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March-29-2006,
Notes on "Synergy" in the NBA...By Blogguy

Sugarbear has asked for an update on this stat that I wrote about in the past.

It was an attempt to measure the "synergy" that championship teams has on offense...and that selfish teams don't have. It was far from perfect. But, I think I learned some things from doing it...so I wanted to dust it off here and see if it helps us in the last month of the season and in the playoffs.

It started as an attempt to see why teams like Detroit and San Antonio play so well together as a team...while others who seemingly have a lot of talent don't. It's time consuming to go though and calculate the full season numbers for everyone. I haven't had a chance to do that yet. I'll try in the next few days. For now, I'll define the stat for you, then look at some of Tuesday night's boxscores to show you what it can mean sometimes.

SYNERGY equals shooting percentage PLUS the percentage of made field goals that were assisted.

If a team shoots 40% from the floor...and has 60% of their baskets come with assists (simply assists divided by made field goals in the boxscore), that would rate out as a score of 100.

When I did a full league study sometime in January I think...the BEST teams averaged about 110...and the worst teams were in the low 90's.

The BEST teams if I recall were guys like San Antonio, Phoenix, and Detroit (Detroit was good but not great now that I think about it). The worst were teams like Washington and New York. I knew I was onto something when I saw that. Arenas wasn't sharing the ball, and New York had a bunch of kids who had no idea how to run an offense.

I then decided to turn it around at look at defenses. What were the percentages they allowed...and what percentages of opposing shots were assisted. Again San Antonio and Detroit were off the charts. And...the teams you think of as having bad defenses showed up poorly.

It's not like this stat had great "predictive" value by itself. But, it had great "explaining" value. Now you understood why some teams are better than the sum of their parts. The mainstream media didn't know what parts were important...and didn't know how to add them together.

Sometimes it had great "predictive" value too. If a team with a bad synergy defense was tired...a good synergy offense would exploit that easily (Chicago---good synergy offense coached by a former point guard---took advantage of a bad synergy defense in Toronto in a first home after a West Coast trip if I recall). So...occasionally situations like this would pop up that you could take advantage of.

That's the explanation...

Tuesday night: *San Antonio scored a stunning 138 in synergy against the Clippers. FUlly 32 of their 36 field goals were assisted even though Tony Parker was out. Talk about working the ball around. That's just amazing.

*Detroit scored a 107 in their win over Dallas. Even though they shot just 44% from the field, almost two-thirds of their baskets were assisted.

*Sacramento scored a soft 92...they didn't shoot very well...and the combo of Bibby and Artest took 38 shots while gaving just 5 assists.

*Washington scored a poor 83. You can win with bad synergy if you're doing other things well (rebounding, free throws, treys). I thought the Wizards might work the ball around better without Arenas. Instead, they all made sure they got their own shots. Jamison took 17 shots and had 0 assists...Butler had 21 shots and had 2 assists. On the whole, guys not named Daniels took 69 shots and had 7 assists. So...the offense really didn't play more like a team without Arenas. They did play much better defense than they normally do last night.

Anyway...I wanted to get this stuff down while I was thinking about it. If any of you are interested in computing the numbers for all the teams....the raw data is easy to get team-by-team at nba.com, and probably at 82games.com as well (I used nba.com when I did it the first time). I probably won't have a chance to get to it in the next few days. If nobody has, I'll try over the weekend.

I do want to emphasize that this was more of a "explaining" stat than a "picking winners" stat. Good synergy doesn't always beat bad synergy. Dallas has succeeded this year with very few assists because they attack the weakest defensive link with a one-on-one strategy. It's clear though though that Detroit and San Antonio have ruled the league in recent years with good offensive synergy...and defenses that mess up the other guys synergy. It's less of a mystery now. Assisted baskets are what had been out of the mainstream media's equation for analyzing teams in my opinion...



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