Shooting Guarded

Question

Guess: Which team has held opposing shooting guards to the lowest collective PER in all of the NBA this season?

There are probably two reasons – and two reasons only – why you got the right answer on your first try. First, you are on Bucks.com. And second, there is a pretty chart (courtesy of the fine people at 82games.com) above these words.

Sure, the Bucks are a defense-first team. They boast the eighth best defensive efficiency in the NBA. Larry Sanders has blossomed into one of the premier post defenders in the basketball world. Ekpe Udoh is widely regarded as one of the smartest team defenders around. Luc Mbah a Moute is rightly considered among the most versatile defensive players in the NBA.

So, yes, post defense is great. But if there is an assumed relative defensive weak link, it is on the perimeter – where Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis patrol.

Here’s the thing. The stats are clear. Opposing shooting guards have fired mostly blanks against the Bucks. And 27 games in, we are starting to look at more revealing sample sizes.

Chart Explained

Quick translation of the chart on top:  Shooting guards on teams playing the Bucks so far this season have collectively posted a 9.9 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The stat is far from perfect and it is not an end point, but it is a nice starting point. The man who developed the stat is John Hollinger, formerly of ESPN.com. He was hired away from that gig two weeks ago when he accepted the role as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Grizzlies.

Back to the chart. To put that 9.9 PER into perspective, the league average automatically is set at 15.0. Anything under 12.0 does not bode well. In that territory, you are looking at the Cartier Martins (11.9), Luke Babbits (11.7), and Sebastian Telfairs (10.8) of the world. Single-digit PERs are few and far in between. There are not many regulars under 10.0, because you typically don’t stay in a rotation for very long with a sub-10.0 PER. A sampling includes Chris Duhon (9.8), Ryan Hollins (9.2), and Steve Blake (8.9).

Which is to say, the Bucks are turning opposing shooting guards into Chris Duhon.

Guarding

Naturally, Ellis is the player who has matched up defensively with shooting guards far more than anyone else on the team. He ranks near the league leaders averaging 36.1 minutes per game, and most of the time he is at shooting guard. According to 82games.com, Ellis has played 62 % of the team’s shooting guard minutes this season. And he has some pretty nice statistics to show for it. Opposing shooting guards have posted a 9.7 PER against Ellis. They have posted an extremely low 42.9 eFG%. There have been exceptions – Richard Hamilton’s big game for the Bulls in Milwaukee and Dwyane Wade’s star night in Miami come to mind. But overall, the numbers are way down there. Interestingly, when Ellis has played point guard, opposing point guards have fared even worse – posting an almost unbelievably low 7.9 PER.

Context

These are star defensive numbers. That 9.9 PER is the lowest mark shooting guards have posted against any team in the NBA. In fact, it is the second best defensive number of any team against any position overall. The only better mark is the 8.3 PER that the Clippers allow opposing point guards. Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe are responsible for that number – which helps reassure me that this is all real and that writing this story is worthwhile.

The chart shows that opposing shooting guards hardly ever score (third lowest overall), shoot very poorly from the field (second lowest overall), don’t rebound (third lowest overall), turn the ball over a lot (third most overall), and don’t get to the line (fifth lowest overall).

Three Bucks in addition to Ellis have been credited with time at shooting guard. And in terms of PER allowed, Doron Lamb (7.4), Marquis Daniels (11.8), and Beno Udrih (14.2) have all done a solid job defensively as well.

Team Defense

This all begs the question: How much of shutting down opposing shooting guards has to do with the defense of the shooting guards, and how much of it has to do with the defense of the post players?

After all, big men like Sanders and Udoh often represent the second, third, and last lines of defense. And they are so often in the right place at the right time to close off driving lanes and to contest, alter, and block shots. Defense is a team game, and in general, power forwards and centers – especially good ones – are significantly more important team defenders than guards.

Monta

Nevertheless, it is clear that Ellis and the shooting guards are at the very least not doing too much harm defensively. You don’t get an eighth ranked defense with your two highest-minute players (Jennings and Ellis, by far) messing things up too much. And you don’t get an opposing position sporting a 9.9 PER if the one-on-one defenders at that position are doing such a bad job.

For the record, Ellis allowed a 17.4 PER to opposing shooting guards last season with the Bucks. In the two years prior in Golden State, he allowed a 15.9 PER and 18.2 PER respectively. There is little logical reason why Ellis would suddenly become a top-flight defensive shooting guard this season. And different defensive stats show different results: Ellis has a defensive rating of 104 via Basketball-Reference.com. That is the best mark of his career, but it is a pretty average number overall.

In any event, even with an inspired and talented cast of post defenders, it is unlikely that the 9.9 PER stays that low for very long – especially when you consider that the team with the number one offensive shooting guard PER in the NBA – Dwyane Wade’s Heat – is visiting Milwaukee on Saturday night.

But so far, most of the numbers speak for themselves – and surprisingly, they speak in part with that unmistakably quiet, confident, Mississippi accent.




Alex Boeder

My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.

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