NBA Stat Central #16: Does Defensive Rating Tell The Truth?


On this week’s NBA Stat Central, we’re going to take a look at defensive rating and what it truly tells us. We’ll look at the 2012-13 NBA leaders and look into some very specific defensive metrics to see if defensive rating means a player is individually elite, or if that player just benefits from the defense around him.

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Defensive rating is a statistic that tries to grasp defensive worth on an individual level. However, players on great defensive teams do tend to have strong defensive ratings collectively–even if they aren’t that stellar on an individual level.

Let’s take a look at Synergy’s defensive ratings and’s defensive metrics to see if the basic defensive rating stat holds any weight.

2012-13 Defensive Rating Leaders

1. Tim Duncan – 93.6
2. Roy Hibbert – 95.9
3. Larry Sanders – 96.0
4. Joakim Noah – 96.3
5. Paul George – 96.7

Finding Duncan’s name at the top of the list is no surprise, as the Spurs allow just 95.9 points per game–good for No. 6 in the NBA. In fact, the only outlier here is Sanders, as the Bucks are No. 10 in the NBA in overall defensive rating and are No. 17 in points allowed.

Let’s look at the Synergy ranks to see if anything stands out.

Synergy Ranks

Tim Duncan

No. 42 in Isolation
No. 54 in Post-Up
No. 67 in Pick and Roll

Roy Hibbert

No. 156 in Isolation
No. 101 in Post-Up
No. 18 in Pick and Roll

Larry Sanders

No. 7 in Overall
No. 6 in Post-Up
No. 23 in Pick and Roll

Joakim Noah

No. 104 in Isolation
No. 30 in Post-Up
No. 28 in Pick and Roll

Paul George

No. 75 in Isolation
No. 140 in Post-Up
No. 79 in Pick and Roll

Interestingly enough, Sanders stands out again in this list as one of the best defenders in the league.

Note the Pacers players on this list. Even though they collectively have the No. 2 defense in the league, they don’t impress on the individual metrics, which gives us a bit of delineation between individual defense and team defense.

Let’s go look at the ranks. Ranks

Note: A negative on-court defense number means the number improve with player on court.

Tim Duncan

-1.6 On-Court Defense
15.8 Opposing Center Efficiency

Roy Hibbert

-1.4 On-Court Defense
17.7 Opposing Center Efficiency

Larry Sanders

-8.6 On-Court Defense
17.4 Opposing Center Efficiency

Joakim Noah

-2.2 On-Court Defense
15.2 Opposing Center Efficiency

Paul George

+.2 On-Court Defense
12.1 Opposing Small Forward Efficiency

Here is where things get very strange.

While Sanders stands out as a major contributor to the Bucks’ defense (they improve by 8.6 points with him on the court), he disappoints when it comes to center efficiency.

When it comes to Paul George of the Pacers, he harasses opposing small forwards into a minuscule efficiency rating, but fails in other areas.

So what have we learned?

There is no magical formula that gives us a quality view on a players importance on the defensive side of the ball, because defensive rating is heavily influenced by team defense.

When we take all of the numbers into account, it becomes apparent that Larry Sanders is the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year. Who saw that coming? Get out of the way Dwight Howard, your services seem to be no longer needed.

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