Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 25, 2010

Hugging Your Way to Victory?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:27 am

The NBA (or is that the N.B.A.?) made its way to the pages of the Health section of the New York Times earlier this week, as the Gray Lady reported on research on the significance of touch as part of human communication. In particular, the Times noted, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley studied the physical contact between teammates during NBA games early in the 2008-09 season. Their conclusion?

In a paper due out this year in the journal Emotion, Mr. Kraus and his co-authors, Cassy Huang and Dr. Keltner, report that with a few exceptions, good teams tended to be touchier than bad ones. The most touch-bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, currently two of the league’s top teams; at the bottom were the mediocre Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats.

Now, the Times notes that researchers attempted to control for team performance, but I’m more than a little dubious of that effort. Like the subjective notion of chemistry, the causation seems impossible to determine. Naturally, winning teams are going to have more cause to celebrate with and make contact with each other than losing ones. Without seeing the full study, we can’t really evaluate the controls, but the story makes it sound as if elements of team performance (“their ratio of assists to giveaways,” for example) were used. Since these always add up ultimately to wins and losses, I’m not sure how that would tell us anything new.

To really put the theory to the test, it would be interesting to see if when the players found to embrace their teammates the most (the leader in this category came as little surprise) bring value above and beyond their performance on the court when they switch teams. That would be a way to show that touching truly is having an impact on performance. Until then, we can stick to simply laughing when Andrew Bogut has to high-five imaginary teammates after a free throw.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress