Friday, July 27

Tenacious D

If you’re going to use any word as the headline for the Sonics this summer, I think it would be change. With a revamped roster and front office, to say nothing of the potential departure of the franchise, that’s a natural.

But what would be the second word? I think anyone who has followed this team’s fortunes for the last few months would agree that defense would qualify. Defense, or perhaps culture, but let’s not revisit that oft-used word which, like a slow driver dawdling in the passing lane, drives your earnest narrator to such agitation.

Where was I? Oh, right, defense. In his brief tenure, Sam Presti has consistently looked for players that play defense (‘What about Wally World?’ Quiet, you.). At the same time, he has shed the team of players who are, well, let’s be nice and say not exactly candidates for defensive player of the year.

With that in mind, and with Jon Nichols’ fine article at 82games about defensive ratings fresh in my mind, here’s a chart listing the departed players and arriving players, with their defensive ratings to accompany them (and before you read the article, brace yourself for seeing Paul Millsap’s name listed in the top ten; yes, the same Millsap the Sonics passed on in order to select Mo Sene. How ya doin’, Rick Sund?):

ARRIVING, DCS, Def +/-, Drtg
Wally Szczerbiak, 1, +5.4, 110
Delonte West, 48, +3.0, 108
Kurt Thomas, 75, -4.9, 103

DEPARTING
Ray Allen, 31, +1.3, 112
Rashard Lewis, 59, -1.1, 110

Some explanations. DCS is Nichols’ compilation stat that rates players based upon box score statistics, +/- numbers, and Dean Oliver’s defensive rating. Rather than relying on a single defensive stat, it compiles three of them to give a better illustration of a player’s defensive abilities.

And, from the statistics Nichols uses, it’s obvious the Sonics have made an improvement on defense just with the small sample shown above (with the notable exception of Szczerbiak, who checked in as the 3rd worst (!) defender in the entire NBA last season). Thomas’ numbers are extremely good, and West is easily better than either Ray Allen or Luke Ridnour, the folks from whom he will likely take minutes. From another angle, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis played 4,500 minutes for the Sonics last season and contributed 6.3 defensive win shares. Thomas and West, in only 3,400 minutes, contributed 9.6 defensive win shares. In an equal number of minutes, they would have produced more than twice as many DWS as Allen/Lewis.

In fact, when you add in Jeff Green’s abilities as a small forward, this team is immensely better on the defensive end, especially when you think of a lineup of West, Durant, Green, Collison and Thomas. Call me crazy, but that has got to be one of the better defensive lineups in the league – better, that is, if Kevin Durant is ready to guard the talented two guards that populate the league. A big if, certainly.

Still, if Sam Presti’s goal this summer was the remake this team into a better defensive one, I think we can safely say: Mission accomplished.

20 comments:

Brandon said...

Anyone else amazed at how the Glove dropped from first team all-defense for most of his career and Defensive Player of the Year like 10 years ago (Pretty sure that would be 100 on the scale) to an 11 last season? I don't know how the ratings work though, maybe it somehow factors minutes in which would explain it.

Nuss said...

I think the minutes affect it to a degree, but a lot of it is just age. If you watch GP now, he just doesn't have the quickness anymore. Because we don't watch Gary on a nightly basis, our image is still the great Gary Payton from 1996, when in reality he's not that guy anymore.

Still, he'd be a nice pickup for the Sonics this offseason, and a nice way for the ownership to throw the locals a bone. Of course, that's assuming we dump either Ridnour or Watson.

AK1984 said...

Gary Payton was an abysmal defender (Opponent Efficienty Rating: +18.9; Opponents' Net Points Per 100 Possesions: +4.1) and an overall atrocious player (Player Efficiency Rating: +10.0; Net Efficiency Rating: -8.9; Net +/- Production: -9.3; Net Points Per 100 Possessions: -8.7; Roland Rating: -9.0) last season.

In all seriousness, Payton should contemplate retirement.

mcwalter44 said...

Nuss,

When I posted yesterday about my team predictions your defensive analysis was something I was also looking into. However, one thing that is troubling when it comes to defensive stats in the advent of Zone-Defense being allowed in the NBA.

If you look at teams like Golden State, Minny and Milwaukee, who play a lot of zone it is tough to give credit to one guy or to lay blame on player for the guy he matches up against in the box score scoring against his team.

As I've stated before, I'm GS Warrior season ticket holder so I get to see this team on regular basis. If you look at Nichol's webpage on them you'll see great +/- and DCS ratings for guys like Davis and Biedrins, but if you look at their DRTG Rank there no better than Allen or Lewis. Now, seeing as I saw 5 Sonics games and about 15 Warriors games last season I can attest that their is no way that Allen or Lewis can even come close to the defense that Davis and Biedrins provide one on one. However, the misleading thing is that because the Warriors plays so much zone (due to Nellie's small ball lineups) that even if those play great defense that their team is still going to give up 100 points game with next to no chance of stopping the other team.

I also got to see Minny and Mil last season and both of those teams are more like the Sonics. In that when their defense breaks down they do not have a guy like Biedrins to block a shot and bail them out or a guy like Baron to make a strip as the offensive player drives by.

Way do I bring this up? Because I think evaluating team defense should be done on that basis and not individually. One thing I do like on 82games.com is their break down of units (both on offense and defense). I think that this is the best way to judge a defense. For example, Wally Szczerbiak could be a solid one on one defender, but if he's constantly rotating to cover for far inferior defenders like Gomes then he's going to pick up more fouls and the stats will show that more guys scored on him, even though he was rotating to that guy because blown assignment. This also could be seen the other way and that may be Wally is such a bad defender that guys like Rondo and Perkins got much better stats by siding over to take charge, blocking shots or striping guys as they drove the lane. Another classic example is Brent Barry

My point is defensive stats are like fielding stats in baseball. Quantifying them is so hard because to do so would require non-subjective stats. Since many of those stats are subject (terms of who scored on who) to boxscore interpretations that the interpreters bias (conscience or subconscious) could be showing just as much as the skills they are or aren't displaying.

Nuss, thanks for the great research and once again great job with this blog.

AK1984 said...

"Nuss,

When I posted yesterday about my team predictions your defensive analysis was something I was also looking into. However, one thing that is troubling when it comes to defensive stats in the advent of Zone-Defense being allowed in the NBA.

If you look at teams like Golden State, Minny and Milwaukee, who play a lot of zone it is tough to give credit to one guy or to lay blame on player for the guy he matches up against in the box score scoring against his team.

As I've stated before, I'm GS Warrior season ticket holder so I get to see this team on regular basis. If you look at Nichol's webpage on them you'll see great +/- and DCS ratings for guys like Davis and Biedrins, but if you look at their DRTG Rank there no better than Allen or Lewis. Now, seeing as I saw 5 Sonics games and about 15 Warriors games last season I can attest that their is no way that Allen or Lewis can even come close to the defense that Davis and Biedrins provide one on one. However, the misleading thing is that because the Warriors plays so much zone (due to Nellie's small ball lineups) that even if those play great defense that their team is still going to give up 100 points game with next to no chance of stopping the other team.

I also got to see Minny and Mil last season and both of those teams are more like the Sonics. In that when their defense breaks down they do not have a guy like Biedrins to block a shot and bail them out or a guy like Baron to make a strip as the offensive player drives by.

Way do I bring this up? Because I think evaluating team defense should be done on that basis and not individually. One thing I do like on 82games.com is their break down of units (both on offense and defense). I think that this is the best way to judge a defense. For example, Wally Szczerbiak could be a solid one on one defender, but if he's constantly rotating to cover for far inferior defenders like Gomes then he's going to pick up more fouls and the stats will show that more guys scored on him, even though he was rotating to that guy because blown assignment. This also could be seen the other way and that may be Wally is such a bad defender that guys like Rondo and Perkins got much better stats by siding over to take charge, blocking shots or striping guys as they drove the lane. Another classic example is Brent Barry

My point is defensive stats are like fielding stats in baseball. Quantifying them is so hard because to do so would require non-subjective stats. Since many of those stats are subject (terms of who scored on who) to boxscore interpretations that the interpreters bias (conscience or subconscious) could be showing just as much as the skills they are or aren't displaying.

Nuss, thanks for the great research and once again great job with this blog.
"

That's an astute post.

On a similar note, I've always found it odd that post players who are astounding weakside defenders like Marcus Camby, Jermaine O'Neal, and Ben Wallace receieve a lot more press than outstanding man-to-man, one-on-one interior defensive players such as Jason Collins, Joel Przybilla, and Radoslav Nesterovic.

I blame it on the fact that most of the mainstream media focuses on basic statistics like rebounds and blocks than peripheral statistics such as Opponents' Points Per 100 Possessions.

TheBigO said...

Dude, you don't have to copy and paste his whole damn post. Just address it to him and keep it movin.

mcwalter44 said...

AK, thanks for the remark.

Another thing to mull over are guys that are great weak side defenders that notoriously bad defenders. The main guy I can think is Brent Barry, I'd say that Kirk Hinrich, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Jason Kidd are a few others. Ya know, the guys you do not want to guard anyone one on one, but they seem to get a ton deflections and/or steals.

Nuss said...

McWalter,

You make a good point about zone defense. In a perfect world, you would use defensive stats to compare players on the same team. You can also make the same argument for offensive stats, to a lesser degree, in that a player in Nelson's system is going to get many more attempts than in, say, Jeff Van Gundy's system in Houston. As always, statistics+actually watching the games=understanding.

The gist of my argument was that Thomas and West are definitely an improvement defensively over Lewis and Allen. Now, it's not entirely fair since they aren't really replacing Allen and Lewis per se, but it goes to prove a larger point that the players Sam Presti are acquiring are better defenders than the players he let go.

Plus, it also shows just how good of a defender Kurt Thomas is. If he is anything remotely resembling healthy this year, he's going to be a great addition to this team.

mcwalter44 said...

Nuss,

I agree that there are so many variables (coaching style, player units, injuries, player's being used correctly/incorrectly) that it nearly impossible to make a this guys better than that guys statement from just a statistical basis.

I think a unit of Thomas, Green, Colisson, Durant, and Watson would be the Sonics best group of defenders. Here's hoping we see this group play together in the 4th quarter of games.

Surge said...

Payton an atrocious defender?

IN the last 20 years one guard has been defensive player of the year. Payton in 95-96.

Even if you don't think he was is a great defender now, you have to admit that he was a great defender for most of his career.

Did you ever see him play? In person? He was something to see and it was very obvious that the man he defended was frustrated in many ways, especially when he was forced laterally rather than north/south.

Surge said...

dude. my bad... I see you were noting last year. Damn... i had to apologize to AK.

anonymous loser said...

I learned a lot reading these posts. Mcwalter44, do you think West should be on the list of Sonic's best group of defenders.

When we look at the 2007 version of Swift, many of us are hoping his new physique translates into becoming a beefy defender, able to push back on the biggest centers.

I am not sure if Durant will be a great defender as a rookie at SG. I worry that lots of guards will be driving past him, leading to KD reach-in fouls, which will put him on the bench. But his 7'5" wingspan should make him a far better defender than Ray Allen.

I don't believe a team should be all defensive-minded guys. I think a pure offensive point guard, like Luke Ridnour, is compensated by the extra size and defensive abilities of the rest of the squad. Bringing West off the Bench to relieve at PG and SG positions gives the Sonics entirely different looks.

I can't wait to see us play small ball, when the Sonics put Luke, West, Durant, Green & any good center out there (Thomas, Collison or Swift).

J said...

"IN the last 20 years one guard has been defensive player of the year. Payton in 95-96."

Michael Jordan - 1988. Let's not forget.

63474573643235 said...

Nichols is reworking his data

AK1984 said...

"Payton an atrocious defender?

IN the last 20 years one guard has been defensive player of the year. Payton in 95-96.

Even if you don't think he was is a great defender now, you have to admit that he was a great defender for most of his career.

Did you ever see him play? In person? He was something to see and it was very obvious that the man he defended was frustrated in many ways, especially when he was forced laterally rather than north/south.
"

During the prime of Gary Payton's career, he was one of the best lockdown defenders along the perimeter. As a 6'4" tall point guard with an amazing mix of size and quickness, Payton could easily cover the opposing team's best backcourt player.

Last season, though, Payton totally fell apart as a basketball player -- which was mostly due to age -- so it's time for him to retire.

In all actuality, Payton should've retired during the previous off-season. After being a part of the Miami Heat 2006 NBA Championship team, Payton seemingly reached all of his goals.

It's too late for him to change that, though.

mcwalter44 said...

"McWalter44, do you think West should be on the list of Sonic's best group of defenders."

Maybe, I'm not sure yet. It depends what team your playing against and what position on offense that you want West to play. If West can run the point adequately, then maybe I'd use him over Watson and Ridnour. If he's going to play the 2 guard, then I think either Durant or Green has to still. But if were playing a team that likes to go small, say Golden State or Sacramento, then the Sonics can get away with playing Green at the four and Durant at the three.

Furthermore, if the Sonics go to match up zone then they could run out the small-ball lineup you posted earlier with Ridnour, West, Durant, Green and a center (I would use Colisson).

Thanks for the complement, and thanks to the SuperSonicSoul folks for running a great site.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, Delonte West was a horrible defender at PG last season, while phenomenal at SG, at least going by 82games statistics by position.

In fact, West pretty much outplayed opposing shooting guards in every single statistical category (except dribble penetration and free throw attempts), while holding them to a PER of 13.5, which is a number as low as I've ever seen against shooting guards.

Seeing that Delonte played 30% of the minutes at SG for Boston last season, and played 23% of the minutes at PG for Boston last season, this is not a skewed sample either, since he played more at SG than PG, and he gave up massive statistics to opposing point guards in his significant time there.

This probably suggests that West doesn't have the quickness to defend the quicker point guards, so has to back off them and so they get more open jump shots and hit them at 55% eFG, but is otherwise a tough defender, so the Sonics best bet is to play him mostly at SG, with the option to drop him down to PG whenever you're going up against the bigger and/or slower point guards (like Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Sam Cassell, Derek Fisher, etc.).

rhett said...

I see that and your analysis could be right but stats can jump around and West did fine guarding PGs in 05-06.

What Presti sees at PG and what PJ sees and does is an unsolved mystery. If Presti can't deal Watson or Ridnour that would make it tough to give West a market rate offer next summer. One of the 3 should move on but I don't have a strong sense which it will be.

Rhett said...

I forgot to say that playing against starters vs. subs probably is a piece of the story but hard to sort out accurately without more research. Maybe he is ok guarding backup PGs? That might be enough or not depending what their goal is with him.

Nuss said...

From what I've read about West, and hearing from Celtic folks, it seems as though he was out of position at PG and that he's really a SG. That could affect his numbers, obviously. Makes you wonder how he work alongside Durant if Durant is playing the 2; now you've got two guys in the backcourt who really are not at the top of their games at their positions, at least for now.