Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Defensive Anchors and Where to Find Them

My home team the Blazers have some promising talent and an all-star power forward, but they're missing a key factor: defense, particularly in the middle. Getting rid of Hickson is a start, but Robin Lopez is more of a placeholder and a backup than a solution, and I'm not sure Meyers Leonard will turn into an elite defender. I've dreamt about schemes to bring up the kind of talent the Blazers need to completely upgrade their defense, but it appears finding elite anchor talent in the middle isn't as difficult as it seems. It's not easy, sure, but it doesn't take the wealth of a royal family and a bundle of young assets. Defensive anchors have been found everywhere in the draft.

xRAPM: (points per 100 defensive possessions where 0 is "average")
Note: this is a hybrid model based on a box score stats model and plus/minus stats.
RAPM (points per 100 defensive possessions where 0 is "average")
Note: this model is only plus/minus stats.
Synergy (total points per possessions allowed)
Block% (percentage of opponent two point field goals blocked)
DReb (percentage of rebounds grabbed on defense)
Team DRtg  (in: team points allowed per 100 possessions with the player) 
Team DRtg  (out: team points allowed per 100 possessions without the player) 
Height is without shoes unless otherwise noted. Generally listed player height is roughly an inch of inflation.

Veterans with one foot in the grave

Kevin Garnett:

Garnett's intensity and floor leadership sets him apart, and he continues to destroy the metrics despite his age. He's been a plus/minus king for over a decade. He's the old master of defending the pick and roll. His minutes will be limited, and we should await for the inevitable fall, but his work ethic and personality will extend his elite defense for even longer.

xRAPM: 5.9
RAPM: 4.7
Synergy: 0.76
Block%: 2.4
DReb: 25.8
Team DRtg  (in): 99.3
Team DRtg (out): 108.3
Height: 6' 11"
Wingspan: N/A
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: fifth pick in '95. Acquired by Celtics in a massive trade. Then by Nets so the Celtics could shed veteran salaries and rebuild.

Tim Duncan: 

Duncan was rejuvenated. He set career highs in blocks per possession and DReb rate. Some of his advanced stats aren't extraordinary, but his prime was ten years ago. He's the archetype of what a team craves from a number one pick: an all-time defensive big man, and consistent with great character.

xRAPM: 6.3
RAPM: 4.2
Synergy: 0.88
Block%: 6.4
DReb: 29.6
Team DRtg  (in): 99.4
Team DRtg (out): 103.6
Height: 6' 11"* (unofficial)
Wingspan: N/A
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: first pick in '98.

Young(ish) defensive anchors

Larry Sanders:

With super long arms, energy, and sass, Larry "Hey now!" Sanders is a defensive anchor who came out of nowhere. After two disappointing years where he couldn't even make an easy basket (sub-47 TS%), he broke out at age 24, erasing the many mistakes of his teammates and conjuring hope to other athletic and rangy project big men.

xRAPM: 6.1
RAPM: 3.2
Synergy: 0.84
Block%: 7.6
DReb: 25.8
Team DRtg  (in): 102.4
Team DRtg (out): 108.3
Height: 6' 10"* (with shoes)
Wingspan: 7' 6.5"
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: 15th pick in '10.

Omer Asik:

After two years under the Thibodeau Bulls, where despite backing up Noah the team played better defense when Omer was on the court, he proved his startling defensive numbers were valid. When he was on the court for Houston, they defended nearly as well as the champion Miami Heat and were in spitting distance of the Bulls. With size, quick feet, and a relentless motor, he held down the paint for a team without many defensive weapons.

xRAPM: 5.4
RAPM: 2.9
Synergy: 0.87
Block%: 2.7
DReb: 31.0
Team DRtg  (in): 104.2
Team DRtg (out): 110.0
Height: 7' 0"* (listed height)
Wingspan: N/A
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: 36th pick, second round '08, by the Blazers. Traded on day of the draft of the Bulls. Later signed using a poison-pill contract by the Rockets.

Roy Hibbert:

After an exciting post-season series versus the Heat, Roy Hibbert is probably overrated, which isn't the worst position after a shooting slump in the first half of the season caused many fans to declare him a bust. He's probably the tallest starter in the league, and he uses his huge frame to wall off the paint by keeping his hands raised high, not going for the foul, and daring the opponent to shoot over him. However, he's not the quickest guy and doesn't rebound well on defense, which explains why some of his defensive metrics are underwhelming.

xRAPM: 4.3
RAPM: 1.1
Synergy: 0.86
Block%: 6.7
DReb: 17.4
Team DRtg  (in): 98.8
Team DRtg (out): 101.4
Height: 7' 2"* (listed height)
Wingspan: N/A
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: 17th pick '08 by Toronto. Soon traded to the Pacers as a part of Jermaine O'Neal's multi-player deal.

Joakim Noah:

The combination of Noah's ADHD, energetic defense and Thibodeau's propensity to run players into the guard may result in the first NBA coaching homicide, but until that happens, and while he's healthy, Noah will remain an anchor. SportVU, which uses cameras to track player movements, found that Noah averaged the longest distance ran per game ... at 2.74 miles (though not every team was covered by SporsVU.) The Bulls have a real offense again, and they should have another successful season buoyed by their defense, thanks in large part to this goofball.

xRAPM: 4.9
RAPM: 0.5
Synergy: 0.81
Block%: 4.4
DReb: 22.6
Team DRtg  (in): 101.2
Team DRtg (out): 106.3
Height: 6' 10.5"
Wingspan: 7' 1.25"
Standing reach: 8' 10.5"
Draft slot/acquired: ninth in '09.

Marc Gasol:

In a tight DPOTY-race, Marc Gasol took home the trophy, partly because he was able to play big minutes to an elite defensive squad. He's a huge, intelligent defender, and besides his rebounding his numbers are off the charts. And think about this: the Grizzlies basically tied the Pacers for best defense, adjusting for strength of schedule, and the other interior big man was Zach Randolph, boosted by a bench that included no defensive help. Marc deserved the award.

xRAPM: 5.6
RAPM: 3.9
Synergy: 0.76
Block%: 4.1
DReb: 18.9
Team DRtg  (in): 98.2
Team DRtg (out): 105.1
Height: 7' 1"* (with shoes)
Wingspan: N/A
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: 48th, second round '07 by the Lakers. Traded in infamous Pau Gasol deal before he stepped onto the court.

Class of his own

Dwight Howard:

Seen below in a 1970's style woman's jacket, Howard is the most polarizing player in the league, and is coming off a disastrous season in LA. Even in a down year his numbers were marvellous: contrary to popular belief, it's hard to score on him in the post, and he remained an elite rim protector who rebounded at a high rate. With his age, fitness level, and long arms, he has a good chance at regaining his defensive prime, which wasn't as far away as most thought last season. As a former number one pick who has held the mantle of best center for years bringing in a circus of drama to Houston, he's in a class of his own, for better or worse.

xRAPM: 6.3
RAPM: 3.3
Synergy: 0.74
Block%: 4.9
DReb: 27.4
Team DRtg  (in): 105.5
Team DRtg (out): 110.5
Height: 6' 9"
Wingspan: 7' 4.5"
Standing reach: 9' 3.5"
Draft slot/acquired: first '04. Traded to the Lakers. Then signed as a free agent by the Rockets during a frenzied period.

Thanks for applying but I've gone in another direction

Tyson Chandler:

The 2012 DPOTY dropped off rather precipitously, lending credence to Dallas' fear of his injuries. He remained an effective defensive player, but his play worsened as the season wore on. RAPM puts a lot of stock in the previous season's number, but it was clear he's heading in the wrong direction. He'll have to prove his status as a defensive anchor again this season.

xRAPM: 4.4
RAPM: 1.8
Synergy: 0.81
Block%: 3.0
DReb: 24.3
Team DRtg  (in): 106.9
Team DRtg (out): 106.7
Height: 6' 11.5"
Wingspan: 7' 3"
Standing reach: 9' 2"
Draft slot/acquired: second '01 by the Bulls. Later traded to the Hornets. Then to the Bobcats. Then to the Mavericks. Finally, he was signed as a free agent with the Knicks. Was traded for mediocre players and injury scares kept the Mavs from resigning him.

Serge Ibaka:

Although this article is virtually only about centers, I had to mention Ibaka, King of the Blocks. Although his blocks came down from a historic level, behind only Manute Bol, his defense actually improved -- but it's still not enough to be a legitimate anchor. Blocking shots can be valuable, but you have to contribute to the other shots on the floor.

xRAPM: 3.5
RAPM: 1.4
Synergy: 0.89
Block%: 7.4
DReb: 17.0
Team DRtg  (in): 102.3
Team DRtg (out): 102.8
Height: 6' 10" (listed height)
Wingspan: N/A
Standing reach: N/A
Draft slot/acquired: 24th '08.

DeAndre Jordan:

DeAndre has the physical tools of a world-class defender, but his head has yet to catch up with his body. With Doc Rivers as coach, perhaps he can take the leap, as the last time a great defensive coach replaced Vinny Del Negro the Bulls as we know them were created. And he'll need to be -- his backups are Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins. Unfortunately, last season the Clippers were vastly better with him on the bench (mostly due to the Bledsoe/Barnes duo, as well as Turiaf, but it's a bad sign indeed.)

xRAPM: 3.1
RAPM: 0.0
Synergy: 0.86
Block%: 4.7
DReb: 22.4
Team DRtg  (in): 107.7
Team DRtg (out): 101.3
Height: 6' 9.5"
Wingspan: 7' 6"
Standing reach: 9' 5.5"
Draft slot/acquired: 35th, second round '08.

Taj Gibson:

Taj is perhaps the most underrated defensive player in the league. Backing up Carlos Boozer will make you look better by comparison, but when he's on the court their defense is truly terrifying: the team's DRtg with him on the court in 2012 was a mind-blowing 91.8. That would have broken the modern record if it had been held for an entire season. Taj is a smart, strong defender with long arms (all the trademarks of an anchor.) If he receives more playing time he deserves the proper acknowledgements for his value.

xRAPM: 2.6
RAPM: 5.0
Synergy: 0.76
Block%: 4.7
DReb: 17.5
Team DRtg  (on): 100.9
Team DRtg (off): 104.5
Height: 6' 8.5"
Wingspan: 7' 4"
Standing reach: 9' 1"
Draft slot/acquired: 26th '09.

If you've been paying attention, you'll note that besides the ancient hall of fame former power forwards and the chaotic storm of Dwight Howard, defensive anchors have been found everywhere in the draft. Besides the three aforementioned players and Tyson Chandler, who may have seen his best days behind him, Noah had the highest draft spot: ninth. In fact, out of the young defensive anchors list, the average draft spot was 25th, and including three young candidates at the end of the list it's bumped up even further to 26th.

Marc Gasol was called Pau's fat younger brother when he was a draft prospect. Few people knew or cared about guys like Larry Sanders. Ibaka was a question mark out of the Congo. And even further people knew about Asik. Perhaps the market inefficiency right now is defensive big men. It's hard enough to get people to understand who's great defensively in the NBA, much less who has the potential in college or overseas. People have been bullish on project centers with crazy long arms but don't look the part of a polished offensive player. In many cases, this has been the correct course, but whoever can find these defensive players hidden in the draft has a major advantage: you can hold down one end of the court and protect the paint with a draft pick that doesn't even need to be in the lottery. With all the increased data available and intense scouting, it's remarkable these gems can still be found. Yet there they are -- there it is.

There's hope.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.
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