I promised I wouldn’t write anything about the Heat this week, so you can just read this article by Tom Haberstroh about Miami’s pace.
I’d rather talk about the surprise team in the West this year, the New Orleans Hornets. As of yesterday, the Hornets were tops in the conference at 8-1, and fractions of points behind the Lakers for best margin of victory (MoV). The Hornet’s offense is above league average–slightly–but their defense is best in the conference by a full 1.6 points, and better than league-average by nearly 7 points. The importance of a good defense, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t vary from night to night as much as offensive numbers. Good defense comes, in large part, from athleticism, awareness and positioning. Those are 3 things that tend to show up every night. In contrast, offense is subject to extreme shooting performances from stars. Kobe can go 10/30 one night, and follow it up with a 20/30 performance the next night with similar defense. That’s, like, a 12-point difference on the scoreboard, bra.
The Hornet’s excellent defense thus far has come from a few measurable things, and likely from a few things I can’t statisticize. They are currently 3rd in the entire NBA in rebound rate (rebounds per possession). Teams that give up low field goal percentages as the Hornets do, and then pick up all the leftovers are obviously going to be good defensive teams. In fact, the correlation this season between points allowed and defensive rebounding rate is quite significant (-0.74 correlation coefficient for anyone who cares). In the middle, Emeka Okafor is handling the rebounding duties expected of a team’s center, but it Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza’s rebounding abilities that help the team prevent second chances. Paul (PG) and Ariza (SF) are hauling in 4.6 and 4.8 defensive rebounds per game, respectively. Those are great numbers for non-big men, playing on the 3rd-slowest team in the conference.
The other factor, as mentioned above, is the Hornet’s FG% against; their 43% figure is second in the entire league. It would seem logical to check out blocked shots as a FG% depressor. However, the Hornets are only 13th in the league in that department, and the correlation between shot blocking and FG% defense is weak. This FG% defense might come from something immeasurable, like excellent positioning, quickness to stay in front, etc. Or maybe the Hornets are just getting lucky. In any case, I’ll keep tabs on the Bayou Defense for ya’ll.
As a side note, Chris Paul and friends get lots of steals (7th in the league), but the correlation between points allowed and steals is virtually zero. In all likelihood, teams and players that rack up steals are a bunch of gamblers who lose as often as they win.