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. The
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Arizona State University