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Why short rotations make mathematical sense

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PostPosted: 07/05/19 5:12 pm    ::: Why short rotations make mathematical sense Reply Reply with quote

It's a common phenomenon that coaches, including the very best ones, will shorten their playing rotation to seven, six or even just the five starters in important, close games.

A winning team must have two components: good players and good teamwork. To achieve good teamwork, each player in the floor lineup must have instantaneous familiarity with the other four players' shooting preferences, passing and dribbling skills, preferred sides, cutting speeds, change of direction quickness, floor running abilities, as well as their flaws and weaknesses. This kind of intimate familiarity can only be achieved by each five-player lineup practicing and playing many hours together.

Stated differently, even good players will not play with sufficiently good teamwork if they are strangers re playing together.

How many different five-player lineup combinations can there be for a team? It depends on how many players are on the team. NCAA teams can have 15 scholarship players. WNBA teams can have 12 players. Here's how the combinatorial math works out:


Playing more than seven players in a rotation essentially means each player is playing with partial "strangers". In a close and important game, therefore, a coach should be loath to go beyond a rotation of seven, unless forced to do so by injury, exhaustion or foul trouble.

When a coach is forced to reduce the rotation because of injury or other unavailability of starters (such as WNBA players vamoosing to Europe), both the skill-reduced team and the bench players who are now forced into the rotation may play unexpectedly well, simply because these former "stranger lineups" become better at teamwork as their familiarity with each other increases via increased practice and game time together.
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PostPosted: 07/05/19 10:56 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Its a balance the staffs must find, in playing a minimal starting unit that has the most experience not only in producing individually, but also producing as a starting unit - and having a first-response number of reserves that can also provide those same kinds of production in crucial moments in games when regular starters are down to injury or fouls.

There's arguments for both sides, but the inevitable always happens when a staff will need a reserve or more to step up in big moments, and should that reserve fail to do so because he/she was not as prepared for such moments as he/she could have been - because the staff didn't play them enough throughout the season - then that's an indictment against that staff.....


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PostPosted: 07/05/19 10:59 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Short rotations make sense if the only objective is winning the current game. That's why rotations shorten in the playoffs.

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PostPosted: 07/05/19 11:13 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Using more players will also work if players have similar skill sets and can be moved in and out like interchangeable parts.

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PostPosted: 07/06/19 8:48 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

I think you also have to factor in the longevity of the combinations. Having 10 players on a team (assume they include the right skillsets and abilities) that have been together for 3-4 years (or longer in the WNBA) is going to provide a lot of combinations that have the experience to play well together. Changing the roster by 50% or more every year due to injuries, transfers/trades, graduation/retirement means that the lineups that "click" are going to be fewer.


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PostPosted: 07/06/19 9:28 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Glenn has a great point ...

As long as no one gets hurt or in foul trouble, play the best five for 40 minutes. These are highly conditioned athletes with lots of rest breaks and if that's what's expected, that can happen.

But reality points out that injuries and foul trouble are inevitable, so you need a backup at each spot -- but if one player can back up two or more spots, then you limit the unfamiliar lineups. Ideally, one perimeter player can cover three spots, and one post player can cover two, for a rotation of seven.

Just a note: I learned coaching softball that it was better to keep people in their familiar spots, even if it didn't seem optimal. For example, my shortstop is out, and my second best infielder is my second baseman. So I can move her to short, and have my reserve play second. But what that does, I discovered, is weaken two positions, and for me, at least, I got better results when I put the reserve at shortstop and let the second baseman stay in her most comfortable, most familiar position.

In basketball, then, if you have one perimeter reserve, she plays all three positions, depending on who's out. The three starters always stay in their spots. Same up front ...

Now I'm not claiming this is the best plan all the time (no system is perfect), but it's where I started. Sometimes my reserve perimeter player was simply incapable of playing point guard, so a shift had to be made -- but as long as changing positions was minimized, and the rotation was always the same, that familiarity bred consistency.

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PostPosted: 07/07/19 10:02 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

That's Glenn's opinion. I tend to go with Frozen LVFan's factor, particularly after some very up close and personal seasons watching some teams. A lot of it will depend on how the coach practices them together and in what combinations.

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