Anthony Davis was the 2013-14 NBA leader in blocked shots per game at 2.8 per contest. Going simply by the box score, this would suggest he is one of the best rim defenders in the league. However, Pelicans opponents’ have shot 62.9% at the rim this season with him on the court1, as compared to 59% with Davis on the bench or injured, fractionally below the league average2. While that extremely high percentage allowed cannot be totally attributed to Davis, one would expect an elite rim protector to have more of an effect in that area.
This difference between box score accomplishments and a more exact measure of actual impact demonstrates how imperfect a proxy blocked shots can be for the vital defensive skill of rim protection. Last week, I looked at how SportVU allows more insight into interior defense.
In Davis’ case it’s not that he’s bad at challenging shots at the rim. Opponents shoot 48.9% on inside shots taken with Davis in the vicinity3. So when he’s around to contest the shot, he does just fine. The problem for New Orleans and Davis is he simply wasn’t near the rim enough. Whereas the average NBA big man is positioned to contest on average just over 38% of all opponents’ shots within 5 feet of the rim while he is on the floor, Davis is only in such position 29.9% of the time. All told, Davis grades out as about 3/4 of a point worse than an NBA average big man in terms of his ability to protect the paint.
On it’s own this data doesn’t say much as to how much of Davis’ low relative ranking in this area represents poor recognition and rotation by Davis himself versus how much results from the (perhaps unwise) defensive schemes employed by New Orleans. Nor does it take into account Davis’ ability to block shots all over the floor (though it stands to reason that a blocked mid-range jumper is not as valuable as a blocked layup, surprise factor aside).
Requiring Davis to stick to the basket would prevent him from creating some of the all-court defensive havoc of which he is capable such as this
On the other hand, New Orleans was one of the worst defensive teams in the league4 in 2013-14 in large part because they couldn’t protect the rim. Opponents shot 61.3% on shots < 5ft.5, as in some combination of poor interior presence (Davis’ preferred partner, Ryan Anderson is, to put it mildly, not a rim protector) and porous perimeter defense, New Orleans was unable to protect the basket area6.
Enter Asik. Even sulking through much of the season following the well-chronicled failure of the Asik-Dwight Howard twin towers experiment, Asik was one of the very best paint defenders in the league in 2013-14, “saving” the 8th most points per minute of the 80 big men playing 20+ MPG. Asik was only slightly more effective at forcing misses when he contested shots (47.7% shooting allowed as compared to the 48.9% allowed by Davis), but he was much more studious at being in position to challenge shots, with a contest%7 of 51.3%8 against Davis’ 29.9%9.
With the rim area better covered, Davis will now be free to use his mobility and length to get hands in passing lanes and block shots from impossible distances, while New Orleans’s guards might improve their own defense a bit knowing that if they do get beat, there will be an effective second line of defense. Of course, there will be a trade off. Asik is an very limited offensive player: a poor (though improved) free throw shooter, with zero range and poor hands. However, the Pelicans had no trouble scoring last season, they just couldn’t stop anyone. If points ever do become an issue, they can always revert back to the Holiday/Evans/Davis/Anderson “bomb squad” lineups which scored a silly 127 pts./100 possessions in limited time last season10. The ability to deploy a credible defensive lineup (as well as the health of key players after the blight of injuries last year) will be an important part of New Orleans attempt to reach the Western Conference playoffs.
- per NBA.COM ↩
- ibid. ↩
- League average is just over 50% FG% for shots contested by bigs. ↩
- 4th from bottom per basketball-reference.com, allowing 110.1 points/100 possessions ↩
- tied for 5th worst in the NBA ↩
- Oddly, a player New Orleans dealt to create cap space needed to sign Tyreke Evans in the form of Robin Lopez performed very well in terms of rim defense for the Blazers, who survived the barrage of drives given up by their own suspect perimeter defense largely via the efforts of Lopez ↩
- number of opponent FGA withing 5 feet of the basket while the player is on the floor / number of contests at the rim per SportVU ↩
- 5th among 20 MPG+ bigs ↩
- Interestingly, Asik was a significantly better rim protector than was Howard. Asik contested shots at similar effectiveness, and at a much higher rate, all while opponents actually took fewer close attempts with Asik in the game than with Howard. ↩
- Per NBAWowy.com ↩