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Sports Then and Now

Proof That Defense Matters In The NBA

Posted on January 25, 2020 by Dan Karpuc

As of Thursday night, the eight teams that lead the NBA in Defensive Rating have a combined 245-111 (.688 winning percentage). The bottom eight teams in that metric have a combined 120-235 (.358 winning percentage). Every bottom-eight team has a sub-.500 record and just one team (Orlando Magic: 21-24) has a sub-.500 mark from the top-eight group. Therefore, even in today’s offensive-oriented, perimeter-centric NBA, defense matters… a lot.

The top-eight teams (Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Magic and Utah Jazz) share some of the most crucial components of a sound defense. It is no surprise that the people who give out NBA expert picks are making a killing betting these teams this season. All of these teams do a great job with limiting high-percentage shots in the paint, creating turnovers, box out and grab boards and, in turn, limit opposing second-chance points. In many ways, their defensive prowess sets the tone for their offense. Creating turnovers often times leads to fast-break opportunities and high-percentage shots around the rim or wide-open looks on the perimeter. Repeatedly getting stops leads on defense also leads to some impressive scoring runs on the other end of the floor, where the offense can feed off of the momentum. 

Five of the aforementioned teams (Bucks, Lakers, Celtics, Clippers, Jazz) also rank in the top five in Offensive Rating, which is important to note. While these five squads boast prolific abilities to put the ball in the hole, their defenses set the tone. Giannis Antetokounmpo is arguably the most dominant defensive player in the League and can guard any position. Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet play elite team defense. Brad Stevens’ unit, led by ferocious on-ball defender Marcus Smart and young athletic wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, has the proven ability to limit opposing offenses. When healthy, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George make up arguably the league’s top two-way duo and both are perennial Defensive Player of the Year contenders. Finally, reigning D.P.O.Y. Rudy Gobert anchors a Jazz defense that consistently ranks towards the top of the Association year-after-year. 

It’s no coincidence that these five teams are among the NBA’s top squads from a win-loss perspective. It remains to be seen how they’ll fare moving forward, but if their dominance continues on both sides of the floor, it seems like any of them have a realistic shot to make a run at the NBA title in what should be a wide-open race for the first time in years.

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