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The defensive value of Andre Iguodala, the Ty Lawson dilemma

USA TODAY Sports

In the following post I present two large and worrying trends present in the Nuggets ratings figures for the season that may have a large impact on Denver's success in the 2013-14 season.

A Note on Ratings

Rating figures are one of the best ‘result' stats available. They use points scored at either end (the statistic used to determine the game winner) standardized to 100 possessions to allow comparison. For this reason they are an excellent way to determine 'the What' of team results. If ratings are cross-referenced with different players and lineups 'the Who' can also be determined using ratings.

However because they are team ratings cross-referenced with individuals, and not an individual rating (i.e. all 10 players on the floor effect each others ratings by their actions), they are not as useful for working out 'the Why' and 'the How'. In other words they can show you the results but they wont tell you the cause.

To look at these trends we begin with the Ratings for the first round playoffs.

Playoffs

Finalplayoffs_medium

Observations:

  • Of the rotation players only McGee and Faried had postive NetRtgs in a losing series
  • Iguodala is third with the best of the negative NetRtgs at -1.6 despite playing the most minutes in the series
  • Koufos has by far the worst NetRtg at -20.6 and Lawson is the next worst with -12.3

Looking closer at Igoudala and Lawson

Both players played significant time Iguodala 84% of the possible 288 minutes and Lawson 82% of the possible minutes. Despite the overlap in court time this would mean they have very different rating results. Both the OffRtg and DefRtg are much worse for Lawson than Iguodala (by 5.4 and 5.5 pts).

Even more surprising is the Off Court Rtgs. Because both players played large mins the time off court for each is low, but the trends are startling. When Iguodala was off the court both the OffRtg and DefRtg are terrible, while when Lawson was off the court they were elite. While Lawson was on the bench Denver was outscoring Golden State at a rate of 26 points per 100 possessions! (something that everyone seemed to miss with the eye test).

The next logical question is whether these same trends are present in the regular season data which offers a much larger sample size (and against many different opponents).

Regular Season

Finalreg_medium

Observations

  • As with the playoffs Iguodala and Lawson played the most mins for Denver.
  • The next observation is that the OffRtg trends seen in the playoffs are not present in the regular season. Here Iguodala is a slight positive and Lawson is a little better than that.
  • The DefRtgs however exhibit the same trends as in the playoffs. Lineups with Iguodala oncourt have a good Rtg of 100.5 while when he is off court this jumps to 105.3.
  • The On Court DefRtg for Lawson on the other hand is easily the worst of the rotation players at 104.1. When Lawson is off court Denver lineups had a 98.4 Rtg which is the best Off Court defensive rating and is the only Def Rtg under 100 on or off court for any player referenced lineups.

Comparing the On court and Off court DefRtgs for each player it can be seen that Iguodala and Lawson have the biggest effect on DefRtgs and these flow through into the Off court NetRtgs. When Iguodala was on the bench Denver only outscored opponents by 1.7 pts per 100 possessions (lowest Rtg), while when Lawson was on the bench Denver outscored opponents by 7.6pts per 100 possessions (highest Rtg).

So after reviewing both the regular season and the playoffs there are two major defensive trends present:

Lineups with Andre Iguodala perform very well defensively and lineups without Iguodala perform very poorly

Lineups that include Ty Lawson perform very poorly on defense while lineups without Lawson are elite defensively

Delving Deeper

To understand more about these trends I developed an infographic that uses cross-referenced DefRtgs with each player. This gives a view of the DefRtgs of a player when paired in lineups with each of the other players in the team. This allows the cross effects of players to be seen more easily (as when players play together they influence each other ratings), and it can also answer questions like which players are a good or a bad match in lineups together.

Guide to Defensive X-Ref Infographic

Colors of Numbers are referenced to Team Def Rtg of 102

Green = Lower/better than 102 Red=Higher/worse than 102

Players are ordered by On court minutes played with center player clockwise starting from 12 o'clock

For each player the outer circle is their DefRtg for lineups without center player while the inner circle is the DefRtg from lineups including both the outside and the center player

Green area fill is the better rating of the two for each outside player while red is the worst rating e.g. green fill in the inner circle and red on the outer circle means that lineups with the center player are better rated than lineups without

On= playing time with center player

Off=Playing time while center player is on bench

GP=Games Played MIN=average minutes per game

Iguodala Defensive X-Ref

Iguodala_lineups

Observations
  • 10 of 12 players have a better defensive rating in lineups with Iguodala and the differences are quite significant (3.4, 5.2, 0.7, 4.5, 6.4, 9.4, 8.8, 16.1, 9.5, 9.0)
  • 9 of 12 players have a DefRtg better than the team Rtg in lineups with Iguodala. 8 of those players (and 10 in total) have a DefRtg worse than the team Rtg
  • Lawson has a better Rtg in lineups paired with Iguodala but (along with Hamilton) is 1 of 2 players who have a DefRtg worse than the team Rtg for both lineups with and without Iguodala
  • Gallinari bucks the trend as he has a Rtg just over the team Rtg in lineups with Iguodala and has an a better Rtg in lineups without Iguodala
  • Koufos is the only player under the team Rtg of 102 for lineups both with and without Iguodala

Summary:

After cross-referencing Iguodala with the other Nuggets it can be seen by the large number of green numbers and green fill in the inner area that Iguodala is having a strong influence on team defensive success.

Lawson Defensive X-Ref

Lawson_lineups_medium

Observations

  • This looks bad, and it is. 12 of 12 of the players had a better defensive rating in lineups with out Lawson and the differences are significant (1.9, 8.0, 3.3, 3.0, 12.1, 9.3, 6.1, 12.2, 5.4, 2.6, 0.9, 11.5)
  • 10 of 12 players have a DefRtg better than the team average in lineups without Lawson
  • Koufos is the only player to have a better Rtg in lineups both with and without Lawson, while Hamilton and Randolph are worse than average in Rtg with or without Lawson in the lineups

Summary:

This is terrible result. Every player has a better DefRtg without Lawson and only the Koufos and Lawson lineups are under the team Rtg, all 11 others are worse.

This is very strong indication that Lawson is having a consistently negative effect on team defense whenever he is on court.

It may be unfair however to only compare Lawson and Iguodala, as Lawson is a 5'11'' point guard while Iguodala is a 6'6'' wing player known for his defensive ability. For this reason I also prepared a chart for Andre Miller the back up point guard whose defensive ability is often called into question to allow a fairer comparison.

Miller Defensive X-Ref

Miller_lineups_medium

Observations

  • 6 of 12 players had a better defensive rating in lineups with Miller
  • 5 of 12 players had a DefRtg better than team average in lineups with Miller and 5 of 12 had a DefRtg better than average without Miller
  • Millers effect (good or bad)on DefRtg is much smaller than Iguodala and Lawson, especially for those that average over 10mins a game on court with Miller (0.8, 0.2, 2.7, 1.2, 0.3, 0.4, 2.3).
  • His neutral effect on team defense can also be seen in the fact that 9 of 12 players have the same colored rating both with and without Miller (i.e. they have good or bad Rtgs irrespective of Millers effect)

Summary:

Whatever people think they see in Miller individual defense, the results indicate that Miller does a very good job of having a close to neutral effect on the team defensive results (which are what matter most). This is also reflected in the fact that Millers DefRtg of 101.9 for all lineups is almost exactly the same as the team rating of 102. When compared with Lawson, Miller is doing a much better job on team defense.

Conclusion

After considering the Playoffs and Regular season Rtgs, and cross-referencing Iguodala and Lawson with the other players on the roster, the results indicate that we can be more confident with the Who and the What in these Defensive Rating trends. These trends can be framed as the following issues:

Issue 1: Iguodala ‘the difference maker'

Andre Iguodala is the most valuable team defender on the Nuggets having a significant effect on team defensive results. Not only is Iguodalas effect on defense the largest, but it is also larger than the effect any player has on offense Rtgs, making Iguodala the largest ‘difference maker' on the Nuggets team. This would be a positive except that Iguodala may not even be on the Nuggets team next season, bringing into question how much of the Nuggets improvement in defense may be lost if he leaves.

Issue 2: The Lawson Dilemma

Ty Lawson, the player recognized as Denvers biggest offensive threat and often mentioned as a key to their future is very likely the worst team defender on the Nuggets by a significant margin. The elite level of defense shown in lineups without Lawson even suggests he may be an addition by subtraction candidate (i.e. trade), especially if Denver hires a defensive minded coach.


The Why and How

As I stated at the beginning of this post the Rtgs are very good at 'the What' and 'the Who' but do not offer much insight into 'the Why' and 'the How'. The detailed answer to the Why and How of these trends lie within other stats and observations of game footage.

These trends do indicate that the Nuggets should be campaigning hard to get Iguodala to resign, and also that if Denver intends to keep Ty Lawson as part of their core the Nuggets coaching staff will need to pin-point the causes of Lawsons poor team defensive results and improve them dramatically.

Note: All Ratings data used sourced from NBA.com/Stats

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