As we move past the midway point of baseball and steam toward football it is always interesting to look at the 'what if's" and "why's" in team sports. Why do teams that look great for rotisserie fail on the field, and what other intangibles can be added in or anticipated as teams build these billion dollar teams and still have trouble succeeding against others that seem to mesh at just the right time?
Is it analytics? Is it luck? Is it management? Is it culture? Is it chemistry? It's probably a good combination of all of the above, but that one intangible, chemistry, is the elusive trait which very few team decision makers can feel and anticipate, and that chemistry can easily make the difference between first and second, wild card and long offseason.
So how does one compile or rate chemistry? Gut feeling? Three young entrepreneurs, serial hoops followers, have spent five years compiling the best in show from all those categories and are going to showcase the information to NBA teams with their product, Team Chemist.
While it sounds a bit cloak and dagger, the trio... David Guralnick (a Columbia professor and an e-learning pioneer), Nabeel Ahmad (a leader in mobile design learning platforms with time logged at IBM and other "big thinking" companies) and Peter Casey (a team dynamics and organizational psychology aficionado who also happens to excel in knowledge of social media practices and platforms)... feel like they have built a blueprint for teams, first in hoops and then in other sports, that can help make the intangible realistic and move the guesswork to a system of clear cut choices.
How can it work? Team Chemist has analyzed all the on-court success and failures of NBA programs, and created a system of nine categories for success for each player from college, The NBA Developmental League and then across the NBA, as well as for a series of the elite rising stars in international play. The result is a snapshot of both on and off court parameters that a team can access not just of the here and now, but of a complete history, with every intangible factor that determines success factored in. Additionally, the Team Chemist program can constantly run simulations and matchups which will give teams a clearer snapshot as to how a potential free agent or trade could affect the team, not just statistically but in locker room situations, adaptability to stressful situations in games, and in coaching styles. In total, a consistent, cost efficient unbiased third party look at what could be for a team before a move is made.
While it may seem foolhardy to think in today's all-access world that a program like this already exists since teams already spend millions in player evaluation and scouting, the combination of all these factors, especially among players deep down on a roster, is still sometimes left to chance. That chance can lead to the difference between championship play and also-rans, and that chance can also lead to derisive forces in the locker-room that can bring down the best talent.
Is Team Chemist another attempt to over analyze the athlete and not factor in heart and training? Absolutely not. The program actually complements the skills of the best players, and simulations that the group has run bear out that their factors are not the ultimate deciding ones in player moves, but can provide a great real time resource for any organization, especially in times when every dollar spent is being analyzed and evaluated. It is not really Money Ball For Hoops either, since those financial decisions are left to the clubs who control the purse strings. What it could be is insurance against making a chance decision, and it leaves the experts to continue to evaluate the top moves with ample resources and a system in place to run checks and balances against.
Will Team Chemist replace scouting? No. Will it give teams the ability to make the best possible moves and have every parameter available when making those moves? Maybe. Sports is a tribal busines and adaptation of new technology, even at the lowest price, remains very slow. However if Team Chemist can show one organization that the program gives them an edge, watch out. It only takes one, and these three appear to have built a chemistry set that just may be a very powerful explosive and necessary tool for the future.
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