Defensive Stats Standouts: VanVleet, Caruso and Capela
By Brian Martin
This week's defensive spotlight focusing on a new trio of players that are making life difficult for opposing teams on a nightly basis: Toronto's Fred VanVleet, Los Angeles' Alex Caruso and Houston's Clint Capela.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
The Raptors enter Wednesday's games ranked fourth in defensive efficiency (102.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and first in opponent field goal percentage (48.0 eFG%). Even after losing two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors remain among the league's best defensive teams and the efforts of Fred VanVleet have been key to that success.
In addition to his career-high 18.7 points per game (36th in NBA) and 55 3-pointers made (17th in NBA), VanVleet has established himself as one of the league's top perimeter defenders. He ranks third in the league in steals (2.0 per game) and fourth in deflections (3.9 per game).
On top of helping the Raptors force the eighth-most turnovers in the league (16.1 per game), VanVleet is one of the best in the league in contesting shots and holding opponents well below their normal shooting percentage.
In 265 minutes of defensive matchup time, VanVleet has held his matchups to 96-231 (41.6%) shooting from the field, while forcing 51 turnovers. While most of his time (191 minutes) have come against fellow guards, VanVleet has shown the versatility to defend forwards as well. In 60 minutes defending forwards, VanVleet has allowed opponents to shoot just 41.2% from the field.
Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers enter Wednesday's games tied with Milwaukee for the top record in the league at 18-3 and have the league's fifth-ranked defense, allowing 103.0 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers have not posted a defensive rating this low since the 2011-12 season, which is the last time they made it out of the first round of the playoffs. The last time the Lakers posted a defensive rating below 103 was in 2009-10, when they won their last championship.
Discussions of championship contention are back in full swing as the new-look Lakers have opened the season so strong. While the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis garner most of the attention, the efforts of the collective cannot be overlooked, especially when it comes to team defense.
One of the more unsung heroes of the Lakers defense is reserve guard Alex Caruso, who ranks sixth in the NBA in individual defensive rating as the Lakers allow just 96.9 points per 100 possessions in his 19.9 minutes per game on the court. Among players that average fewer than 20 minutes per game, Caruso ranks second in steals (1.1 per game) and third in deflections (2.3 per game) - both of which help the Lakers hold the second-best opponent turnovers percentage (16.6%) in the league.
In 133 minutes of defensive matchup time, Caruso has held his matchups to 43.5% (64-147) shooting from the field and 29.2% (14-48) from beyond the arc. Caruso's ability to force turnovers (31 by his matchups) and contest shots (4.6 per game) without fouling (six total shooting fouls committed) have made him a valuable piece in Frank Vogel's rotation. The Lakers' defense is 9.4 points per 100 possessions better with Caruso on the court (96.4 DefRtg) than when he's off the court (105.8).
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
While the Houston Rockets do not make their reputation on the defensive side of the court, they have been able to maintain a middle-of-the-pack defense (108.5 DefRtg, 16th in NBA) to go along with their top three offense (113.4 OffRtg, 3rd in NBA).
Clint Capela has been the anchor for the Houston Rockets as the team's leading rebounder (15.1 per game, 2nd in NBA) and shot blocker (2.0 per game, 7th in NBA). In Tuesday's double-overtime loss to San Antonio, Capela logged his seventh game with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds as he finished with 22 points on a perfect 9-9 shooting to go with 21 rebounds and two blocks. Capela is tied with Detroit's Andre Drummond for most 20-20 games this season; only five other players have such a game and none has more than one.
Capela's defensive matchup data illustrates his versatility and why he is so valuable to the Rockets defense. In 76 minutes defending centers, Capela has held his matchups to 39.1% (18-46 FG) shooting from the field and has nearly as many turnovers (9) and blocks (8) combined as field goals allowed (18). He's faced nearly three times as many shots against guards and has held his matchups to 41.6% (52-125 FG) shooting from the field and 30.3% (10-33 3P) from beyond the arc in 43 minutes of matchup time.
Similar to Caruso, Capela is able to contest a ton of shots (14.2 per game, 8th in the NBA) without fouling as he committed only 19 shooting fouls against his matchups so far this season. A look at Capela's defensive dashboard shows he holds his opponents 2.3 percentage points below their normal shooting percentage overall, but is even better on shots inside of 10 feet (5.8 percentage points worse). Contesting shots, forcing lower shooting percentages from all types of players and cleaning the defensive glass to end opposing team's possessions (11.1 defensive RPG, 2nd in NBA) is how Clint Capela makes his defensive impact for the 13-7 Rockets.