Stats don’t do players justice when it comes to defense; blocks and steals don’t usually tell the whole story. Everyone knows LeBron James is a great defender anywhere on the court, and so are guys like Josh Smith and Andrei Kirilenko. There are more numbers and figures that help shine a light over those who don’t usually get recognized for their defensive work on the perimeter.
The system: Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus devised a system, using reports on overall points per play allowed as well as for isolation plays defended and points allowed on those isos; team reports on PER allowed by position; regularized adjusted plus-minus and added together percentages in blocks and steals. Using bottom limit of at least 400 minutes played this season and at least 30% at one of the permiter position, remainig with 172 players.
Andrei Kirilenko, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kirilenko can probably guard every position on the floor, and has shown no signs of slowing down despite spending a season with CSKA Moscow. He’s been selected three times to NBA all-defensive teams, and is averaging 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He’s usually among the best in the NBA when it comes to his steal percentage and blocking percentage.
LeBron James, Miami Heat – The recognition of LeBron James as one of the best defensive players in the NBA has been on the rise for a few years now, making four consecutive all-defensive first teams. This season, he isn’t spending so much time on the perimeter, busier than ever in the paint. When he does move out, he’s one of the hardest players to score against in the league. He’s averaging 1.7 steals per game this season.
Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks – One of the most surprising names on this list, as Carter was always known for being a tad lazy on defense. Numbers suggest differently; His teams are 2.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, and the Mavs are 3 points better per 100 possessions when Carter plays, averaging 25.1 minutes per game.
Luc Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee Bucks
The 26 year old Cameroonian is still a work in progress, especially on the offensive side, but his length and athleticism have made him a real threat and menace on the perimeter despite not showing amazing steals and blocks averages. He is kind of an old school shut down player, helping the Bucks record the best perimeter defense in the NBA, and can guard probably all five positions on the floor.
Dwynae Wade, Miami Heat – Wade isn’t a stalwart defensive player, but he doesn’t usually guard the opponents most dangerous man. He’s only 50th among the qualified players in points per play against isolation, but that allows him to be a very good helper when it comes to blind side steals.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies – One of the best examples of why Allen is so good and respected on defense is defensive isolation usage. Teams just don’t want to have their guards try and isolate against him, with an average of just 12.1 out of every 100 possessions he’s been on the court.
Marquis Daniels, Milwaukee Bucks
Daniels isn’t used often; only 16.1 minutes per game. Still, the veteran small forward is part of a very good defensive unit in Milwaukee, allowing the least points per isolation among the players in this group, first overall in points per play as well and 19th in regularized adjusted plus-minus.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies – We’ve mentioned how good the Memphis Grizzlies’ defense is this season, and having two of the leagues best defensive guards is a very good reason. Conley Jnr is known to stick to the opposing point guard very early in the attack and his ability to cut off passing lanes, averaging 2.3 steals per game this season.
Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets – Despite getting the best offensive player in crunch time most of the time, Iguodala ranks first in the league in regularized adjusted plus-minus, seventh in points per play allowed against isos and fourth overall.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
Smith spends an awful lot of time defending big men in the paint, and is another player who is strong enough and athletic enough to guard all five positions. He ranks sixth on a per-possession basis against isolation and second in steal-plus-block percentage. He does spent only about a third of his time as a small-forward, but defensively, that’s probably his best position.
Hat tip: ESPN Insider