Scoring is down!
Er, defense is up.
NBA teams are averaging about five fewer points per game so far compared to last season, a drop to 107.2 from 112.1. The per-100-possessions count is about the same, down to 107.7 from 112.3 in 2020-21.
The generally acknowledged reason is the league’s change in interpreting contact initiated by offensive players. Those goofy contortionist maneuvers to fish for whistles by jumping sideways into defenders or feigning shooting motions that would make even Joakim Noah blush are resulting now in no-calls or even offensive fouls. Keep in mind, fouls and free throws are down this season as well.
Here’s a quick breakdown:
• Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks averaged a league-high 120.1 points per game. So far this season, Golden State’s 115.1 holds the crown.
• The worst defense at the end of 2020-21, based on points-per-100, was Sacramento’s 116.5. Now it’s New Orleans’ 112.9.
• New York led the league in fewest points allowed last year at 104.7. This season, that would rank 11th best.
• Philadelphia’s NBA-best 114.3 offensive rating so far would have finished tied for ninth last season.
So the statistical shift is pretty consistent across all 30 teams. And if you listen to the chatter throughout the NBA – or just watch games night in and night out – it seems clear a more physical style of play is being permitted overall.
That might shift more of the spotlight to what defenses and their lead defenders are doing, rather than dwelling on offense and what some scoring stars aren’t doing.
Just to refresh readers’ memories, here is the final Ladder from last season. Obviously, one of the top defensive players in the NBA hasn’t actually been in the NBA, with Ben Simmons still at stalemate with his Sixers club:
1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
3. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
4. Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Here’s how the actual Defensive Player of the Year voting went for the top five in 2020-21:
1. Rudy Gobert, 464 points.
2. Ben Simmons, 287.
3. Draymond Green, 76.
4. Bam Adebayo, 31.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 12.
And these were the NBA’s all-Defensive squads last season:
First team: Gobert, Simmons, Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Green
Second team: Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Matisse Thybulle, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid
This season, to be more in synch with the actual 3-spot DPOY ballot, the monthly Defensive Player Ladder will highlight the leading trio of defenders along with a list of five honorable mentions.
So here are the Top 3 (plus 5) for 2021-22’s first Defensive Player Ladder:
(All stats through Monday, Nov. 15)
1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Criteria frequently used by voters for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is “best player on the best team.” Well, there really should be no difference when assessing defensive impact – a terrific team defense needs one or more top individual practitioners. So far, Golden State has been the stingiest with a defensive rating of 99.3 (the only team below 100 per 100 possessions) and Green, as usual, is the Warriors’ defensive quarterback. He’s got the switchability, he’s got the archival knowledge of opposing players and coaches and he’s got the hoops IQ to read things on the fly. Golden State is at or near the top in net rating, opponents’ field-goal percentage, defensive rebound percentage, shots contested, deflections and more. And despite Green’s rueful swipe at DPOY votes last spring – “No one in the world gives a damn about defense!” – this currently is the veteran forward’s top rung to lose.
2. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Counting both this season and Turner’s injury-shortened 2020-21, he has led the league in blocked shots per game for three of the past four seasons. He has a fat lead, 49-31, over Lakers big Anthony Davis, and the intensity with which Turner plays was dripping off his recent encounter with three-time DPOY winner Rudy Gobert, where Turner and his Pacers teammates made it clear during and after that they have their eyes on that prize. Turner also is bothering opposing shooters into 47.9% accuracy within six feet.
The TOTAL BLOCKS and BLOCKS PER GAME leaders through Week 4 of the @NBA season.
Full Leaderboard: https://t.co/92V8sAZ8h4 pic.twitter.com/jmo5wUjwu1
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) November 15, 2021
3. Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors
With Simmons off the board so far this season, Trent has made a strong case for being the most disruptive defender all over the court for the Raptors. He leads the NBA in steals with 37, averaging 2.5 per game to rank just shy of Chris Paul’s 2.6. He is high on the lists for loose balls recovered (21) and is tops in deflections (66). As would be expected, he often draws the Raptors’ toughest defensive challenge in opposing scorers.
The TOTAL STEALS and STEALS PER GAME leaders through Week 4 of the @NBA season.
Full Leaderboard: https://t.co/92V8sAZ8h4 pic.twitter.com/uAqcj8G9Cl
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) November 15, 2021
The Next Five
(In no particular order)
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
• Still sorting out his defensive role (C vs. PF).
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
• Smallest guy near top of blocks per game list (1.7).
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
• Reigning DPOY winner on whom the Jazz’s defensive game plan is draped.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
• Boston lets him handle post-up bigs without help, high praise indeed.
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
• Only rookie on this Ladder thanks to his contests (222) and nose for D.
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.