Dirk, The Daring Defender? Odds & Ends

[If you haven’t read yesterday’s column, you’re not visiting often enough. Click here, read it, then hit back on your browser. Then remember to come here more often. :-) ]

Yesterday, I busted out a table with defensive PF stats. It was to see if Dirk Nowitzki statistically was a serious choice for an All Defensive Team spot. One thing I didn’t consider was that there are four spots between all the forwards. So Dirk would be competing against small forwards as well as power forwards. Adding a few entries to my list:

Name...........	DRank	eFG	 PER 	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Tim Duncan..... 1 .431 15.1 -6.7 .403 14.4
Rasheed Wallace 3 .449 14.6 -5.8 .442 16.1
Elton Brand.... 9 .467 15.3 -4.5 .453 14.3
Dwight Howard.. 13 .440 15.1 1.2 .455 17
Tyson Chandler. 2 .447 14.7 -0.8 .463 18.7
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 .477 15.3 -4.6 .499 16.3
SFs
Andrei Kirilenko 30 .496 16.7 -12.1 .371 11.6
Tayshaun Prince 3 .474 14.4 -3.4 .472 13.4
Bruce Bowen.... 1 .500 13.1 -6.0 .500 13.3
Manu Ginobili.. 1 .396 9.8 -7.3 .385 10.2

Andrei Kirilenko’s numbers are just sick. Due to his injury they represent a small sample size, but he’s light years ahead of the non-Duncan field. Whether or not his time missed will cost him some votes remain to be seen. Bowen’s statistics, while still above average, are meager for his excellent reputation. Looking at Ginobili’s numbers reveals a “Hedo Turkoglu Effect.”

For those that aren’t familiar with the works of Kevin Pelton, the HTE describes what happens statistically when a team uses a defensive stopper that can play multiple positions. Bowen defends the stronger offensive player, whether he is at SF or SG. Therefore Ginobili defends the weaker one. Hence the defensive numbers gets blurred between the two. I can guarantee that Manu’s excellent defensive stats are largely the work of Bowen (and Duncan).


A poster by the name of Sterling commented in Cuban’s blog, (not this Cuban blog)

“For instance? Why are the Timberwolves a .500 team? Well the rank right their with the Mavs as far as field goal percentage, 3 point field goal percentage, and rebounding…But, has anyone notice that they rank 28 out of 30 in Free throw attempts….I think they are putting up to many jump shots…

Now imagine the argument and debate…Maybe somebody will find after reviewing several games that the lack of free throws has more to do with certain player(s) (two particularly) getting touches, than anything else?”

Instead of wondering if Sterling uses the same spell checker as myself, I thought I’d tackle his question. At the time of his writing, the T-Wolves had a .558 winning percentage. By points per 100 possession, Minnesota is ranked 5th offensively, but are an awful 19th on defense. The Mavericks are ranked 7th & 6th respectively, so it’s clear that the difference between the two is the T-Wolves lack of defense. Looking at the four factors, Minnesota is average in defensive shooting percentage, but next to last in forcing turnovers. If I were reviewing games individually, I’d start by looking at eFG & turnovers of Minnesota’s opponents.

Dirk, The Daring Defender?

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on his webpage blogmaverick.com, advocates 2 Mavericks for the All Defensive team: Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. The first nominee is a curious one that will raise a few eyebrows. Over the last few years, Dirk’s defense has been thought as mediocre at best. Last year the Mavericks were awful defensively; ranked 26th in defensive efficiency. Mark gives no evidence for Dirk’s change, but offers the following:

This year, Dirk has become better than just a good defender. Dirk has become a very good defender, on his way to being one of the best defensive PFs in the league. If that comment makes you laugh, you arent watching enough games and paying attention to Dirk on the defensive end.

Go down the list of PFs in the NBA….. After Garnett and Duncan, who is a better defender?

Hmmm… Mark Cuban says that if I don’t think Nowitzki is a great defender, I haven’t watched enough Mavs games. While he may be right, I can counter by saying that Mark hasn’t seen every game the Bulls, Pistons, Clippers, etc. have played. So how can he say Dirk is better than the PFs on those teams? With this kind of logic, everyone can claim their team has the best defenders in the league. Instead, we need a more objective way of looking at defense.

This year the Mavericks are ranked 6th defensively, so maybe Dirk’s improved defense has made Dallas a defensive minded team? Since 59% of the time Dirk is the Dallas PF, looking at how opposing PFs fare against the Mavs might give us insight into Nowitzki’s defense. So far this year, opposing PFs have had a 15.3 PER and effective shooting percentage (eFG%) of .477. Both of those numbers are about average, so it really doesn’t prove that Dirk has anchored the Mavs D.

Thanks to 82games.com, we can measure three more ways in which Dirk affects his team defensively. The first is defensive +/-, which has its drawbacks depending on the strength of the team & the bench. Basically they’re comparing the points scored per 100 possessions when the player is on versus off the court. The way 82games.com records this stat, lower numbers are better. Defensively Dallas has been -4.6 points worse when Dirk is on the bench (which means they’re 4.6 points better with Dirk on the floor). The last two stats are oPER & oeFG%, which represent the opposing PFs stats when Nowitzki is on the court. In this respect, power forwards have shot .499 and have an overall PER of 16.3. Again neither are impressive enough to write home about.

If you’re like me & you’re scoring at home, putting all that above into a spreadsheet looks like this:

Name...........	TmRank	eFG	PER	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 0.477 15.3 -4.6 0.499 16.3

On their own these numbers are meaningless. What if PERs for power forwards are generally higher? What if PFs generally have better defensive +/-? To find out how good defensively Dirk is, we can put him next to the best defensive PF in the league: Tim Duncan.

Name...........	TmRank	eFG	PER	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 0.477 15.3 -4.6 0.499 16.3
Tim Duncan..... 1 0.431 15.1 -6.7 0.403 14.4

Now we have the beginnings of a mini-study. Armed with some statistics, I agree with the one-time Dairy Queen server. We should go down the list of the PFs in the league, and see who is a better defender. Spending hours of my free time that I could have otherwise spent interacting with other human beings, I went through 82games.com for all the stats of the following PFs.

Name...........	TmRank	eFG	 PER 	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 .477 15.3 -4.6 .499 16.3
Tim Duncan..... 1 .431 15.1 -6.7 .403 14.4
Kevin Garnett.. 19 .502 17.0 -2.0 .498 16.8
Rasheed Wallace 3 .449 14.6 -5.8 .442 16.1
Elton Brand.... 9 .467 15.3 -4.5 .453 14.3
Shawn Marion... 17 .479 17.4 1.2 .508 20.6
Pau Gasol...... 5 .470 17.0 0.4 .467 17.1
Carlos Boozer.. 30 .473 16.8 2.5 .465 17.3
Dwight Howard.. 13 .440 15.1 1.2 .455 17
Chris Bosh..... 20 .470 16.7 -6.2 .477 17.6
Tyson Chandler. 2 .447 14.7 -0.8 .463 18.7
Kurt Thomas.... 27 .520 19.0 5.9 .511 19.7

Ahhhh I love the smell of spreadsheets in the morning. Looking at this list, it’s obvious that Duncan is the best of the group. Why do I say that? He has the best +/-, the best oeFG, and the second best oPER. Since that seems like a good way to see who is statistically the best, let’s rank the stat of each player against the others.

Name...........	R1	R2	R3	R4	R5	OVR
Tim Duncan..... 1 3 1 1 2 1
Rasheed Wallace 4 1 3 2 3 2
Elton Brand.... 5 5 5 3 1 3
Dwight Howard.. 2 3 9 4 6 4
Tyson Chandler. 3 2 7 5 10 5
Dirk Nowitzki.. 9 5 4 10 4 6
Chris Bosh..... 6 7 2 8 9 6
Pau Gasol...... 6 9 8 7 7 8
Kevin Garnett.. 11 9 6 9 5 9
Carlos Boozer.. 8 8 11 6 8 10
Shawn Marion... 10 11 9 11 12 11
Kurt Thomas.... 12 12 12 12 11 12

R1 is team PF eFG% ranked. R5 is oPER ranked. Tim Duncan is the best in team PF eFG%, and Elton Brand is the best in oPER. The last column OVR is how they rank overall in all the stats.

Other than Garnett’s low ranking, the list isn’t very surprising. If someone told me the 5 best defensive PFs in the league were Duncan, Rasheed, Brand, Howard, & Chandler, I’d believe it. Given a ballot for All Defensive Team, I would choose the top two on my list. Duncan is a no-brainer, but IMHO ‘Sheed, who has never won any defensive honors, is highly underrated in his defensive ability. During last year’s Finals, Sonics analyst Kevin Pelton said of Wallace:

What is clearly most impressive about the Pistons post-Wallace trade is their defense. Detroit was a very good, if overrated team, prior to adding Wallace. With him in the fold, they’ve been nothing short of magnificent.

Nowitzki’s 6th overall ranking shows that he’s upgraded his game under his own basket. He doesn’t fare well in both opposing shooting percentage categories, but he does well in all the others. Despite the evidence that’s he’s an above average defender, I’d still be hesitant voting for him in any kind of all-defensive team.

A Little Magic

Who would have thought that Friday night’s matchup would pit two first place Eastern Conference teams? While some prognosticators grudgingly predicted the Knicks as the default pick in the Atlantic, the trendy picks in the Southeast were Miami and Washington. Right now both teams are behind Orlando in the standings, the surprise team of the early season.

Why would anyone have picked the Orlando Magic to capture their division? Last year the Magic finished dead last, winning only 1 in every 4 games. Their defense was by far the worst in the league. During the offseason, their franchise player McGrady asked to be traded. And when you thought things couldn’t get worse while the Magic were shipping out their franchise player, their Florida rival acquired their first franchise player, Shaquille O’Neal.

It’s said that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can improve. Grant Hill, who has yet to play even a half a season with Orlando, has played in every Orlando game so far. If Hill plays in Friday’s game, he’ll have played more games this year than in 2003 & 2001 combined. If he doubles the amount of games he’s played in this year, he’ll have his highest amount since 1999. It feels like it was another century when he was healthy and playing for the Pistons.

Their defense which was the laughing stock in the league, is now 4th overall. Helped by a healthy Grant, Cato, and wunderkind Dwight Howard. Howard is also making a difference under the boards, as he is a main reason the Magic are 3th and 4th in offensive and rebounding respectively. Even though their defense is so highly ranked, you may see a high scoring game. Orlando averages 100 possessions into every game (depending on the equation you use), which leads the league (no matter what equation you use).

So far, everything that could have gone right for the Magic has. Their star player is healthy for the first time in 5 years. Their teenage first round pick is paying dividends right off the bat. The trade looks all Orlando, with Cato & Francis playing well while McGrady’s new fans cheer for the removal of their coach. Even if no one sees these two teams as serious contenders in the Eastern Conference, it’s a battle of two first place teams looking for some respect.

Aaron Goodwin

In yesterday’s blog I mentioned Jamal Crawford’s agent 9 times. However not once did I mention his name: Aaron Goodwin. This small time (but big city) blogger that has nothing to write about decided to do some serious research on Mr. Goodwin. Especially when Mr. Goodwin is stalling a deal that the big city (but small time) blogger could use to write a column about in a slow (only for his team) offseason.

The California based Goodwin represents such NBA players as LeBron James, Gary Payton, Dwight Howard, Damon Stoudmire, Shareef Abdur-Rahim & Vin Baker. He was listed as one of the most influential minorities in sports. Despite being a major force in his field, he was degraded by the police who wrongfully suspected him as a suspect in a robbery. The officers didn’t recognize him, because he likes to keep a low profile. He does a good job at it, because it’s hard to find a good picture of him.

There isn’t a large wealth of information available about Goodwin, but by all accounts Aaron Goodwin is an experienced agent and not just another pretender. In fact I’m quite glad that I’m a simple blog writer, and don’t have to sit on the other side of the telephone and negotiate with.