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Tracking Defense in the Magic’s 106-98 Victory Over the Pacers

For my previous piece on the Orlando Magic, I charted hustle stats such as deflections, loose balls, missed blockouts, etc.  While these things are all important, perhaps the area in which hustle is most important is defense.  Although it takes more than just good hustle to be a good defender (as a certain Mr. Dwight Howard will show us later), effort is one of the keys to being a good defensive team.  Therefore, I decided to track defensive plays in last night's contest between the Magic and the Pacers (this time, I only kept track of the Magic's stats).  I imagine most (if not all) NBA teams track these on their own, as well as companies such as Synergy Sports. 

To see the numbers, click the link below:

The rest of this article will explain what those numbers mean.  I will also provide a few observations and notes about the contest.

The first column is "Forced Misses."  This is pretty self-explanatory, although I should explain a few things.  First, forced misses don't only occur on an individual's man-to-man assignment.  A help defender who forces a missed shot would receive the credit.  Second, I conservatively rewarded a few forced turnovers as forced misses.  These were situations in which a player caused his opponent to turn the ball over (through traveling, bobbling the ball, etc.) by applying good pressure and staying in good position. 

The second column is "Baskets Allowed."  This is also self-explanatory, with one caveat.  If a player made a bad defensive play that eventually led to someone from the opposing team scoring, he was the one credited with an allowed basket.  For example, on one play, Jason Williams allowed his man to penetrate into the lane with ease, forcing the Magic to help and rotate.  The Pacers swung the ball and ended up with an easy three-pointer.  Although Williams' man did not receive any points or assists for the play, Williams was penalized for allowing the basket. 

The third column is "Good Help D."  This occurred when a player came off his man to either help a beaten teammate or to make a good play such as causing a turnover.  When Dwight Howard met the opponent in the lane and forced a miss, he was credited with a "Good Help D."  When Ryan Anderson strayed from his man for a second and reached in and knocked the ball loose from another player, he also received credit for good help defense.  As you can see by now, many of these statistics are subjective (which is both a great thing and a bad thing).

The fourth column is titled "BB/MD."  This stands for blow-bys/middle drives.  This occurred any time a Magic player allowed his man to drive right past him without the use of a screen (in certain cases, when there was a switch on a screen and the new defender allowed the opponent receiving the screen to drive by, a BB/MD was assessed).  A BB/MD did not have to result in a made basket to be counted.

The fifth column is titled "Lost Man."  This was recorded every time a player failed to stay on his man, resulting in score.  This occurred most frequently in one of two ways: either a player simply wasn't paying attention and allowed off-the-ball movement (such as a backdoor cut) for a score, or a player failed to chase his man quickly enough through screens. 

The sixth and final column containing raw data is "Silly Fouls."  While obviously the most subjective of the six categories, it was generally pretty easy to determine.  Fouls that occurred off the ball and away from the play were the biggest culprits. 

The rest of the data is computed based on those six categories.  I included each player's minutes played to serve as a reference point.  "FG% Allowed" was calculated as follows: Baskets Allowed / (Baskets Allowed + Forced Misses).  This statistic does not mean the field goal percentage of the man-to-man assignment.  Because Forced Misses and Baskets Allowed are not always credited on a man-to-man basis, FG% Allowed is a bit more complicated.   Obviously, a lower percentage is a better percentage.

The final six columns are the six raw categories calculated on a per-minute basis.  Like last time, I calculated them in the form of "minutes per stat" as opposed to "stat per minute."  This is to avoid presenting very small numbers.  For positive stats such as Forced Misses and Good Help D, a lower number is better (in other words, a player achieves these stats more frequently and therefore in less minutes on average).  For negative stats such as Baskets Allowed and BB/MD, a higher number (or no number at all) is better. 

Finally, some observations:

  • As amazing as this might sound, Dwight Howard's impact was possibly even stronger than the box score indicates. He altered a ton of shots in a night in which many of his teammates seemed to struggle defensively. He was able to help his teammates and alter the Pacers' offense considerably. It didn't hurt that the opposing centers weren't looking to challenge him very often.
  • Other than Howard, Anthony Johnson and J.J. Redick had the two best defensive performances. Despite his age and perceived lack of speed compared to T.J. Ford, Johnson was able to play solid one-on-one defense and force a lot of misses. It's not surprising he ended up playing 27 minutes despite coming off the bench. Redick, although not challenged as often as Johnson, also made a few good defensive plays and forced some missed shots.
  • The only blemishes on Redick's defensive stat line were the silly fouls. He certainly did not agree with the calls, but three times he was called for defensive fouls away from the ball while fighting for position. He was the only Magic player to record a silly foul.
  • The man Johnson replaced, Jason Williams, struggled on the defensive end. He had a difficult time preventing Ford from penetrating and generally played poor pick-and-roll defense. The Pacers built an early lead partially by attacking him.
  • The Magic's two highest-paid players were mediocre at best on defense. Vince Carter's performance, which wasn't terrible, can possibly be excused because of his great offensive play. But Rashard Lewis complemented his offensive struggles with some defensive struggles. He allowed seven baskets while only forcing three misses, and he let his man blow by him into the lane four times. Lewis made some defensive strides last season, and he must be careful not to relapse this year.
  • Ryan Anderson struggled a bit on defense, although not because of a lack of effort. He allowed five baskets (second-most on the team behind Lewis), but did have a nice steal.
  • Marcin Gortat won't be happy about the measly six minutes of playing time he received, but he was generally pretty effective on defense when he was on the court.

I enjoyed tracking the individual defensive performances of the Magic, and I think this type of information sheds a great deal of light on what's going on beyond the box score.  Although I don't know what Synergy Sports or the Magic track defensively about their players, I imagine data such as these are of interest to them simply because they're so useful.  I plan on doing this exercise again soon.