Practice Report: Stan Van Gundy on Dwight Howard's Defense and on Statistics; Marcin Gortat on the Playoffs

There’s one NBA head coach who thinks Dwight Howard deserves to be the Defensive Player of the Year and that’s, unsurprisingly, Stan Van Gundy. Effusive in his praise after practice was over for the Orlando Magic earlier this afternoon, Van Gundy detailed why he thought Howard makes the biggest impact on defense out of any player in the league. Even Marcin Gortat got into the spirit of praising Howard but for a different reason and it had nothing to do with defensive skills. What did he say?

That’s what we call a teaser in journalism.

I was able to speak with Van Gundy amongst the media, as well as Gortat.

Here’s what they had to say:

Stan Van Gundy:

Could you provide your thoughts on the Chicago Bulls after the trade, in which they let John Salmons and others go?

Well, I don’t really know. I mean, in terms of … they’re still playing and starting the guys they started before [the trade]. Flip Murray has sort of taken Salmons’ role, who was a guy coming off the bench scoring, so other than [Joakim] Noah being out with the injury, I don’t think they’re a whole lot different than they were before but I do think the things that have happened is that they’ve had Noah out with injury and then they traded Tyrus Thomas and so their frontline depth is less right now.

With Vince Carter and this time of the year, do you think he’s found a happy medium in the offense at this point?

I think he’s playing very, very well. He’s been very efficient since the first of February and his shooting percentages are very, very high, both from the floor and from three. He’s making great decisions with the ball. I think he’s been fantastic.

More after the jump.

I wanted to get your thoughts on the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. In one of the panel discussions, Brent Barry was quoted as saying that "the old guard is holding back the statistical revolution in the NBA." What do you think of that?

Well, I don’t know if I agree with it or not. I actually think there are … it’s like anything. I think that there are some people that really do use the numbers. I think [general manager] Daryl Morey in Houston is a guy who really relies on a lot of that stuff. I think there are some guys that don’t think it’s worth a darn at all and then there’s a lot of people in between who want to see the numbers but don’t think they’re the whole picture, either, so I think there’s all across the spectrum. I don’t think anybody is holding it back, I just think … people have sort of built their own habits and the way they look at the game and if you haven’t come up with a real appreciation of the numbers and you’ve done it your way and you’ve had success, then you will continue to do that.

Defensively, some people stated that only 20% of the box score accounts for defense.

I don’t even know if any of it accounts for defense. Blocked shots, steals, but to me … see, everybody also got different philosophies so like steals to me or how many turnovers you forced or things like that are not something we’re trying to do anyway so I’m not interested in that. I’m looking at other things and there are things not in the box score that are a lot more important to me than what’s in the box score. There’s all kinds of numbers out there now and you can get whatever information it is that you think is valuable. One of the things I try to look at all the time is I want to see all those numbers, I’m talking about team numbers, how they correlate to winning, so I’m looking at stats. If I look at the top ten offensive rebounding teams in the league, eight of them aren’t in the playoffs, then that’s one of the things I want to know. That’s not a stat you can be all jacked up that you have a great offensive rebounding team but that doesn’t tend to be a stat that correlates to winning games and that’s my big use in numbers is. I want to find out, across the league, like what works? What things, if you do them, give you a lot better chance of winning and I think that’s what’s important.

With the box score, you talked about defense possibly being under-represented, given that Dwight Howard is a great defensive player. Do you think perception of him is lessened a little bit because people don’t look at the numbers?

I think the hard thing with defense is, even more so than offense, the story is just not told by the numbers. You get the blocked shots but you really don’t see … I look and see going into last night, we were #1 in the league in field goal percentage defense and there’s no question that it’s a team effort but the biggest factor, by far, is Dwight is really there to protect the basket. Even his ability to defend his own guy in the post and then to be able to defend pick and rolls, he’s just such a key part of every part of our defense and he really doesn’t have a defensive weakness. Maybe a little bit, at times, some fouls that are needless but you have to really nitpick to find weaknesses defensively and I think he’s just gradually gotten better, in terms of being more and more consistent with his effort and energy on the defensive end of the floor. I don’t think that there’s anybody in the league, that I’ve seen, that approaches his impact on a team defensively the way he has. I think he makes the biggest impact defensively of anybody in the league and I think he should be, barring some major change over the last 17 games here, in my opinion he should be the Defensive Player of the Year. Hopefully pretty easily.

Do you think he is the complete package, defensively?

Yes, plus he’s just extremely intelligent. I mean, he can pick up on what’s going on the floor ahead of the play. You can make adjustments with him. He’s got all the physical abilities, the quickness, the jumping, he’s strong. He’s come to where he can really move his feet. He’s gotten to where he plays at a more consistent intensity level and then there’s not many people in the league smarter than he is, so mentally and physically he’s the complete package.  

 

Marcin Gortat:

It’s almost playoff time and you guys are gearing up for that, do you think there’s a more sense of urgency with the team in terms of the focus and everything else?

Yeah, I think it’s the 64th of 65th game right now. We’re starting to get this feeling of the playoffs already. I think the team finally plays the way everybody wants us to play and I got to tell you, we look really good. We feel strong, we feel powerful, we got guys who are coming off the bench doing their job and definitely feel like … our rhythm, everybody understands what to do and we’re ready.

In the times that you play with Dwight, what are some the things that you’ve tried to do to best compliment your skills alongside his?

Well, they just tell me that most of the time I got more energy than Dwight. When I’m getting on the floor, I’m trying to run more pick and rolls, the ball is moving a little better. Dwight is obviously trying to play in the inside more and he’s dominating inside a lot but I’m just trying to put as much energy, give the team different looks and then like I said, I’m just trying to catch the rebounds, play defense, block a couple shots, and trust me, I got more pleasure from stopping Rasheed Wallace or KG [Kevin Garnett] or Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] than scoring 20 points in a game.

I know you got a good camaraderie with Dwight on and off the court and I know when you guys make a big play, whether it’s you with a dunk or him with a dunk and all that stuff, you guys are standing and cheering for each other. What were you thinking when Dwight got the basketball last night and led the fast break?

*laughs*

We’ve been laughing at Dwight because he said … one day he said, I think it was last year, he said that back in high school he was a left-handed point guard and obviously everybody started laughing in the locker room but I mean, the last … this year, like four or five situations where he was dribbling the ball coast-to-coast with the left hand and making plays. I mean, I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or if he was really right so every time when he’s doing that, I’m standing up and screaming all over the place, ‘he was a left-handed point guard in high school! Everybody knows that!’ Then everybody just starts laughing at me and at Dwight so it’s fun. Especially when you’re winning by 30 points and it’s not like Dwight is 7’5’’ and he’s dribbling the ball. He’s killing big men. He’s one of the best big men in the world. He can dribble the ball and if there’s nobody who’s pressuring him, he can dribble the ball coast-to-coast not a big deal so once in a while, he can do that in my opinion.

Will you try that sometime?

I will. If there’s the opportunity, I will.
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