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Defense Into Offense

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Last week when I was compiling the data for this post, a new (to me) stat piqued my interest. DEFR, or Defensive Plays Rate. A "Defensive Play" is either a steal, block or charge drawn by a defender, the rate is the number of defensive plays a team makes out of 100 possessions. The Sixers are currently dominating this category, but I wanted to dig a little deeper. Check it out after the jump.

My fascination with this stat is really based in what I consider the ideal direction for the team's future: A team that defends at an elite level and uses its defense to fuel an intense running game. Defensive plays (minus charges drawn) being the key to scoring enough points in transition to offset the deficiencies in the half-court which would need to be overcome based on the current roster makeup and the emphasis on defense required to pull off this game plan.

It's no secret that I believe Andre Iguodala is the lynch pin for the Sixers if this is the type of team they're going to build. A wing who can defend like he does and contributes across the board is a versatile weapon, but it's extremely hard to quantify pure defensive contributions. While watching a couple of games this past week, a light bulb went off him in my head.

Smarter men than I are hard at work in trying to quantify how many points a player saves on the defensive end over an average defender (here's one you should check out). No matter how elegant their equations are, it's going to be a tough sell to the average fan, so I'm not even going to try. Anecdotally, I think it's pretty clear Iguodala has a tremendous effect on the man he's guarding on almost a nightly basis, but it's not easy to back up with stats.

For the purposes of trying to figure out if Iguodala really is a perfect player to build the "defend and run" system around, there is a way to quantify his contributions, however. Let's forget about how many points he saves with his defense, and instead focus on how many points he creates on that end of the floor.

Forget about charges drawn, they're meaningless when we're talking about using defense to create offense. I'm going to focus on three easily identifiable defensive stats: Defensive rebounds, steals and blocks. More importantly, I'm going to look at the results on the other end of the floor resulting from these defensive plays. To be more precise, I'm going to isolate the points scored off of these types of plays in early offense on the other end. I used 10 seconds of game time as the cut off mark, anything more than that and we're probably talking about a set defense against a set offense.

Here are three examples to illustrate the methodology:

  1. With 30 seconds left on the game clock, Iguodala grabs a defensive rebound, then with 25 seconds left on the clock, Thad Young hits a layup. This would count as two points of early offense.
  2. With 30 seconds left on the game clock, Iguodala steals the ball. Then with 19 seconds left on the clock, Jason Kapono hits a three-pointer. This would count as zero points of early offense, though it did result in three points total.
  3. With 30 seconds left on the game clock, Iguodala steals the ball. Then with 25 seconds left on the clock, Thad Young misses a layup. With 24 seconds left on the clock, Marreese Speights grabs the offensive rebound and slams it home. He's fouled on the play and hits the free throw. This would count as three points of early offense (the dunk with occurred within the 10-second window, plus the free throw that resulted from the dunk).
As you can probably tell, I'm trying isolate points that were scored as a result of pushing the ball up the floor off of a defensive play to get the ball in the first play. I'm trying to be as inclusive as possible, because really a follow-up dunk is a result of the initial push and number mismatch. I'm also trying exclude any shot that could reasonably be expected to have occurred against a set defense, because once the defense is set it doesn't really matter how you got the ball, the advantage is gone.

I compiled the following data by going through each of the Sixers' 43 game logs line by line, picking out Iguodala's defensive rebounds, steals and blocks, then tracking the results. Here's what I came up with:

  • On Iguodala's 359 defensive plays (248 defensive rebounds, 84 steals, 27 blocks), the Sixers have scored 263 points in early offense on the other end.
  • For the season, the Sixers have scored 4,210 points, meaning Iguodala's defense has directly contributed to 6.25% of the team's total points scored by fueling transition opportunities on the other end of the floor.
  • If you break it down into only the minutes Iguodala has actually been on the floor, the number jumps up to 7.65% (263 of 3,438 total points according to my rotation chart click to download)
I broke the numbers down into a couple of different splits as well.

  • vs. +.500 teams (24 games): 166 of 2,302 points. 6.92 points/game. 7.21% of total points. 6 wins, 18 losses.
  • vs -.500 teams (19 games): 97 of 1,908 points. 5.11 points/game. 5.08% of total points. 9 wins, 10 losses.
  • In wins (15 games): 104 of 1,545 points. 6.93 points/game. 6.73% of total points.
  • In losses (28 games): 159 of 2,665 points. 5.68 points/game. 5.97% of total points.
I chose these particular splits for two reasons. One, a big argument against this style of play is that it doesn't translate against the better teams in the league, ergo, it would be hard for a team playing like this to compete in the playoffs. The numbers suggest Iguodala is actually better at generating early offense with his defensive plays against better opponents, he averages 1.81 more points generated per game against teams with a winning record.

The second reason was to see if there was any kind of correlation between this number and actually winning games. I'll let you decide if the splits are significant enough to carry any weight.

Unfortunately, I simply didn't have the time to take this analysis as far as I would like to. I can't tell you how Iguodala measures up against other elite defenders in the league (I tracked LeBron's numbers in the game he played against the Sixers. He finished the game with 2 transition points created off defense), I can't even tell you how other Sixers fare in the same model. The main point of this post was to put some kind of a value on Iguodala's defense strictly as it relates to generating points in transition offense on the other end of the floor, which is absolutely a critical ingredient in playing this brand of basketball. If I had to guess, which unfortunately I do, I'd say you'd be hard pressed to find another player in the league who is generating this many easy points for his team through his defense. (If we can agree on one or two players to compare him to, I'll do the legwork when I get the chance)

The truth is, it's not just his defense that's creating these points, it's his defense coupled with his handle, his athleticism, his finishing ability and his passing. We should also keep in mind that these numbers don't reflect his contributions in transition as a finisher, nor as the guy leading the break when someone else makes the defensive play to initiate it and hits Iguodala with the outlet pass.

It's also worth mentioning that Iguodala is definitely benefited by the Sixers style of play. LeBron doesn't push the ball up the floor every time he grabs a defensive rebound simply because his team isn't atrocious in the half court, offensively (although they may be better served if he did). Iguodala has the green light to turn every defensive stop into a track meet, which isn't necessarily something you should penalize him for, but it's definitely a mitigating factor if/when we're comparing him to a defender on a team that actually prefers to play in the half court (Brandon Roy, for example).

I'm pretty sure I've explained the theory behind the math about as clearly as I can, so let's take a look at a couple games.

  • Win over New Orleans: 14 points, 14.85% of total points scored.
  • Win over Dallas: 10 points, 10.87% of total points scored.
  • Shutout completely three times: Loss to Boston, loss to Houston and win over Sacramento.
  • Loss vs. Cleveland: 13 points, 12.87% of total points scored.
Let me have it in the comments. What do you think about this stat? What does it say, if anything, about Iguodala's value? Who would you like to see him compared to? Also, what should I add, (that's available in the play-by-play provided at NBA.com) to make the stat more complete? (After I'd compiled the numbers, I kicked myself for not tracking turnovers in the first ten seconds as well, I think that would be helpful. We could then factor in an offensive efficiency rating for all possessions that end in the first 10 seconds and compare it to the half-court OFR.)

by Brian on Jan 25 2010
Tags: Andre Iguodala | Basketball | Sixers | Stats |