Not much to comment on but I found this interesting
Orlando's D deserves some credit
By John Hollinger, ESPN Insider
John Hollinger Archive
Quick, who has a better defense, Orlando or Indiana?
Probably 99 percent of you will say Indiana. Ask a group of NBA beat writers and columnists the same question, and they'd all stump for the Pacers too.
Even the two teams would agree. The Magic consider themselves to be a terrible defensive team, as general manager Jon Weisbrod recently vented.
"Our personnel doesn't warrant us being the worst defensive team in the league," he said after a recent loss to Golden State. "I think we need to look elsewhere for where the issues are."
Meanwhile, Indiana believes its defense is what's keeping it in the playoff chase. On Monday, a newspaper column opined "Indiana is once again one of the league's premier defensive teams, but have underachieved because of an offense stuck in neutral."
At first glance, the stats seem to support this idea. Orlando ranks a measly 27th in the league in points allowed per game, giving up 100.5, while Indiana is a lofty fifth at 93.4. So that settles it, right? All the conventional wisdom says Indiana is the superior defense.
But there's one catch: Orlando is just as good.
The entire argument for Indiana relies on the premise that points allowed per game is a good indicator of a team's defense. In truth, it's about as reliable as your uncle's '83 El Camino.
Ranking teams by points allowed per game is flawed because of one massive omission that many observers overlook: pace. Some teams play much faster than others, leading to more possessions for each side. For instance, if one team is running and pressing and using a 100 possessions a game, while the other is milking the shot clock and only using 50, it's going to be awfully hard for the second team to outscore the first one.
Yet the NBA rankings pretend this distinction doesn't exist. It would be like major league baseball ranking pitchers by "runs allowed" with no regard for how many innings they'd pitched.
Thus, factoring in pace is a critical part of evaluating team defense. I measure pace with a statistic I call Pace Factor, which is the number of possessions a team uses in an average 48-minute game. The tricky part to calculating Pace Factor is dealing with free-throw attempts. If every free-throw attempt came on a two-shot foul, each would be worth half a possession. However, we have to account for those occasions when a player draws a foul and makes the basket, as well as oddities like technical fouls, clear-path fouls, flagrant fouls and lane violations. Based on these factors, the average free throw uses approximately 0.44 possessions.
With that knowledge in hand, determining Pace Factor is easy. For those of you playing at home, here's the math: Take a team's free-throw attempts and multiply by 0.44, add its field-goal attempts and turnovers, and subtract its offensive rebounds. That's the number of possessions the team used on offense. Do the same for its defensive stats and you have the opponents' possessions. Average the two, divide by minutes played, and multiply by 48. Voila – you have the team's Pace Factor.
Pace Factor: 2004-05 League Leaders
Team Possessions per Game
League Average 93.2
When it comes to pace, the league has two jackrabbits: Orlando and Phoenix. The Suns' run-and-gun style is well known, but Orlando actually is the fastest-paced team in the league. Orlando's opponents get 97.7 possessions per game, compared to the league average of 93.2, meaning Orlando's opponents get nearly five extra trips per game. Once we consider the pace, it's hardly a revelation that Orlando allows more points than do most teams.
For a counter-example, look at Indiana. The Pacers are the tortoise to Orlando's hare. Indiana uses just 90.0 possessions per game – only Detroit and New Orleans play slower. As a result, the Pacers' opponents have eight possessions a game fewer than Orlando's, making it fairly easy for Indiana to allow fewer points.
So who's really better, Indiana or Orlando? Due to the differences in pace, it's impossible to make a relevant comparison using points allowed per game. Fortunately, there's an easy way to compare apples to apples. It's a measure that I call Defensive Efficiency, which is the number of points a team gives up for every 100 opponent possessions. Better yet, it's easily calculated once we know a team's Pace Factor. To do so, start with the number of points a team allows per 48 minutes and divide by its Pace Factor. Then multiply the result by 100.
Using Defensive Efficiency, we can see that Orlando gives up 102.3 points per 100 possessions, while Indiana gives up 102.2. In other words, the Magic actually play defense just as well as the Pacers, despite allowing nearly seven more points per game (and yes, these numbers include Monday night's beatdown at the O-Rena).
Lies and Statistics
Team PPG Allowed Rank Def. Efficiency Rank
Orlando 100.5 27 102.3 13
Indiana 93.4 5 102.2 12
League Average 96.7 103.2
The Magic and the Pacers aren't the only teams whose pros and cons are masked by per-game averages. Take Utah, for instance. The Jazz's 99.1 points allowed per game looks somewhat respectable, ranking 18th in the league. But that ranking is pure fiction. Utah is, in fact, the worst defensive team in captivity, giving up 108.0 points for every 100 opponent possessions. The only thing making them look good is one of the league's slowest Pace Factors at 91.6 possessions a game.
On the other hand, of the six teams allowing more than 100 points per game, only Toronto has a truly bad defense. Phoenix gives up the most points in the league at 102.3 per game, but it ranks 17th in Defensive Efficiency. Golden State allows 100.4 points per game, just like Orlando, but ranks 18th. Sacramento and Washington are a bit more deficient, ranking 20th and 22nd, respectively, but aren't nearly as bad as their per-game averages suggest.
But let's get back to the Magic, the most intriguing case of the bunch. What I find so fascinating is they really think their defense is a problem, when in fact it's a slight strength – Orlando's Defensive Efficiency is nearly a point better than the league average. It's not an esoteric point, either – the Magic made a key in-season trade based on this perceived need when they swapped Cuttino Mobley for Doug Christie.
Unfortunately, the gaping difference between perception and reality is having a real impact on the team and its front office. Orlando's offense is no great shakes (the other side of the same coin – its fast pace also means we need to let some air out of that gaudy scoring average), but the Magic are spending much of their time fretting about defense. They've made deals to shore up that perceived weakness and devoted huge chunks of practice time to it, instead of focusing on an offensive attack that requires at least as much attention.
Orlando's only crime is thinking that a team's ranking in points allowed per game is an honest appraisal of its defense. Using tools like Pace Factor and Defensive Efficiency, however, we can see that points allowed per game's relevance to team defense is kind of like Chris Andersen in the dunk contest. Sometimes it's in the general area, but it's rarely on target, and more often than not it isn't even close. As a result, the notion that Indiana has a better defense than Orlando isn't such a slam dunk after all.
John Hollinger is the author of "Pro Basketball Forecast 2004-05." He has joined ESPN Insider as a regular contributor.