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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.