Did a stat dive today to see how many minutes each team uses their starters. I took the bench minutes of each player this season over the first 30 game sample.
Some takeaways: -The bottom teams in starter minutes are some of the bottom feeders in the standings, but for playoff teams, Milwaukee, Memphis, Clippers and Pelicans use their benches the most. -The top teams in starter minutes are all teams who are or want to be completing in the playoffs, though Washington, Charlotte, Houston use their starters more than any of the other non-playoff teams and are all well below .500.
What does this mean come playoff time? Some like to theorize that those who use their starters more are skewing their win totals to make them look better than they are come playoff time. Whereas, those who use their bench more, look better in the playoffs when they restrict their rotations.
I gave him credit citing, “he played great one on one defense on Brunson which completely stalled their offense.” I’d like to walk back on that statement because from rewatching the film, it seems that the stifling came from our elite help defense. Allen, Mobley, and even Love would not allow any easy buckets at the rim.
I included his offensive clips as well. The Knicks were leaving him wide open while he was on the floor (it obviously didn’t end up mattering because they packed the paint on our shooters as well). I think he could have cut more often than he did if he wasn’t ready to fire.
So side note, I am very bad at breaking down what happened on the floor as its happening. I think I saw that the Knicks had horrible offense in the quarter + Okoro got extended minutes so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he caused it.
With the Donovan Mitchell trade complete and the subsequent losses of Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji, the Cavaliers are facing a problem they’ve known well since LeBron left for the second time: a lack of wing depth. These are different times. Before this year, not having a starting caliber wing didn’t mean any more than losing a couple more games, but now it could be the difference between title contention and a first round exit.
However, Cleveland are in a good spot with their youth, and have at least three years before contracts start potentially becoming issues. Due to the Cavaliers’ current core of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen, this wing player doesn’t need to be an all-star or even near that level. They need to be able play good point of attack defense, good team defense, and be able to hit threes.
That is it.
On defense, Garland and Mitchell have had mixed results through their career. Garland will never be overly positive defender, but is making improvements on that end. Mitchell has had his ups and downs on the Jazz, but has the potential to be a consistent disruptor. Either way, neither player should be guarding the opposing teams best guard or forward. This wing position needs to be able to hold their own against multiple positions.
On offense, Garland and Mitchell will command attention of the ball so their wing will not be expected to generate their own shots. Mobley and Allen will continue to be roll threats and pests around the rim. While both have the possibility of improving their jump shots, currently a spacer is needed to maximize their use in the offense. Anything extra is a plus, but would be an accessory to Cleveland’s current offense.
Their current options at wing, Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade, Dylan Windler, Cedi Osman, and Lamar Stevens, all have varying skillsets that make them valuable on most NBA rosters, but do not fit the ideal wing that Cleveland needs. All, but one.
Dean Wade has been with the Cavaliers since the 2019-20 season where he was on a two-way contract after going undrafted. He played a majority of that year on the Cavs G League affiliate, the Canton Charge, where he impressed Cleveland enough to give him a multi-year minimum contract. Since 2020-21, Dean Wade has been in and out of the starting lineup, mainly due to being JB Bickerstaff’s go to guy to cover for any injured wing or big.
Unless you watch the Cavaliers, are deeply into the NBA, or have heard Zach Lowe’s jingle for Wade’s fictional accounting business, you probably do not know anything about him. And that makes sense; Dean Wade is not a walking highlight reel, but instead a steady player who does the small things to win games.
There is very little to say about Dean Wade on the offensive end. He is not as skilled offensively compared to his peers. In most situations, this would make him a worse option, but Cleveland does not need what LeVert or Osman bring offensively. Dean Wade is there to do one thing on this and that is shoot threes.
catch-and-shoot numbers in the last three seasons *last two seasons
Compared to his teammates, he is the closest to matching Lauri’s volume and efficiency. Dean Wade shoots at just above league average C&S efficiency (36.6%)1 and unloads almost one and a half more C&Ss per 36 minutes (4.1 attempts per 36 minutes)1. These are not great numbers, but for Cavaliers’ current options they are lightyears better than his peers sans Cedi.
This year 83.6% of Dean Wade’s field goals were assisted. Above 80% is near the maximum level a player can be off-ball and league average is 67.6%. This is incredibly off-ball for almost all NBA players. Basically, Wade is never creating his own opportunities on the court and is reacting to his teammates with the ball. This is definitely not a bad trait for any player. There are many players with all-star to near all-star level talent that make their money off-ball, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, John Collins, and Michael Porter Jr. as examples.
Even Lauri, who has shot more C&S attempts in his career, had more on-ball opportunities than Wade. He would have plays called for him to post-up or make a play off the dribble. Dean Wade has never been expected to do this and will have even less opportunities with the addition of Donovan Mitchell.
It is hard to measure off-ball effectiveness, but Dean Wade has some skills that hide in plain sight. In comparison to his teammates, Wade is constantly moving for a better three point position or cutting into holes in the defense. This can lead to making the playmaker’s life easier and open looks for himself.
Even when he is not getting the ball, he is helping teammates get open with his movement. He cuts at opportune times leading to his man remaining occupied with his movement. This leads to open space for drivers and spot-up shooters since his defender is not helping with the action.
Compared to his former teammate Markkanen, he is a better extra passer. He isn’t as trigger happy from three leading to him spotting the open man for easier threes. Though, I want to make sure not to paint him as a good passer. His low assist numbers may be due to his role in the offense, but he does miss some easier looks. In the second play, he misses the pass to the cutting Cedi.
For most, Lauri Markkanen will be the benchmark for defense from the wing slot. He made strides in becoming a positive defender last year where he showcased a level of switchability we had not seen in his career to date. I do not see Lauri as a great defender because although he did improve, he has weaknesses and a lot of what he did was helped by the addition of Evan Mobley into the frontcourt with Jarrett Allen.
Wade can fill his hole immediately and then some. Wade normally plays split duties between the three and four spot when he is on the court. This makes his role completely different depending on the opponent he plays. He can act as the point of attack defender where he is stifling the on-ball creator. He can follow around a shooter disallowing open looks. He can play off of non-shooters and help in the paint. He is above average at almost every role thrown his way.
This is due to his ability to guard one through five. Watch below as Wade goes from guarding Tatum one-on-one to guarding the Schroeder Horford pick and roll and then keeping up with Schroeder’s drive to the rim.
When Wade is the point of attack defender, he is able to keep his man away from the rim without giving up enough space for a jump shot, but also can stick close enough without giving up lanes to the basket. He doesn’t do this with elite speed or athleticism, but instead with good positioning, footwork, and reaction time.
He is able to give elite offensive wings pressure with these skills. A huge plus in Cleveland’s new tall and small ball starting lineup. This allows Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen to stick to their roles dissuading any would-be rim runners and doesn’t force one of Garland or Mitchell to guard above their abilities.
When Wade is switched with a guard, he isn’t hopeless. For his size, he is able to stick with faster and shiftier players well. He uses small steps to quickly change direction with crossovers and hesitations.
Dean Wade has two weaknesses at the point of attack. He can find himself overreacting to a play he thinks he sees coming leading to his man taking advantage of his positioning. In the play below, he overreacts to the hand-off leading to a Durant back-door and an easy basket.
Dean Wade can also find himself flat-footed and then is able to be blown-by by stars and role players alike. These moments are rare, but do happen. This is where he is helped by having a wall consisting of Mobley and Allen behind him.
Off the ball, Wade is a very good team defender. He has good awareness that allows him to react to breakdowns quickly or block driving/passing lanes. Since he does not have elite athleticism or size for a weak-side defender, he uses his positioning to make shots hard for all players. Just being able to put his body in front of the basket leads to some of these open layups becoming misses or non-attempts.
Wade does have a tendency to over-help. He has the right idea in sliding over in the event of a breakdown, but will stick around too long after the defensive play has cleaned up which can lead to wide open threes.
A lot of the Cavaliers’ defensive schemes this year were based on loading the paint with defenders and allowing more three point opportunities. Wade seems to take too much to heart and can find himself in positions where he is not guarding anybody or helping with the active offensive play.
However, I believe this tendency is fixable. Wade has shown very good positioning in his career so far. He can see where a play could occur and moves his body to mitigate the damage the offense can do. For example, when his other weakside teammate needs to help in the paint, he slides over to cut off the pass to both men. This allows him to close out on either player to make for harder shots when the pass does get through.
In the play below, the pass over Isaiah Jackson is available so Wade places himself where he can defend the pass if it is made, but he is close enough to his defender not to allow an open shot. This allows his other teammates to stay home and not lead to additional breakdowns.
One of Wade’s most important skills is his use as a utility defender. He is able to switch from guards to forwards to bigs on a moment’s notice. This leads to holes being patched before they are punctured and can completely nullify plays setup by the opponent.
Dean Wade’s balance of good catch-and-shoot ability and defensive skills make him the most suitable three in Cleveland’s starting lineup. Only Okoro can match Wade’s defensive versatility, but does not come close to matching Wade’s ability to shoot at volume from distance.
Dean Wade is not some elite role player like your PJ Tucker’s and Mikal Bridge’s of the world, but for the Cavaliers’ current roster, he can fit in that type of role. Wade does not need the ball to succeed on offense and has abilities off-ball that makes his teammates lives easier. He also has the ability to provide point-of-attack defense that won’t lead to many breakdowns and the defensive IQ to patch up the mistakes of his teammates.
The Cavaliers will continue to work to find someone who is able to provide Wade’s defensive impact, but has the ability to provide more spacing. These players are rare and Cleveland is not a free-agent destination so it may take Koby Altman some magic to find themselves in a position of having an elite swiss army knife. In the meantime, Wade is a serviceable player of this caliber and should have the opportunity to start next season.
1. Taken for the data set of 2021-22 players that shot at least 20 C&S attempts
all statistics taken and derived from basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted
While talking with friends about three point shooting, the idea of three point consistency came up. I have thought about this concept before, but have never looked far into it. I wanted to get a quick statistical glimpse of the concept and see if I can say for sure if it is important in a play-off setting.
I bring up specifically play-offs because they are so small sample, especially compared to the regular season. The regular season is normally an 82 game sample where the effects of three point variability will not effect the overall team performance as much as they do in a 4 to 7 game series.
These players below both shoot a similar percentage (~36.7%) and volume from three (~9.75 attempts per 75 possessions) which should help us with this exercise.
<σ3P% = more consistent
If both players are going head-to-head, who has the advantage?
If both players are having poor shooting luck then Strus has the advantage. If both players are having good shooting luck then Pritchard has the advantage. If both swapped good and bad games then whoever had the good game has the advantage.
So does three point consistency matter?
My brain really wants to say yes, but logically it makes sense that if two players with nearly identical stats faced off, even with one being more consistent, that it would still be 50/50 on which one would have the advantage.
The advantage works both ways. Strus is more consistent so when he has an off-night its not as bad as Pritchard’s, but when Strus is having an on-night, consistency works against him as Pritchard’s on-night will be more prolific.
Lets say Pritchard and Strus were the same player (they get the exact same looks at the same volume), but Pritchard has slightly higher 3P% and Strus has much higher consistency from 3. In a vacuum, you would choose Pritchard as he will be the one who will average more points per possession with his shooting.
There is a possibility that the consistency of three point shooting correlates to playing defenses that are better or worse at guarding three point shots. But anecdotally, Strus and Pritchard played each other in the playoffs and the Celtics and Heat (and Warriors) were tied for best 3P% defense. Strus (more consistent shooter) shot -7.4% from three compared to his average and Pritchard (more inconsistent shooter) shot +0.2% from three compared to his average so there may a flaw in this argument as well.
For those curious, I filtered some three point shooters and calculated their consistency (σ3P%) and normal efficiency range (3P%-σ to 3P%+σ).
Tim Hardaway Jr.
filter: >82 3Ps made, >6 3PA/100 pos, & 65% FGAs from 3 in the 2021-22 season
all statistics taken and derived from basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted
I like to pride myself in knowing the rotation players for every NBA team. I consume enough basketball media that it would be sad that, if not by osmosis, I didn’t know the normal lineups for each team. So, when I came across a 6’11 rookie who stops 48.2% of field goals at the rim and can shoot 32.6% from three hiding in the shadows, I was taken aback. How did I miss him?
I stumbled upon him while enjoying my favorite pastime… looking at stats. I was working on the initial groundwork for Blocks ≠ Good Defense and while looking at Defensive Field Goal % within six feet of the rim, his name popped up. He ranked 7th out of the 373 players that fit my original criteria1. Wait… who is this guy? After a few moments of pondering, I dismissed the name as a fluke and went on with my research.
Later, I was having a conversation with pals about the best 3&D2 centers in the league. Normal names came up like Brook Lopez, Al Horford, and Myles Turner. I was more curious about the topic and went to look at basketball-reference.com to get a feel of more big men that could shoot. And there was that name again, wedged between Horford and Vučević. It was time to do some digging. More importantly, it was time to meet Jock Landale.
Jock Landale is a 26 year old undrafted rookie from Australia who played 4 years at St. Mary’s between 2014 and 2018. Before this year, he spent three years playing overseas in Serbia and Australia. His playing time started out slow with the Spurs, but through injuries, the big C, and trades of major big men, his time ramped up as the season went on. Due to this, he seems to have flown under the radar even in more dedicated circles of NBA fans. If you aren’t Australian, a Spurs/St. Mary’s fan, or a liar, you were most likely not aware of him.
Landale’s 51.8% DFG% is eye-popping. It ranks him in the company of players like Jaren Jackson Jr, Rudy Gobert, Robert Williams III, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Is he really that good?
PICK AND ROLL DEFENSE
San Antonio play Jock Landale as a last line of defense to the dribble-drive and cutters; similar to the role Gobert plays in Utah. The Spurs don’t necessarily funnel all comers into Landale, but they put him in positions where he can be around the basket.
For example, in the pick and roll, Landale solely plays drop coverage. This comes with its pros and cons. This role leaves the defense prone to giving up open 3’s to movement shooters, pull-up mid-range shots, and floaters, but creates less paths to the hoop and keeps the big man near the paint. This strategy is not necessarily good or bad in a vacuum, but instead depends on your personnel and the team you are facing.
Landale excels at shutting down driving lanes by giving the opponent an ample cushion so he cannot be blown by. In this play, he doesn’t even jump at Poole’s pump fake because he is focusing on keeping Poole away from the rim.
When players do try to get to the rim against Landale, he keeps his arms straight up and holds good position to contest their shots. He is bulky enough that when players seek contact they seem to bounce off resulting in tougher looks. He does a good job not fouling by moving with the defender and not attempting to sway down at the ball.
As stated previously, there are cons to this defensive playstyle. These weaknesses can be magnified by Landale’s tendency to leave more space than most when directly compared to other drop defenders. He openly invites players into taking as many floaters and mid-range shots as they want . These offensive plays by Garland happen sequentially and show why a good shooter can take advantage of the space Landale gives up.
Landale leaves the buffer because of his lack of foot speed to recover. He can get caught flat-footed when he takes one wrong step or is a moment too late on the action. Bjelica isn’t necessarily known for his speed off the dribble.
But, the occasions where Landale is caught off guard are rare. He is not normally behind the play so his combination of his buffer and positioning still leads to a lot of these drives to be a losing battle. Landale also rarely finds himself guarding smalls, due to the Spurs doing a good job pre-switching assignments, so he doesn’t have a strong disadvantage.
When he does get switched on smaller and quicker players, he resorts to the cushion. It is sometimes comical how much space he gives his opponent especially when they get nearer and nearer to the rim. This is where Landale bleeds value as a defender. He is not versatile enough to guard all positions and, in most situations, can only be relied upon as an off-ball defender against guards.
Fortunately, Landale has great instincts off-ball. On most occasions, he sniffs out the defensive breakdown early. He is constantly watching for openings in the defense, ready to stamp them out. In the last play, Landale has to pay attention to his side of the floor as well as the on-ball action before making the correct decision to run and save the lay-up. These are hard reads to make since most defenders would be worried about Tatum running off the staggered off-ball screens.
Landale’s foot speed does seep into these spots too. This is another outstanding read. Shamet is about to run out for a three off of Wainright’s off-ball screen. This action is meant to distract the weak-side defenders from the true play happening at the top of key. Bridges breaks free into the open paint and in the same moment, Landale spots the breakdown. With more lateral quickness, this would have been an incredible play, but instead ends with a semi-easy lay-up.
THREE POINT SHOOTING
Landale increases his value by being able to take multiple threes a game at decent efficiency. At 32.6% on 5.4 attempts per 75 possessions3, his shot profile looks mostly like Al Horford this season4. This may not look great in comparison to non-big shooters, but out of the centers who shot threes on meaningful volume5, he shot only 1.4% below average. This is a huge plus in the modern game where spacing out the floor can lead to a lot more opportunities for your team to score.
Landale tends to get most of his three point looks off his off-ball movement where he is good at keeping his playmaker’s passing pocket open and is rarely caught out of position for three.
He prefers these threes above the break compared to in the corner6 so it makes sense he would also be a reliable pick and pop partner. Ironically, he is at his best in the role when punishing big-man who play drop on these actions.
Something you may have noticed is how wide open his three point attempts are. In fact, 96.6% of his three point attempts had no defender within four feet of him and a majority of those had no defenders within six feet7.
Landale also shot 97.7% of his attempts as a catch-and-shoot and all his attempts were assisted. On passes that found him while he was on the move or not in his shooting pocket, he would be very reluctant to pull the trigger. All of this indicates that Landale is not comfortable taking contested shots and is not able to create his own shot off the dribble. This hurts his versatility as a three point threat, but his ability to shoot the attempts he does acts as a safety valve for the offense.
Though he prefers the pick and pop, he does have the ability to be a solid pick and roll partner. He is adept at sticking in passing pockets for the ball-handler, though, as shown in the last clip, the Spurs guards weren’t always adept at finding him.
Landale is not a huge threat to score from anywhere inside the three point line on his own creation. His lack of dribbling skills and occasional wonky footwork leave him as an easy guard one on one. What holds his back to the basket game back is his low range of moves – if it’s not a hook, fade-away, or drop-step, Landale is not shooting it.
He is looked to create his own shot exclusively when he finds a mismatch. He has enough of a hook game to easily get his shot over the top of shorter players. He shoots 56.3% from post-ups, though, these numbers are on low volume8.
Landale is very keen at finding these mismatches. If he gets the switch, he normally brings them into the post, but due to the Spurs lack of above average passers he isn’t found for every try. Even without the Spurs finding him for attempts, this can stress the defense and lead to open looks for teammates.
Despite his size, Landale is a fairly active off-ball player. He is good at moving around in the paint and on the perimeter to make passing pockets easier for the ball-handler. In the first play, he goes from spotting up in the corner to an off-ball screen for a shooter to cutting in for a pass and foul.
This kind of movement occupies the defense instead of the defender being able to stick to their spot. By occupying the defense, his movement leads to easier shots for his teammates. In the last play, he occupies Jalen Smith enough so when Walker IV runs into a wall he has the easy kick-out to the open shooter.
His off-ball IQ shows up in his screening as well. Landale sets his normal screens for ball-handlers, but he is especially good at setting and finding these off-ball screens in the paint to create open lanes. Most of these off-ball screens are on the fly and not designed plays.
His movement and off-ball IQ also lead him to be a great offensive rebounder. He is in the 90th percentile of all players9 in offensive rebounding percentage at 11.1%. This means if a shot is put up when he is on the floor more than a tenth of the time Jock will come down with the rebound. He does this by being good at establishing position before the shot goes up, running into space, and using that aforementioned mismatch hunting to his advantage on the boards.
Through his off-ball movement, Jock will find himself open in the middle of the floor. This leads him to be able to use his positioning and height to map the floor and dish it to the open man. He does this surprisingly well for a rotation big-man and lets him be a connective tissue in an offense.
Another way Landale fits into the Spurs offense is with these elbow sets they like to run for him. Jock isn’t looking to score in these spots, but instead he looks for passes for some easy designated hand-offs or players coming off screens. Occasionally, he will audible and throw some surprisingly sweet passes towards the rim.
Though, if he is not actively looking for cutters, he will normally miss some of these higher level lay-up passes. He can be caught focusing on the specific play or the obvious pass. This would be a huge value add for Landale.
Overall, I would not call Jock a good play-maker. Don’t let this confuse you, he has good touch on his delivery and is a very willing-passer so one could say he is a good passer especially at his position, but he doesn’t create open looks for his teammates by breaking down the defense. Instead, he reacts to what the defense gives him10.
SO… WHO IS JOCK LANDALE?
On defense, he is a drop pick and roll defender that has a tendency to give up open jumpers and floaters. With this tendency, he elects not to get blown by at the rim so he can make easier contests or even keep his opponent from getting to their position in the first place. He also adds value by being a smart help defender, though, he can be outpaced to the rim if not in the perfect spot due to his lack of lateral footspeed.
Landale’s exceptional defensive numbers at the rim seem to be a product of his drop PNR defense, great defensive fundamentals, and good help IQ. While he keeps his assignments from scoring at the rim, his tendency to sag deep and his lack of footspeed can be exploited by certain line-ups. Due to this, it seems to indicate that Landale’s defense doesn’t translate across all teams, but in situations where he is surrounded by better and better perimeter guards his skillset’s value balloons.
To quote J. Kyle Mann, he is a “low waste player” on offense. He has the ability to space out the floor as a big-man, but I would not call him a consistent threat from downtown. As a defender, you do still have to respect his shot. He is a non-threat to create his own shot so he has to rely on off-ball movement to get the ball at the rim, but he is very good at reading the defense so by finding mismatches in the post, screening off-ball to create open lanes, and looking for offensive rebounds he adds positive value to his offensive package. He is a willing passer with the ball, but due to his lack of creation off the dribble or variety of scoring options, he has to rely on the defense to move when his teammates move a la Draymond Green. Unlike Green, he will miss back-door cutters and is much less aggressive feeding DHO’s.
Does this sound like the diamond in the rough player I was alluding to in the beginning?
The biggest question I came away with is if Landale is a player worthy of real play-off minutes in the future. Is he a championship-level back-up big or is he a plug-in for a non-contending team?
To me, this answer is reliant on the kind of team he finds himself on and against. He is a player where he can be the defensive anchor in the playoffs one series, and the next be played off the floor by teams who take advantage of his lack of lateral quickness.
But, Landale does have a unique set of skills for the modern game. Big men that can shoot threes at near league efficiency and volume on top of being considered a positive rim defender do not grow on trees. I am not a master of player development so I will not make any promises for Landale (or any other player), but in his current state most teams would love him as their rotational big man.
1. 2021-22 players that defended at least 80 shots within six feet of the basket (Jock had 141 shots within six feet attempted against him). 2. This label gets thrown around a lot nowadays to describe players that are good at both defense and three point shots. 3. Per 100 stats may be more popular, but per 75 stats reflect the amount of possessions a normal starter plays in a game. 4. 33.6% on 5.0 attempts per 75 in the 2021-22 regular season. 5. 3 attempts per 75 and played at least half of the regular season. 6. 77.5% of his three point attempts come from above the break. 7. 65.2% of his three point attempts. 8. 39 post-up attempts all year. 9. Players who played at least 300 minutes in the 2021-22 regular season. 10. “The Rondo Assist”
all statistics taken and derived from basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted
To most, blocks signify what defense is all about: stopping a shot so it never reaches the hoop. But what if blocks are being viewed incorrectly and blocks are not even the main ingredient in stopping shots from reaching the hoop.
Graphing a team’s blocks per 100 possessions against their defensive rating paints a revealing picture. You can see from worst to best defensive efficiency that block rate varies at a high rate. There is little to no correlation between blocks and defensive efficiency1. This may come as a surprise, but I will discuss further why blocks are not good at indicating how good a team or player defends.
For one, blocks are highly unlikely to occur in any given possession. This season, only 5.3% of field goals attempts were blocked. Due to the low volume of blocks, a teams defense cannot solely rely on blocking many shots to carry a defense. The player with the highest block percentage2, Jaren Jackson Jr. at 7.4%, still falls below the rate where just his blocks make Memphis’ defense as good as it is. The threat of blocks or a good contest is more important than the block itself.
Use the above play as an example. Instead of inviting the player into a shot, Gobert deters the player from ever shooting the ball using his positioning. He keeps Green out of the restricted area and Green does not want to take a contested shot against Gobert. If a player does not attempt a shot then naturally they have a 0% chance of getting the ball in the basket. This indicates that good positioning rather than timing blocks creates more opportunities for defenses to succeed.
Since blocks are most likely to come near the rim and inviting a player in closer and closer has adverse effects for the defense, it can be seen how defenses that allow lots of blocks can still be bad defenses overall. In the 2022 regular season, a shot within six feet of the basket had a 61.3% chance of going in. Just four more feet out at the distances between six feet and ten feet the percentage lowers all the way to 40.3%. Even when the top ten rim protectors3 are the ones contesting the shot near the basket, there is only a 50.3% chance the shot will go in.
Blocks are not useless, however. While they may not indicate good team defense, they are tools to be used in certain situations. Generally, blocks are used as saves from defense breakdowns. Since blocks mostly happen within or near the restricted area, the initial defense must lead to a player getting within this range before the block attempt. Letting a lot of players to get within this range is a recipe for a bad defense4.
In the above play, the perimeter defender is easily beat by the ballhandler. Vanderbilt sniffs out the play early5 and positions himself in front of the hoop to save the layup. The block saves the contested shot from going in.
A help defender coming from the weak-side to contest a defensive breakdown is a common save deployed by a defense. In this example, Robert Williams sees Huerter get past his man and closes in to stop the easy lay-up6.
In this play, the ballhandler has a mismatch and takes the defender to the rim to get an easy shot. Mobley sees this and follows the play down to the rim to get an arm up when Giddey shoots. This leads Mobley’s man to get the offensive rebound due to Mobley jumping away from the hoop to block the shot. You may have noticed that with each play showcased that the ball returned to the team who gets their shot blocked. In fact, 41.5%i of blocked shots return possession to the team that was blocked. This can occur by either the blocked shot being returned into the hands of the offense or by parading out of bounds off the defense.
Swats out of bounds may get the crowd roaring, but softer, guided blocks can lead to better defense. When the ball is batted out of bounds or into the hands of the opponent, they get another opportunity to score, albeit with a shorter shot clock.
Attempts at blocks and even successful blocks can lead to easy offensive rebound clean-ups. Embiid goes for the block, but against the smaller Alvarado could stand to stay straight up and contest rather than jumping behind the basket leading to no contest on the Willy Hernangomez put-back.
Additionally, attempting blocks can lead to shooting fouls. What Poeltl does here isn’t necessarily wrong, just late. If Murray doesn’t fall asleep on the cut, Poeltl does not have to attempt the last second save leading to an and-one.
Blocks do not equate to good defense, but they also do not equate to bad defense. Blocks have their downsides and their perks; it requires a good team defense to harness their utility. If a team wants to get the most out of their blocking threats, they need to put players in position to make these plays infrequently and use their threat to block to deter players from taking shots close to the rim.
1. Blocks per 100 possessions and defensive rating have a correlation coefficient of 0.082. Closer to 1 is direct correlation, closer to 0 is no correlation, and below 0 is an inverse correlation. 2. Block percentage is the percentage of shots on the floor blocked by the individual player. The player is not necessarily guarding the opposing player who is taking each shot. 3. Limited to those who contested at least 80 shots within six feet of the rim in the 2022 regular season. 4. Since a shot near the rim has a 61.3% chance of going in, each shot is worth 1.23 points which would lead to no better than a 123 defensive rating if all shots were from this range; easily worst in the league. 5. Golden State attempts to run a pin-down screen for Kuminga distracting Vanderbilt, but Vanderbilt doesn’t pay Kuminga any mind since he shoots 33.6% from behind the arc. If this was a better 3 point shooter, this may have worked. 6. Williams also perfectly times his block attempt. He does not leave Capela, a lob-threat, until Huerter has committed to the lay-up.
all statistics taken and derived from basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted