An Often Overlooked Important Part of Defense

Why Play Faried?

Kenneth Faried has been a player with an amazing per-minute stat line throughout his entire career. Yet somehow, in his third year, he's still unable to crack thirty minutes per game. In a league where the top players are expected to play at least three quarters a night, Faried is treated as a subpar sixth man, even in the event that he starts. When I bring this up I hear two responses:

The first is that Faried is limited on offense. Now the truth is that Faried is able to score at a good rate. This season he has a True Shooting percentage (TS%) of 55.5%; to put that into perspective, that is Kobe Byrant's career average! Furthermore, this TS% would be a career low for Faried! So I'm not at all pursuaded by this argument.

The second is that Faried is a liability on defense. Here was a comment I was given about Faried:

To start, I'm not a fan of on/off statistics. So many variables change that to act as if the difference in defensive ratings is entirely Faried's fault is excessive. But let's follow this line of thinking. The Nuggets have about 98.3 possessions a game. The difference between the two defensive ratings say the following: with Faried on the court, the Nuggets should be expected to give up 104.2 points a game. With Faried off the court, the Nuggets should be expected to give up 98 points a game. I want to stress again that I do not believe Faried on his own is responsible for 100% of the Nuggets defense. But let's keep going.

The "change" in defense here is a 6% improvement in scoring percentage each play, which certainly isn't good. However, what's even worse than giving your opponents easier shots? Giving them second chances. If you gave the worst offensive team in the league -- the Milwaukee Bucks, in case you were wondering -- six additional shots per game, it would have the same effect that people are blaming Faried for. That brings me to one of the most important defensive stats we have: rebounds. As Arturo often puts it: a rebound is a steal! It keeps the opponent from getting the ball. If giving the worst team in the league six more shots is a bad idea, rebounding is a great way to counter that.

A rebound keeps the opponent from getting a second shot, and Kenneth Faried is ridiculous when it comes to rebounds. At his per-minute rate, if he played a full 48 minutes, Faried would pull down almost 18 boards a game! And each of these rebounds would not only prevent the opponent from getting a second shot, but they'd also give his team an additional chance to score. And as I mentioned, Faried's scoring rate is actually quite good, so if the Nuggets let Faried use those extra possessions they'd do quite well.

And all this comes before we've actually looked at Faried's individual defense. According to Synergy Sports, which combines play-by-play data and video, his defensive rate is about 0.95 points per possession. This doesn't seem to indicate that he's a terrible defender. However, leaving out his rebounds would almost be like leaving out saves for a hockey goalie. It's a key part of defense, and one that keeps me from ever completely denigrating Faried on D. I will also note the optical tracking data on rebounding indicates two important factor for success: being close to the hoop, and being in front of your opponent. I've never fully believed the idea that players "shirk" on D to get easier rebounds, as doing so lets the opponent get in front of you and have a higher percentage shot.

Summing Up

Pretty much since I've started blogging about basketball, the topic of defense has been a hot topic. And I'm in full agreement that figuring out how to impact opponents' shooting is key. However, we have not been in the dark in regards to defense. Despite having the word "defensive" in their name, rebounds are almost never brought up in explaining a player's defensive prowess, and this has never sat well with me. I won't claim that an undersized Faried is the ultimate shot stopper or the pinnacle of defense. But I will say that his stats clearly show that he helps when he's on the court, and hiding behind the old "defensive liability" line ignores many stats that have been around for a long time.

While I agree the on/off stats are probably more noise than signal, the rebounding argument doesn't really combat the efficiency claim, does it? Isn't the rebounding effect already baked into the efficiency numbers?
The Nuggets have Hickson, who after possition adjustment, last year had a better wins rating than Faried. Playing as a PF instead of a C like he is forced too now should boost his numbers. If the wins stat is predictive, keeping Faried is a luxery.
I completely agree rebounding is like goal tending, its 50% of a teams defensive ability, unless it is bad then its 100%. That is how a few hockey people describe goal tending as well.
Have you done any analysis to compare allowing a team to shot a higher percentage but corral a much higher percentage of rebounds?
However I do disagree that On/Off statistics are just noise. There are just as many variables impacting a players effectiveness on the court as there are when he is off.
Like all statistics including WPs it is up to those using it to put it in the proper context.
I think a player's WPs are the result of their abilities (a good portion of the impact) in conjunction with those who are one the floor with them and against them.
If Kevin Love and Kenneth Faried were on the floor together (on the same team) they would not have the same rebound rates, obviously an over simplification but it gets the point across. Its all about context.
This doesn't seem well thought out, the Faried off efficiency numbers include all of the extra chances opponents would get with him off the court.
I think the biggest problem that we still have in stats is that team concepts are not incorporated into individual player stats. For instance, a guard is supposed to make sure his "man" isn't crashing the hoop for a potential put-back which helps one of the bigs rebounding totals. Rebounding isn't solely an individual effort (and I don't think you count it that way). As the visual tracking data slowly fills out I do really hope you guys and Dr. Berri attempt to add that in. Over time that would also include real grades for defense as opposed to what you guys currently have.

I think Faried is about as awesome as you guys do and part of it is the effort he exerts. Unfortunately it isn't easy to track effort but it does show up to some extent (like with Ginoble before he got old). I don't know what would happen if he played more minutes all the time but I would love for him to get more playing time so we could see.
I agree that rebounding is often overlooked in a players value on the defensive end. The Hockey Save/Rebounding comp is an interesting one, if not a bit overstated. In regards to KF specifically, I couldn't agree more that he is a greatly undervalued/underutilized player. It is a shame, too, bc all the guy does is produce. (While giving you his all every minute he is on the floor.)
Where is Smooths getting those on/off numbers? Faried's D-rating on basketball reference shows at 103 which is better than the team's D-rating as a whole. Am I missing something here?
I think on off ratings needs to be stretched out to a MUCH larger sample size to be effective than 25 games or so... just like most anything else I guess..

Looking at Faried's Defensive XRAPM (both raw and position adjusted), he seems to be a bit above average, which is more then I can say for Denver's defense as a whole.

It should also be noted that Defensive Rebounding ability is "baked in" to XRAPM (ideally), and that it seems to really matter.

Defensive XRAPM had a 41% correlation with Defensive Rebounding Rate, while overall XRAPM had a 14.5% correlation, the highest correlations of any metric in their respective categories. (in 2013).

What I love about most of this stuff is that unlike baseball it seems to agree with like the crotchety old coaches like bob night. You value rebounding, shooting efficiently and not giving away possessions. Its like reinventing the wheel by making it round again when everyone wants a square...
Pedro,

Here's an explanation of how Wins Produced handles the diminishing returns in rebounding issue you bring up above:

http://wagesofwins.com/2011/12/11/wins-produced-comes-back-better-and-stronger/
@BSSS actually no, since def rating is a per 100 possessions stat, and what the article is saying is that getting defensive rebounds limits opponent possessions and increases your own. Off and Def rating don't actually account for generated possessions. Keeping opponents off of their offensive glass is just as key to limiting their scoring (i.e. defense).

Defensive rebounds are marginalized because a lot of them are uncontested. You're going to get them just by being under the basket, since the opponent is sending players back for transition D or the ball took a weird bounce away from the offensive rebounders. You can get 3 or 4 just by hanging around the basket all game, through no special effort on your part.
A rebound is a steal? Really. Come on. Maybe an offensive rebound is a steal. But not a defensive rebound. No way. Faried is really good. No question. But to use his defensive rebounding stats to support the argument is weak. Hickson is a pretty good rebounder too.
Brian,
Thanks man, do you have articles as to why WP seems to ignore who you are on the floor with?
I am of the opinion that usually a person's production is the result of way more than just who passed him the ball but who they are on the floor with.
I know it was always a rule on WOW that if you have a gripe like this you should bring your research to the table but I have to imagine this has been talked about. Was there a definitive NBAgeek WOW article articulating you all's opinion on deeming line up effects inconsequential?
I know this is in the FAQs but thats really simplistic...
Pedro,

Patrick and Dre have both written about plus/minus, here are some links:

http://www.boxscoregeeks.com/articles/thinking-fast-and-slow-about-basketball

http://wagesofwins.com/2013/02/15/measure-once-predict-twice-thoughts-on/
My grandmother was fond of saying "Once we agree on what's 'obvious' the really complicated [stuff] falls into place." So some obvious points:

The goal of any basketball team is to outscore its opponent, either via offensive strength (Paul Westhead's LMU teams), defensive strength (2008 Celtics come to mind), strategic quirks (anyone remember Dean Smith's four-corners in the pre-shot clock days of college hoops?) or a combination of all three.

Offensively, you want to get as many good, easy shots as possible, so it stands to reason that the goal of defense is to prevent the offense from getting any good, easy shots. Rather than hockey saves, where the shot is already attempted, consider some of the stats on quarterbacks that now look at sacks, hurried throws and other defensive elements that contribute to poor passer efficiency.

The defensive ideal is the turnover before the shot attempt. But almost as helpful are rushed or ugly shots that are the result of the defense. Granted, some players don't need any help on the ugly front (anyone remember Antoine Walker's disturbing form on his *cough* jump shot?), but if you can make a player take a twisting buzzer-beater instead of a smoothly released jumper, your defense has won that particular skirmish. Another way the defense wins is if the shooter is firing from a range or a direction from which he's not usually successful. Forcing a player further outside or to his off-hand direction is a good defensive contribution.

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