The Defense of Chris Paul

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Published: April 15, 2008

Time to take on my boy Rohan over at @ The Hive.  He did an exceptional post the other day that started out with him trying to prove that CP3 was a good defender.  Much to his chagrin, he came to the realization his stats proved Paul is an inferior defender.  The article was an excellent evaluation of Paul using two stats – Opponent eFG%(FG% adjusted by 3-point shots) and Defensive Rating – which is used to determine the Adjusted +/- stat.(a complex stat that evaluates how the team performs as a whole defensively when the player is on and off the floor).  It's well worth a read.

Now, I'm going to slam it.

I'll start with Opponent eFG%, it is true that Paul lets opposing PGs shoot at a higher percentage from the floor.  The average eFG% of point guards is 49%.  Paul lets his shoot 52%.  There are a lot of reasons for the improved shooting percentage, almost all revolving around Paul's size – he roams for steals, he can't challenge shots that effectively, and he has trouble fighting through high screens, allowing open jumpers or drives to the hoop based on whether he trails or goes under.

What does Paul do to counteract this problem?  He plays disruptor, generating steals, poking away the ball to teammates, and generally trying to wreak havoc.  Is this an effective way of compensating?  Many pundits would say no, claiming solid on-the-ball defense is more important, but here's some numbers:

  • An average PG takes 15.8 shots in 48 minutes.  With an eFG% of 49%, they produce 15.5 points per 48 minutes.
  • A PG opposing Paul has an eFG% of 52%, allowing them to produce 16.4 points per 48 minutes.

So Paul's defense gives up an extra .9 points per game compared to an average PG.  Here's what his compensation does:

  • An average PG steals the ball 2.0 times every 48 minutes.  A posession is worth 1.04 points on average in the NBA, so an average PG takes away 2.08 points from the opposing team.
  • Paul steals the ball 3.4 times every 48 minutes.  A posession is worth 1.04 points on average in the NBA, so Paul's steals essentially defend 3.54 points per game.

So Paul's defense takes an additional 1.44 points per game away from the opposing team compared to an average Point Guard.

The net, is +.5 points per game in Paul's favor, and that doesn't include the fact that a steal always results in a posession change – which adds points to the stealer's team, while a forced miss only results in a posession change 70% of the time.

The other part of the argument revolves around Defensive Ratings.  Defensive rating is an excellent stat at telling you how a team performs defensively when a player is on and off the floor.  The problem is what it actually compares is not how good a player is defensively compared to other players in the league, but with players on his own team.  The site where this stat is readily available, basketballvalue.com, makes that disclaimer on its homepage.

Normally, that's not really an issue.  Starters should be better at defense than their backups, but all season long, that's not been the case with the Hornets.  Back in January I created a post about the Hornets reserves this season, evaluating their offense and defense as a whole unit.  The verdict was that our reserves couldn't score at all, but were producing incredible numbers on the defensive end – generating a defensive efficiency of 88.0.(The Celtics lead the NBA with a defensive efficiency of 96.1 right now)  So the Hornets backups are great defenders – which is pretty obvious when you watch the team.  Those stretches during the last part of the 1st and 3rd and early 2nd and 4th are ugly.  No one scores.

So the result?  The numbers say when Paul leaves the floor the team's defense gets better, and it also says the same for every single Hornets starter except for David West, who just barely improves the defense – probably because the standard rotation keeps him on the floor with the second unit for longer than anyone else. 

According to the Defensive Rating numbers, our best defenders this season are, in order, Marcus Vinicius, Melvin Ely, Rasual Butler, Bobby Jackson, Ryan Bowen, David West, and Jannero Pargo.  Everyone else on the team makes the defense worse.  In other words, Paul, Stojakovic, Chandler, and Peterson play starters minutes and contribute to a top 5 league defense, but they all suck. Red flag, anyone?

The primary conclusion you should draw from the Defensive Ratings of the Hornets is that the Hornets starters defend the opposing team's starters less well than the Hornets 2nd unit defends the opponent's 2nd unit.

Now, am I claiming Chris Paul is a great defender?  No.  I would suggest he's about average overall.  His size limits him, no doubt, but his speed and hands make up for the difference.


Normally, I'd move on to a Game Preview for tonight, but the above post took so much time to research and put together, I'm not going to have time for one of my full treatments.

The Clippers are almost as dangerous as the Kings, and in case you don't remember, last year we spoiled their playoffs hopes by beating them twice in the last couple weeks of the season.  Brand will probably have vengeance on the mind.

We'll need to come out hard to win this one.  Hopefully we do, and we can get some rest for our starters in the fourth quarter.

One can hope, eh?

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