Years ago before blogs existed, and the only reasonable way I could communicate with other Utah Jazz fans was through internet message boards, I used to write really long posts filled with information. It was information based upon facts, and I really didn't get into putting my point of view on things. I have been accused of doing just the opposite over the last 4 months. So, I'm going to go retro and put up a whole bunch of numbers.
I love defense. I'm that dude out there in pick-up ball who's calling out screens and trying to get in your shirt. Everyone wants to shoot the ball, but you make a name for yourself by going out there and trying hard on defense. You win games with defense. You win championships with defense. I'm very happy that we have a group of young guys (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and the unmovable Enes Kanter) on our team right now. All of those guys have shown me something on defense this year. Hayward never gives up on plays. Favors can block a ton of shots. Burks is one of our best guys on pick and roll defense and defending guys through multiple screens. And well, Kanter just shuts people down. It's encouraging to see them play defense. Some of them play it part time right now, but it's a huge step up from the days when we were trying to win playoff games with Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Gordan Giricek, and Jason Hart playing minutes.
It's way too early to say that these guys are the real deal on defense based upon data from an incomplete season. It's too early, but we have enough data on two of the guys (Hayward and Favors) to kind of see what type of players they are. I thought it would be cool to see how they compared to the best defenders in Jazz history. Because I don't sleep, and can't find all the data I need, this is only for the last few decades of Utah Jazz history though.
If you are insane like me, or just curious about this subject, click on below!
Quantitatively measuring defense
I love statistics. I love defense. That said, the statistics box scores keep for defense don't necessarily mean that player is a good defender. Advanced stats and scouting reports help; however we do not really measure actual defense. The best possible defense you can do is to bottle your man up to the point where he loses his dribble, and passes the ball out -- and cannot even receive the pass to get the ball again for the entire possession. You didn't steal the ball, and he didn't turn it over. He didn't shoot, and you couldn't block the shot. What is the best defense gets you zero points on the box score.
I can understand why, but that doesn't absolve a good defender not being able to quantitatively show how good he is. On the flip side a guy like Carlos Boozer got a lot of defensive boards, but wasn't a good defender. A guy like Allen Iverson gambled a lot and got a lot of steals, but no one thinks he was a better defender than Joe Dumars. And Manute Bol got a lot of blocks -- but people still scored on him with regularity. Those three guys piled up defensive stats without necessarily being good at defense.
Furthermore, there appears to be a fundamental difference between what defense is. In one way defense is stopping the other team from scoring. Sounds logical, right? Well, the other concept of defense goes further, it's not just stopping the other team from scoring -- but it's also stopping the other team from having possession of the ball. As an example, it could be the adage that you don't stop hustling on defense just because your man shot the ball -- you stop hustling on defense until your team gets the ball back and is on offense.
We can't really measure the idealize version of defense (making your man miss, or the shutting your man out example I used above). We can measure getting (or giving up) possession of the ball. When you are on defense if you get a defensive rebound you gain possession of the ball. When you get a steal you gain possession of the ball. When you block a shot you do not, but you are helping your team out. When you get deflections (which SHOULD be on boxscores) you do the same. When you foul someone you are not helping your team get possession of the ball. When you turn the ball over you don't either.
The metrics I'm focusing on for this analysis are mainly: defensive rebounds, blocks, steals, fouls, and turn overs. I also look at games and minutes; and as a result, collect the totals and rank them by "per game" and "per 36 minutes" values.
I've also (because I can't be idle and I'm afraid to have crazy dreams like Shums does) made two more metrics which combine a lot of factors. The first is D.Sim, which is Defense Simple. The second is D.Adv, which is Defense Advanced. The names aren't important and I feel like re-naming them now. They take a look at the aspect of defense that we CAN measure. It's not about shutting your man down, but about gaining possessions of the ball. They are both metrics that produce a ratio between getting the ball against giving the ball up. They aren't perfect, but what stat is?
Here are their formulas:
This is simple, hence the name. Blocks + Steals + D.Rebounds all over the sum of Turn overs and Fouls. Easy. Simple.
This is a more refined attempt where there are weights to each section. I think that a defensive rebound, a steal, and a turn over are all aspects of the game which more directly change which team has possession of the ball. And I feel like fouls and blocks still count, but should not count for the same value. When you block a shot you do not ensure your team gains possession. Similarly, not all fouls hurt your team.
So all in all what we have here is a hard look at defensive rebounds, blocks, steals, D. Sim, D. Adv, and minutes. And I will look at them in how they exist as products of a players approximate hard work on defense. Also, we break it down between "per game" and "per 36 minutes" ... some guys don't look impressive because they don't play. While some guys play a lot and don't contribute much. Of course, some guys just suck on defense too.
Well, enough about the formulas . . .
Did you know that there are a billion different players who have played for the Utah Jazz? And that there are were 2.7 metric ho-jillion things to keep track of when I was doing the numbers for this post? Well, I looked at every Jazz roster, and each player on those rosters. I punched in all the info and it took forever. I had to add each minute they played for the Jazz, regular season and playoffs combined. This became very frustrating because our team has a habit of bringing back the same guys over and over again. (Btw, David Benoit -- thanks. Thanks a lot.) The easiest guys were guys like Andrei Kirilenko and John Stockton who ONLY played for the Jazz. Anyway, after getting the data for the whole franchise I had to pick the 12 best defense players in Utah Jazz history.
Because it would be foolish just to use stats I had to also look at things like awards and reputation. And well, the list had some guys I had to cut who were good candidate. Antonie Carr, Big Dawg if I may, you were awesome. But you were actually a better defender with the Spurs and Hawks than the Jazz. I also had to cut out a lot of players who did not play enough for the Jazz.
Eventually I settled for the following 12 guys, and I don't think you can complain. They comprise the best 12 man roster for the Jazz -- if all you cared about was defense.
- PG: John Stockton (, Earl Watson, Ronnie Price
- SG: Raja Bell, Ronnie Brewer
- SF: Andrei Kirilenko, Bryon Russell, Matt Harpring
- PF: Karl Malone, Paul Millsap
- C: Mark Eaton, Greg Ostertag
Also included in the stats are the idealized, actual numerical average for ALL THE DAMN PLAYERS ON THE ENTIRE DAMN TEAM. Lastly, I've also included Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. The point of this exercise was to see just how our sophs match up with the best the Utah Jazz ever had to offer. (Burks isn't great on defense, just very proficient on closing out and going around screens -- and there's really no honest way to express Enes' impact on defense either -- and they both are rookies. So they aren't involved) All in all, that makes 15 groups, the Top 12, the 2 rookies, and the Jazz Average. A note on the Jazz average, this is the team's full franchise history stats divided by all the games ever. And then it's THAT again divided by 5. It's unfair, because it's simply the team's stats divided by position (by 5). It's too high in a lot of places, and not every player on this list can compete against it in terms of PER GAME stats; however, it shows some interesting stuff in the Per 36 mins section.
There's a top tier, a middle, and a bottom. Let's get on with it, Amar!
The Stats -- Per Game Stats:
Defensive Rebounds, Blocks, and Steals
Clearly the Mailman stands alone in terms of defensive rebounds per game. He's even better than the Jazz position average (which because of overtime games, is for greater than 48 mpg). Favors is in elite company already, despite coming off the bench and being just a second year player in limited minutes. Hayward did not board much, however I think he'll improve. If Harpring was getting 3 a game, Hayward can get 3 a game.
Derrick Favors is already in the Top Tier when it comes to blocks too. That is impressive. It's also impressive that after ALL of his down seasons Andrei still manages a career 2 blocks a game. Wow. Mark Eaton is from another planet. Keep this in mind. Hayward can get a block here or there -- but he's clearly not killing it here.
Steals, well, John Stockton. And, wow, Karl Malone. Our youngs though? Not so much. In terms of getting the ball for your team as an important aspect of defense, via stealing the ball, our two guys here haven't produced. Of course, I expect that they both can. Of course, I do hope that Kanter learns Malone's post strip move / bear claw attack. Malone couldn't jump so played defense on the floor. I think Kanter needs to learn it.
Minutes, D. Sim, and D. Adv
Yeah, see, that shows you the overtime effect that not only boosts the Jazz franchise average to unnatural heights, but also clearly shows you that it's not a true average for a player. It's just a statistical construct and not a true frame of reference. Of course, I wasn't going to let calculating the values for the entire team's franchise history go to waste.
Karl, John, and AK are winning minutes. Favors is "losing" here, but that only shows how much MORE impressive his defensive rebounding and blocks numbers per game are. Verily, he is the beast. Hayward isn't showing up high in minutes here, but I have no doubt that he'll get all the minutes he wants in the new few seasons.
D.Sim? Simply put, Andrei and Ronnie B play the all-around most mistake free basketball on defense for our team. They didn't foul too much, and didn't turn the ball over too much -- but they both got a lot of everything else. Karl Malone is (I think) #1 ALL-TIME in turn overs in NBA history, and he bares doesn't break the Top 5 here. So according to Defense Simple he was still pretty good. Eaton and Stockon show that their numbers mean something here too. Hayward is all the way at the bottom, but that just shows that he's not quite there yet. Favors is in the middle, already, and he's played practically the least total minutes. He'll have more time to rise in the ranks for sure.
D. Adv? When you weigh things Andrei and Ronnie B are still at the tops. Harpring makes a significant jump, which is nice to see. Right now, when grading the player's performance by a weighted metric based off of per game statistics, though, it seems like our young studs are not quite there yet. But while per game statistics are at the whim of dispassionate and capricious playing time schedules -- we have the more 'pure' (and thus also 'hypothetical' and 'imaginary') ideal of rates like per 36 minutes to look at.
The Stats -- Per 36 minutes Stats:
Defensive Rebounds, Blocks, and Steals
Say hello to Derrick Favors, ladies and gentlemen. He's Top Tier in both rebounds and blocks. And, might I add, "duh". His rates are All-Star worthy, and yet he sits, and sits and sits. Mark Eaton also goes above 7 here, his inability to stay in games kept his MPG lower than it should have been. Right now Hayward's rates for both defensive rebounds and blocks are in the category that features some of our point guards. That needs to improve, man. Our wings like Andrei, Matt, and B-Russ were all getting about 4 defensive rebounds a game, while he's at only 3. Ronnie Price got more blocks per 36 minutes than The Precious too.
Steals continues to be a tricky thing, but man, that Top 5 group were all ballhawks, per 36. Of course, there's no greater example of taking some caution when looking at these numbers than seeing Ronnie Price way at the top here getting 2 steals per 36 minutes. He can't play 36 minutes in a game at the NBA level. Hopefully, if they aren't gingerbread sophomores, our two guys of Favors and Hayward can though.
Minutes, D. Sim, and D. Adv
Wow. Mark Eaton is not of this earth. His rate is insane in terms of getting his team possessions (remember, D Simp and D Adv are just ratios of getting the ball on D vs. losing it). Of course, part of this is because a lot of those Jazz plays finished before he could run past half court on offense. (Same with Greg) Those guys show up along with Ronnie B and AK. When you put the weighted metrics in Karl Malone shows you all why he should have been on more All-Defensive teams.
Stockton is all the way at the bottom . . . and we know he was great on defense. But here's the deal -- he's the guy on defense who as haring guys and shepherding them into bad shots and bad parts of the floor. Stockton led the guys he defended into Mark and Greg. They got the blocks (which showed up on the boxscore); but John didn't get any points for shutting his guys down and forcing them into the heart of the defense. This goes all the way back to my example of the absolute BEST defense not even making a blip on the box score.
Stockton's rate of directly getting the ball back wasn't high, he got a lot of steals but wasn't a gambler. He did play a lot and no one can say he wasn't a great defender. What these stats show is that in my calculations I perhaps am over-valuing defensive rebounds. I don't know. It's only half of the puzzle.
You need guys who can make the other team take bad shots (guys like Stockton, Raja Bell, Alec Burks hopefully, and so forth); but you also need guys who can pick up the trash and get the rebounds (guys like AK who was always going to where the ball was going, or Karl who could box out two guys and still get the one handed rebound).
And I guess that's why when it comes to defense, half of the story will always show up in the boxscore, but the other half will still only be appreciated by those who watch the game.
I think that D.Favors really shows up well in these metrics. He can be that 'overt' defensive player who makes a difference. He grabs rebounds, he blocks shots -- and he doesn't turn the ball over that much on offense. His net value in getting the Jazz possession of the ball is clearly in the positive.
Gordon Hayward has more responsibilities with the ball on offense, and sadly has the defend against guys who the rules usually rule in favor for. (Wing players draw the most fouls in this league because of the rule changes / no handchecking etc) That doesn't absolve him from hitting the glass though. He's a tall, long player -- with a great BBALL IQ. He should be doing more. I love his steals and blocks, but clearly he's not the equal of Ronnie B or Andrei in this regard. Those guys were defenders first; while Hayward is an All-Rounder. And that's totally fine, I think we all can agree we need someone who can hit a three more than a guy super good at getting steals. Of course, that opens up the other can of worms about Hayward's up and down three point shooting this year. (The next post later on this week)
I'm certain that both guys are going to improve and will get a lot better in the future. Their rates are impressive compared to their per game averages. And unlike the situation of Ronnie Price, these two guys are quite capable of getting more playing time -- and have the talent to "earn it".
You guys can agree or disagree. I thought this would be fun. Not all of these Top 12 defenders are based fully on stats. There are tough guys like Harpring who didn't have great stats, and reputation guys like Raja who did more on making the game harder for who he defends, and less so on getting rebounds and blocks. There are no perfect way to quantify defense. Getting the ball vs. giving it up is just part of the equation.
Favors is a dude out there who gets you the ball. Hayward? He seems to be more of the type of guy who makes the other player do dumb things. I think Delonte West would agree.
Right now, our Top 12 defenders are still pretty solid. In another few seasons I think it wouldn't be insane to add Favors and Hayward to this list. They're just not there yet.