Who Were Last Season's Defensive Surprises in the NBA?
The NBA is filled with statistical oddities. If you look hard enough, you can find the right numbers to completely disprove what you thought about a player. On that note, I decided to take a look at who the best defenders in the league were last season. Some of them certainly caught me off guard.
Using basketball-reference.com’s season finder tool, I pulled up every player in the league with a 100 or lower defensive rating (team points allowed per 100 possessions with said player on the court) that played at least 1,000 minutes last season. Many of the names were to be expected; Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson of the Bulls, Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George of the Pacers, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs. But a few unexpected names popped up on that list.
(Note: defensive ratings listed alongside players are from basketball-reference.com’s search results, while some statistics cited come from NBA.com. These two sites vary slightly in their results.)
Al Jefferson (100 Def. Rating)
Big Al is many things: An efficient offensive machine, a post professor, a silky smooth scorer. Throughout his career, he’s been considered a minus defender. He’s a bit slow-footed and doesn’t get up high enough to protect the rim. He’s posted a block percentage better than four percent just once in his career, and last year he had the lowest block rate of his career at 2.4 percent.
The Bobcats (now the Hornets) were a very good defensive unit last year, ranking fifth in the league thanks to Steve Clifford’s solid defensive scheme. The only other Bobcat to rank in the top-15 was still-raw backup center Bismack Biyombo (99 DRtg), so perhaps Clifford’s defense is just based around flawed big men. With Lance Stephenson now in the fold to help lock down the perimeter, there’s no reason to expect Jefferson’s DRtg to spike up this coming season.
Carlos Boozer (98)
Boozer drove fans in Chicago crazy with his terrible defense. He drove Tom Thibodeau nuts as well, earning himself a seat on the bench during just about every fourth quarter. Apparently, playing more than 70 percent of your minutes alongside the Defensive Player of the Year is a boon to your defense. In their minutes together, Noah and Boozer posted a 98.5 defensive rating, one of the stingiest heavy-minutes duos on the roster.
Removed from Thibodeau’s defensive system and without Noah as a backstop, Boozer’s defensive numbers will more closely resemble his reputation. Despite Byron Scott’s proclamations that he’s going to make the Lakers play defense, there is nary a lockdown defender on the team to help make that a reality.
Luis Scola (99)
Another subpar defensive player in an excellent defensive system made this list in Scola. Unlike Boozer, though, Scola didn’t spend the majority of his minutes playing with an elite defensive center...or did he? Scola and Hibbert played about 515 minutes together, posting a 99.7 defensive rating.
However, the center that the Argentine spent just over half of his court time with was Ian Mahinmi, another player on the 1,000-minute, sub-100 defensive rating list. While the team couldn’t score when those two manned the frontcourt, neither could their opponents. Mahinmi and Scola registered a 94.6 defensive rating together and a net rating of 0.8. Losing Lance and PG is going to hurt Indiana on both ends, but they still have four forward/centers who can cut off all access to the basket.