From the Magrathean Archives:
Fook: “Oh, Deep Thought. We want you to tell us the answer.”
Deep Thought: “The answer to what?”
Lunkwill: “The answer to…everything. We’d really like an answer. Something simple.”
Deep Thought: “Hmm, have to think about that… Return to this place in exactly seven-and-a-half million years.”
HoopSpeak’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss asks, does point guard defense matter? It might surprise you to find Deron Williams isn’t a very good defender by this measure, though not so much if you’re a Utah Jazz fan. With a relative lack of definitive defensive stats to draw upon, the eyeball is largely relied on to make a conscious determination on the matter. Point guards of significant stature, intensity, and athleticism, like Williams,Â can easily play tricks with your mind’s eye, fooling you into believing they’re making an impact on the defensive end of the floor.
Similarly, small, quick gamblers like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook can present a mirage when examined solely through the myopic-scope of standard statistical analysis, such as posting impressive steals numbers. While Ethan’s opinion may simply be tainted by being forced to cover one Monta Ellis –who picks pockets more often than Manu flops even as not a rational soul in the basketball world would ever claim he resembles anything approaching a good defender– we do have a few other resources to draw upon in attempting to compose a more complete picture. (If you didn’t click on the TrueHoop link at the top of this paragraph, please do so now.)
Ford Prefect: “Is it finished?”
Zaphod Bebblebrox: “No, no, no, there’s more, there’s more. They go back.”
Arthur Dent: “What, seven-and-a-half million years later?!”
Zaphod Bebblebrox: “That’s right. They do.” [presses play]
Fook: “Deep Thought, do you have…”
Deep Thought: “…an answer for you? Yes. But you’re not gonna like it.”
Fook: “It doesn’t matter, we must know it.”
Deep Thought: “Alright, the answer…is…”
“Only when you know the question will you know what the answer means,” and I’m not convinced we’ve asked the right question in this case. But lucky for you, you won’t have to wait around for 10 million years to find out.
Who leaps to mind in today’s NBA when you think “defensive point guards?” We’ve already ruled out Chris Paul and Deron Williams (by any measure outside of an iso post-up situation, just trust me on this –you won’t find anything to support otherwise), so we’re left with whom? Certainly Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo. Maybe Andre Miller and Kirk Hinrich. I’d add anything-Philadelphia, but that’s about it.
The proper question might not be does point guard defense matter, but rather, is point guard defense being played? Because if it’s not, by and large, then it’s difficult to make a case that it does, indeed, matter.
It wasn’t always the way of today with PG D, and it’s only due partially to the “no-hands” era (which I examined more closely here). Offense is sexy. Defense is dirty work no one wants to do anymore. In an effort to understand how we got here I charted the last 25 years of O/D-rating and Points-Per-Game and set it to a timeline of points-past that were well known for their defensive prowess.
Note and disclaimer: Offensive and Defensive ratings are per BasketballReference.com, and are an accurate measure of points scored and allowed. As every action has an opposite and equal reaction, league-wide O and D-Rtgs will always be equal in the summary
I realize that big men have a much larger impact on defense than the little guys, but I believe perimeter players, specifically point guards,Â give in far too easily today, playing more with their hands than feet
We used to regularly see point guards on the NBA’s All-Defensive 1st Team –Dennis Johnson and/or Mo Cheeks were there for nine straight years– as well as multiple PGs on it (count ‘em, four times, past) and even the lone Defensive Player of the Year-as-a-point, The Glove, but no more. In the last nine years we’ve had four total appearances, one of which was the aforementioned Chris Paul, and two accounted for by Rondo.
On HoopSpeakLive Ethan notes (4:38 mark), “For all the talk of Rajon Rondo and his defense I don’t think point guard defense matters that much. It does have an impact, but it’s the least important of all the positions [defensively]…it’s not clear he’s having a huge impact.”
Certainly point guard defense matters. Your point is not only your your first line of defense, he’s also supposed to be controlling the game, and not just on the offensive end of things. A point should be doing everything he can to dictate where the opposition goes with the ball, thereby increasing his team’s chance to get a stop.
Most of today’s point guards will all-too-easily take a half-hearted swipe as the ball goes by, leaving their big men exposed in the paint to try and mop up after ‘em, which is just about the worst-case scenario for these guys considering the athleticism and ability of players nowadays, as Ethan notes. Once the ball gets in the paint, the vast majority of the time it will end in points.
If you checked the “no-hands era” link above you noticed that there are more guards on the NBA’s .500 field goal percentage list these days –indeed, three of em made it this year and Steve Nash was right there til the end.Â Among point guards, Tony Parker led all in FG% last season, and two other poor 3-point shooters, Rajon Rondo and Andre Miller also find themselves in the top ten of PF FG%. Why? Because point guards don’t defend each other worth a damn, instead relying on help D to bail ‘em out.
Free throw attempts leaders in 2010-11 by position shake out thus: PGs 11, SGs 7, SFs 7, PFs 11, Cs 4. Point guards have found that if the pick-and-roll with their power forward isn’t there they can easily drive the paint now where one of three things generally happens: 1) They score 2) They find an open ‘mate when defenses are forced to collapse to help, or 3) They end up at the line.
According to HoopData stats last season, of the 14 point guard FG% leaders 63% of shots were made “at the rim,” compared to 41% for everything from 3-23 feet. Of the ten leading point guard free throw attempt’ers, 59% of shots were either at the rim or from 16 feet out to beyond the 3-line, compared to just 12% from 3′-9′ and a paltry 9% from 10′-15′ out. If PGs aren’t driving the paint they’re likely popping 3s or near-3s. Chicks dig scars, and chicks dig the long ball, right? Anything in between is no-real-man’s land.
The 3-ball is more prominent now than ever before in the NBA, and high-usage point guards are fond of trying to ring in from range. The 14 best FG-shooting points average out to make about one in three tries, 34%, last season, while 3s comprise about one in every four of their FGAs. An interesting thing happened when I charted in the 3-point percentage to the above graph.
We might expect that 3s would more closely follow along with PPG, while instead we find that over the last 20-plus years it instead appears more closely tied to D-ratings. It took less than a decade –the 3 was first adopted by the NBA in the 1979-80 season– for the 3-ball to integrate itself as a permanent weapon in the arsenals of offensive players and it’s effects have been attached to defenses ever since.
As the perimeter is the domain of point guards first and foremost, as
heads egos butt initially from here on in to the paint, on the majority of possessions in most systems, defensively and offensively, this is an area of the game their impact should be felt. Yet we’re experiencing a high,Â sustained rate of made 3-pointers. Granted, not all of them come from point guards, but PGs all too often readily let a man fly and hope for the best, waiting with extended hands for a chance to answer at the other end rather than make an attempt to quell a momentum-swinging play in the first place.
Back in the day, one of the most tenacious and annoying defenders in the league, John Stockton, would reportedly terrorize his opponent early in every game by “accidentally” driving his knee as hard as he could into his opposition’s thigh, thereby setting a tone of toughness that seems to be lacking in these “entitled” times of little-to-no real defense. A cursory search of PGs then and now readily shows a separation of several feet on the D end of things for most perimeter players.
Perimeter point guard defense has seemingly said, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
More pieces to the puzzle
Defensive Pace Factor, helping explain why Chris Paul gets so many steals; he gets more chances
Sebastian Pruiti’s recent look at How Top Point Guards Are Defended
Zach and Ethan touch on system on HoopSpeakLive. Deron Williams and Devin Harris show it in their numbers before/after 2011 trade
Baron Davis plays weird defense, or at least he used to (Video)