Advanced Stats for Basketball

April 25, 2008

Feasting on the Weak

Posted by Eli in Advanced Stats

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.


  1. The tables are correctly labelled but I assume in the text of the second you meant

    … no matter what, some players have to face

    harder / better defensive lineups (with lower defensive ratings)?

    Comment by Mountain — April 25, 2008

  2. Thanks for catching that. I’ll fix it.

    Comment by EliApril 25, 2008

  3. One of the obvious affects on the second table is the higher than average numbers of stars and good offensive lineups. If, as you posit, the strongest defenders are paired with the strongest offensive players, then the numbers for the defenses will suffer. When Battier shadowed Kobe, everyone praised his fantastic defense, but Kobe went for 45,30, & 24 this season against Houston. If, as one would suspect, this happens to Battier not just on Kobe, but all season long against all SG & SF opponents, then his defensive stats will suffer at some point, and therefore the stats for the lineups that he is a part of.

    Intuitively, or from actually watching the games, we know that must be somewhat the case. Kobe always sees the best perimeter defender from opponents, and Duncan always sees the best post defenders, which would suggest that they must be seeing better overall defensive lineups, yet they don’t show up in the list.

    I guess this is a convoluted way of saying that maybe the offensive ineptitude of those on the list helps the defenses look good statistically.

    Comment by Antonio — May 1, 2008

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