Posted by: Ben White on December 12th, 2010The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
We live in a sports society that is stat based. We love people who put up ridiculous numbers in basketball. We drop our jaws when Kevin Love gets a 30-30 game. We text all of our friends and say “did you see D-Will tonight, 17 assists, and no turnovers, Chris Paul who? Lol!!!!!”
Numbers are a great indicator of how good a player is and his productivity. As technology has increased, and our interest in in-depth analysis, several new stats have become more mainstream. These include the +/- stat, the “true” +/- stat, the “miller metric” for those of us here in Jazzville.
But numbers can be deceiving. For instance, because of crazy numbers, Dwight Howard has been named (by the media) as the defensive player of the year two years running. Dwight is a great player and his shot blocking is imposing, but most NBA scouts laugh hysterically when it is suggested that Dwight Howard is the best defender. More on that later.
Recently, the Jazz have suffered two losses to the Dallas Mavericks. Of course, Dallas has Dirk. Dirk is a guy with many offensive talents. So many that it seems he can’t be guarded. It got me thinking about what it takes to really defend.
I decided to write this because I get so tired of people (and our loveable play by play radio personality here in Utah is one of them) saying “oh this person averages 1.9 blocks per game, he is a good defender.” Or “He only gets 0.3 blocks per game, he is not much of a defender.” So I am here to take that notion down. That being said, I want to discuss what makes a great all-around defender.
Everyone has different strengths they can play too. If you are in the NBA, you can at least play some form of defense.
First, there are “position” defenders. Kendrick Perkins comes to mind here, as he is the best in the business at this. These are the guys who are strong and can body up their man. They don’t need anyone behind them because they can take it. They are so strong that they don’t allow the offensive player to establish their favorite position. They merely move them to a different spot and make shooting uncomfortable.
For example, Perkins can dominate Dwight Howard by doing this, and does it often. Because Dwight has so few moves, he is rarely a factor in the head to head games because of Perkins. Go back, watch the tapes.
Sometimes, these guys don’t get a lot of blocks, but their ability makes them valuable and what they do makes them essential. But people look at them and say “he doesn’t block shots, he is not a good defender.”
Our own Mehmet Okur is actually pretty good at this. He is effective at guarding guys who are “space guys”. He can keep guys like Yao, Duncan, and Howard (for small stretches) out of their favorite spots. He won’t block a lot of shots, but he will disrupt their timing. (Don’t get me wrong, Okur won’t really intimidate anyone driving the lane, nor will he offer much resistance to the Bosh’s of the world)
Next, are “turn” defenders. These are typically opposite of the first group. They are guys who can handle the ever-increasing number of players who can turn and face the basket and drive. (Bosh, Dirk, Odom) etc. Typically, the guys who can guard this are the guys who can do it, if that makes sense.
Finally, are “help” defenders. These are the guys who can leave their own man to cut off penetration and intimidate or block the ensuing shot. They are typically your “long” and quick players, but also need to be big and fierce. Of these, Howard is the best. So much of defense is how well you rotate to help your teammate and then recover to get back to your man. This is where Howard gets confused.
The reason I pointed out Howard earlier is that while he gets a lot of blocks. He is easy to beat if you have smart players. Cleary put, Dwight wants to be on SportsCenter every game. When he sees a guy driving to the basket, he wants to slam the ball into the 17th row and then whoop and holler. He will completely leave his man unattended and will commit to the ball WAY too soon. He gets his blocks because the other guy doesn’t always realize how much range Howard has.
Watch the Lakers/Magic games. The Lakers have it figured out. All you have to do is wait for him to commit, and then pass it to the guy he was guarding. Wide open lay up, every single time. That or a convincing fake will draw a foul. Every single time. Its almost comical. (As a side note, the problem for him is that he has been working with Patrick Ewing, who actually regressed as a defender over his career. He would be much better suited to take advice from Hakeem, who was the next best thing after Bill Russell when it comes to this stuff.)
Of the modern generation, Rasheed Wallace was the best interior defender, because he was good at all three things. He was strong, he could chase guys around, he could help and block shots. He could do it all, but he never put up numbers, so he wasn’t on too many all-defensive teams. He made life a nightmare for Dirk.
Here is a video of what I am talking about. Watch Howard overcommit. It works here because the Celtics don’t drop anyone low. It doesn’t always work.
Garnett is a close second, except he is not as strong, but has quicker feet. Boston has it set up though, so that in Perkins (when healthy) makes a good compliment to Garnett.
More than anything, you have to want to play defense. If you just want to score, you will be forced into shootouts. If you give a good effort, and it makes life difficult for the other team, you are doing a good job.
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