Defense is one of the most difficult things to quantify in basketball. It’s not as simple as just figuring out how much the guy a certain player is guarding scores and then you have a number to with which to judge. In basketball the team context in unavoidable. The schemes teams run rely on “teamwork” defense, helping, rotating, switching, double teaming, etc., making player defensive evaluation sort of a nebulous concept.
But we acquired Thabo in late February at the deadline and he came with a defensive reputation. I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about playing defense in the NBA, but when you see a player like Thabo get after it defensively for the first time, you know your seeing aggressive, intense defensive effort. Great defense may be a little difficult to quantify, but you sure know it when you see it; especially after some of the porous performances we saw in December.
I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of our offensive and defensive numbers broken down by months since the beginning of the year. They are kind of fun to look at and remember where this team has been and what it has gone through in the last five months. Again, realizing that Thabo started just three games at the end of February, and then looking at the defensive improvement in March, I think you can actually see the Thabo effect on the defense in the numbers.
January was our finest month by far, where we had seven wins and actually had a positive differential between our offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, yet January also had our easiest slate of opponents-just half of them were at or above .500 ball when we met them. The level of competition greatly increased in February, and our efficiency noticeably suffered on both sides of the ball. March on the other hand was actually a reasonably good month for us all things considered. Seven wins out of 15 games (six of them without Durant, four without Durant or Green). Our offense took a big dip in March without those two, and the team adjusting to playing without any “go to” guys, but the defense compensated and kept us within striking distance in most games.
A picture is worth a thousand words:
With Thabo defending the wing for the full month of March, notice the huge drop in opponent 3 point field goal percentage. From 40.5% allowed in February to 32.5% in March. That is huge. Overall field goal percentage allowed and defensive efficiency all dropped in March.
I think there has definitely been a “Thabo effect” on defense.