Meshing Together
Danny Savitzky, January 31, 2011

When it comes to winning, itís tough to overstate the necessity of having a defensive anchor. A potent offense is great and all, but stopping your opponent from scoring is just as crucial. Itís vexing, then, that defensive standouts are largely underappreciated.

This is certainly the case with the Clippers, who have garnered plenty of national attention with Blake Griffinís nightly thrills. Less known, though, is DeAndre Jordanís defensive impact. But thereís a more interesting story to be told behind Jordanís defensive prowess. How does one go about summarizing Jordan and Griffinís coexistence as a frontcourt defensive tandem?

The short answer is that itís not always a balanced effort; typically, Jordan shoulders more of the defensive load than Griffin. Thatís no knock on Griffinís defense, though, as his focus on offense and rebounding can account for his decreased influence on D, and itís not a lack of effort. For a more in-depth analysis of this imbalance, letís go to the numbers. Telling defensive statistics are few and far between, so the analysis is based largely on the per-possession defensive numbers accumulated by Synergy Sports.

Jordan gets his fair share of highlights with his blocks that send opponentsí shots six rows deep into the Staples Center crowd, and he logs about 1.7 denials a game. His swatting tendencies are a testament to his affinity as a help defender, protecting the rim from guards who infiltrate the defense.

Griffin, however, is virtually nonexistent as a shot blocker with only .6 blocks per contest. He prefers instead to stand his ground and draw charges to help out the defense. While drawing a charge is of more benefit to the team (itís a turnover and it draws a foul on the opposite player), itís a lot rarer to draw one and it comes at the risk of having a foul called.

Jordan allows .797 points per possession, ranking him 30th among all defensive players with 200 or more defensive plays on the season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. More specifically, he is sublime defending spot-up shooters, allowing just .8 points per possession. The truly illuminating number, that is great evidence for his prolific post defense, is his .66 PPP on non-post-up shots around the basket. Thatís fourth in the league among bigs with 40 such plays.

Griffin is a less efficient defender overall, allowing .915 PPP, which just keeps him out of the bottom third of NBA players. He allows a bit over 1 PPP in post-up scenarios, which ranks him in the bottom fifth of the league. With that said, heís even better in isolation defense than Jordan, surrendering just .559 PPP there.

More so than offense in the NBA, assessing a playerís defensive value is as much a product of diligent observation as it is a product of the stats. Looking at the Clippers, they look much more comfortable and effective with Jordan on the floor, and the numbers support that. When Jordan is in the game, the Clippers give up 109.5 points per 100 possessions. When heís off the floor, 111.3 points.

Once again, this is not to suggest that Griffin is necessarily a bad defender. In fact, Griffin excels on the defensive boardsódenying opponents second chances is key to winning, and Griffinís rebounding helps in that regard. Furthermore, Griffinís tendency to leak out for alley-oops and easy layups is a boon for the offense, but it can leave the defense shorthanded in certain situations.

Still, itís worthwhile to consider whether Griffinís style of play would be more hurtful on the defensive end if the Clippers didnít have a player like Jordan around to compensate with help defense, and itís a fair question. The numbers seem to indicate that this might be the case.

Consider it applause of Jordanís performance. His defensive talents are more indispensable to the team than most realized, allowing Griffin to do his thing offensively and not have to be overly preoccupied with the other team scoring with ease. Griffin wonít be making any All-Defense teams this season.

But the odd, unconventional compatibility of Jordan and Griffinís repertoires on the court appear to be just as tight as their friendship off of it.

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