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Defensive Ratings: Prepare for Surprises

 

Here’s something from the superfun but boringly designed Basketball Value’s database of five-man units. Something weird.

There are about 80 5-man units in the NBA that have played at least 90 minutes together (that’s a completely arbitrary time cutoff I made up). Some teams only have one unit with that much floor time (like New Orleans, where the starting lineup has played a quietly shocking 716 minutes). Boston has five such units, as one might expect from a team that has received several midnight visits from Injury Claus this season.

One of those five Boston units is number-one in Defensive Rating among the members of that arbitrary minutes category I made up. That means that unit held its opponents to the fewest points per possession in its time on the floor, basically. It’s the same as the Defensive Efficiency stat we usually refer to here, but on BV they use Rating instead. Anyway, none of this is surprising given that the Celtics are indisputably one of the league’s top 3 defensive teams.

But quickly guess which Celtics unit that is. I’ll put the jump here to make this marginally more interesting.

Wrong, probably. It’s Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Glen Davis, and Nate Robinson. I arranged those names for effect, which I’m sure you felt.

Also among those five Boston units is the second-best lineup in DR among all units with at least 90 minutes played. Go ahead and guess again.

It’s Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Nate Robinson. Those are your numbers 1 and 2 high-usage lineups in Defensive Rating this season.

I hear ya, kid. Hard to believe that a guy who consistently gives up five or more inches to the guy he’s guarding and who was benched about a year ago for not playing defense by Mike D’Antoni!!! would have a spot in the top two defensive heavy-minute lineups in the NBA. But there he is. Just chilling there in that list of names.

Conspicuously absent, meanwhile, is the reigning point guard of the league’s All-Defense first team.

The individual Defensive Rating statistic bears the weirdness out, however: Nate’s defensive rating of 101.3 beats Rondo’s of 101.88. They both make the team a little worse defensively when they’re on the floor, but Rondo makes the team more worser: the team’s DR is 2.8 points worse when Rondo’s on the floor, and only 1.03 worse with Nate.

"Everything about you is so confusing."

Does that make Nate Robinson a more valuable commodity than Rajon Rondo, even from the perspective of these rating stats? Noooooo. Nonono. No. Because Rondo boosts the C’s offensive rating by 10.83 points when he’s in the game. That’s the 13th-highest increase in the NBA (number 5, notably, is your captain Paul Pierce with a net increase of 14.72). Rondo is better than Nate and it ain’t close.

But, for whatever reason, the Celtics are playing better defense when Nate’s in the game. Better than pretty much anyone.

  • Chris O

    Whoa whoa whoa….wait….WHOA!!! What could account for this? Maybe Rondo plays against better lineups? Maybe people get more up to play when its Rondo, or the rest of the D relaxes when Rondo is around. I mean I think Nate's D has been pretty solid but Rondo's has appeared 'to the naked eye' much better. Granted not as awesome as I have wanted it but definitely close to All-Defensive form. This is just cccarrrrrazzzyyy

  • Rocci

    Interesting – this isn't the first time I've seen Rondo's defense being knocked this year, although I haven't noticed a decline in his defense for the most part.

    It's funny how different defensive metrics can be. On basketball-reference.com, Rondo's defensive rating is 100 pts allowed per 100 possessions while Robinson's is 105.

  • Guest

    Rondo gambles.

    Thusly the difference.

    He gets the occasional steal and breakaway layup, as we saw last night so the offensive efficiency is helped there, but the D suffers slightly. Nate stays home. I would venture to guess if Rondo removed risk completely from both ends of the floor we'd be looking at a better defensive efficiency and less turnovers from him offensively, but we would get less easy bucket and less shots at the rim (courtesy of his risky passes into the paint).

    Not crunching numbers here but I would venture to guess the overall all effect is that you put 4 guys on the floor who don't gamble on either end of the floor (at least not as far as gameplan goes) and you have one guy who's best suited to it, making risky plays at both ends…

  • Guest

    to continue it's probable that Nate is in less against the other teams point guard. i.e. the other teams play maker. So maaaaybe he has a slightly easier assignment??? who knows

    • hdavenport

      To this comment and the one below this one: those top two lineups show Nate among the starting five. So while a few of those minutes might have come when Nate was the game's first substitution (and therefore possibly putting him against lesser PGs), most of them represent his time as a starter when Rondo was out.

      I think the gambling reasoning is sound, though.

      • Chris O

        Yes but can you break down the actual offensive efficieny of the people Rondo and Nate played against respectively (PG and teams). Its like DYAR in Football where they give an adjustment for if you played against a good defense. Otherwise the numbers in a vacuum mean nothing.

        • Morpheus

          Exactly, i'm willing to bet my scrotum that our schedule was MUCH MUCH MUCH tougher when Rondo was starting compared to what it was with Nate staring. Rondo had to defend tougher pgs compared to Nate.____And the argument about Nate having a better DR than Rondo, even in the starting lineup is moot, because RR has been battling injuries for the most part.____Rondo IS the better dfender than Nate, although Nate is a solid defender himself, but a healthy Rondo > Nate.

      • TedL

        I also think (1) Rondo's had some injuries, which will lower his rating; (2) he doesn't always go all-out on defense, probably because he's saving energy to play 40+ minutes and make vital contributions on the offensive end; and (3) he has a real tendency to get wiped out by picks on P and R plays, and I think teams have figured this out. Probably (3) happens in part because of (1) and (2), but it's clearly the biggest weakness in his defensive game.

  • willybeamin

    there's probably some truth to nate going against lesser PGs, 2nd stringers.

    But how does that explain that the stat is for nate playing with the other starting 4? This means a lot of this is from the time rondo missed, and it's nate going against 1st string lineups.

    Rondo has all the tools, but he gambles and can often times allow PGs to drive around him with a simple screen.

  • JAW

    I assume a lot of that has to do w/ the time Rajon played on one leg.

  • PJ45

    Small. Sample. Size.

    Which teams did the C's play when Rondo was out? I assume that's when Nate got his bulk of minutes with the starters plus Davis. That would presumably affect how his numbers stack up against Rondo's.

    Mostly, though: small sample size. This is interesting, and worth pointing out, but it would be crazy to draw big conclusions from it.

  • Tom W

    Hayes, your pictures literally made me laugh out loud.

    I agree with JAW though, people have been able to go around Rondo this year due to his injury, from what I've been able to see.

  • CG12

    Rondo's injury has nothing to do with it. Rondo's pick-and-roll defense stinks, plain and simple. He is a great one-on-one defender because of his tremendous quickness and great hands, but his team defense is undisciplined and it hurts the Cs. I am totally unsurprised by this find and believe that sample size has nothing to do with it.

    I bet KG/Baby or Shaq/PP/Ray/Delonte would be even better.

    • TedL

      Totally agree on the P and R. Not sure why, but picks are like flypaper for Rondo. He just sticks to the pick and disappears.

  • Morpheus

    I agree RRs p&r D is suspect.

  • Batman

    We need to head over there and teach Rondo some basics!

  • Batgirl

    To me the answer seems obvious. Nate is in as a reserve, and usually enters in the second quarter. Most teams don't have a full competent five on the bench, so starters play longer minutes. When Boston's bench comes on the court, they're fresh and the opposing team is (often) not. Thus, they are easier to play defense on.

  • Jeremy

    The answer is so obvious..the best PGs are in the starting lineups and Rondo has to guard them. If Rondo were on the second unit he'd be higher than Nate easily.

    • CG12

      Wrong. As noted many times above, KG, Ray, Paul, Shaq/Baby, and Nate are very likely starting line-ups. Nate probably rarely, if ever, plays with those combinations unless he is starting in place of Rondo.

      • Morpheus

        Wrong, read the opposed theories.

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