Bargnaniís isolation defense
Just for fun I thought I’d research some of the statements that were made or questions that were asked about Bargnani in this thread. I still have some vacation left and almost no social life to speak of, so why not. My goal is not to prove or disprove Bargnani’s stature as a bad defensive player, but just to see if the statements were correct and to answer some of the questions.
Last week I looked at the statement that some very good performances by opposing players were because of Bargnani. I only looked at one of the named performances, the 23-point performance by Speights. I looked at those plays and had to conclude that this performance good not be blamed on Bargnani. Unfortunately there were no reactions (so far) of the people who used this performance as evidence against Bargnani.
I wondered about this myself, so I went to Synergy and examined all the isolations plays. According to Synergy 22,5% of Bargnani’s defensive plays were Isolation plays. That comes down to 133 plays.
On those isolation plays Bargnani’s opponents make 0,684 ppp (according to the article of Pruiti). In my calculations I get 0,674 ppp, but that won’t make too much of a difference.
To get an idea of the level of competition and how Bargnani did in comparison to the rest of the league I decided to take a look at the ppp his opponents normally make in isolation plays. For this I’ve take each play, looked at the opponents average ppp and took the average of all the plays. That gives me a number of 0,793. That number is not completely indicative of the average opposition because there are some plays by opponents who almost never play isolation (e.g. Ben Wallace and Trevor Booker) which makes their isolation ppp very unreliable. Because these players tend to be on the high or low side of ppp I also looked at the average opponents ppp of the middle 80% of the plays. That comes down to 0,815 ppp.
<i>Against the opponents Bargnani faced he outperformed the league by at least 0,11 ppp, which is about 14% better than the league.</i>
This is while taking the least favourable numbers (otherwise it would be 0.14 ppp better for a 17,3% better performance than the league average against the same opponents).
<b>How does the level of his opponents compare against the league average? Were his opponents bad or good players?</b>
First of all, 13(!) of all isolation plays were against a scrub called Lebron James. That’s a significant amount against a very good isolation player. James had a season average of 0,92 ppp.
The Raptors as a team had an isolation offense ppp of 0,85, which was 12th in the league. Bargnani’s opponents are around the level of the 20th team in the League (0,81 ppp) and the 18th team in the league (0,82). At 0,81 ppp those teams were the Nets, Pacers and Charlotte and at 0,82 we had the 76ers. That’s slightly below average, but because of the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference I think Bargnani’s average is about the average for the teams they faced.
Nevertheless, taking the ‘raw’ number of 0,79, an argument could be made that the competition he faced was (slightly) below the average of the league. So I decided I’d look at all the players Bargnani had faced with a ppp of 0,8 or higher and see how he did here. Bargnani faced an isolation against players with an isolation ppp of at least 0,8 80 times this season and his results were quite surprising:
<i>Against the better isolation players, with an average isolation ppp of 0,89 Bargnani allowed only 0,64 ppp, meaning he outperformed the league by a staggering 0,25 ppp or 28%.</i>.
<b>How does he do it? How come Bargnani has good defensive stats on isolation plays?</b>
One thing I noticed when going over the defensive plays of Bargnani is that he’s late a lot on rotations to spot-up shooters. Pruiti pointed this out in his article and from what I’ve seen when I checked this he is spot on. It seems that when Bargnani has to recognize the play when there is quite some ball movement he’s too late seeing where he needs to go and stays in his position too long. One of the main results being him closing too late on shooters. On the other hand, when he is already in position because of the zone, or when he has an easily recognizable switch (when e.g. a screen is set) and is able to get in position without much trouble he does a good job using his length allowing him to keep some distance and by also moving his feet pretty well he prevents from getting beat off the dribble too often.
Unfortunately I don’t have the right Miami games on my PC, so I can’t show any of the Lebron plays. So I’ll end this post with another example, and, to appease the people who are offended because I didn’t trash Bargnani’s defense in this post, I’ll end with an example where somebody scores on Bargnani.
Basically one of two things can happen (when isolation play ends in a fieldgoal attempt): either the player tries to take Bargnani of the dribble or the player tries to shoot over Bargnani. Bargnani keeps his distance to the other player so it’s not easy to blow by. If they do try to attack him, a lot of times he is still able to challenge the jumper.
In this example Joe Johnson gets an iso against Bargnani on the top of the key. Bargnani keeps his distance, moves his feet well (really, he does), Johnson takes off to the rim, but Bargnani is still able to make the shot difficult by using his length. On this possession Johnson scores; he creates contact very well to create some room and prevent Bargnani from contesting his shoot even better. The defense was very solid, Johnson had to make a difficult jumper and he did.