Posted by Neil Paine on July 21, 2010
Here's an extremely interesting study from Jamie Merchant's blog Numeranda, regarding the "chemistry" of a given 5-man unit. Merchant used BasketballValue's 2010 adjusted plus/minus data for both lineups and individuals, and calculated which combinations were literally greater than the sum of their parts:
"Here was my thinking: we have at our fingertips (thanks to Aaron) two measures of APM, an individual measure and a five-man unit measure; is there some way to connect the one with the other? My first instinct would be to simply add the individual APMs together and see how they compare to the five-man unit APM. If player impact works in a simple, additive fashion, the two measures should be roughly equal. Is that the case?"
The usual APM caveats about samples sizes and standard errors apply, but the results are fascinating. For instance, we would expect Houston's Aaron Brooks/Shane Battier/Trevor Ariza/Carl Landry/Luis Scola lineup to be highly negative (-7), but they ended up being average (+0). And at the other end of the spectrum, we would expect Boston's Rajon Rondo/Ray Allen/Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Rasheed Wallace combo to be very good (+8), but instead they were downright bad (-6).
Sometimes the pieces just fit... and sometimes they don't (we've already commented on how Wallace negatively impacted the C's when on the floor last season). This has been a basketball aphorism forever, but now we actually have some data to quantify the phenomenon.