Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Goon Squad vs. The Robots; or, Mary D. Martinez's Heart of Darkness

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 7:51 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Avid tv aficionado. Hipster-friendly food nerd. Devoted beer trailblazer. Student. Alcohol fanatic. Friendly coffee evangelist.

That’s the Twitter bio of one Mary D. Martinez, or @marymartinezd_d. She’s tweeted 32,958 times as of this writing. She’s followed by thirty-six people (or “people”) She follows no one. She’s also not real. That’s a machine-generated bio, similar to the bios of the other 29 team-spam retweet bots that popped up earlier this season. Amin Vafa pointed out the (clearly automated) bios yesterday on Twitter:

For some reason I haven’t blocked Mary (“Mary”) yet. Maybe I like the attention, even when it’s coming from a machine. Maybe I’ve surrendered to the fact that half of Twitter is vile human garbage, alternately spewing hatred and cool-hunting outrage and pleading for attention like a child who just learned a knock-knock joke. Maybe I’m a robot too, just passing things along with a hashtag and a bit.ly link. Maybe you’re a robot. Are you reading this article, or just parsing it and hashing it for later recall, feeding it into The Algorithm?

To take it to another level of meta, most things like this bot—probably a Python script or something, I don’t know—are running on virtualized cloud infrastructure—which means that the script that’s not a real person on Twitter isn’t even running on a “real” computer, but a virtual one. Mary’s not real, and also the script that makes Mary not real doesn’t know it’s not real, either.

Sometimes the computer does computer things, though, and doesn’t quite catch the mood of the original message:

click to enlarge mary_d_martinez_on_twitter_go_grizzlies_check_latest_me.png

Which is understandable. Twitter is full of people like me, cracking wise and halfway paying attention. Why shouldn’t a fake person on Twitter behave in the same way?

Meanwhile Back in Denver

click to enlarge Dave Joerger has his hands full trying to get the most out of this team. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dave Joerger has his hands full trying to get the most out of this team.

The fun period of the Goon Squad is probably already over. The second Lakers game was rough, but effective, and the Grizzlies won it. But Saturday night at Phoenix—against a team who is objectively worse, having traded away maybe their best non-injured player in a deal at the deadline—the wheels came off. No one could hit anything, no one was remotely on the same page, and to add injury to insult, Brandan Wright left the game just after the start of the second half when he banged knees with Ronnie Price while setting a screen. The Grizzlies lost a game they had previously penciled in as a win, a win that will be of the utmost importance if they want to survive the brutal end of their schedule with a playoff spot intact.

Headed into last night’s game, I was sure it was going to be another horrible hate-watch, a culmination of all of the flaws of these Goon Squad Grizzlies, the rough edges finally, y’know, cutting something that shouldn’t be cut.

I was sure the whole Denver game that the Nuggets were eventually going to catch up to the Grizzlies, pull ahead, and stay ahead. The Griz were on the road, at altitude, and just today got the news about Wright. I expected this (before the road trip even started) to be the one that they lost, not the Phoenix game. The Nuggets shot 53% from the field last night, and they made 8 3-pointers to the Grizzlies’ 3 (out of 20 attempts, which, for those of you who aren’t robot fake Twitter people, is 15%, which is Not Good)…

…and yet, the Grizzlies won. Despite Marc Gasol, Brandan Wright, Tony Allen, and Jordan Adams all out, three of them with knee injuries and the other with an extremely serious foot fracture, the Grizzlies won. Despite Lance Stephenson’s insistence on dribbling and trying to make something happen instead of taking the easy pass, the Grizzlies won. They started PJ Hairston and Chris Andersen, one of whom is on a rookie deal but has played so poorly his team option was declined, and the other of whom has been injured and thus has played in 13 games all season long.

To no one’s surprise, Zach Randolph shouldered the burden when it mattered last night, taking advantage of Kenneth Faried every chance he got, unleashing post moves, hitting contested jumpers, even getting the seal against Faried on an inbounds and getting a layup from directly under the rim. Randolph finished with 22 points, but even more noteworthy to me is the fact that he finished with 6 assists and 4 rebounds, a sign of his shift into an offensive hub last night.

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Another guy with a lot of assists (9 last night) was Mike Conley, who again struggled to play like a guy who needs to earn a max contract. In 28 minutes, Conley went 2 for 9 from the floor for 7 points, stepped in to take some charges that almost got him injured, and made some questionable decisions until crunch time, when things started to clarify for him, the way fog burns off right as you’re driving to work. Conley’s struggles this season have been well-documented, but even now, after starting off with great games right out of the All Star break, he’s slipping back into the form he’s had most of the season, and I don’t know why that is.

For all its flaws, the Grizzlies had an opportunity to blow a game last night and didn’t take it, and it was ugly basketball, disjointed and hard to watch, but they held it together. And that’s what this team is going to have to do if they’re going to make the playoffs: hold it together. Even if it’s patched together with duct tape and pieces of wire from the basement, and if the code inspector happened to drop in he’d have the whole place condemned, they’ve got to keep it together.

Last night, they made it work.

Metal Machine Music

I am staring into the eyes of the algorithm. When John Hollinger was hired by the Grizzlies some guy tweeted at Chris Vernon that A MACHINE was going to be making decisions for the team. It’s been a bit of a smug inside-joke for Griz writers and tweeters now to refer to THE MACHINE. Hollinger told me it was an Atari 800. I’m not so sure a MACHINE could have come up with this one, though. How many times would you have to simulate a 2015–16 Grizzlies season in 2K to end up with Chalmers, Birdman, Hairston, Jarell Martin, no Gasol, no Brandan Wright, and a 5th seed in a Western Conference that is desperately trying to pull off its impression of the East from three years ago?

Back to Twitter. Bots that literally don’t know how to be anything other than overwhelmingly positive even when retweeting bad news aside, has Grizzlies Twitter not made us worse people this year, people who argue over things that don’t matter, who take sides just to take them and then pretend we’re kings of whatever hills we’ve staked out?

Trade Conley. Keep Conley. Gasol’s career is over. Gasol’s going to be fine. Should have traded Z-Bo and Tony two years ago. Trading Z-Bo and Tony would kill the franchise’s future in Memphis. Calathes is still horrible. Joerger wants the Minnesota job, Joerger should be here long-term, Joerger's just like Lionel, Joerger is a great young coach. Beno trade was brilliant, can’t believe they got rid of Beno. Lance deserves $15mm, Lance won’t be on the team next year.

Grizzlies fans, the segment of them who live on the Internet, anyway, have lived through this season at war with each other because of a toxic stew of false expectations (those who thought the Grizzlies were going to be West contenders again this season) and the other faction who gave up on Grit & Grind the minute the final buzzer sounded on the Griz/Warriors series last season. And some of us, myself included, are somewhere in the middle, hoping to build for the future without having to shed all of the players who got the Griz to this point in the first place.

And then there’s Mary. No matter what you say about the Grizzlies, Mary will retweet it, and add a

go grizzlies!! check latest Memphis #grizzlies via

to the front of it. Sometimes I think it’d be better to be Mary than to generate the content (and that’s what I am, and you are, and all of us are: Content Generators feeding into The Algorithm, and don’t kid yourself about that) that she vaccuums up and sprays back out into her (“her”) Twitter feed that no one follows. It would save me from having to have Fresh Basketball Opinions this season.

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

And this season is what it is at this point. Sometimes the games are going to be fun and the Grizzlies are going to pull off gutty wins over teams that are ostensibly better (or who aren’t better, but to whom they might lose anyway, like last night). Sometimes they’re going to look like they’re all hung over and just had a big argument about who’s going to go first on the go-karts at Incredible Pizza after the game, or like they’ve woken up in a burning city and don’t remember who they are or how they got there. (Shoutout to Dhalgren).

Wherever it’s heading, it’s heading there. With Wright out—and no timeframe announced, so it could be a week or it could be the rest of the year—they’re even thinner up front than they were without Gasol, and like one of Sid’s creations in the first Toy Story they’re operating like they’re made out of spare parts, a kit-bashed basketball team. We get what we get at this point. We can argue about it until we’ve made sure that zero people have enjoyed watching a sporting event because they’re Wrong On The Internet, or we can blindly hope for the days of “Whoop That Trick” and triple overtimes to come back as soon as they Find A Shooter this summer, or, what I’m advocating here, we can be like Mary D. Martinez and not have to have A Correct Opinion.

The Grizzlies play the Kings at FedExForum tomorrow night. They’ll either play hard but disjointed and win, or they’ll play hard but disjointed and lose. It’s really their only option at this point, “hard but disjointed.” I’ll be there, and I’ll be tweeting about it, and Mary D. Martinez will be passing along that information to her random assortment of 36 followers, most of whom are probably also Python scripts running in the cloud.


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