"The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
As the Jazz prepare to play "Who Gets Cut: The Real Life Edition", my mind naturally drifts to a famous essay about Russian literature. In 1953, Isaiah Berlin published "The Hedgehog and the Fox" comparing the specialized genius of Dostoevsky with the all-around genius of Tolstoy.* As he describes it, hedgehogs are excellent at one thing, and poor at everything else; foxes are good at everything but great at nothing. When the Jazz pare down their roster, they need to decide whether the last spots go to hedgehogs or foxes.
As any single lady hoping to make use of his freebie can tell you, Andrei Kirilenko is a fox. In a pinch he could fill in at all five positions on offense or on defense. He can shoot, pass, play man-to-man defense, play team defense, play textbook basketball, play And-1 basketball, chase guards, body up big men, and rescue orphans from burning buildings. He is not one of the best in the NBA at any one of those skills, but he’s one of the best all around players because he’s good at all of them. Don’t let the haircut mislead you, he is anything but a hedgehog.
On the other hand, the recently departed Kyle Korver is a classic hedgehog. The man was put on this planet to do two things: make women swoon and knock down three-pointers. Perhaps he is somewhat passable as a team defender or with various other parts of the game. That’s not the point. You only bring in Korver if you’re looking for shooting. Or a coat.
While it might be entertaining to go through the entire roster and try to assign a label to each player,** my purpose in bringing Berlin’s essay to your attention is to talk about the players who are fighting for a roster spot. The team needs to decide whether its third string PG should be a hedgehog or a fox. On the one hand, you could have Ronnie Price’s hustle and scoring on the roster in case you need them. On the other hand, you might wish to hold on to the all-around skills of Sundiata Gaines in case one of the first two PGs goes down with an injury and the third stringer needs to put in extended minutes. Likewise, Demetris Nichols is a fox because he can score more ways than Benny Lava on payday. Or you could have Jeremy Evans who possesses more raw athleticism than a griffin but weighs less than Snooki and may also have fewer post moves.
My preference is to fill the end of the bench with hedgehogs. Since my non-rotation guys aren’t going to see a lot of action, I’d much rather be able to insert someone who can completely change the momentum rather than someone who is there to play within the system and within his own limits. Hedgehogs can change the momentum either for good or for ill: their strengths can light a fire under their own team but if the other team exploits their weaknesses then they can be a real liability. Still, I want someone who introduces an element of the unknown rather than someone who provides a steady hand without directly impacting the game one way or another. If he’s only going to play sporadically, I’d rather he introduce chaos than keep things running smoothly. It’s much harder to gameplan against chaos.
The Jazz front office doesn’t always think like me. (Actually, there are very few people on earth who are similarly accursed.) With regard to roster selection and Russian Literature, the Jazz show a definite preference for foxes. When the Jazz called up Othyus Jeffers last season, they chose someone people weren’t even touting as a D-League standout because he didn’t seem to have an NBA-level specialty.
I can’t see Kevin O’Connor’s bookshelves, so I couldn’t tell you whether he’s more into "War and Peace" or "Crime and Punishment". I also can’t see the future, so I can’t tell you who will get to stick around past the preseason. I’d be interested to discover, though, whether the SLC Dunk community thinks the team needs more foxes or hedgehogs. And of course, I’ll be interested to discover what the front office thinks.
*Spoiler alert: Dostoevsky wrote novels with greater psychological depth than had ever been achieved, but besides the psychology part were mediocre at best. Tolstoy wrote things that were all around brilliant, even if no one particular part knocks your socks off.