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Edit page. Paul Michelman: The big man is dead. Long live the big man. But in the burgeoning field of defensive analytics, what was thought to be a dinosaur might not be going extinct just yet. And as teams ramp up their efforts to slow down high-scoring offenses, their value could still be rising. Ben Shields: All right, it is a pleasure to welcome onto the show, Ivana Saric, who is a data scientist for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Ivana, thanks so much for joining us. Ben Shields: Well, likewise. But before we do so — because part of our aim here with this podcast is educational — I wanted to know if you could give us some context on the rise of defensive analytics and specifically why defensive analytics have lagged behind offensive analytics to date in the NBA. Ivana Saric: So for many years, we only had the box score data, and for offense that includes shots, rebounds, and assists.
So the defensive rebounds are not really that indicative. You can also argue, for the steals, that in some cases, players who get a lot of steals are also the ones who gamble a lot, and they get beat for it. And the last thing, for the block shots, you can say that players who get a lot of block shots are also the ones that are defending a lot of shots. Now, here comes player tracking data.
It gives us a lot more information to better understand defense. Now, I was wondering if you could share with our listeners what some of the most important or relevant defensive metrics are today, especially in light of the player tracking data. Ivana Saric: So on the team level, defensive rating has been widely used.
But if you look at it on the player level, you would look at defensive rating of the player on the court. Of course, this metric is far from perfect. For example, if someone plays with the same teammates a lot, this rating will be affected by his teammates. But again, we gain no information on the defense before the shot. But at least we can tell if the opponents are able to take good shots against this player or not.
And we do have some listeners out there that may not be as familiar with the ins and outs of basketball. Ivana Saric: So a rim protector is usually a big center who is, I guess, protecting the rim. So against a good rim protector, you would expect the opponents to make those shots at a lower rate. So the rim protectors are still important, because the shots at the rim are so valuable. Because one of the reasons why I find this thesis so fascinating is because we are in this era of the 3-point revolution, where seemingly every NBA team is trying to upskill to shoot and make the three.
So what does the data say as to why rim protectors are still so important in the game today? So if a player takes 10 shots at the rim, an average player will score 13 points out of those 10 shots.
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So if they take 10 threes, they will score 11 points. So you can see that the rim shots are still more valuable than the 3-point shots for an average NBA player. Ben Shields: And in this era of trying to take the most optimal shots that will get you the highest value, I can see why the layups or shots close to the rim are still absolutely critical. Ivana Saric: So in order to be a good defensive team, you can do this in many different ways. The Milwaukee Bucks did it this year, and they were the top defensive team in the league. They were allowing points per possessions, and the league average is points.
One thing they did is they allowed the least shots at the rim. So from Milwaukee to the second team there was a big difference. On top of that, Milwaukee was also the top defensive rebounding team this year. Ben Shields: How do teams defensively keep players out of the paint, away from taking those high-value shots? Ivana Saric: So one way to keep your opponents away from the rim is to have a good rim protector, so that they would not attack once they see this person there.
What are the trade-offs involved in terms of having a great rim protector who may not be the best offensive player?
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You can choose to run it through different players. So if you have a big that is a really good rim protector but not as skilled on the offensive end, you will not run your offense through him, and you can use him as a roller or as an offensive rebounder. Are there ways for teams to get around maybe some physical limitations of their personnel in order to protect the rim from a team strategy standpoint? Ben Shields: What would you say is probably the most relevant or important metric for measuring effective rim protection?
Is it the metric that you shared earlier around the field goal attempts around the rim, or is it something else? Is there [a] most important metric that we should keep in mind in evaluating effective rim protection for teams?