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Lou's Gold

Take a gander at the Sixers team page on 82games.com, I'll wait. Two particular numbers jumped out at me, opponent's production vs. Lou (17.2) and vs. Jrue (19.9). 15.0 is supposedly league-average, the lower the number, the better. Having watched every second of Sixers basketball this season, I can emphatically tell you Lou Williams isn't half the defender Jrue Holiday is, so how do you explain that number? We'll give it a try after the jump.

Obviously, I'm using Synergy Sports for the following numbers. If you don't have an account yet, I highly recommend it. Anyway, the first thing I did was take a look at the general defensive numbers for each player. Lou allowed 0.96 points-per-play, his man shot 42.3% from the floor, 40% from three, he forced turnovers on 7.3% of plays. Jrue allowed 0.93 points-per-play, his man shot 40.2% from the floor, 35.9% from three, he forced turnovers on 8% of plays. Jrue's foul rate was significantly higher (7.8% to 4.2%). Overall, Jrue's numbers are more impressive, but not drastically so.

When you look a little closer, Jrue holds a significant advantage in every defensive situation (Post-up, P&R Roll Man, Spot-Up, Off Screen, Hand Off) but one (Isolation). Jrue allowed 1.13 points-per-play on isolation plays, Lou allowed an impressive 0.6 points-per-play in similar situations.

82games.com is intentionally opaque in their methodology for calculating opponent's production, but I have to believe they're weighting isolation defense much higher, probably because it's necessarily the easiest to isolate. I figured since this was the one area Lou was superior in, we should take a closer look. The charts below depict first who Jrue was guarding for the 124 isolation plays Synergy has video of. The second is the same list, but for the 90 isolation plays they have video of for Lou.

Jrue Holiday - Isolation defense

Player No Player No.
Derrick Rose 9 Rodney Stuckey 1
Monta Ellis 8 Jose Calderon 1
Jameer Nelson 7 Kevin Durant 1
Dwyane Wade 7 Rashard Lewis 1
Mo Williams 5 Keyon Dooling 1
TJ Ford 5 Terrence Williams 1
Stephen Curry 5 Earl Watson 1
Mike Conley 4 Paul Pierce 1
Jamal Crawford 4 Joe Johnson 1
Jarrett Jack 4 Jason Williams 1
Rajon Rondo 4 Jordan Farmar 1
Kobe Bryant 4 CJ Watson 1
Jonny Flynn 4 George Hill 1
Aaron Brooks 4 Manu Ginobili 1
Russell Westbrook 4 Jason Kidd 1
Toney Douglas 3 Jerryd Bayless 1
Ben Gordon 3 Tyreke Evans 1
Mike Bibby 2 Chris Paul 1
Kirk Hinrich 2 Chucky Atkins 1
Danilo Gallinari 2 Gilbert Arenas 1
Raymond Felton 2 Nick Young 1
Mickael Pietrus 2 Arron Afflalo 1
Baron Davis 2 Rudy Gay 1
Brandon Jennings 1 Goran Dragic 1
Carlos Arroyo 1 Lester Hudson 1
Will Bynum 1

Lou Williams - Isolation defense

Player No. Player No.
Tyrke Evans 7 Troy Murphy 1
Aaron Brooks 6 Earl Watson 1
Rodney Stuckey 5 Paul Pierce 1
CJ Watson 5 Marvin Williams 1
Mike Conley 4 Steve Nash 1
Earl Boykins 4 Goran Dragic 1
Delonte West 3 Anthony Morrow 1
Rajon Rondo 3 George Hill 1
Derek Fisher 3 Kevin Love 1
Derrick Rose 3 Keyon Dooling 1
Baron Davis 3 AJ Price 1
Brandon Jennings 3 JJ Barea 1
Terrence Williams 2 DeMar DeRozan 1
Jarrett Jack 2 Gilbert Arenas 1
Monta Ellis 2 Randy Foye 1
Jonny Flynn 2 Anthony Carter 1
Wilson Chandler 2 Arron Afflalo 1
Ty Lawson 2 Sergio Rodriguez 1
Mo Williams 2 Nick Young 1
Jason Williams 1 Andray Blatche 1
Will Bynum 1 Marcus Williams 1
LeBron James 1 Eric Maynor 1
DJ Augustin 1 Chris Duhon 1

Those are too many names to easily digest, so I'll break it down for you:

Of the 126 isolation plays against Jrue, 69 of the plays were against opponents that I'll call upper-echelon offensive players, and I'm being fairly liberal with that classification. Here are the players I'm lumping into that category: Derrick Rose, Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis, Dwyane Wade, Mo Williams, Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo, Kobe Bryant, Aaron Brooks, Russell Westbrook, Ben Gordon, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Jason Kidd, Tyreke Evans, Chris Paul and Rudy Gay. Jrue was defending that group of players for 56% of his defensive isolation plays.

Of the 90 isolation plays against Lou, 27 of the plays were against opponents who fall into the same group of upper-echelon players. (Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash). Lou was defending that group of players for only 30% of his defensive isolation plays.

So, was Lou better in these situations, or was it merely a matter of Lou being gifted easier matchups, or being hidden as the case may be? Nothing is definitive, but I think the evidence is clearly pointing in that direction.

A couple of notes from the video I watched. If you do sign up for Synergy, check out these two games for Jrue:

  • 12/3 @ OKC - OKC isolated Russell Westbrook on Jrue 4 times. 3 missed jumpers and 1 turnover.
  • 12/15 vs. GSW - GSW isolated Monta Ellis on Jrue 7 times. 4 missed jumpers, 1 blocked layup and 2 turnovers.

One final note, this data is useful, and it's interesting to go back and see the baptism by fire Jrue underwent in his rookie season on the defensive end, but by no means is this a complete picture. This version of Synergy only records plays that end in a field goal attempt, a shooting foul or a turnover. In most of these situations, good defense is more about stopping penetration and forcing the ballhandler to give it up and reset the offense. There's no way for me to track those situations.

The one takeaway I have from this exercise is that Lou's numbers probably don't mean a whole lot. 70% of the time, he was guarding a lesser offensive talent. The fact that these lower-echelon players were going at him is both a byproduct of the defenders on the floor with him (Iguodala and Jrue, especially) and actually it's sort of a sign of a win for team defense. Think about it, when you're playing the Golden State Warriors, don't you want CJ Watson taking shots off the dribble as opposed to Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis? Earl Boykins, Derek Fisher and a host of others fall into the same category.

Looking forward, if/when we have a decent defensive mind running this team, and hopefully a defender who is fundamentally better than Lou, teams should be forced to run offense through their second and third perimeter options and it will have a huge deleterious effect on their overall offensive efficiency. Or at least that's the theory I'm going with.

Thoughts in the comments, as usual. Happy Monday.