View Full Version : 82games.com hits the MSM

11-06-2005, 11:07 AM
And Kenny Smith can do all of this in his head.

The NBA Tries to Make Teamwork a Science
Coaches are crunching numbers and consulting computers to find winning lineups
November 5, 2005; Page P6

Players in the National Basketball Association will find a new category in their report cards this fall: "Plays well with others."

In a league long dominated by high-flying superstars, more teams are focusing this season on teamwork -- and turning to surprisingly scientific methods to measure it. New technology makes it easier to track the performance of every combination of five players that steps on the court, in a long list of game situations, from out-of-bounds plays to pick-and-rolls to zone defenses. As different player mixes yield different results, teams are beginning to quantify the elusive concept known as chemistry.

Say, for example, that after a coach inserts two particular players into a game, the opposing team has trouble scoring. Getting ready for the next opponent, the coach might flip open his laptop, punch a few keys, and see how his team did defensively in other games when the same two players were on the court together. He's able to do this because teams are increasingly turning to software that dissects plays, follows every pass and shot and tracks each player's part in every possession.

For basketball, it's something of a catch-up game. While combining video and statistical analysis has long been used to gain an edge in baseball and football, it's a fairly new phenomenon on the hardwood court. NBA teams have been slower to adopt that approach to dissecting games because it requires someone actually record every possession of every game, including which players were on the court. Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy says that when he took the job in 2003, the team's entire video-scouting system consisted of two VCRs.

Now, the NBA is realizing how well the approach can actually work. Software developed by XOS Technologies helps a coach see things like how the team fared in quarters when certain players were on the court together. He could run any number of different scenarios: To determine whether one player helped his fellow defenders more than another, he could isolate moments in games when the two played separately but with the same four teammates. "Coaching went from being very subjective to an exact science of what guys do," says Mr. Dunleavy.

Of course, the raw material for this kind of study has been around for some time. The NBA started keeping such records in 1996, and over the years more teams have been developing or purchasing software programs to help them extract patterns from the data. But now the data are more widely available thanks to independent Web sites like 82games.com and academics who record them for teams or for publication. Fans were the first to catch on to 82games, but the site's founder, Roland Beech, says more NBA teams are coming to him now with questions about his data.

In addition, all but two NBA teams now use XOS's system that packages statistics and video for instant evaluation of what is working and what isn't. And XOS is testing a wireless system that allows NBA coaches to show plays on a laptop during timeouts.

Over the course of an NBA season, the average team uses about 500 different five-man lineups, according to statistician Wayne Winston. The new push toward more number-crunching analysis could have profound implications for how games are played.

"The ability to do that with numbers is huge," says Dean Oliver, a statistical consultant for the Seattle Supersonics. "The NBA and a lot of sports have always been about who are the best players. But basketball is such an intricate game it really is about how you fit them all together."
[The NBA's Dynamic Duos]

Though fans have grown used to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady pouring in basket after basket while his pals mostly stand around and watch, there is growing evidence that savvier teamwork can take a team all the way to the top. Last year's finalists, the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, played a team-oriented game, with only one player between them averaging more than 20 points a game last season. And don't think the rest of the NBA hasn't noticed the success that comes from the team approach.

Indeed, as coaches track every dribble of every game, they're discovering some surprising things about their own rosters. Among the revelations: Eddie Griffin gave the Minnesota Timberwolves a 10-point boost when he came off the bench to join superstar Kevin Garnett on the court last year, according to 82games.com. And the Houston Rockets' most effective pairing in net points (see chart nearby) was all-star Tracy McGrady and journeyman Jon Barry, who together made Houston 13 points better than opponents.

Of course, the idea that a good player isn't the same thing as a good teammate is probably as old as the NBA itself. And duos that just seem to click on the court aren't a new phenomenon; you might remember some fellows named Stockton and Malone or Cousy and Russell.

But technology is taking the guesswork out of finding player combinations that work -- or don't. Shot-location data, for example, have often confirmed teams' hunches that pairing guys who like to shoot from the same part of the court can inhibit both players' scoring.

And teams that have bad chemistry often see it blow up in their faces. Exhibit A: The 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers, who added future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone to an already stacked roster -- and got worse. That team was hurt by injuries and the distraction of Mr. Bryant's legal troubles, but Mr. Payton's inability to accept a reduced role and play a team game was widely seen as a big part of the team's ultimate undoing.

The Miami Heat took a major roll of the dice when it this off-season jettisoned Eddie Jones and Damon Jones, perhaps the two best teammates stars Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade could ask for, and replaced them with two highly skilled players -- Mr. Payton and Antoine Walker -- who have had trouble fitting in on equally talented teams. The Heat didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Science suggests the pairing of dominant scorers like the Philadelphia 76ers' Allen Iverson and Chris Webber is likely to run into problems. Statisticians Jeff Sagarin and Mr. Winston created a calculator that rates the performance of the many different lineups each team uses during a season and found that one of the lineups the 76ers used most after Mr. Webber was acquired last year was more than 21 points per game worse than an average NBA lineup against similar competition.

Write to Russell Adams at russell.adams@wsj.com

11-08-2005, 12:01 AM
Originally posted by: MavKikiNYC
And Kenny Smith can do all of this in his head.

"Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy says that when he took the job in 2003, the team's entire video-scouting system consisted of two VCRs."

Yeah, and now they got two DVD players.... Stirling you cheap bastard..... no soap in the locker room either!