Friday, April 11, 2014

Age-Old NBA Gripes

The two biggest complaints about pro basketball have always been (a) the season’s too long, and (b) those guys don’t play any defense.

Regarding the latter (as well as any notions that NBA ball is merely a traveling trick-shot show), I’d recommend some selective reading from the Jack McCallum archive in Sport’s Illustrated’s vault. One can be quite certain that an NBA team takes a strategic approach to everything from defensive rotation to nutritional balance.

Measurements of teams’ offensive and defensive efficiencies through the season demonstrate a certain balance between offense and defense – as well as a distinct pattern.

During the first six weeks of the NBA’s 24-week schedule (Oct. 29 – Dec. 9), eight teams were converting half or more of their offensive possessions. Nine units were allowing conversions at a 50 percent clip or better

The NBA’s second six-week grading period (Dec. 10 – Jan. 20) saw the number of teams exceeding the midpoint in efficiency rise to 15, while 17 were getting stops in less than half their tries. That’s almost twice as many of each.

As the season proceeded through its third quarter (Jan. 21 – March 3), 17 offenses were clicking at 50+ percent, and 18 team defenses were yielding that level of efficiency.

The defending champion Miami Heat, again the league’s best field-goal shooters, head a list of six clubs that have maintained 50+ efficiency in each of the season’s three sub-sets. Houston, Oklahoma City, the Clippers and Detroit round out the list. (Alas, the Pistons hand back this advantage at the charity stripe.)

The consistently low-performing defensive units represent the Knicks, Sixers, Bucks, Lakers, Mavericks, Pelicans and Jazz. Only a couple from that bunch sniffing so much as the entrails of the playoffs.

So, are NBA offenses just too good to be stopped regularly – even if it seems to take a month or so for them to collectively catch their groove?

Does the grind of playing nearly every other night for weeks on end take its toll on the defensive will and skill of players and teams.

Age-old questions.

A more readily accepted age-old notion goes as follows: Defense Wins Championships.

Can you guess which six teams have held their opposition below 50 percent in conversions in each of the season's three quadrants?

The Bulls, Pacers and Thunder are almost “gimmes,” but who had Golden State, Charlotte and Minnesota on their short list?