Nichols and Dimes

Innovative Basketball Research

My Thoughts on Team Chemistry

Although it would be silly for me to try to speak for everyone, I would guess that the modern NBA “stathead” thinks the whole notion of team chemistry is ridiculous.  The fact that team chemistry can’t be statistically measured isn’t our beef with it (we acknowledge there are a lot of things that can’t be measured).  The problem is that team chemistry is usually the catch-all reason for why teams are good when it doesn’t seem like they should be.  Stats guys tend to take a more scientific look at things.  They often see things that explain why these teams mysteriously play so well.  Maybe a team has an efficient offense that is much better than it looks because it plays at a slow pace and doesn’t score a ton of points every game.  Maybe it has some players that are considered “scrubs” by most people but are surprisingly adept at defense.  Or maybe the team is just lucky.

Whatever the case may be, I’ve historically never been a fan of talk of team chemistry, intangibles, and all the warm and fuzzy things that help NBA fans sleep at night.  As I wrote in one of my previous articles,

“The problem is when things like locker room chemistry are given as reasons for team success.  It’s easy to pick examples of teams that have won with a group of players that got along and shared the same mentality, but it is just as easy to pick examples of teams that were quite the opposite.  Michael Jordan once punched out Steve Kerr in practice, and MJ often verbally tormented his players.  Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three championships despite not being the best of friends.  Dwyane Wade and Gary Payton exchanged verbal jabs with each other during a playoff series last year against the Bulls, and then held up the championship trophy a few weeks later.”

With all that being said, I’ve warmed up to the idea very slowly.  The Celtics last year at least made you think a little bit about all those intangible things.  I will never feel that teams need to be large groups of best friends to win, but I will admit that a strong team philosophy that includes hustle and teamwork (especially on the defensive end) is crucial to winning it all.  As someone who tries to get people to look at defense too when analyzing players, it would be foolish of me not to concede that.  The key is just not taking things too far.  Cute off-the-court stories make for good newspaper articles, but they generally don’t make people better at playing the game of basketball.

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October 3, 2008 - Posted by | Commentary

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