Recently, I was reading the post by Basketball Smurf which commented on Dwyer’s list of the top 30 SGs in the league and one statement stood out to me that made me think of various points I have argued in the past.
Last year shooting guard was by far the Bulls least productive position, with an average PER of 12.8 a game. By comparison, other top point guards (guys ranked 1 thru 4 on Dwyers list ) received better production out of their back court mates than Rose
What sprung to mind is how much of a bias offensive production receives counter to defensive production. Most arguments I hear arguing about which player is better than another player almost always start on the offensive side of the ball, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw an unprompted discussion about a certain player’s worth start defensively except when said player is known as a "Defensive Specialist".
PER is known mostly to be a measure of offense and from what I read in the Dwyer article every player mentioned either got an entire blurb on offense or a blurb that started on offense and afterwards threw in a mention of the "Defensive Specialty" (Thabo Sefolosha) or Anti-Defensive Specialty (Gilbert Arenas).
Simply, I think that defense is just as valuable as offense is, as you have the same number of possessions on both sides of the ball over an entire game and that each player's total value should stem from their relative usefulness compared to what others bring in alternative cases.
There are a few reasons that I believe people shy away from defense or understate how important it is.
1) The "Defensive Specialist", I mentioned earlier that the only time I hear of defense as a beginning argument is usually regarding a "Defensive Specialist" the issues that stem from this are twofold. First, there is no magnitude assigned to the point that someone is a positive (or negative) contributor on Defense, when someone brings that up people can simply say that the offensive contribution "outweighs" the defensive, a completely subjective argument that will get people nowhere very quickly. The second issue, since magnitudes are difficult to assign, I have the impression that people lump all the players not given a reputation as a specialist into the same category which really is not even close to being the case and promotes a culture of dismissal.
2) A Lack of Tools to help define how good players are at specific aspects of defense. On offense, there are an array of stats that help such as True Shooting Percentage, Usage Rate, Assist Percentage and even percentages for player tendencies and zone shooting percentages. On defense, not only are there metrics that are not as easy to understand but many times the ones said have a questionable logic to them to begin with.
3) What really turns everything into a murky state is how to measure Team Defense. Team defense is a huge part of the game and being able to defend off the ball is a skill just as important as on-ball defending, if not more important. I've mentioned before on this blog that if you are basing a player solely how well they defend on the ball you can really only affect a game to the point of what the offensive players USG rate is, in that case a player like LeBron James at a 32 USG rate would dictate that the defensive player can only impact a game at a 32 USG rate. Now, that number isn't exact in man to man defense as a player can prevent a better player from using more possessions but the point I am trying to make is that a lot of individual defense is how well you play team defense and team defense is hard to measure.
4) The aesthetics of offense versus defense. People do not pay attention to defense as much as they do the offensive side of the ball. The moments in a game that are fun to watch on offense, such as a made shot, a great pass, or a crossover happen all of the time. Those moments on defense are less frequent, such as a steal or a block. I think that people tend to overrate what looks prettier.
Fortunately for all, there are some numbers out there that help people rate others defensively: dMULT attempts to composite how good a players man defense is and APM and Raw APM are good tools to use as a reference to how good a players overall defense is (they all have their qualms but still, useful). You can break things down further into STL%, BLK%, and REB% but those can only tell you some parts of an individual's defense when there is really so much more. I have read interesting tidbits by people, especially on this blog, who use Synergy Sports and have presented very interesting and probably useful breakdowns of different players but that tool is a little more exclusive than the others so I understand its lack of citation.
I hope that we can all incorporate defense into our arguments for how good a player is or how good a player may fit with the team. I don't think that the Bulls NEED a better offensive player to make the Bulls better as a whole, a good defensive player can do the same. In the case that the other top point guards in the league had better offensive SGs seems like a moot point to me, a better offensive SG helps the team's offense but does it help the team overall?
Note: I understand that many of my assumptions are based off of anecdotal evidence, the point of this post isn't to say anybody is wrong (it just so happened Basketball Smurf's post prompted this) but rather to express my own opinion on the subject and hopefully to start some sort of discussion.