Quantifying Team Chemistry

Team Chemistry

Previous posts have dealt with grading one’s players’ intangible qualities as an add-on to any advanced stats evaluations one does.  Certainly, putting a number on a character or personality trait is a fairly subjective exercise.  It is definitely not founded in science or math.

However, it might be surprising to many that “team chemistry”, which has always been viewed as very abstract and unquantifiable is actually fairly measureable.  The cliché in the business has always been, “Either you have team chemistry, or you don’t.”  But, as Coach Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friends.”  With all the thought going into advanced stats in today’s game, there is actually a pretty fair way to measure chemistry and we’ll simply call it “Lineup +/-“.

The math is simple:  Does lineup A with players 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 outscore the opponent when they are on the floor together?  Does lineup B with players 1,2,3, 6 and 7 outscore the opponent when they are on the floor together- and so on with every different combination one plays together.

Obviously, it’s easier to track post-game than in-game. As with all stats, the smaller the sample size the less conclusive the takeaways, but over the course of time, one might arrive at some conclusions in this manner that might not have been reached otherwise.

Unlike the NBA’s Individual +/- stat which appears in regular season box-scores, lineup +/- is less concerned with the lineup played against.  For instance, if Team A’s bench players ONLY play against other teams’ bench players that tells us one thing.  If a player comes off the bench and plays against a lot of starters, that’s a whole other enchilada.  BUT, with lineup +/-, we’re really mostly concerned with who plays well together.  The only time this varies a little is when Team A plays Team B a second or third time. In that case, knowing how your varied lineups stack up against their varied lineups, matters.

As with many other stats, lineup +/- can get warped in routs and in games after they’ve been decided.

Of course, team chemistry can be identified without science but as with all other coaching decisions, analyzing real effectiveness in competition can confirm pre-conceived assumptions, or not.   

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