By Hocine LOUKKAF on 4/27/2018
In this category, I have decided to separate inside and outside players. Getting into the analytics can reveal some surprises. From defensive win shares to opponents FG% to deflections, there are more and more statistics that we have to take a look at when comparing the defensive impact of a player. Some of those statistics also depend on the style of play of the team and can embellish a player’s impact. I have done my best to rank the players, don’t hesitate to comment about the method.
#1 Anthony Davis, 6-11 PF, New Orleans
A very mobile big man, Davis has been a terror on defense. A top five rebounder and the top shot blocker in the League by a large margin (11.1rbds 2.6blks), Davis has also been in the top 15 in steals with 1.5 per game. More than that, he is one of the best one on one defender, limiting his opponents to 40%, 7% less than their average FG%. Last but not least, he is in the top 15 in win shares, deflects 2.4 balls per game and recovers 1.4 loose balls per game. Maybe the most versatile defensive player in the League.
#2 Joel Embiid, 7-0, C, Philadelphia
Embiid is one of the most talented offensive player in the NBA but people forget his 11.1rbds, 1.8blk and 0.6stls in 30min. If you don’t find that impressive, what about limiting his opponents to 40.9%, 7.8% less than their average FG%. With this last stat, Embiid is the one whose defense impacts the most on his opponents’ FG%. Embiid is also top ten in defensive win shares and defensive rating.
#3 Rudy Gobert, 7-2 C, Utah
Gobert is often in the conversation for best defensive player as he is the core of Utah’s top 5 defense and the leader in the NBA in defensive win shares and top three in defensive rating. His 10.7rbds, 2.3blks and 0.8stl shows how efficient he is. Yet, despite being the player who contests the most shots in the League, he is not the best on one on one defense, limiting his opponents to 45.4%, 2.8% less than their average FG%.
#4 Giannis Antetokounmpo, 6-11, F, Milwaukee
The do it all Greek Freak uses his all time physical tools to be one of the best defender in the League. With 10rbds, 1.4blk and 1.5stls, he is a versatile stat shuffer in your classic defensive categories. In less known categories such as deflections or shots contested, he’s top 40 in the League while being he is top 10 for loose balls recovered. Finally, he is one of the best at limiting his opponent’s FG% with 41.9%, 4.9 less than their average FG%
#5 Al Horford, 6-10 C, Boston
His 7.4rbds 1.1blk and 0.6stl may not be the most flashiest. But there are stats which prove why Horford is Boston’s inside anchor on defense. Horford is top 15 in contested shots in the League and quite surprisingly, he is top five in percentage points difference, limiting his opponents to 40.9%, 6% less than their average FG%. His defense show also in defensive shares when he’s ranked in the top 15.
Note : You have to wonder why Capela is not ranked. Well, there’s no denying he has a vital role for Houston’s defense as he’s their main rim protector (10.8rbds 1.9blks) and perfectly fits their run and gun playing style. The problem is that he doesn’t have much influence on his opponents’ FG%, limiting them to 47.3%, just 0.2% less than their average FG%. He’s also far from being among the leaders in defensive rating, a statistic which also depends on the style of play while the player is on the court, and defensive win shares, The conclusion is not that Capela is a bad defender, but that maybe, if one of the players ranked above played for the Rockets, their defense would be even better.
#1 Ben Simmons, 6-10 PG, Philadelphia
People talk about Simmons’ versatility on offense but his defensive versatility may be as important. Indeed, he is present in every defensive statistic categories. Let’s start with 8.1rbds, 1.7stls and 0.9blk, all more than decent stats for a PG, albeit an unusual one. Then, his 2.8 deflections and 1.8 loose balls recovered illustrate how opportunistic he is. Finally, he is top 15 in defended FG% and percentage points difference, limiting his opponents to 41.5%, and top 5 in defensive win shares.
#2 Victor Oladipo, 6-4 SG, Indiana
Top 20 in defensive win shares, Oladipo impresses by the work he does to prevent his opponent from being in position to shoot. Despite limiting his opponents to an average 44.7% FG, only 0.3 less than their usual FG%, Oladipo is the League leader in steals with 2.36 per game and one of the best shot blocker among guards with 0.8blk per game. He also ranks top 5 in deflections with 3.7 and top 20 in loose balls recovered while being the best guard in contested shots with 8.8 per game.
#3 Jrue Holiday, 6-4 G, New Orleans
One of the best blocking guard with 0.8blk to go with 1.5stl, Holiday is also efficient on one on one defense, limiting his opponents to a poor 42.8% FG. He is also top 10 in the League in both deflections and loose balls recovered (3.1 and 1.6) and top 15 in defensive win shares, a complete two-way player who is justifiying the huge contract he signed last summer.
#4 Jaylen Brown, 6-7 SF/SG, Boston
Brown’s blocks and steals numbers are pretty ordinary, even low for someone with his physical tools (1stl and 0.4blk). Brown’s second place is mostly due to the fact that he leads all players with more than 60 games played and at least 7 defended FG attempts by limiting his opponents to an all League low 39.6%, 5.7% less than their average FG%. He also adds 2 deflections per game and is ranked in the top 10 in defensive win shares.
#5 Robert Covington, 6-9 SF, Philadelphia
RoCo is definitely the Sixers’ glue guy, above all on defense. 4.7rbds, 1.7stls and 0.9blk is not bad. Top 10 in defensive rating and top 3 in defensive win share is even better. Covington is also the League’s leader in deflections with 3.9 per game. A versatility which has helped the Sixers be one of the top defensive teams in the NBA.
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