The Defense of Chris Paul, What a Difference a Year Makes

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Published: April 15, 2009

A year ago, Hornet’s Blog At The Hive and I both put up posts talking about Chris Paul, using what limited statistical measures exist to try and rate his defensive production.  The measures weren’t particularly encouraging, and Paul came out looking like he was a pretty weak defender, despite my arguments that he was likely just average.

At The Hive responded to my post with “Great stuff, Ryan. My dream is that on this same day next year, we can both put up posts describing how awesome his defense is.

Well, it’s a year later.  Let’s see how it all shook out:

Last year there was a hue and cry about Chris Paul’s defense when he was contending for the MVP prize, some of it based on the adjusted +/- stat that tries to isolate Paul’s play from his teammates and seemed to indicate the team was better defensively without him.  Last year the Adjusted +/- essentially said Paul’s crazy offensive contributions were nearly canceled out by his defensive deficiencies as the Hornet’s defensive efficiency was 5.6 points worse when he was on the floor.(i.e. for every 100 possessions the Hornets gave up 5 more points with him than without him)

It didn’t stop there either.  Another measurable way Paul’s defense was poor last year was his inability to force bad shots.  Point Guards playing against Paul had a eFG% of 52%, placing Paul in the bottom five among the league’s point guards.  He allowed opposing Point Guards to post a PER of 18.3, also in the bottom five of the league.  He also allowed the 11th most number of shots, and was right in the middle of the pack in giving up assists.  They were pretty grim numbers.

This year, however, Paul’s defensive turnaround has been nothing short of amazing.  And I mean it.  I had to check the numbers twice before posting them here.

Adjusted +/- now ranks Paul as the 2nd best player in the league, and unlike last year, the Hornet’s defensive efficiency improves by 3.1 with him on the floor, a total improvement of 8.7 points per 100 posessions.  To put that in perspective, if you improved the worst defense in the league by 8.7 points per 100 posessions, they’d become the 6th best defense in the league.

So how did he do it?  What has he improved to make his defensive so much more effective?  Pretty much everything.  Paul’s defensive eFG% has improved from 52% to 47%, going from 26th to 13th in effective Field Goal defense.  That’s a big improvement, but it still didn’t seem that great because it merely made him average.  So I started looking at the other stats, and it became pretty obvious that while Paul may not force consistently bad shots, he controls opposing point guards like no other.  Per 48 minutes, point guards facing the Hornets manage the 3rd fewest Field Goal Attempts, the 2nd fewest Points, the 2nd fewest Assists, and the 9th fewest free throws.  As a result, point guards playing against the Hornets manage a PER of 14.8.  In fact, the only thing Paul doesn’t do well?  Force opposing Point Guards into turnovers.  Last year he was top 5.  This year he is the 6th worst, forcing one less turnover per 48 minutes.  That’s a pretty amazing number, considering he still leads the league in steals, but it corresponds with the types of steals we see him make per game which are more reach-in steals on driving wings then pressure steals in the open court.

So has Paul become an awesome defender? Considering how disruptive he is on help defense, and how he has clearly improved his on the ball defense, I’d have to say yes.  Sure, he can’t bother tall wing players taking corner-threes when rotating because he’s just too short, but I can live with that considering everything else he does.

Notes: For those of you interested, the numbers were collected from the Production by Position Team pages on 82games.com.  Here’s the Hornet’s page. Yes, I know that those stats report the production of players designated by 82games as “point guards” and that team defense probably impacts the stats, and that it includes both Paul’s defense against opposing point guards and that of his backups.  However, if you want to argue that lead-footed Antonio Daniels and floor-bound Devin Brown provide A. A positive defensive impact, or B. Improve the defense tremendously in their 10 minutes per game at the point guard position, and that Paul still sucks, feel free . . . and expect derision.

Be sure to read Niall’s breakdown of the Hornet’s possible first round opponents.  Good stuff!

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