Basketball teams offer insights into building strategic networks

November 16, 2012

TEMPE, Ariz. - What started out as a project to teach undergraduate students about network analysis, turned into an in-depth study of whether it was possible to analyze a National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball team's strategic interactions as a network. Arizona State University researchers discovered it is possible to quantify both a team's cohesion and communication structure.

The researchers' findings appear in an online November issue of PLOS ONE.

Jennifer Fewell, a professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and lead investigator on the project, explains that because teams are an integral part of both human and animal societies -- understanding how a team's interactions as a whole affect its success or failure is important.

"We were able to come up with a hypothesis about strategy and then apply network analysis to that," says Fewell. "Often, people simply create networks and then conduct descriptive analysis of them, but they don't actually explain why they would expect an individual in a group to communicate the way they do. We take a different approach by suggesting that there are potentially successful ways to organize your team if you use this strategy then we should expect this network metric to show up as an indicator - sort of a proof of concept."

The researchers measured two offensive strategies to learn whether differences in offensive strategy could be determined by network properties. First, they looked at whether teams moved the ball to their shooting specialists -- measured as "uphill/downhill flux," and second, whether they passed the ball in an unpredictable way -- measured as team entropy. They analyzed games from the first round of playoffs in the 2010 season -- and gathered an extensive amount of data on 16 teams.

To evaluate the teams as networks, researchers graphed player positions and ball movement among players, as well as shots taken. Then, they used that data to find out whether network metrics can measure team decisions in a useful way. The study involved more than 1,000 ball movements and 100 ball sequences.

"What that paper basically says is the 2010 data shows that the most successful teams are the ones that use a less predictable, more distributed offense and that connect their players more," said Fewell. "Those were the teams that had actually hired more elite players and allowed them to work together."

Fewell believes measuring team cohesion and communication is important.

"It's one way to capture the essence of a team and teams are everywhere for people," Fewell explained. "You work in teams for all different kinds of reasons. And the same, fundamental idea of cohesion and communication structure among the individuals and the team is critical and it's not easily quantified - and this gives you a way to quantify it."

Fewell talked about how her favorite team, the Phoenix Suns, measured up.

"I started working on this in part because I'm a Suns fan, especially of the 'run and gun' Suns," shared Fewell. "Our data suggested though that the 2010 Suns played the game as a fairly traditional point-guard centered play style. The Lakers and Celtics, in contrast, showed the network equivalent of the triangle offense, and it paid off for them. They were the teams in the finals that year."
-end-
The study included researchers from ASU's School of Life Sciences, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity.

The paper is published on the PLOS ONE website: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047445%20

Arizona State University

Related Communication Articles from Brightsurf:

Video is not always effective in science communication
What we can learn for online public relations: - Keep the information concise so that one can go thorough it within about 1 minute.

Ultraviolet communication to transform Army networks
Of ever-increasing concern for operating a tactical communications network is the possibility that a sophisticated adversary may detect friendly transmissions.

Adding noise for completely secure communication
How can we protect communications against 'eavesdropping' if we don't trust the devices used in the process?

How serotonin balances communication within the brain
Our brain is steadily engaged in soliloquies. These internal communications are usually also bombarded with external sensory events.

Breaking the communication code
Ever wonder how mice talk to each other. We don't have a dictionary quite yet, but UD neuroscientist Josh Neunuebel and his lab have linked mice chatter (their ultrasonic vocalizations) with specific behaviors.

A new twist on quantum communication in fiber
New research done at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Huazhang University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, has exciting implications for secure data transfer across optical fiber networks.

Study traces evolution of acoustic communication
A study tracing acoustic communication across the tree of life of land-living vertebrates reveals that the ability to vocalize goes back hundreds of millions of years, is associated with a nocturnal lifestyle and has remained stable.

Should preschool writing be more communication and less ABCs?
Writing instruction in early education should be about more than letter formation and penmanship, argue Michigan State University researchers who found preschool teachers don't often encourage writing for communication purposes.

Trump's Twitter communication style shifted over time based on varying communication goals
The linguistic and discursive style of Donald Trump's tweets varied systematically before, during, and after the 2016 presidential campaign, depending on the communicative goals of Trump and his team, according to a study published Sept.

Intercultural communication crucial for engineering education
In an increasingly connected world it helps to engage with other cultures without prejudice or assumption.

Read More: Communication News and Communication Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.