Only one installment remains in Bright Side of the Sun's 2011-12 Phoenix Suns MySynergySports.com review series. After taking a look at the point guards on offense earlier in the week, it is time to finish up the series by examining how the point guard trio performed on defense.
First, allow me to explain in more detail the numbers I looked at. Here's a key for the terms Synergy uses:
Synergy Stat Definitions
• PPP – Points Per Play. A "Play" is always ended with a shot attempt, turnover or getting to the free throw line. PPP is the player’s total points, excluding technical free throws, divided by their total plays.
• Rank – This is where a player or team’s PPP ranks amongst their league peers. A player must have at least 25 plays for a given category in order to qualify for a league ranking.
• %SF - Percent Shooting Foul. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team drew a shooting foul.
• %TO – Percent Turnover. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team turns the ball over.
• %Score – Percent Score. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team scores at least 1 point, including any resulting free throws.
So these numbers track the raw results. They don't factor in everything, which is where the interpretation begins and where watching the games live helps.
The offensive categories are Isolation, Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler, Post-Up, Pick-and-Roll Roll Man, Spot-Up, Off Screen, Hand-Off, Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition, All Other Plays and Overall. On defense, the categories are the same minus the Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition and All Other Plays categories as there aren't really any individual defenders assigned on these plays.
With that out of the way, let's dive into the numbers.
As good as Nash has been on offense over the years, he has been just as bad on defense. Or at least that's how he's been perceived. The truth is, his numbers aren't that bad.
Nash defended pick-and-roll ball-handlers on 40.4 percent of his plays, and oddly enough, opponents shot 40.4 percent against him. However, they also made 15 of 33 3-pointers (45.5 percent). Nash did a good job of avoiding fouls (1.6 percent) and a decent job of forcing turnovers (15.9 percent). Overall, he scored 0.76 PPP and was ranked 81st. That's not terrible. In fact, that's pretty good. The pick-and-roll is a two-man game, though, and Nash wasn't alone. Gortat's mobility allows him to get out and hedge on screens while also getting back to cover the roll man, which gives Nash enough time to get over or under the screen and back to his man.
I believe it was MMotherwell that asked a question about spot-up plays, and how exactly you defend them. Synergy includes more than just catch-and-shoot jumpers. If you catch the ball while spotted up, and take a dribble or two before pulling up for a closer jumper, it qualifies as spotting up as well. As for defending the play, it's basically just closing out and contesting the shot, or forcing the offensive player to put the ball on the ground and then defending that.
Nash defended spot-up plays on 23.6 percent of his possessions and gave up 1.02 PPP (ranked 268th). Nash spends a lot of time sagging off his own man and looking to help his teammates, so his poor numbers here aren't surprising.
Nash's numbers against isolation were slightly surprising, in that they aren't absolutely terrible. Nash defended isos 22.3% of the time and held opponents to 38.8 percent shooting and 0.76 PPP (ranked 134).
Nash's numbers against shooters running off screens and taking hand-offs look pretty good, as opponents shot just 16-48 on those two play types combined, but it looks to me like that is more due to good luck and missed shots than great defense by Nash himself. In fact, from the plays I watched, Nash usually had trouble getting through screens or keeping up with a man who keeps moving. Many of the shots were wide open; they just didn't go in.
Overall, Nash gave up 39.1 percent shooting, 36.5 percent 3-point shooting and 0.82 PPP, which was ranked 147th overall. Not too bad, and certainly not as terrible as his reputation. He's still not a good defender, though. The team does give a lot of support to Nash out with the way the bigs help against penetration and how they often hide him on defense by playing him against the weakest perimeter threat. That being said, Nash does a decent enough job of contributing to the team defense despite his physical limitations.
Unlike Nash, Sebastian Telfair does have a good defensive reputation -- at least on this blog -- and that is backed up by the numbers, although he only recorded 300 total possessions.
Telfair defended pick-and-roll ball-handlers on 39 percent of his plays and he held opponents to 37.5 shooting and 23.1 percent 3-point shooting. While those numbers are better than Nash's, they both finished with the same 0.76 PPP and 81st ranking. This is due mostly to Telfair's higher foul rate, as he committed shooting fouls on 8.5 percent of his defensive possessions.
Telfair defended spot-up shooters on 24.7 percent of his possessions and he did much better than Nash. He held opponents to 29.9 percent shooting, 25.6 percent from beyond the arc and 0.78 PPP (ranked 46th).
The final category in which Telfair qualifies for a ranking is against isolation plays, which he defended on 16.3 percent of his plays. Telfair did very well, as opponents only shot 10-35 against him and turned the ball over 20.4 percent of the time. He held iso players to 0.63 PPP and was ranked 40th.
Overall, Telfair held opponents to 0.77 PPP (ranked 65th), 35.6 percent shooting and 27.6 percent 3-point shooting.
Ronnie Price actually finished with the best PPP of the three at 0.75 (ranked 48th), but it was only on 181 total plays. Oddly enough, he was only average against the two plays he defended most often, but those average numbers plus his really good ones in the other categories result in a very good overall number. Small sample size definitely helped him here.
If Bassy Telfair can replicate his numbers on both ends from the latter part of last season, the Suns have a pretty decent back-up point guard. If we see the January Telfair, it won't matter how well he plays on defense; Kendall Marshall might get on the court sooner than expected.
Losing Steve Nash is going to hurt this team. A lot. His offense is what made this team go and his defense, according to the results, didn't hurt the team as much as expected. Even at the ripe old age of 38 Nash is still a great player. The question now becomes, what can we expect of Goran Dragic as his replacement?