Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Simmons believes he has found a market inefficiency in the NBA on par with Moneyball's focus on high-OBP guys:

Here's the new mantra for savvy NBA teams: "Chemacterility." Why haven't you
heard the term before? Because I just made it up. But it's an amalgam of three
concepts that have formed the foundation of the Duncan Era in San Antonio:
chemistry, character and (cap) flexibility. As soon as Duncan arrived, in 1997,
Popovich and Buford began to avoid bad guys and bad contracts, preferring role
players, quality guys and short-term deals.

No quibble with the stuff about bad contracts. I'm nowhere near as knowledgeable about the NBA as I am about baseball, but it strikes me that cap flexibility is the absolute key to long-term success or, at the very least, rebounding from long-term futility. Unfortunately, Simmons doesn't say much about that, spending far more time on the chemistry/character stuff.

I'll grant that chemistry, such as it is, probably matters far more in the NBA than it does in baseball given that basketball players have to interact with each other far more than baseball players do. After all, aside from the double play and relay throws, baseball really is a game of individual as opposed to team moments, and history has shown that you can win with 25 guys and 25 cabs.

That said, it's probably worth noting that the Celtics and Spurs -- which Simmons uses as his primary examples of good character, high-chemistry teams -- have the most talented rosters in basketball and happen to be winning boatloads of games at the moment. Query: if Simmons is right that the "chemacterility" approach is one that can be emulated and planned-for a-la the high-OBP approach espoused in Moneyball, he'd certainly be able to cite a relatively untalented team with good chemistry, right? One that has taken Gregg Popovich's thinking to heart but, dad gummit, just hasn't broken through yet? Alas he does not.

I'm not saying acquiring "good chemistry" guys is a bad way for NBA GMs to build a winning ballclub. I'd just like to see someone define what "good chemistry" is without reference to won-loss records before I give it the kind of props Simmons does.


civilfan said...

I agree with your hesitation about applying Moneyball principles to the NBA. Sure, chemistry clearly counts, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone could quantify chemistry, much less measure how much of an effect it has on winning. Thanks for the heads up on Simmons' piece.

Anonymous said...

Um, Simmons did EXACTLY that. Did you miss the whole part about how well the TrailBlazers are playing right now? He even said they aren't that talented and are even missing Greg Oden.

You might want to re-read the article.

Shyster said...

anon: point taken re: the Blazers, but this sentence seems to beg the question as to whether good chemistry is a plan (the Moneyball argument) or a by-product:

"Although their initial rebuilding plan centered on creating cap space after 2009 and stockpiling enough assets to swing a KG-like deal,, the Blazers sped things up this season by becoming the poster boys for chemacterility"

I'm not trying to slam Simmons here (his point about cap space is a good one) but to the extent anyone ever wrote about Portland's focus on character guys before the season, it was couched in terms of it being a move made for reasons other than simply winning basketball games. The equation that Simmons is proposing: chemistry = wins is an inherently retrospective application.

dubbschism said...

Simmons is falling into the trap that always gets him: the causality vs. correlation trap.

It's like the 04 Red Sox: Epstein was heralded as a genius maverick for trading Nomar for seemingly spare parts, but luck had it that those spare parts helped bring the WS trophy to Boston. Obviously, if Dave Roberts gets tagged out at 2nd in Game 5 of the ALCS, Yanks take the pennant and there'd STILL be whiner line calls about Theo's idiotic moronic drive-Nomah-out-of-town trade. Instead, you hear about how the chemistry improved in the clubhouse, and that chemistry being the reason the Sox won.

If the Celtics were losing right now, Simmons would be writing about how there are too many big names in the locker room - not about how great they work together. He doesn't QUANTIFY anything, which I think is Shyster's point from the get-go. "Retrospective application" is the perfect way of putting it.

Anonymous said...

Seriously did you even read the Simmons article or just scan it for a couple of seconds. How could you say "he'd certainly be able to cite a relatively untalented team with good chemistry, right?...Alas he does not." when he spends a quarter of the article doing just that in reference the Blazers.

Also, team chemistry is a completely objective quality, you can't quantify it like OBP. I can't tell you the Celtics have 87% team chemistry because they "eat dinner, hang out, work out and play video games together. They don't care about stats, acclaim, shots or minutes." You can't attach numbers to that.

Shyster said...

anon -- See my comment a couple slots above yours. I realize he mentioned the Blazers. My problem though is that he (a) notes that chemistry wasn't the plan; and (b) cites no evidence for good chemistry on the Blazers that isn't tied up with their won-loss record. It's a retrospective application.

Your point about chemistry being inherently unmeasurable is well-taken, but it doesn't get Simmons off the hook here because he is the one who invoked Moneyball and cited chemistry as a path to vicotry as opposed to merely noting it as a byproduct. If you're going to claim that you can put together a team with chemistry as your guide, you have to be able to establish that you can identify what makes good chemistry beforehand. You can't simply say "that team wins, so they have good chemistry."