Following up on my previous post, I thought it might be interesting to look at the strength of the opposing lineups that individual players faced, rather than looking at five-man units as a whole. The basic idea is the same. I used lineup data from BasketballValue, and for each player I calculated a weighted average of the season defensive ratings of the opposing lineups that they faced, weighted by the number of possessions they played against each opposing lineup. In the tables below I excluded players who were on the court for less than 1000 offensive possessions.
Players who faced the weakest defenses:
Player Team(s) Poss oppDRtg ------------------- ------- ---- ------- Linas Kleiza DEN 3943 110.8 Sasha Vujacic LAL 2482 110.5 Vladimir Radmanovic LAL 2981 110.3 J.R. Smith DEN 2994 109.9 Kelenna Azubuike GSW 3574 109.8 Carl Landry HOU 1341 109.7 Andris Biedrins GSW 4278 109.6 Carlos Boozer UTA 5584 109.5 Stephen Jackson GSW 5914 109.5 Al Harrington GSW 4528 109.5 Carlos Arroyo ORL 2425 109.5 Jordan Farmar LAL 3330 109.4 Baron Davis GSW 6635 109.4 Dikembe Mutombo HOU 1152 109.3 Andrei Kirilenko UTA 4386 109.3 Steve Nash PHX 5641 109.3 Shelden Williams ATL/SAC 1508 109.3 Maurice Evans LAL/ORL 3329 109.2 Deron Williams UTA 6002 109.0 Hedo Turkoglu ORL 5910 109.0
That’s a pretty interesting list. There are a lot of players from great offensive teams. Maybe this is saying that those offenses weren’t so much great as they were lucky - they had the good fortune of facing weaker defensive lineups than other teams faced. But I don’t think this conclusion is warranted. I can think of a few other theories to explain some of the entries on this list.
First, an obvious place to look for players who faced weak defenses would be backups to offensive stars. If a team is facing the Lakers, they will probably try to have their top perimeter defenders in whenever Kobe is in the game. When he goes to the bench, their best defenders will rest too. So Kobe’s backups often have the advantage of facing lesser defenders. This theory could help explain the presence of a number of players in the table above.
Second, there are a number of players on the list from undersized or small-ball teams like Golden State, Orlando and Phoenix. One explanation for this could be that to match up with such teams, opponents often go small as well. For the purposes of that particular game, this could be the best defensive strategy. But on the season as a whole, these makeshift undersized lineups won’t fare very well defensively. So it could just be the case that teams like Golden State typically face lineups that are poor defensively in normal circumstances (i.e. when facing regular-sized teams).
Players who faced the strongest defenses:
Player Team(s) Poss oppDRtg ----------------- ------- ---- ------- Sergio Rodriguez POR 1158 102.2 Dominic McGuire WAS 1270 102.4 Earl Barron MIA 1651 102.9 Dan Gadzuric MIL 1033 103.2 Antoine Wright NJN/DAL 2332 103.5 Stephon Marbury NYK 1550 103.7 Al Thornton LAC 4137 103.7 Francisco Elson SAS/SEA 1547 103.8 Darrell Armstrong NJN 1033 103.8 Jermaine O'Neal IND 2450 103.8 Hilton Armstrong NOH 1363 104.0 Julian Wright NOH 1194 104.2 Jason Collins NJN/MEM 2230 104.3 Marcus Banks PHX/MIA 1112 104.3 Malik Allen NJN/DAL 2019 104.3 Mardy Collins NYK 1222 104.4 Smush Parker MIA/LAC 1135 104.4 Bostjan Nachbar NJN 3220 104.5 Antoine Walker MIN 1735 104.5 Kwame Brown LAL/MEM 1421 104.6
I find this list harder to interpret. It seems to be made up of worse players from worse teams compared to the first list. Probably a lot of it is just randomness - no matter what, some players have to face better defensive lineups. Beyond that, I’d be interested to hear any theories people might have.
In theory, one could use these kinds of adjustments to identify players whose offensive stats may have been inflated (or deflated) based on the level of defenses that they went up against. Of course, one would have to take into account alternative explanations like the small-ball theory, and consider the fact that when a player faces a lineup that’s poor overall defensively that doesn’t mean that the individual player guarding them was a poor defender.
Here is a Google Spreadsheet containing the data for all players from this past season.