Ball Don't Lie - NBA

January 08, 2008

DE-FENSE

I don't understand it, "it" boggles the mind, I can understand the impetus behind the omissions but that doesn't excuse the laziness that results: most mainstream media outlets outright refuse to discuss defense.

Or, more specifically, they'll mention defense one time for every ten times that they mention a team's offense doing well, a team's offense faltering, a team not having enough basketballs to go around, a team not going to a certain player enough, a team giving too many shots to a certain player, a team playing unselfishly offensively, a team playing selfishly offensively, a team playing hesitant offensively, a team not being aggressive enough offensively, a team shooting too many threes, a team without a low-post scoring presence, a team that hasn't had time to get on the same page offensively ... you get the idea.

And it's half the game. I'm not going to perpetuate the pointless stereotype that says "defensive wins championships," (defense and offense in concert, not sure if you've heard, win championships in reality), but it's half the bloody game and it gets 1/15th the air and print time that offense does.

So imagine my delight when, through the power of computer magic, I was able to read three great posts that actually took the time to discuss why defense - and not Kobe making friendly with Andrew Bynum, or AI and Carmelo's newfound synergy, or even Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry's turnover woes - was doing the most damage for three prominent teams.

First, Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold discusses why the Lakers have taken off:

"... last year the Lakers were 26-13 at one point, looked like a team on the rise, then a couple of injuries sent them spiraling downward. They finished with 42 wins, barely made the playoffs and were first-round fodder for the Suns. What makes this year any different?

Defense.

While we can talk about Bynum and other changes in the Lakers offense, they are playing no better on offense than last year compared to the rest of the league. And while offense can be streaky, defense never takes a night off.

Last year the Lakers had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions used) of 110, which was seventh in the league. This year, that has jumped to 111.3 (so far), but that is still 7th in the NBA. Shooting the Lakers are almost identical to last year, shooting 51.1% (eFG%) last year and 51.2% this year, The only real difference this year is the Lakers are getting to the free throw line a little more.

But on defense, the Lakers are nearly 5 points per 100 possessions better. Last year the Lakers gave up 110.5 points per 100 possessions (24th in the NBA) and this year it is 105.9 (9th). Last year opposing teams shot 50%, this season it is down to 47.7%. The Lakers are also doing a little better on the defensive boards and fouling less."

You grok that? Bynum's been terrific (more on him later this week), and the youngsters are coming around, but the Lakers are scoring just as much this year as they were in 2006-07 (Kurt's post was from 12-27, but the offensive stats are the same).

Meanwhile, the defense has shot up considerably (they're 8th in defensive efficiency, now), and I've yet to hear a peep from the national (TV guys, at least) media about it. In fact, by my count, the Lakers are on national TV five times over the last 23 days in January. Find me one national studio or play-by-play guy that mentions defense as the reason for the Laker turnaround, and I'll buy you a Spin Doctors ringtone, and call you at work.

Then there's Kevin Pelton, who has long been one of the more accessible, intelligent NBA scribes out there; and working out of Basketball Prospectus, he had this to say about the Denver Nuggets last week:

"Given the Nuggets' lethal fast break and the fact that the team boasts two of the NBA's five leading scorers in Allen Iverson (26.3 ppg) and Carmelo Anthony (25.7 ppg), it's not natural to think of them amongst the league's elite defenses. Thanks largely to Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby, Denver was ninth in the league in defense in 2006-07. This year, however, the Nuggets have ranked second in the league in Defensive Rating most of the season. Right now, they are running fourth, though the gap between second-ranked Detroit and fifth-ranked Houston is small enough that they, Denver and New Orleans may as well be tied. (In case you haven't been paying attention, the Boston Celtics boast the league's best defense thus far, by a wide margin.)

Despite all of their success, fans and writers who don't look at defense on a per-possession basis may have completely missed what Denver has done over the last two months."

I'll let you read the rest of the post in order to find out why, exactly, the Nuggets are doing so damn well defensively (save for last night, of course), but I can guarantee that you've yet to hear about their defensive capabilities on any of the cable shows thus far this year. In fact, I've actually heard Charles Barkley rail against their "terrible" defense earlier this season. Here's hoping this post can go a long way towards changing that perception.

Over at Knickerblogger.net, Mike has put together a cogent, concise post with two in-game examples that serves as a Knicks season in a nutshell to anyone who has been paying attention:

"These plays expose a fundamental flaw with the current Knicks team: the lack of interior defense. It's no secret that nearly every player on New York is a bad defender, but good defense usually begins from the inside. There's a reason that bigmen who are offensively limited but can prevent scoring can have long careers. Players like Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, and David Lee aren't strong defenders so they need a defensive minded compliment in the frontcourt. In Curry's only winning season, he was flanked by a few strong defenders: Tyson Chandler, Antonio Davis, and Andres Nocioni. In Randolph's only winning season, he was coupled with Rasheed Wallace, Arvadys Sabonis, and Dale Davis."

Please read the rest, it's a great post, and it delves into something a bit more important than, "Steph is a selfish bum, Zach Randolph won't pass, and Eddy Curry stole my taquito."

Work through this stuff now, because these sorts of underlying, to-the-point themes are going to serve as central tenets for this blog. I'm not looking to shock anyone or throw up stuff that flies in the face of conventional wisdom for the sake of shock value or as an attention-grab, but I'm not going to bow down to the Cult of What Sounds About Right, either.

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