1. March 2011 01:13
I was hopping around some of the numerous stat pages here at hoopdata.com Monday evening...while watching my Texas Longhorns prove once again they were "Champions of Valentine's" with another late season fade...and something I hadn't noticed before jumped out...
I had sorted on defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) on this page, and wasn't surprised to see the usual suspects leading the league...
Defensive Efficiency (thru Sunday's games)
6...San Antonio 100.8
7...New Orleans 100.9
8...LA Lakers 102.2
That list gives you the top contenders in the East (the first four), the two Western dynasty teams (no introduction needed), and the two recent super-surgers in each conference (Memphis and Philadelphia).
Then, it struck me that it basically presented them in that order. East, then West.
San Antonio has the #1 defensive efficiency in the West this year? I would have been 100% certain that wasn't the case before looking. Their defense supposedly took a big step backward this season. They've allegedly sacrificed defense more scoring. Their new guys aren't ideally suited to Coach Gregg Popovich's defensive schematics. We've all heard the reasons. San Antonio is supposed to be dominating this year in spite of its defense rather than because of it.
But, there it is in numbers and ellipses. San Antonio has the best defense in the West!
I thought it interesting that the Eastern powers clustered like that. It's been fairly obvious over the past several weeks that there are several really bad teams in the East. Cleveland was a joke for quite a long time. Toronto has been Cleveland the past month. Washington often plays down at that same level. New Jersey has struggled badly. Detroit either did or didn't have a mutiny. That's A LOT of bad teams!
I looked up the strength of schedule numbers from Jeff Sagarin over at USA Today.
There are 30 teams in the league. Check out these schedule difficulty ranks through Sunday's action...
There are your top five seeds in the East this year barring a miracle or two. And, there are your top four teams in defensive efficiency in slightly altered order. Chicago looks to have truly earned "best in the East" defensively because they had the most difficult schedule of the group through Sunday (though it might change by the time you link to that page since they played Washington Monday night).
Maybe the Spurs and Lakers are even better than their overall rankings suggest. The Eastern teams get a lot of games against horrible offenses. Let's keep moving down the strength of schedule listing...
So much for that theory. The Lakers and Spurs haven't had it as easy as the Eastern powers. But, they've had it more easy than the other Western contenders. I won't run through everyone. Next on the list are four more teams from the East. Phoenix has played the third easiest schedule in the West, Dallas fourth.
It doesn't look like any conclusions you'd draw from the defensive efficiency ratings would be too warped. But, it's worth remembering that many of the Eastern powers have a chance to inflate their stats a bit vs. soft schedules. I've read a lot of web stories and forum commentary on the Heat. I don't think I recall anyone pointing out they've played the easiest schedule in the league so far.
And, if you're a fan of the West, the Spurs and Lakers have had it easier than everyone else to this point in a way that might matter down the road.
Let's look for combinations of defense and schedule strength...
Best defenses vs. schedules ranking in the top half of difficulty:
Milwaukee 100.1 vs. 8th rated schedule
New Orleans 100.9 vs. 12th rated schedule
Memphis 102.4 vs. 13th rated schedule
Oklahoma City 104.9 vs. 4th rated schedule
OKC is about to get better too if Kendrick Perkins can get healthy.
Milwaukee is off the radar this year, but "Fear the Deer" still works if you're an opposing offense. Then we have three Western teams who will make the playoff brackets more defense-orientated than it might have seemed at first.
At the very least, as you ponder various issues from this point forward, remember that the Eastern powers are enjoying easier schedules than everyone else is playing.
*Denver may have to be added to the list of elite defenses soon. The new-look Nuggets (there's an adjective you can use for several teams) held Atlanta to 90 points and less than a point per possession Monday in a 10-point victory. That came after a good showing in an overtime loss at Portland, and a stifling 89-75 victory over shorthanded Boston.
There's a group of guys here who apparently weren't very pleased with all the commentary suggesting the Nuggets were a one-man team when Carmelo Anthony was around. Rick Reilly of ESPN referred to the remaining Nuggets as "a locker room of nobodies" in this article.
Among the nobodies are longtime stalwart Kenyon Martin, 8-year veteran Nene, sharpshooter J.R. Smith, and promising young point guard Ty Lawson. Here's Denver's roster page at ESPN that shows the many millions that a so-called "small market" team is paying them this year (16.5 million and 11.3 million to Martin and Nene for example).
Reilly also compared newcomers Danilo Galinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mozgov to "the four best mountain climbers in Nebraska." Galinari scored 30 points at Portland before getting hurt late in the game. He missed Monday's game with a bruised toe. You can see here in the boxscore that a balanced attack made his absence a moot point.
Head coach George Karl has to enjoy having that many players with chips on their shoulders.
*At some point I'm going to make a crack about Nenad Krstic being the new Hank Finkel. Might as well get it over with!
Boston beat Utah Monday 107-102. Newcomer Jeff Green was a quiet 2-6 from the field in only 19 minutes. Skeptics of the trade with Oklahoma City are going to have a field day of Green doesn't contribute more than that.
New Celtics through two games:
Krstic: 20 points, 11 rebounds in 51 minutes (+13 in +/-)
Green: 12 points, 0 assists, 3 rebounds in 37 minutes (-9 in +/-)
Finkel averaged 5.1 ppg and 3.9 rpg in his career...so Krstic's off to an early lead in the battle of role playing 7-footers in the Celtics' pantheon.
*Strong schedule Tuesday night, highlighted by New York/Orlando, Dallas/Philadelphia, and San Antonio/Memphis. Back late in the evening with some notes...