Ever since Kevin Garnett started playing center, a move which allowed him to better quarterback the defense, the Celtics have played without a real rim protector. This season is no exception (and, given how few problems were solved and how many more were created this offseason, we shouldn’t be surprised).
Vitor Faverani’s numbers so far this season are obviously limited (everyone’s are), and observers will certainly notice that he has had some problems as a help defender. One needs only to watch the first three minutes of Boston’s matchup with Detroit over the weekend to see Andre Drummond take advantage of three help mistakes and get three easy dunks out of the deal.
But Faverani is the only full-size Escalade on a front court full of compact SUVs, and his defense at the rim has been much closer to “acceptable” than “Marcin Gortat.”
Interestingly, Faverani gives up the second most shot attempts at the rim per game in the NBA, per the new Stats Tracking Data on NBA.com: 11.0, a huge number first noted by Ben Rohrbach of WEEI. The only player giving up more is Indiana center Miles Plumlee with 11.8.
Just because a player gives up a ton of shots at the rim, however, doesn’t mean he isn’t defending it well. Roy Hibbert allows exactly the same number of shots at the rim, surrendering just 31.8%. From any spot on the floor, 31.8% is incredibly inefficient, which means that when teams play the Pacers and Roy Hibbert is in the game, shots at the rim actually become bad shots.
Faverani, predictably, is not Roy Hibbert (SO FAR ANYWAY!). But as previously mentioned, he’s not Marcin Gortat either, who surrenders 71.8% shooting on 10.7 attempts per game. Rather, Faverani is allowing opponents to score 45.5% at the rim so far this year.
From certain spots on the floor, 45.5% would be very good (3-point range, 16-23 feet), but around the rim, a player scoring 45.5% on average would be considered a problem offensively. A rookie center who can force opponents into inefficient shooting around the basket while mostly staying out of foul trouble (Faverani is committing 4.9 fouls per 36 minutes according to Basketball-Reference) is something to keep an eye on.
There are other statistics to consider, of course, and the team statistics don’t look favorable for him. Red’s Army pointed out that Boston’s defensive rating was 106.2 with Faverani on the floor, 96.3 with him off. Those are massively damning numbers, even in a small sample size (and even if defensive rating is a fairly flawed statistic).
Why are the numbers so bad considering how good Faverani has looked (and how solid his at-the-rim numbers are)? Two main reasons: First, Marc Gasol destroyed Faverani against Memphis. This wouldn’t be an indictment of Faverani’s defense (Gasol destroys everyone indiscriminately) if it wasn’t for the fact that Faverani has had problems defending anyone who can stretch him out of the paint. He doesn’t seem to be used to stretch-4s and 5s, and Gasol’s range extends to nearly 20 feet from the basket. Any time a big can shoot from more than 10-15 feet, Faverani has had problems through the first four games.
Second, Faverani has faced mostly the toughest front courts in the NBA. Three years from now, if Faverani seems to be a starting caliber center, that won’t be a valid excuse. But in the first four games of his NBA career, it certainly mitigates the situation a bit.
At this point in the season, it should just be an accepted fact that every bit of statistical analysis is speculative, since the sample size is so minuscule. So there’s your grain of salt. But Faverani’s numbers so far, at least as an individual defender, show him to be an acceptable defender around the rim.
That doesn’t mean much this year, but given the dearth of rim protectors we’ve seen in Boston since the departure of Kendrick Perkins (and his subsequent descent into ineffectiveness), it has been nice to see someone creating problems for opposing players at the basket.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.