This Year, Peja Stojakovic was a . . . Defensive Specialist?

Published: April 20, 2010

At some point during the next 12 months, I think all Hornets nation understands that Peja Stojakovic will be moving on.  He’s in the final year of his contract, his production has slipped drastically, and his $15 million dollar contract makes him enticing to teams wishing to start their roster over after next season.  That matches with the Hornets desires, as they would be happy to snag a valuable veteran or two in return for that expiring contract.  (I, of course, have dreams of Andre Igoudala out of Philly – or Cleveland losing LeBron and blowing things up, making Anderson Varejao available.)

So, in preparation for his departure, I thought I’d write about something else we’ll all miss about Peja.  And no, I don’t mean the threes or the Peja-Heads-on-a-Stick.(Though I will miss that)  I’m talking about his defense.

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing . . . .

. . .

. . .

. . .  Done now?

Good, we’ll move on.  First, I have to point out I’ve done this before.  Back when the Hornets were good and no one really understood why, I talked about the Hornets defense, Byron’s impact on it, and how solid Peja actually was despite claims to the contrary.  Since then, despite the slow demise of Peja’s offense, Peja’s defense has remained as steady as it was two years ago.

Now, given my predilictions, you can probably guess I’m about to produce a slew of stats that will prove this claim.  You can feel free to dismiss them if you like – because this is prime material for the “Watch the games, loser, those numbers don’t mean anything” argument.  I will point out, however, that it’s not just some numbers that imply Peja Stojakovic is a solid defender.  It’s every advanced statistical measure that implies Peja is a solid defender.  To me, if they all agree, it’s wise to listen.

The Stats

The genesis of this post occurred when the TrueHoop Network was given access to a wonderful new tool by Synergy Sports.  In return for testing it, we get access to a application that includes every play from every game this season, categorized by the type of play(post, pick and roll, cut, etc), the player using the posession, the result of the posession(turnover, miss, 3, etc) and the primary defender of the posession.

Using that tool, I was able to consider those plays where Peja was tagged as the primary defender – and found out he ranked 87th overall out of about 500 NBA players in the database.  That defensive ranking was determined by points per posession – so for every posession he defended, the 87th least amount of points were produced overall.  Impressive, but I’m not done yet.

Given that information, I ran over to and took a look at his defensive stats there.  82games tracks the opponent output for players.  So when Peja was playing as a small forward, what did the opposing small forward produce?  Once again, Peja came out smelling pretty good, with an opponent PER of 14.5.

I didn’t stop with the PER, though.  I took the rest of 82games opponent stats, and compared them to the league average for a small forward from (I had to normalize them both to 48 minutes)

The result is the table below:

Player FGA eFG% FTA Rebs Asts Turnovers Blocks Fouls Drawn Pts
SF guarded by Peja 15.6 .490 3.7 5.9 4.8 2.9 0.7 2.8  18.4 
Average SF 15.5 .503 4.3 7.7 2.8 2.2 0.7 4.4 19.6

So – this gives us a little more information as to why Peja is a solid defender.  Players shoot a little worse against him, they get fewer free throws against him, their rebounding is cut to 75% of normal, they rarely draw fouls, they turn the ball over more often, and they produce slightly less points.  In fact, the only thing they are better than normal at against him is getting assists – i.e. giving up the ball.  It’s pretty telling – particularly the rebounding thing, which illustrates the fact that he is solid at boxing out, even if he doesn’t often snare the ball himself.

There’s also the interesting fact that once Peja went down with his abdominal strain, an already bad Hornet’s defense fell off the cliff.  Starting from the game after Peja’s injury to the end of the season, the Hornets defense gave up 3.8 more points per posession.  In a game like basketball, where 4 points per posession is the difference between an NBA Champion and a bubble playoff team, that’s crushing.

And lastly, if all that didn’t convince you, I’ll turn to Adjusted +/- and DRating, which you can get from  Adjusted +/- is a bit arcane, and I only use it sparingly, but once again, it’s a measure that insists Peja is a solid defender.  Peja comes in with an Adjusted +/- of +1.89.  To put that in perspective, he was only one of only three Hornets to earn a positive rating – and it wasn’t due to his offense, which the tool ranked as slightly below average – it was due to his defensive rating of -3.09.  That rating means that teams scored 3.09 less points per 100 posessions with Peja on the floor.

Personal Observations

So armed with all those stats, let’s go to my own personal observations of Peja.  I’ll be honest – these results aren’t surprising to me.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Peja is good at baiting players into taking low-percentage mid-range shots.  I can remember multiple games where it felt like Carmelo Anthony was killing the Hornets by draining mid-range shots over Peja – but the Boxscore would show he’d have 22 points on 20 shots – because even though he shot 55% he wasn’t getting to the line for cheap, efficient points.  Of course – there’s the fact that in a few games, when Carmelo decided to drive on Peja, Peja was pretty weak – but that still doesn’t change the fact that quite often, Peja got the player he was guarding to take the easy shot rather than work for the harder, more efficient shot.  That means something.(though probably less in the playoffs than the regular season)

So – what do you think?  Peja solid on the defensive end, or am I and my numbers nuts?

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