“Chemistry is something that you don’t just throw in a frying pan and mix it up with another something and throw something on top of that and then fry it up and put it in a tortilla and put it in a microwave, heat it up, give it to you and expect it to taste good. You know? If y’all don’t know what I’m talking about then you can’t cook and this doesn’t concern you.”
This gem of a quote can be attributed to part time basketball player, and full time wordsmith, Kevin Garnett. While Garnett is clearly more well-suited for hooping than public speaking or catering your next dinner party, he did touch on a fairly under-rated aspect of any sport.
Well-renowned stat geeks such as John Hollinger have come up with valuable formulas to statistically quantify a player’s efficiency (PER), true shooting percentage (TS%) and estimated wins added (EWA), amongst others. While these metrics are heavily utilized by teams such as the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, there is a certain aspect of basketball that simply calls for the eye test. The very same one that KG was referring to: chemistry.
The Chicago Bulls, owners of the league’s best record for the past two regular seasons, prided themselves for being such a close-knit group. Prior to the dismantling of Chicago’s vaunted ‘Bench Mob,’ everyone, players included, raved about their cohesiveness.
The recently departed Kyle Korver told ESPN 1000, “We’ve got great chemistry. I think the longer you can keep any team together the better shot you have of actually winning that golden trophy.”
While some may attribute the lion’s share of their success to defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau, part of that credit belongs to the core group of players that bought in to each other, playing according to their strengths and weaknesses.
While chemistry doesn’t necessarily win championships, competing egos or selfish stars can be detrimental to a team’s success. Although there’s no direct link to any of those with the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, it may be a bit too early to crown them 2013 NBA Champions as so many have done already.
The incumbent champs, the Miami Heat, know something about chemistry. After a rocky 2010-2011 campaign that saw the Heat stumble out of the gate to a 9-8 start, the Heat finished at 58-24, good for second best in the Eastern Conference.
After losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, Miami stormed back last season to win the title after hard fought battles against the Pacers, Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder. While two years may seem like a short road to travel for an NBA title, it didn’t come without it’s trials and tribulations.
Despite having two of the top 10 players in the NBA and an incredible third scoring option in Chris Bosh, heavily-concentrated fire power doesn’t always translate to titles. I have to believe that part of their sophomore success stems from those three superstars becoming more comfortable with one another.
The Lakers of today wield what may turn out to be one of the deadliest combinations of players ever, health permitting. Their starting lineup features ball-handling maestro and two-time MVP Steve Nash, perennial Defensive Player of the Year and the best center in the game, Dwight Howard, the multi-faceted Pau Gasol and 5-time NBA Champion, regular season MVP, and Finals MVP Kobe Bryant.
On paper, they should be unstoppable, but unless their chemistry is instantaneous, I expect the new-look Lakers to experience some first season growing pains. As I recall, the last Lakers squad that garnered such lofty expectations fell surprisingly flat.
The 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers featured a menacing lineup that included Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, and once again, Kobe Bryant. O’Neal still had a few years of low post dominance left in him, Malone was an All-Star the previous year, Payton was an All Defensive First Team selection the prior season and Kobe was in the midst of his prime.
Upon assembly, they were viewed as a terrifying, unbeatable group with capable scorers and defenders at nearly every position. However, this was also the only season they would play together, and the last season Kobe and Shaq would spend tearing each other down in the media — as teammates, at least.
The collection of former and future MVP’s and All-Stars were swiftly dismantled in the NBA Finals by the superstar-less Detroit Pistons, losing in just 5 games. It was especially startling to some, given the fact that only Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace had All-Star appearances prior to the season.
It's in everyone's best interest not to forget that a team that plays like a team can absolutely beat a team that plays like a collection of superstars. The Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks certainly haven't.