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Jeff Van Gundy explains what analytics guys always miss ”It can absolutely tear a team apart”


Jeff Van Gundy is probably most known for leaping into Alonzo Mourning’s leg during the Knicks and Heat brawl back in ’98. You rarely see a head coach get involved like that, and that moment proved that Van Gundy is all about team and chemistry. Two things, he explained, analytics guys still haven’t figured how to include in their formulas.

Shot selection and defensive help

From an analytics standpoint, the James Harden Rockets built by Daryl Morey were as close to perfection as we’ve come. Yet, Harden dribbling (and often flopping and traveling, I would add) at the top of the key while everyone on the team stands ready for a possible pass always felt like a style that will run into a wall in the playoffs.

The ball has energy, and the team loses energy when players spend half a quarter without ever touching it. Not only that, but then Harden jogs on defense, stands in the corner, and lets his guy pass him for an easy backdoor cut. That’s no way to build chemistry and earn those crucial hustle plays that mean the difference between winning and losing. Jeff Van Gundy explained during his latest appearance on the Lowe Post.

“I think the number of guys who shoot the dribble up three - some of them are rediculos shots. Maybe analytically, they say that’s a fine look. I know shot selection and defensive help; they’re the biggest chemistry destroyers that there is. It may be the analytically acceptable shot for the scientist in the boardroom -[but it] can absolutely tear a team apart.”

Jeff Van Gundy, The Lowe Post

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There’s no way you hustle on defense, only to see your teammate launch a contested three early in the shot clock, and that it won’t impact your effort level. This is where coaching is as much about diplomacy as it is about Xs and Os. Guys need to buy into the style of play if you don’t want to have effort issues.

As we’ve established many times - analytics are only as good as the way you use them. Numbers themselves aren’t good or bad; they are facts. But having enough basketball knowledge and experience to properly interpret them - you know what they say, the devil’s in the details.

Winning in the playoffs

The larger conversation on the Lowe Post revolved around winning in the Playoffs with a heavy 3pt diet. Remember when Charles Barkley claimed the Warriors won’t ever win a title because “jump-shooting teams don’t win in the playoffs”? That’s hasn’t aged well.

Barkley wasn’t entirely wrong. While the Warriors did break that old assumption, they were always great in two things—shot selection and defense. Steph and Klay proved a lot of shots that are “reridiculous hots” for others are smart shots for them - that status was earned, not given. A lot of guys nowadays start launching the moment they enter the league, and that’s their first mistake.

But more importantly, the Warriors were always at the top in defensive ranking. Klay was one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and while Steph would hide on a lesser offensive player, Curry still put in maximum effort.

As always, it’s not black and white. You can win with a jump-shooting team that has a few guys who “shoot the dribble up three.” But they can’t do it just because “the scientist in the boardroom” said it’s fine. They have to earn that right with their teammate - only then the math a model predicts will translate to great basketball on the court.

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