Does point guard defense matter?

These are some +/- based defensive ratings for supposedly stingy point guards (Remember, “+” is bad):

Deron Williams +10.22
Raymond Felton +8.74
Russell Westbrook +7.56
Jrue Holiday +4.73
Rajon Rondo +2.46
Chris Paul +1.01
Andre Miller +.45

These are the ratings for similarly-repped frontcourt stars:

Kevin Garnett: -6.54
Josh Smith -4.62
Andrew Bogut -4.05
Tim Duncan -3.40
Andrew Bynum -3.33
Emeka Okeafor -.86
Gerald Wallace + .06
Dwight Howard +2.76

When a Canadian point guard won MVPs, the backlash was bulwarked by an impassioned defense of defense. Righteous objectors would yell “He only plays half of the game!” The agitated could have cited the superior offensive stats of MVP rivals, but instead, they chose a vague ally. The defense trope may have resonated because Nash fueled a joyous point machine, and it may have resonated because Nash lacked the speed that he imbued the Suns with. Regardless of its roots, the popular anti-Nash argument got me wondering: How important is defense–for a point guard? Well, according to my cursory stat culling, the best defensive points either have false reputations or diminished sway.

While it is intuitive to think that each player has an equal impact on defense, this might not be so. Perhaps it’s not “50% percent of the game” for everybody, even if everybody is works as one unit. For a floor general, defense could be something like 20%. For a center, maybe defense is near 70%. As in: Derrick Rose’s defensive indiscretions can be shrugged away, whereas Brook Lopez will shatter a team’s shoulders till it collapses into a heap of an inverted fetal position.

The reason for why guys like Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul contribute relatively less on D might have something to do with guys like Rondo, Westbrook and Paul. No one can stay in front of these dudes, not even these dudes. Today’s NBA playmaker slashes past defenders with an imperious grunt. He’s emboldened by touch fouls, unthreatened by handchecks. The post-2005 world is a paradise for those who seek the rim. This places greater responsibility on help defenders, and of course, on the protectors of that sacred rim. Not only have point guards gained more offensive freedom, but they’ve delegated the workload. Nice work if you can get it.

At least that’s my subjective theory on why point guards matter less on D. And it comes with the caveat that the very concept of defense only grants glimmers and glimpses to those who seek truth. It’s sad, but our understanding of defense may always lag behind its importance.

For instance, what’s with Dwight Howard notching a + 2.56? You might say, “small sample size,” and I might say, “To understand defense is to correctly interpret a stranger’s dream in the absence of having it retold to you.”

Twitter: @SherwoodStrauss


Related posts:

  1. Deron Williams: The World’s Greatest Point Guard
  2. John Wall, learning the ropes as an NBA point guard
  3. Is Chris Paul still The One?


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