Florida State’s Defense: SI Tackles Defensive Metrics

Posted by mpatton on November 10th, 2011

The last few years have seen increasing acceptance of tempo-free statistics like rebounding percentage, true shooting percentage and the all-encompassing offensive rating. Extrapolating team statistics with a handy usage percentage, those statistics have become the best method for describing players. ESPN doesn’t list a player’s usage and offensive rating next to his name in the starting lineup, but it does prominently showcase stats on its website (albeit largely for the NBA). College basketball bloggers are still the most prevalent disciples of Jon Gasaway’s and Ken Pomeroy’s movement, but coaches aren’t far behind.

While a player’s offensive contributions can be fairly assessed with offensive rating and usage, individual defensive metrics have been hard to come by. This year’s Sports Illustrated preview may be a huge step forward with Luke Winn and Audacity of Hoops‘ David Hess stepping up to deliver a defensive rating.

Is Bernard James the Best Defender in the Country?

Fair warning, the article on the web isn’t formatted very well, but the magazine piece should be significantly better. The five teams covered were Florida State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Connecticut and Vanderbilt. The findings are enlightening. Here’s a large image of all of the tables if you want to see the different teams. For now, I’ll just look at Florida State.

The Seminoles’ overall numbers are jaw-dropping. The team was so good on defense last year, not a single one of its players had a adjusted defensive rating of 90.0 (which is how many points an opponent would score per 100 possessions).

Looking at the statistics, one player stands out: Bernard James. I mentioned in my Florida State preview that James was possibly a better defender than John Henson, and this study supports my argument. It’s tough to compare defensive ratings across teams because good defensive teams should make each other significantly better, but James’ numbers are consistently better than Henson’s outside of defensive possessions and free throw rate. Looking closer at James’ numbers is even more telling. His opponents only managed to shoot 27% from the floor. That’s very, very impressive. But don’t forget, James is a 6’10” center. He’s not generally forcing deep threes. He’s guarding the post, where a good player should make 50% or more of his shots. James, with some help from the rest of the Seminole frontcourt, is holding his opponents to basically half of that! He’s also avoiding fouls and creating turnovers at a decent rate.

One of the most surprising tidbits is that Michael Snaer is a mediocre defender by Florida State metrics despite being known as one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. This makes me think he draws tough defensive assignments and might take more risks knowing the quality of defense behind him.

SI’s numbers also reveal Tyler Zeller is incredibly underappreciated on the defensive end. Although his opponents shoot much better from the floor than Henson or James, Zeller gets dramatically more turnovers than the more-heralded defenders. Roy Williams pointed out Zeller’s willingness to take charges, which accounts for both his “soft” rep and his high turnover creation.

mpatton (576 Posts)

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