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The recipe for a great defense

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via rocketsgameday.com

Shane Battier knows a thing or two about playing defense.
 

I have often wondered if you can measure a good team statistically.  I think it is safe to say that points allowed per 100 possessions (def rating for the purposes of this post) is the best way to rank good defenses.  But the defensive rating only measures the results.  I want to know the recipe.  How do teams become good defenses?  Does a team defend the paint?  The three point line?  Block shots or force turnovers?

To figure this out, I decided to look at statistics for the best 20 defensive teams in the last 5 years.  Here is what I found:

 

2009-2010      Def rat         FG%      3PA     3P%     FTA     TOS Forced       TOs      Blks       Stls    

LAL                 100.9          43.3      18.5     30.7     22.6            14               15.2       5.2         7.8

CHA                101.2          44.7      19.9     33.9     21.7          16.6              16.2       4.7          7.7

BOS                101.6          44.4      16.6     33.6     24.2          15.5              16.1       5.2         8.8

CLE                103.0          43.4      17.8     33.9     24.8          14.5              13.2       5.8         6.9

Def Rat: Points allowed per 100 possessions;    

FG%:  Field Goal percentages of opposing teams

3PA :   3 Point Attempts by opposing teams

3P%:  3 point percentage of opposing teams

FTA:  Free throws allowed to opposing teams

TOS: turnovers committed

2008-2009      Def Rat      FG%        3PA         3P%       FTA       TOs Forced         TOs        Blks        Stls

ORL                101.9        43.3         15.8         34.2       23.0            13.9                13.1         5.4          7.0

BOS               102.3        43.1         17.7         34.9       25.3            15.6                14.6         4.7          7.6

CLE                102.4        43.1         17.6         33.3       23.1            12.7                 13.9        5.3          7.2

HOU               104.0        44.4         15.8         35.7       21.1            14.1                 12.3        5.8          7.1

 

2007-2008     Def Rat      FG%        3PA          3P%       FTA        TOs Forced        TOs         Blks       Stls

BOS                98.9        41.9         18.7          31.6        26.3             15.2               16.0         4.6        8.5

HOU               101.6       43.3         14.5          36.5        23.3             13.7               13.7         5.1        7.3

SA                  101.8       44.4         15.0          34.2        21.6             12.6               12.9         4.1        6.4

DET                102.9       43.7         15.0          33.2        25.0             11.7                13.5        5.8        7.1

 

2006-2007     Def Rat      FG%        3PA          3P%        FTA        TOs Forced        TOs         Blks     Stls

CHI                99.6          43.5         16.9         34.9         27.1              16.0              17.4          5.4      7.8

SA                 99.9          44.3         13.4         33.4         21.4              13.9              14.3          5.1      7.2

HOU              100.7         44.9         16.7         35.1        24.4               14.2              14.2          4.1      7.1

CLE               101.3         44.8         15.0         32.9        25.6               14.4              14.4          4.3      7.6

 

2005-2006     Def Rat      FG%        3PA          3P%        FTA         TOs Forced       TOs         Blks      Stls

SA                  99.6         43.3         10.8          34.0         23.3               13.7             13.8          5.7       6.6

MEM              101.6        43.6         14.9          33.4        23.7               13.8              14.8         5.4        7.3

IND                102.4        43.5          13.2         34.3        25.1                15.3             13.6         5.0       7.3

NJ                  102.4        43.9          16.3         34.8        27.2                13.6             14.4         3.4       6.8 

 

 Avg:               101.3        43.6         16.0        33.9         23.0                14.3               14.3        4.9       7.3

 Top 5 teams:   100.2        43.1         16.1        33.1         24.5                14.6               15.1        5.3       7.5

 

Lots of numbers, but it will make sense in a bit.  Now lets look at the Jazz's best defensive team in the last 15 years, the current team and the team's defensive average over that time:

UTAH JAZZ       Def Rat      FG%          3PA           3P%         FTA          TOs Forced        TOs       Blks       Stls

2002-2003            102.8       43.4            15.3          34.9          29.5              15.9                16.8        5.7        8.6

2009-2010            104.4       45.4            17.9          34.5          27.0              14.8                14.9        4.5        7.4

Team Avg            105.4       44.9            18.0          36.0          29.3              15.5                15.8        5.7        8.0  

 

Thoughts about the statistics:

-Blocks and Steals don't have a real relationship to successful defenses.  Compared to league averages, the elite defensive teams don't necessarily block more shots or get more steals than other teams.

-Defensive teams find different ways to do it, but the bottom line is that to have a good defensive team you need to do three things:  Hold your opponents to a low overall field goal percentage, get a high percentage of defensive rebounds available and limit your opponents free throw attempts.

-Holding opponents to low field goal percentages and then getting defensive rebounds is not surprising.  That brings the same result as a turnover.  But where the Jazz struggle is that they allow 2-6 more free throws per game than elite defensive teams.  This year's team has improved on that statistic.

-The Jazz are an average or better than average team in 3 pointers allowed and opponents 3 point percentage.  It is certainly part of the equation, but many elite defensive teams allow lots of three point attempts and most of them hold opponents to a low 3 point %.

- There are only 12 different teams in the list of the best 20 defensive teams over the last 5 years.  So that tells me that great defense comes from one or two great players, a team's defensive philosophy, great coaching, or some combination of the 3.

-Taking my good defensive players theory a step further, look at the best defensive teams.   Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Lebron James, Ben Wallace, and Ron Artest are some players who have been on multiple great defensive teams.  Also, Memphis was the second best defensive team in 2005-2006.  Then Houston became a top 4 defensive team the next three years.  Shane Battier was traded from Memphis to Houston after the 2006 season.

-Turnovers forced and turnovers committed have a very weak relationship with good defensive teams.

-The best defensive Jazz team in defensive ratings had John Stockton, Calbert Cheaney, Matt Harpring, Karl Malone and Greg Ostertag as its primary starters.  They also were only 15th in the league in defense that year.  They went 47-35 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

-The best defensive Jazz teams in terms of ranking (9th place) is the 96-97 team and this year's team.  

-Jazz fans may clamor for the Jazz to improve their defense, but the NBA finals teams ranked 9th and 17th defensively.  They were both in 1st place offensively.