Myth-busters, Basketball edition Pt I

Because someone requested it, here's the first installment  of what will be an ongoing look at the 'common knowledge' surrounding the great game of basketball,  the (wouldn't we all be happier if they were great) Golden State Warriors, and some truth behind this conventional wisdom.

Part I focuses on defense.  Why?  Because someone has to focus on defense, and it certainly didn't look like anyone on the court or coaching staff was, so we'll just have to step up the plate ourselves.

Debunk the debunking as you see fit!

 

Myth: Half the game is defense.

Truth: This is true. If we look at an opposing team's offensive and defensive fg%, both have an equal effect on their opponent's performance in any given game, as would be expected if a team's offensive and defensive abilities (or lack thereof) had equal impact on the game. Yet while this is true – half the game IS defense at least in terms of a team's ability to influence outcome of the game – , when it comes to evaluating players fans, writers, coaches and GMs alike seem to favor scorers and largely ignore defense. A player's points per game is the single biggest factor in his future contract size, selection to all-star games and awards and in many cases, playing time received. Great scorers who can't defend jr. high opponents will get big contracts while the best defenders in the game, if they can't score, are lucky to wind up with even an average salary. The notable exception are for some big men who are also prodigious rebounders and shot blockers, but this is the exception. Offense is rewarded. Defense is ignored.

 

Myth: Player X is a below average/terrible defender.

Truth: Any particular player may be a below average player. However, to believe the assessment of fans in forums such as this, the majority of players in the league are below average defenders, an observation that defies rational explanation, other than that the lack of reliable and ready-present defensive metrics makes this an easy charge for upset fans to level at players without empirical support and a difficult one to easily refute. That said, Jamal Crawford is a terrible defender. It's nothing personal. He appears to be a good person and good teammate, but his defense killed us.

 

Myth: Player X is a good player but a terrible defender.

Truth: It is difficult to be a good player in the meaningful sense of making your team more likely to win through your play, unless you can play at least some defense. It does not seem it as difficult to be acknowledged as a good player if you are also a terrible defender if you score a lot of points. That these players seem to be on the less successful teams is a point that seems lost on the fans, writers, coaches and GMs who refer to such players as good though. Scoring, it seems, is what gets you noticed, even if defense is half the game.

 

Myth: great scorers are great players.

Truth: Scoring total and points per game is a poor measure of a player's value. 20+ point per game scorers tend to be rather substantially rewarded regardless of how they got their points. But the number of minutes played, shots taken and possessions employed to get 20 points in a game is far more important than the total. An inefficient 20 will result in losses, as this inefficiency detracts from the offense of teammates, while scoring efficiently is the single greatest correlate with winning basketball. While the greatest players tend to be great scorers, the tend to be the more efficient scorers. They also tend to be better passers, rebounders and often, defenders. Jamal Crawford may score close to 20 points per game, but it is not entirely an accident that he has never sniffed the playoffs.

 

Myth: all we need is a big guy who can rebound and play some defense.

Truth: We need big guys who can rebound and play some defense. These skills are probably more important in a big than his scoring totals (especially if that scoring doesn't come on efficient shooting). They're also skills that are very tough to come by. There aren't superior rebounding bigs a-plenty out there for the pickin'. Whether or not this is all we need is up for debate, but a team can go far with a defensive minded, powerful rebounder in the paint (see: Mutombo, Dikembe and Wallace, Ben [please note the rings on Mr. Wallace's fingers]), much further than with a big who can score but rebounds like he had his thumbs amputated (see: Curry, Eddy).

 

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