Casey takes on the importance of playing as a unit.
by Casey Jacobsen
Some basketball aficionados believe that good team chemistry is one of the most crucial components of a winning team. Others claim that it’s overrated and too often used as an excuse to explain why a talented team doesn’t reach their potential.
So which side is right?
To better answer this question, it might benefit us to attempt to define what team chemistry is. I’ve played this game for a long time and have experienced both sides of this chemistry coin. Let’s get one myth out of the way from the start: Team chemistry has little to do with whether guys like each other. In my opinion, whether guys went to dinner with one another on the road had no affect, positive or negative, on that team’s ability to win basketball games. You don’t have to be buddies with your teammates or your coach. That type of team chemistry is highly overrated.
A team with real chemistry is one who uses the strengths of each respective individual on the roster (including coaches) while at the same time hiding their weaknesses. Let’s be honest, no team is perfectly constructed and not all players have solid all-around skills. There are too many unpredictable variables when you are dealing with 13 players, four coaches, a GM and an owner. But good team chemistry is easy to witness from a fan’s perspective. You know it when you see it.
Consistent, winning teams also have good leadership. There isn’t just one way of doing this. Different players lead in different ways. One player might lead the team vocally, making sure his teammates hear what is expected of them. Another player might lead by example, with constant effort, mental toughness, etc. Neither is more important than the other, but both are needed.
Lastly, you must have role players who understand what their job is. Not everyone can be the leading scorer or rebounder. Not everyone can be in the game during the 4th quarter. But every role on the team is important…even the guys who don’t play at all. One of the things you’ll notice about good teams is the enthusiasm of the bench. Teams with good chemistry are genuinely happy when their teammates succeed. I know, it’s a crazy concept.
To become one of these teams, it obviously helps to have the best talent, but talent can be overcome by skilled players who know how to play together. You see examples all the time in the NBA and in Europe. The best recent example I can think of might be the 2006 FIBA World Championship tournament when Team USA lost to Greece in the semi-finals. Theo Papaloukas and Vassilis Spanoulis from Greece are good players, but they aren’t as good as Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The Americans had greater talent. The only explanation for that loss is lack of chemistry. Team USA had only been playing together for a few weeks. Greece had been together for years!
The 2010-11 Miami Heat are just another example of the importance of team chemistry. After signing two of the NBA’s top five players and adding another among the top 20, the collective basketball media wrote about Miami as the clear favorites to win the title this season. How could you not? They had the best collection of talent by far (I know I’m going to have some Boston Celtic comments coming for that one). But after a two week training camp and a three-week preseason, the Heat stumbled out of the gate with a 9-8 record. People could blame that on any number of things, but to me it was clear. They need more time to play together, more time to develop chemistry on the court.
You can’t just put together a bunch of good players on a team and expect results. Basketball doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will. Even when those players are LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.
It takes time. Obviously, they haven’t figured it out yet. But when they do, you better start clearing some space in the rafters at American Airlines Arena.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First Team All-American and NCAA First Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.