously on the Internet — many women would call this a daily phenomenon.
For former Florida players Michael Frazier and Chris Walker, it's just the result of Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis passing along an "amalgam" of opinions from four NBA scouts and two general managers.
The gimmick here is cleverer than Davis assumes, but, then, Davis probably thinks his parallel between the heroically honest and brave Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird and guys who think they're speaking truth by saying basketball players are or aren't very good is drawn subtly:
Finch don’t lie.
He has worked too hard. He has traveled too far. He has stayed up too late and gotten up too early and hustled too much in between. Over the last year, his eyes have gone blurry while he sized up the top college basketball prospects in America—and more than a few borderline ones. Now, with Thursday's NBA draft approaching, Finch is ready to shoot straight, even if many of his players are not.
Regular Hoop Thinkers know all about Finch, but for the uninitiated, allow me to explain. Once again, in advance of the NBA draft, I interviewed four NBA scouts and two general managers. In each conversation, I ticked off the names of 50 available college players. (I did not include any international guys, except for Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally committed to play at SMU.) In exchange for their candor, I offered my guys total anonymity.
I have taken all of their comments and condensed them as if they were spoken by a single person. The name of this amazing amalgam is Finch, designated so because that was Scout’s surname in To Kill A Mockingbird. (As usual, I would like to credit my longtime colleague Alex Wolff for coming up with the name Finch. He used Finch as a pseudonym for an Sports Illustrated story on an NBA scout way back when.)
"Finch" assesses Frazier and Walker rather harshly:
Michael Frazier II, 6'5" guard, Florida: "I don’t like him at all. He’s a shooting guard who has no ball skills, and I don’t think he’s elite enough of a shooter to make it as a specialist. He’s a small two with squirrely mechanics."
Chris Walker, 6'10" forward, Florida: "Um ... no. He doesn’t know how to play. He has to become Dennis Rodman or Kenneth Faried, but that would mean reinventing himself. He has no idea how to play. He couldn’t get off the bench at Florida. I’d be surprised if he gets drafted. He’s just not smart at all picking things up."
"Finch" may well be right about both players. Frazier does struggle to create off the dribble, and his shot can look awkward; if he is going to make it in the NBA, his shooting — rated by a metric developed by ESPN's Kevin Pelton as the best available in this draft class — will have to compensate for other difficulties. Walker's two-year tenure at Florida is viewed by many as a nearly complete bust, as he failed to create a meaningful role for himself in Billy Donovan's rotation thanks to an inability to grasp the schemes the Gators ran, and his athleticism and potential have lost their luster, tarnished by his lack of production.
But why do assessments like those need to be given anonymously?
Davis would undoubtedly say that the "Finch" collective needs to be anonymous to allow them to speak freely. But these people only need to speak freely because no team would authorize a scout or general manager to do things like call former Texas coach Rick Barnes a "dumbass," or advise LSU forward Jarell Martin — he of the in-game between-the-legs dunk against Florida, you may recall — to "trick us" and "give up the pizza and donuts for a few weeks," or say flatly of Maryland guard Dez Wells "He's a winner, man" — with no acknowledgment of the circumstances that led Wells to Maryland in the first place. Scouts think and say dumb things, after all.
The rest of the opinions given in the piece? They could have names attached to them with little fear of reprisal. There isn't nearly as much "candor" here as Davis thinks, or as a promise of "full anonymity" — the greatest thing a journalist can do for a source, though not actually what Davis guarantees, given his reference to positions held by members of the "Finch" cohort — would warrant. This is just a bunch of guys (and, almost certainly, it's all men) saying fairly obvious things, but being able to say them without consequence.
Criticism is, of course, part of the "Finch" collective's job description: They are supposed to assess these players honestly. But so is Davis, who is outsourcing this job — and when ESPN's Ryen Russillo compiles the same stuff from anonymous scouts for Grantland, he gets detailed assessments on a few players, rather than drive-by takes on many, and provides his own opinions. Davis is merely the conduit, who both shields people who maybe don't need to be shielded and gets to spin what he's doing as truth-telling without having to own any of the opinions.
Criticism is also part of my job description, or at least within the bounds of my responsibilities, and I do criticize on a daily basis, here and elsewhere. But virtually everything I've ever written about sports has been my honest opinion and delivered under my name, for better or worse. There is no hiding here, and I am prepared to be accountable for the things I say.
So when I say that these scouts and general managers are cowards whose opinions are no more honest — just more colorful, and sometimes more unsparing — for being anonymous, and that Davis and Sports Illustrated are complicit in their cowardice, and in a culture that uses secrecy and anonymity to inure critics from the consequences of their criticism and injure public figures who have no means of response, it's really not that different from "Finch" calling a few players fat, in truth.
Except for one thing: My name's attached to this criticism, and I'll stand by it.