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Bringing up Bebe Week 26: Order and chaos in the Playoffs

The 2017 NBA playoffs are two games old for the Raptors. Lucas Nogueira played for a bit, and highlighted the team’s two-sided nature.

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Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game One Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Tom Bissell writes in his short story collection God Lives in St. Petersburg that there are generally two types of countries: those of order, and those of chaos. A country like Japan is based in order, one character opines, while a place like Afghanistan is in chaos. Now to be clear, Bissell does not mean each person in these countries is one way or the other — there’s a complexity to factor in here — but rather, each country’s structure (or lack thereof) leans one way or the other.

This reads as straightforward, until considering the possible permutations on the order-chaos binary. Because, as Bissell explains, while there are organized countries that relish their sense of order, there are others that only think they’re organized, while being anything but (America); or, worse still, some that believe they’re a free-flowing chaos country when in fact they clamour for order (France). It’s a fun time thinking about the places you’ve experienced in your life and trying to decide where they fall on the spectrum. (Canada, by the by, is an order country that apologetically maintains its sense of structure.)

Lucas Nogueira is a chaos basketball player who understands his innate grasp of chaos (I think). It’s part of his charm and appeal, and also the main reason he has barely played in the playoffs, with just 1:22 minutes of Game 1 action after the contest was firmly out of reach. His coach Dwane Casey is an order man, through and through, and Bebe just does not fit that ideal mould for the squad. Some teams, like the Thunder, need chaos to survive; others, like the Spurs, are paragons of order. Teams like the Rockets or Warriors seem to welcome chaos but are actually well-run machines. A team like the Clippers wishes it could be reckless, but Chris Paul makes sure to keep time like an angry conductor. (I’ve mentioned all Western teams here, because the East mostly just aspires to some semblance of order.) You can apply the theorem across the NBA.

Does this mean Nogueira will never fit in with the Raptors? Can he grow into a role, or is the clash of ideals just too great? For Toronto to succeed, order is the rule of the day. The answers to those questions then, appear obvious.

Happy

If there’s something to be happy about here it’s that the Raptors won Game 2. It was an unnecessarily close game in which the Raptors used their sense of order against the Bucks’ athletic chaos, but then unravelled because, really, their two best players want to play their own way. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it can sometimes be frustrating (or intensely painful!) to watch.

This is the central paradox of the Raptors as they exist today. Their defensive identity, the one urged into being by coach Casey, is one of system and structure. The rotations must be quick, the switching must be well-communicated. Never leave a man down, or behind; get back, fight through everything as a unit. But while their offense is based on discipline, there’s also a lot of randomness in there. You never quite know what Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and the rest of the squad will do. Just reflect on the ups and downs and inconsistencies from the rest of the roster and you know what I mean.

The key to beating the Bucks definitely seems like it will require a mastery of order. When their trap comes, make the correct pass and attack the defense’s weak points, turn Milwaukee’s youthful aggression against them, fill the role prescribed to you and do not deviate. The Raptors have done it, and can continue to do it. We just have to believe.

Not Happy

For Bebe’s part, that means flapping arms on the bench, smiling, and keeping the team up during timeouts. There isn’t much room in the playoffs for a 10-11 man rotation, and the Raptors are running with a tight 8-man crew, plus some interesting add-ons mixed in. In Game 1, Norman Powell got the briefest of runs before the team folded. In Game 2, Delon Wright made a measurable impact, while Jakob Poeltl also got into the action (a +4 in 4 minutes).

Poeltl is no doubt an order player, one who even comes from an order country (Austria), and earned his spot in the NBA Draft after playing some college basketball (the NCAA loves order; literally can’t get enough of it). Nogueira is the perfect opposite in this regard. He’s a man who moves to the beat of his own drummer, who hails from a country proud of its loud, exciting, and yes, chaotic way of life. His basketball upbringing has been much more diverse in its teachings, experience and structure. He’s even been traded twice already in his young career. He may not play again.

Level of High Level

Forgive me for going back to the well of short story collections, but I felt this one was pertinent for the past week. I had only partially intended to write a Bebe column for the playoffs, as the whole concept has moved more onto a more theoretical plane. Such is life.

Deep down, I’m an order guy too. The thought of trusting Nogueira to defend the rim against the relentless attacks of Giannis (or whatever a potential match-up with LeBron James has in store) has my stomach in knots. That’s the truth.

High Level Result: 4 out of 10 — At this point, Bebe is only getting on the court if something is going really right for the Raptors, or really wrong. Since this week saw things go really wrong first, we’re setting the rating down low. When your only post-season highlight so far is a failed shot attempt over Michael Beasley, it’s hard not to feel a bit bummed out.