Is a Low Post Defender Really Needed?

Published: April 29, 2014

Listening to Monty and Dell in the end of season press conferences, it was hard not to notice how often they mentioned putting a big man next to Anthony Davis (especially Monty!). They talked about the nights that guys like Nene and Al Jefferson tore us apart, and Monty talked about how it “wasn’t fair” to ask AD to cover guys like Andrew Bogut and Robin Lopez because they have 30-40 pounds on him. Thankfully, both men did acknowledge that they can’t just add another offensively challenged player just because he happens to be 7-feet tall. That’s nice and all, but if you want a big low post defender who is also solid on the offensive end, he is going to cost you a pretty penny, and its not like Dell has a ton of room to play with.

Would it be nice to add another big body who can defend? Of course! But is it a priority? I don’t tend to think that it is. First of all, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis are going to finish games. They are just too talented not to. And when you watch NBA playoff games, you see that 80% of teams tend to go small late anyway. Beyond that, Davis and Anderson figure to get 70-75 minutes a game. Unless Monty goes with a short rotation – only playing three bigs (unlikely) – then you are probably looking at 15-18 minutes for the big man that Dell is searching high and low for.

Lastly, I am here to argue that defending opposing bigs in the post should not be a high priority. Look, no defense is going to be perfect. You won’t be able to protect the rim, defend the low post, and lock down the perimeter; And if you can do all those things, your offense is probably going to be terrible because you have so many one-dimensional defensive minded players (see: Memphis, Indiana, and Chicago). You just can’t afford to assemble a perfect roster in the NBA. So the question is: What weakness is the easiest to cover up? To me, the answer is low post defense.

At the end of the day, the Pelicans are going to have to get through the Western Conference in order to make their way to the Finals, and while this conference is terrific, it is not loaded with guys who can destroy your team in the low post. Demarcus Cousins is obviously the most dominant 260+ pound big out West, but c’mon – Are you worried about the Kings becoming a perennial playoff contender? And even if they do, does anybody remember how the Pelicans defeated the Kings when the team was relatively healthy? They put Ryno on him and occasionally doubled; forced him into a bunch of turnovers and then drew him out to the perimeter on the other end with Davis and Anderson launching jumpers while the other one crashed the rim.

The fact is that offenses run through perimeter players now, with teams driving to the bucket and/or kicking out for threes. This describes literally every team currently in the Western Conference playoffs not named Memphis. To further emphasize the point, take a look at the chart below featuring the primary low post bigs from each team.

[table id=58 /]

For those who don’t know, a secondary assist is basically a hockey assist. If a guy passes it to another player who swings it to the shooter (who drains it), he gets a secondary assist. In addition to points per possession, I wanted to list assists and secondary assists because a common argument is that when a big man gets doubled, he creates offense for others. I grew up watching Hakeem Olajuwon, and believe me, when a guy is a terrific low post scorer and a good passer, this is definitely true.

But we don’t have those guys in the league anymore. Marc Gasol is a terrific passer, but more often than not it is out of the high post. And he is not a physical or dominant enough low post player that you have to double him anyway. You have to double someone like DeMarcus Cousins, but you know what happens when you do? The guy turns the ball over. Cousins has had more turnovers than assists every single year he has been in the league. Cousins had 70 turnovers this season out of his 508 low post possessions. He turned the ball over more often than he drew a shooting foul in the low post.

I am not picking on Cousins here; I am just showcasing him because he is the BEST low post player in our conference. This is a guy we are supposed to be worried about enough to bring in another big so that either Anthony or Ryno can take a seat on the bench while some mid-level big man defends him. Or how about Dwight Howard? A guy who turns the ball over more than 20% of the time on his low post possessions! A guy who you can always just wrap up if he gets to close and send him to the line. Are you really going to go out and make sure that you have someone to defend a guy who averages 0.76 points per possession on his low post shots? A guy who creates 4 or 5 points a game for his teammates on kickouts, and turns it over so often with his back to the basket?

Dwight Howard gets the Rockets 0.76 points on each post up possession. James Harden averages 1.02 points per possession. Chandler Parsons averages 1 point per possession. Heck, Jeremy Lin – who didn’t have a good year by any measure – averaged 0.9 points per possession. So why in the world would you want to discourage the Rockets from dumping the ball down into the post? I would hope for just the opposite. Keep dumping it down to Howard down there while Howard tries to cover either Anderson or AD on the other end.

And the funny thing is if we go back to those games Dell and Monty keep bringing up – the Bobcats and Wizards – the Pelicans only gave up 90 and 94 points in those games. They accomplished what they wanted to on that end. Yes, Nene and Jefferson went off, but those teams went a combined 6 of 29 from three and the Pelicans lost those games because of their inability to put up points on the other end. In those two games, Monty played one of the 7-footers every minute and they combined to go 6-15 from the field, scoring just 16 points. In two full games!


Look, I am not totally against adding another big body if the Pelicans don’t have to give up too much to get him. I have advocated for a low price vet like Kosta Koufous for a while, and would give up an asset like Pierre Jackson to get him. But, I don’t think that the team needs to go out and target a low post defender, simply because we have beasts like Andrew Bogut and Samuel Dalembert in our conference. If the team wants to save AD’s body, I get that. That would be smart over the course of the regular season. All I am saying is that if we are talking about simply winning or losing a game, this is not something the Pelicans need to rush out and fix.

Re-sign Smith for a year and bring back Withey and Ajinca. You need to reduce the wear and tear on AD’s body, then play those three 15-20 of the minutes that the opposing brute is on the court. But don’t dedicate too many resources to locating what basically amounts to a middle reliever in baseball. Because that is all this team needs – a guy to eat up innings (or minutes in this case) that can keep your more valuable players fresh. And if the Pelicans do target a big man in free agency or via trade, it should not simply be a big body who can defend the low post, but rather a big that can defend the pick and roll and who can rebound. That is what is truly missing from the collection of big men on this roster.

This isn’t the 90’s anymore (something I think we have to continually remind Monty until he believes it) and the reality is that low post scoring simply does not beat you anymore. You don’t need a guy to combat Shaq, Mourning, The Admiral, Hakeem, and Ewing like you did back then. This league has 3 or 4 good low post centers and a couple above average ones. But even when you have good low post bigs, the perimeter guys are still more efficient and are the options teams go to when the game is on the line. Bigs only seem to make an impact when they can crash the offensive glass and get an easy two. So yes, go get a guy who can corral misses, but don’t waste your time looking for a low post defender.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.