The Eclectic Quill

April 26, 2009

I Thought Defense Won Championships

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 11:22 am

For years teams like the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks would put up huge numbers on offense in the regular season, and with it fantastic records and #1 seeds. The talk of course always settled around one thing, defense wins championships, and inevitably all that talk was vindicated as whichever team in question made an early exit from the playoffs.

Enter the 2008-2009 season and the Los Angeles Lakers,who boast the West’s best record and the leagues 3rd highest scoring offense and who are also the prohibitive favorites by 4/5 odds whereas Cleveland, who boasts the NBA’s best record, home court advantage, and more importantly, the leagues best defense, are getting 5/4 odds. More telling is the (and this is admittedly subjective) virtual early coronation of the Lakers as the next NBA champions by the media at large, particularly the folks at ESPN and TNT.

Now some would point to the two games that the Lakers won but there’s a lot of reason for incredulity with allowing that to carry too much weight. For starters, in the first game the Lakers were at full strength while the Cavs were missing West and Ilguaskas. Secondly, and really more importantly, rarely does what happened in two regular season games, spaced a month apart, really give much indication of what is going to happen in a seven game series. In fact, I believe hearing that quite a bit from the same crowd last year.

But more disconcerting to me is the nearly whole scale departure from the conversation of defense. Normally that conversation is the most dominant of all post season conversations, but this year it seems to be a dirty word. It’s almost like you have to go and look it up to find out that Cleveland is the #1 defense in the country.

Now allow me to say, I’m not a Cavaliers fan, I’m a Bulls fan, in spite of what my recent posts on the whole Lebron vs. Kobe debate might lead some to believe. Neither is my contention here with the Lakers, who I think will come out of the West and I’d venture to say it’s going to be a coin toss who wins it all. It won’t come down to Kobe or Lebron though (as the media will make it out to be) rather, it will come down to Odom or Ilgauskas or West or Williams or Gasol, and how they play. Anyway, I digress.

My emphasis here is the change in conversation and why. The national sports television media is all about television markets. Today I turn on ESPN and according to them the story of the NFL draft was the Jets trading up to get Sanchez, the one year starter at USC. So why was that the big story of the NFL draft, and not say, Crabtree, arguably the guy who will stand out ten years from now as the top player in that draft falling all the way to number 10? The reason is simple; this story involved the two biggest television markets in the country.

So now lets get back to the NBA and the Lakers and the Cavs and the story of defense. Why isn’t defense winning championships this year? Because people in LA don’t want to hear the folks on TNT or ESPN talk about how their favorite team is going to lose because their defense doesn’t compare with Cleveland’s. The league average this year for PPG surrendered was 100, the Lakers are 13th in the league in scoring defense with 99.3 points while the Cavs are first with 91.4. L.A. is better in opponent field goal percentage, surrendering a 6th best average of .447. However, Cleveland is surrendering a sterling .431. In 3 point percentage the Lakers get even better giving up a 3rd best .345, but again Cleveland is even better with .333. Cleveland’s opponents grabbed 878 offensive rebounds while the Lakers opponents grabbed 959. Cleveland surrendered 2310 defensive rebounds and the Lakers, 2440. The Lakers only advantage is in creating turnovers and getting steals. They have created the leagues 3rd best 1350 turnovers, and 6th best 728 steals, compared to Cleveland’s moderate 16th best as they have stolen the ball 728 times compared to the Cavs 592. This advantage though is offset by Cleveland’s moderate 18th best in opponents’ turnovers with 1137 and 28th best in steals with 519. This is somewhat offset though, but not completely by the fact that Cleveland has committed the fourth fewest turnovers.

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly though, Cleveland’s held their opponents to 1568 assists, good for 4th best in the league, while the Lakers opponents fared much better, collecting 1854 dimes, placing the Lakers at 26th in the league. This bodes well for Cleveland in two ways. First it’s troubling for the Lakers that Cleveland is so prevailing in this regard because it screams a great matchup with the triangle offense, which emphasizes passing to create scoring. Cleveland’s ability to cut passing lanes could mean a series of Kobe shooting and having huge games, in a losing cause. Secondly, the Lakers lack of ability to cut passing lanes could spell well for Lebron having some huge games and collecting nightly triple doubles.

Now there’s a lot of different things that could be broken down here, and some will doubtless favor the Lakers, and my point here isn’t really to conjecture how the series will go but as to how it very well could go and especially, to ponder why the media isn’t doing it. The only conclusion I can come to is that they don’t want to, and they don’t want to because they don’t want to anger the Lakers media market.

As the finals approach and Kobe and Lebron lead their teams down to this inevitable path perhaps there will be a bit more discussion of how the series would break down and maybe even someone will start to talk about the weaknesses of the Lakers defense and the strength of the Cavaliers defense. My guess though is that they’re also going to be stirring up the hype for James to go to New York and out of Cleveland. The NBA has an agenda and its stirring the pot through its spokesmen, and that agenda is to keep the finals in big markets. It’s the most plausible explanation for why we aren’t hearing about how defense wins championships this year.

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9 Comments »

  1. Hi Kelly,
    How are you?

    You are pretty horrible at providing statistical information. The numbers you provide are not an accurate assessment in any way.

    Go here;
    http://www.nba.com/statistics/sortable_team_statistics/sortable1.html

    and look at the team stats between the Cavs and the Lakers. Look at both the defensive team stats and the offensive stats. These are the officially recorded stats between the two teams.

    Look at those stats and tell me which team is consistently in the top 5. Based on the NBA tracked statistical numbers.

    The Lakers are a better scoring team, better FG% team, Better FT% team, and assist per game team.

    Defensively the Lakers are a better rebounding team both home and away as well as steals, both home and away.

    The Lakers offense is better then the Cavs offense. The Lakers defense is good enough to stop the Cavs offense which would render the Cavs defense against the Lakers offense mutable.

    Now here is the major factor that will completely determine this possible series.
    In the 2 games against the Cavs the Lakers scored 104 points in the paint compared to the Cavs 52 points in the paint.

    Jump shooting doesn’t win championships.

    Comment by Steven — April 28, 2009 @ 11:52 am | Reply

    • Seriously Steven?

      1) All the numbers that I provided are 100 percent accurate and recorded on basketball-reference.com. I don’t see how that makes me “horrible” at providing statistical information.
      2) In a discussion about defense I didn’t find it necessary to compare offensive stats. That is completely irrelevant.
      3) The NBA site has things labeled weird so I think you misunderstand. It’s not Home and Away, it’s Home and Opponent. I don’t know why they call it Home but it’s a reference to the team’s own rebounds compared to their opponents rebounds. As evidence I provide you with the exact same numbers, only on Yahoo, but with better labeling. http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/stats/byteam?&cat1=Total&cat2=opponent&conference=NBA&year=season_2008&sort=333. Also, it’s not citing “Defensive” rebounds but total rebounds. For someone that wants to rail on out being horrible at providing statistical information you’ve done a pretty horrible job of proving your case. Cleveland out rebounds their opponents by 3.31, the Lakers by 2.47.
      4) In terms of differential, Cleveland is the only team that is top 5 in steals, blocks and rebounds.
      5) Your last statement boggles my mind. After you have spent how many comments railing about how Lebron’s points don’t count as much as Kobe’s now you’re going to prattle on about how the Cavs won’t win becuase points in the paint “don’t win championships.”

      Let me just add, that I think you missed the whole point of the post.

      4)

      Comment by kelly — April 28, 2009 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

    • I don’t question the authenticity of the stats, only your understanding of them Steven. It’s not like they are more valld, or for that matter, different because they are on the NBA website. I only pointed to the Yahoo site to demonstrate that it is was a misunderstanding with labeling.

      And no, the Lakers are not better “across the board” as you suggest. It also doesn’t show a very important defensive stat, one I’m sure your aware that Cleveland is much better in, SCORING. Yes I think that SCORING IS IMPORTANT IN TERMS OF DEFENSE.

      Steven, I still think your missing the point of the article. As I stated there, I’m not trying to preview the finals. I’m just wondering why this year, as opposed to years past, there’s little discussion of defense.

      BUT

      I do want to point out that the number one team in scoring differential was not the Lakers, so if you want to debate the two sides of the ball working together you better do your homework first.

      Comment by kelly — April 28, 2009 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  2. Kelly,
    I reference NBA.com stats because they are the group that is directly responsible for
    A. Running the American National Basketball Association
    and
    B. NBA stats are the only stats that can be considered “Accurate” and “Based on Fact”.

    Not Yahoo (which does not have the letters N, or B, or A in the spelling), or some other person basketball blog site.

    Do you ever hear Hubie Brown, JVG, or Mark Jackson reference Rolad Ratings?

    You are correct in that I mis-read the OPP definition. But that is still irrelevant.
    The Lakers, as a team, rate higher then the Cavs across the board. The title of best defense in the league is a misnomer because it is based on how many points per game a team allows the opponent. It does not factor in all the other key indicators to determine over all team defense. The Lakers are a better rebounding team as well as better on team steals. Blocks are negligible between both teams.

    Are you going to try and have me believe that the Cavs are a better team because they allowed 91.35 point per game?

    Look at it from this perspective Kelly. The Lakers 106.92 point per game average is more then the Cavs can stop. There is a reason why the Lakers beat the Cavs during the regular season by an average of 13 points between those 2 games.

    106.92>91.35

    “points in the paint “don’t win championships.” ”

    Look at this list and tell me what you see;
    http://www.nba.com/history/finals/champions.html

    Not counting the Jordan years, the winning teams had effective low post scoring. The Heat had Shaq and last years Boston team had KG and Perkins controlling the inside both on offense and on defense.
    NBA basketball has always been won from the inside out. That is why LBJ drives to the inside and kicks the ball out.

    Comment by Steven — April 28, 2009 @ 5:33 pm | Reply

  3. Kelly I understand your article. You are trying to point out that the Cavs are a better defensive team. Looking at the differentials the numbers are so slight that they really are not worth mentioning

    In point per game there is a +1.17 gain for the Cavs.
    APG a +1.50 for the Cav
    RPG +0.84 for the Cavs
    BPG +0.84 for the Cavs
    SPG +0.11 for the Lakers

    Yet the Lakers beat them by an average of 13 points in the two games.
    The Lakers scored more points in the paint.
    Shot a better field goal% in both games.
    Out rebounded the Cavs.
    Had a better FT% for both games
    Scored more fast break points.
    And had more steals.

    The tangibles that are needed to beat a team are there for the Lakers.
    The Lakers are a better team then the Cavs. The regular season “Best Team Defense” title will not be a factor.

    The championship is won from the inside of the paint.

    Comment by steven — April 29, 2009 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  4. Actually no Steven, my argument is that Cleveland has the #1 ranked scoring defense and that the mainstream media usually makes a huge deal about that but this year they aren’t. I’m speculating it’s because the mainstream media doesn’t like to suggest that the Lakers aren’t going to win.

    Comment by kelly — April 29, 2009 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

  5. “kelly Says:
    April 29th, 2009 at 5:41 pm
    my argument is that Cleveland has the #1 ranked scoring defense”

    I didn’t see that point in your original post Kelly. I understand now.

    There is a problem with looking at end of the year stats. The numbers can be really inflated and misrepresented due to the fact that the Cavs beat up on most of the bottom feeder teams.
    Look at the state of the league this year and you’ll see that a lot of the top teams in this years playoffs were hurt all year (including the cavs)and these injuries really affected their ability to compete at a high level.

    I would recommend that you look at how the Cavs did against the top talented teams in the West and East. Factor in injuries and factor in player trades, and or roster changes. Then ask yourself did the Cavs win/lose against a team that was at 100%.

    Comment by steven — April 30, 2009 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

  6. Hi, Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.
    Thanks
    Eremeeff

    Comment by Eremeeff — May 23, 2009 @ 8:02 am | Reply

  7. If the Los Suns were wearing their uniforms to celebrate Cinco De Mayo, I would be all for it. “

    Comment by Zoe Ali — May 6, 2010 @ 10:13 am | Reply


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