My Favorite NBA and NFL Analysts

As sports bloggers, we like to keep up with the thoughts of analysts and journalists across the country.  This article is a selection of some of my favorites – my “go tos” – in basketball and football.  I’d love to hear where you guys go for analysis.

NBA Basketball

(1) Bill Simmons

When I think of Bill Simmons, I think of two things, the city of Boston and NBA Basketball.  His “Book of Basketball” is not only required reading for anyone who wants to write about basketball at 25TwoFour, but is also enormous in its detail and scope.  It is a testament to his knowledge – past and present – and his ability to make sound arguments in historical context without succumbing to present-event bias. His ESPN articles masterfully blend the pop cultural and the detailed statistics; he has a powerful insight into players’ hearts and natures that make his analysis not only interesting but also piercing.

But you have to watch out. – he’s got some major idiosyncratic biases.  I’ve got a buddy that lives in Boston who says Simmons’ “metaphysical” arguments about heart, clutch, intangibles are a load of crap.  Whether it’s crap or not is for you to decide. Nevertheless, it adds up to a bunch of biases that extend beyond his obvious Boston bias because which is easy to detect.  Consider a statement made in his book about Vince Carter: he openly admits that he shafts Carter for the length of his book.  Simmons has certain players (McGrady, Carter, sometimes Rasheed Wallace) that he particularly targets, so I find that it’s important to temper what I read from Simmons.

(2) Charles Barkley

I’m being serious here.  Sir Charles – for as dumb as he sounds – is a definite go-to for basketball analysis. He’s honest about what his strengths and weaknesses were as a player (“Ernie, I was never a great defender, but I do know that . . .”), which lends him a great deal of credibility His greatest strength, though, is that he often calls things how they are.  This season he has been correct about the Spurs, Lakers, Mavs, and Grizzlies – because he saw through age, attitudes, mismatches, and hype and called things how they actually were.  I respect Barkley amongst other analysts for this; I like watching him because I can often cut through some of the things analysts are “supposed to say.”  Let me give you an example: the sports media is always going to give the Spurs a fighting chance because of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker’s history, even when they don’t have a chance. Just this season, Kenny Smith warned Chuck not to count the Spurs out so easily, thereby buying into the “accepted” opinion on the Spurs.  Who was right?  Chuck isn’t afraid to see through it.

Charles Barkley with his mid-day snack.

Also, Chuck doesn’t seem to care about what TNT thinks of him.  He’ll gladly say a series will be done in 4 or 5 even though that will undoubtedly turn viewers off.  Like I said, you can count on Barkley to call it how it is.  He’s also hilarious.  Why not watch a dude who loses in a push-up contest to a random TNT camerawoman? Or a dude who consistently caps on people (Reggie Miller and his “big ass ears,” Michael “cry baby” Beasley, etc.)?  It makes for great television.

(3) PakaStallion, KidVeesh, SemihErden collectively

They know basketball. Trust me.

NFL Football

(1) Peter King

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King is prolific.  One look at his archive available at SI.com[1] will show as much.  But I go to King because he seems to understand the game better than any other non-player journalist that I read. He’s also the only thing that makes “Football Night in America” tolerable, not that I recommend anyone watch that show. It’s unfortunate that he’s with Sports Illustrated – a publication I generally find to be inferior to ESPN.com’s pieces and even ESPN The Magazine.

I think King’s greatest strength is his experience; he’s been covering football for SI for over 20 years and keeps on trucking.  It’s all he does and he’s great at it.  I know I can’t really point to anything tangible, but I recommend you read some of his articles; his one about the draft written in March is surprisingly accurate.[2] The writing blends the insider information of John Clayton with the analysis of someone like Tom Jackson, which makes him better than the both of them.

(2) Michael Smith

The guy has the highest score ever recorded on Around The Horn – that’s something right? He knows football, plain and simple.  Michael Smith has the best grasp of X’s and O’s and isn’t afraid to talk them or use them in arguments to make a point. Unlike Ron Jaworski – who I think kind of sucks – Michael Smith doesn’t dumb down his arguments by any means but remains creative and insightful.  At 28, Smith is still young and will likely be the next generation of ESPN’s sports analysts.

That being said, Michael Smith doesn’t write all that much.  Search for him on ESPN.com and you won’t find one article in which he is the lead writer; however, his videos and interviews are fantastic.  Most folks remember the one of Chris Johnson where he raced against him, but even that interview was great.  Some of E:60’s greatest segments were led by Smith on football related topics and really add to his credibility as an analyst and a writer.

(3) Steve Young

I have to admit a bias here, because Steve Young is the man.  As an unabashed and unrepentant 49er fan, I grew up watching Steve Young and loved every minute of it.  Even still, I think Steve Young is actually the best new analyst that ESPN has for a few reasons.  First, much like Barkley, Young is not afraid to call things how they are, and just like Chuck, he has the career stats to show for it.  Just this past season, right before Derek Anderson’s famed “that’s fine” press conference, he excoriated the NFC West, arguing that the team likely to make the playoffs in that division is the team that will find a way to screw up the least.  Second, he is – of course – fantastic at breaking down issues with quarterbacks, sizing up how quarterbacks will fare against certain defenses, and truly understanding the pressures that coaches face.

Some people – like that total moron Stuart Scott – think that he’s a bit too highfalutin due to his expansive vocabulary.  Indeed, Steve is liable to use words like “somnambulistic” and “vituperative” when discussing the Cardinals’ offense or Mike “Don’t Moon Me Bro” Singletary. I don’t think it’s irritating, rather I just think that Stuart Scott is an idiot and can’t handle it.


[2]http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/peter_king/03/27/mmqb/index.html. It’s not perfect, but it’s an article a good bit before the draft, which is saying something.

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4 Responses to My Favorite NBA and NFL Analysts

  1. The Unknown Sports says:

    In terms of football, I like John Clayton as well.. he has a TON of stats that he brings into his arguments, some may not be as relevant, but some are spot on (and he provides data that normal analysts rarely think of discussing)

    • SemihErden says:

      I could not disagree more, and I know that the author of this article also loathes Clayton. You’re right — Clayton does offer a TON of stats, but MOST are irrelevant, not just some. You’re also right that he provides data that normal analysts rarely think of discussing — that’s because they’re largely irrelevant and no analyst with half a brain would ever think about using them to support an argument they were making.

      I could provide you with significant anecdotal evidence of Clayton’s incompetence and his use of irrelevant statistics; however, this blog, which is dedicated to shitting on Clayton, suffices: http://firejohnclayton.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/no-seriously-john-clayton-sucks/.

      All that being said, I’m not shocked that you, The Unknown Sports (someone who also relishes in citing irrelevant statistics), think Clayton is a good analyst. Your problem, however, is distinguishable from Clayton’s in one very important respect: while Clayton cites irrelevant stats to advance *a position or argument*, you cite irrelevant (or potentially relevant) statistics for no identifiable purpose (i.e. to refute them, to use them to support an argument, etc.). Allow me to put forth a recent illustration of this phenomenon:

      In your recent article (dare I call it one), “End of the Mavericks,” you tell us that waves at half moon bay swell can often be between 25 to 80 feet high. But why is this statistic relevant? In the comments section of that article, you tell frustrated readers that the purpose of the article is to “simply state that the Mavericks competition is over until they find another sponsor.” But why is the purported height of waves at half moon bay swell relevant to the inability of the tournament to find a sponsor? Are folks unwilling to sponsor the competition because the waves are too high, and because participants are being injured (or killed, in some instances)? Perhaps then the statistics would be relevant, but your “simple statement” renders these statistics irrelevant for the time being.

      Just my thoughts…

      • The Unknown Sports says:

        SemihErden, although you may not like John Clayton’s analysis, you cannot argue that he is a ‘terrible’ analyst. I conceded earlier that he does tend to rely on the stats too much, however when he plays to his strengths (the stats you consider irrelevant in most cases), he can be spot on. For instance, in his analysis of the NFL labor situation, he tends to recognize the impact through the numbers (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=clayton_john&id=6232635). I would agree with MontanatoCrabtree that Peter King takes the best of both worlds in mixing stats with examples/history/etc, however when the numbers are needed to describe/argue a situation outside of the game by game analysis then Clayton knows what he is talking about. Very few analysts offer this viewpoint (although Mike Sando is beginning to follow this trend…for good or for bad.)

        In addition, Clayton was a recipient of the Dick McCann Award, the NFL hall of fame for writers. It is the ‘MVP’ award for sports writers that is voted by the writers themselves. So although he may not have the amazing articles you adore so much, during the year of 2007, he must have done something right for the whole YEAR to be voted the award (also an award that Peter King just recently won in 2009). After covering the NFL for over 35 years, I would hope that he has learned something about the sport as well.

        Lastly, in terms of “The End of the Mavericks” it was my ‘bad’ for not making it clear that there is no argument being made. The ‘stats’ you mentioned above are just a simple description of the competition…simple as that. It was a posting on the fact that the competition would be over, not to prove a point or make a case (just to put up an article that few people may have read/noticed..similar to the recent “Official Memphis Grizzlies Anthem” you yourself just posted). It is not a misuse or reliance on the ‘stats’, but rather the takeaway from the reader, which in this case seems you were expecting a lawyer’s case on providing sponsorship to the tournament (which really is my bad for not being clear enough).

  2. SwagFlu says:

    Do you have a favorite analyst with respect to fantasy basketball? how about fantasy football?

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