Tuesday, January 27

NBA's Best Defenses and Where the Cats Fit In

In a recent NBA.com article, they took a look at the top defenses in the league. Not surprisingly, the likes of Boston, Cleveland, Orlando made the list, but also a slight surprise the Lakers were included. It's not a shock that the hometown Cats were not included, but just how do the Cats stack up? I can't go any further without acknowledging the help of Brett from Queen City Hoops and the Team Rankings.com staff for all of their assistance in compiling the numbers. Now, on with the show.The top five teams were compared in eight defensive categories: Defensive rating, Pace, Defensive Rebound Rate, Opponents Turnover Rate, Opponents Paint %, Opponents Fast Break %, Opponents Free Throw Attempts per Possession, and finally Blocks per possession.

1. Boston
2. Cleveland
3. Orlando
4. Houston
5. LA Lakers
When comparing teams, it's only between these five teams and the Cats, unless otherwise noted.

Defensive Rating - It appears that the primary (only?) determinant in the NBA.com rankings was the Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). According to defensive rating, Charlotte finishes just outside of the top five at seventh in the league, allowing 102.1 points per 100 possessions (1.021 per possession). This puts them in elite company, trailing only these five teams and San Antonio in this regard, and puts them fourth in the Eastern Conference. Given the amount of flux on the roster this season, Coach Brown's focus on defense already shows signs of paying off. Their 106.5 rating of a year ago would put them 26th in the league today.

Pace - (Possessions per Game) Not surprisingly, three of the top defensive teams play at a slower pace. Only the Lakers and Magic rank in the top half (7 and 13) of teams in the league and the Cavs and the Rockets are both in the bottom third (25 and 21). The Bobcats are even lower at 27th (91.5 pace), but they've improved from the start of the season when they were last for the first couple months. The Cats slower pace hasn't hindered their ability to keep up, however, in many of the other statistical categories.

Defensive Rebounding Rate - (Percentage of available defensive rebounds attained ) This is one area where the Bobcats lag behind, but not surprising when considering the front lines that these teams have grabbing boards for them. The Celtics (76.4%) and Rockets (75.2) are two and three in the league, and the Lakers are the only team out of the top half, barely at 16th. The Cats are 21st in the league, grabbing 72.3% of available rebounds, but given their relative lack of height (and complete absence of a power forward to start the year), teams have been often more willing to crash the boards against the Cats.

Opponents Turnover Rate - (Opponents' turnovers per 100 possessions ) Just as defensive rebounding has been a weakness, this has been a strength for the Cats. They're 9th in the league (13.9), and trail only the Celtics (14.4) and Cavs (14.3) amongst the leaders. The Cats do a markedly better job than Oralndo and Houston, who are both in the bottom five in the league. With the addition of Raja Bell and Coach Brown allowing Gerald Wallace to take more chances on the defensive end, the Cats number could even increase.

Opponents Paint % - (Percentage of opponents' points scored in the paint) Boston (36.7%) and Orlando (37.7%) are head and shoulders above the other teams in this regard, and thanks in no small part to the presence of Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. The Cats are currently 4th (39.5%) trailing Cleveland by mere percentage points and well ahead of LA (40.7%) and Houston (41.9%). One thing that this stat doesn't tell, though, is the percentage of opponents inside shots. The Cats and Cavs opponents have shot 35% of their attempts from close range, compared to only 31% for the Magic. With that said, Charlotte, Cleveland and Orlando are all in the top 3 defensive FG% for shots in the paint, two of the teams just happen to be doing it against more shots.

Opponents Fast Break % - (Percentage of opponents' points scored on the break)Another area the Cats have excelled at this season, is not giving up easy buckets. They're second to only Boston (11.17%) at 11.24%. Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch, LA allows 11.4% of fast break buckets, but given their much higher pace could be argued to be more impressive.

Opponents Free Throw Attempts per Possession - Houston, LA, and Orlando (.207, .207, .215) are all ranked in the top ten, with Cleveland 17th (.238), the Cats at 18th (.238) and Boston at 26th (.254). If I was a homer, I'd point to flex in the roster and having a rookie playing substantial minutes, but the team has had far too many facepalm fouls from veterans and rookies alike. Also, with the team trailing late as opposed to many of these teams up late, the Cats find their rate higher than most. If anything stand out, it's Boston's 26th ranking. Not exactly championship defense being played giving up that many free throws.

Blocks per Possession - The King and his Cavs actually out-pace Dwight Howard and the Magic here, at second in the league (.075). The Cats find themselves dead in the middle at 15th in the league (.061), just behind LA (.063) and Boston (.062). Much of the love for the Bobcats middle of the road ranking has to go to Emeka Okafor (who should be an All-Star). The addition of Diaw has not only helped Emeka on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end, where he's been able to avoid foul trouble after the trade as well as Mek's getting accustomed to Larry Brown's system.

For those of you that like spreadsheets here's a breakdown of all the categories with team rank to the right of each stat (where applicable).

Another important note for Charlotte fans, with the exception of the slower pace, the team has improved, sometimes marginally and other times dramatically, in all of these statistical categories from a year ago. The Bobcats are not in the discussion of elite teams in the league, but with Coach Brown at the helm, and with more time for the pieces to gel, this team is beginning to have the makings of an elite team, at least on the defensive end of the floor.

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