Fun with Numbers: Defensive Impact

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(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Editor’s Note:  Fun With Numbers will be a weekly feature (look for it on Friday’s) here at the Basketball Society that will give us a chance to have some fun with some statistics.

Recently, with all of the new analytics coming out for the public, a conjunction of stats were put together by NBA.com that tried to explain a player’s defensive impact.

The eye test was always the standard to pick out the better defenders in the league before all of these advanced stats started to come out. Then blocks and steals were recorded and a lot of players were evaluated accordingly. Now, in this day and age, there are plenty of other statistics to base our judgements off of for a player’s defense.

One of those stats speaks volumes on how well these “rim-protector” big men are actually protecting the rim. Opponent field goal percentage at the rim gives fans a general snapshot of how well player’s defend the rim.

The Top Rim-Protectors:

Stats via Nba.com
Stats via Nba.com

 If you haven’t watched the Utah Jazz this season, then you are seriously missing out on Rudy Gobert’s defensive game. You may have only seen Vince Carter’s dunk over Gobert, but that’s going to happen when someone fearlessly contests every shot possible like Gobert does. A 7’2″ frame with a 7’8″ wingspan will always be a help to protect the paint, but Rudy Gobert has a nose for the ball as well which allows him to defend some of the best finishers at the rim. He has been making the Jazz an elite defense from his impact inside the paint.

It’s not a surprise that players like Bogut, Ibaka, Hibbert, and Noel rank in the top ten of this list. They’re some of the most well-known defensive forces in the league. They’ve been known as the defensive anchors for their teams, plus Ibaka and Noel came into the league known only for their defense.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Two players that came as a surprise were Favors and Aldridge. LaMarcus Aldridge has always been known for his offense, but he doesn’t get much attention for his game on the other side of the ball. On average, he’s defending against 6.1 attempts at the rim and his opponents are only shooting 45.8%. Then, Favors is forcing opponents to only shoot 45.5% at the rim which means the duo of Favors and Gobert is locking down the paint for the Jazz. 

Some notably absent defenders are Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and Joakim Noah. These guys have been mentioned in the Defensive Player of the Year race or have won it before. This season, they are all allowing the opposition to shoot at least 48% at the rim. In Noah’s case, he’s giving up a clip of 53.9% shooting at the rim. All of these percentages come while defending at least 7 shots at the rim per game so that means they’re giving up a good amount of points at the rim every game.

Blocks in relation to Opp FG% at the rim

Stats via NBA.com
Stats via NBA.com

So, as you can see, blocks per game does not necessarily have a direct relationship with opponent field goal percentage at the rim. As I mentioned before, some of these players are not even in the top ten for opponent field goal percentage at the rim.

The number one player in blocks per game, Anthony Davis, does not even rank in the top 25 in the percentage category. He still has been a blocking machine, so that could mean he’s blocking midrange shots or even shots on the perimeter. Either way, he’s not slowing down the opposing team’s opportunities at the rim and we all know that’s the highest percentage shot.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An example of skewed defensive stats stemming from blocks would be none other than Pau Gasol. He’s notorious for not having a great defensive game as he has gotten later into his career. One would probably look at his blocks per game and think otherwise, but one thing that doesn’t show is that opponents attempt 10.9 field goals at the rim against Gasol. No one else in the league has that many attempts against them. So, he already has more chances at blocked shots than others around the league, but it also speaks volumes about how opposing players respect his interior and help defense. If he’s not forcing anyone into bad shots then they’ll just keep driving and scoring on him at will.

While being able to block shots on the perimeter is nice, it’s even more important to block them at the rim. The farther from the hoop, the lower percentage the shot will be anyway. Once you start taking away the higher percentage shot, then teams will have to start sweating you and even start rethinking their game plan. 

A lot of these players that ranked in the top part of the opponent field goal percentage at the rim weren’t even ranked in the top ten of blocks per game. Shutting down the paint and protecting the rim is explained by a lot more than just blocks. As it has been said before, basketball is a mental sport. If a player can alter shots and force opponents to think twice about driving, then they’re already a step ahead. Defense is about getting under the offense’s skin and making them live in their own head. A lot of players will be thinking twice when it comes to driving the lane against Rudy Gobert, and the same goes for all of those players in the top ten.


 

Of course there are many ways to look at defensive impacts and how well some can lock down the paint. We haven’t even talked about the kind of defensive impact guards can have. So take some time to delve into all the stats and get back to us with what you found @BballSociety_ or @ThatKidFisch

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