By: Zachariah Blott
Something seems fishy when you look at which NBA teams are well ahead of the pack in terms of defense this year. Only three squads boast a Defensive Rating of 100 or better (league average is 106.7) : the Celtics, the Lakers, and the Bobcats. Whereas Boston and LA are storied franchises in large markets that can afford $85 and $91 million worth of talent, Charlotte is slumming it with the Kings and Pacers of the world by only having $65 million of player payroll.
What the Bobcats do have that the big dogs don’t, however, is Larry Brown. Brown is the nomadic Jedi of NBA coaches, having been with more teams than your mot … never mind… let’s just say he’s been employed by a lot of teams. He’s the only person to have coached seven different franchises into the playoffs, and the only person to have coached an NCAA Champion (Kansas, 1988) and an NBA Champion (Detroit, 2004). Brown moves around so much, his rookie coaching gig in 1972 (Davidson College) was cut short before they played even one game because he accepted another job with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
So why do colleges and professional teams keep signing Brown if he has the commitment anxiety of Two and a Half Men’s Charlie Harper? Because a) he’ll coach any rag-tag group of losers, and b) he can turn said group into a solid, defensive unit.
Right now, Brown has the always lowly Charlotte Bobcats playing defense like the All-Star filled squads that won the last two NBA titles. And although their 10-14 record is similar to last year’s 35-47, Michael Jordan’s team is on pace to secure their first-ever playoff berth. Examining the Four Factors, we can start to see how this squad is getting it done.
Larry Brown photo credit: Icon SMI
Effective Field Goal Percentage
The Bobcats have held opponents to a .486 eFG%, which is better than the league average of .497 and ranks 11th in the NBA. Both the 44% FG% and 33% 3FG% surrendered by Charlotte are low, so they’re making it difficult for teams to score both inside and outside. Of particular note is that Bobcat opponents are forced to shoot 26% of their shots from behind the arc, which is considerably higher than the league average of 22%, so they are keeping teams from getting easy looks at the basket.
As good as Charlotte is at forcing bad shots, they’re even better at forcing bad decisions before the shot. Their opponents turn it over on 15.8% of possessions, the second-best mark in the league which averages 13.8%. It’s hard to score against a team when they’re busy taking the ball out of your hands.
Defensive Rebound Percentage
Most teams that do well clearing the glass after an opponent’s miss have a dominant big man or frontcourt, teams like the Magic, the Cavaliers, and the Spurs. Guess what, Charlotte is right in the middle of these three at the top of the league for defensive rebounding. Whereas the average missed shot is boarded by the defense 73% of the time, Charlotte gets their hands on 76% of them. A lot of this obviously has to do with leaper extraordinaire Gerald Wallace and his 12 RPG.
Free Throw Rate
Make it a perfect four for four. Charlotte is better than the league average at keeping opposing players off the free throw line, as well. The Bobcats give up .210 FT/FGA, well below the .231 median mark. This means their defense isn’t just forcing other teams to stay out of the paint for shots and rebounds, they’re doing it without getting their paws all over them. By the way, only two teams other than the Bobcats are above average in all Four Factors on defense. Think you know who they are? They’re named at the end of this article.
Looking at Larry Brown’s role players, then and now, after the jump …
So Coach Brown, as usual, has his team firing on all defensive cylinders. He’s coached a lot of these teams and has transformed the mindsets of hundreds of players on these teams. In fact, Charlotte’s defense is starting to resemble some of his old ones so much, it looks like some Bobcats are filling the same roles his old players filled. Take a look.
Then: Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons, 2004-05
Now: Stephen Jackson
Jackson is a skinny 6-8 218 pounds, very similar to Prince’s 6-9 215 pound build. Prince could hit a variety of jumpers, was a heady passer, and agile enough to guard almost anyone. Jackson showed up 15 games ago and is scoring from all over, grabbing boards, and energetic enough to cause some real hell on defense.
Undersized Big-Time Rebounder
Then: Buck Williams, New Jersey Nets, 1982-83
Now: Gerald Wallace
One averaged 17.2 and 12.0 (second in the NBA), the other had 17.0 and 12.5 (second in the NBA). One was 6-7 215, the other 6-8 215. Both were great defenders; the rest is just details.
Quick Guard who Gambles on D and Shot Selection
Then: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers, 2000-01
Now: Raymond Felton
These undersized players have both relied on their impressive speed to pick off passes, although it wasn’t unusual to watch them miss the steal, leaving a shooter or cutter wide open. They also did the offensive version of this, which was poor shot selection resulting in consistently bad shooting percentages. But they had some nice point and steal totals, so everything looks fine on paper.
Nothing-but-Defense Starting Center
Then: Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons, 2003-04
Now: Tyson Chandler
Chandler’s terrible ankle injury last year has limited what he’s now able to do, but he can still set the defensive tone of a game for his club, blocking 1.2 shots and grabbing 6.9 boards in 25 minutes a night. Wallace was in his prime that year, blocking 3.0 and grabbing 12.4. The pair combines for approximately 15 PPG.
Intelligent Forward Whose D Responds Well to Brown’s Tutelage
Then: Sean Elliott, San Antonio Spurs, 1990-91
Now: Boris Diaw
Both were very smart players, minimizing risky plays for selfish gains, resulting in good shooting percentages and A/TO rates. Although they each consistently put up decent but unspectacular rebounding and steals numbers, their ability to usually be in the right place at the right time on Brown’s defenses is a testament to their coachability, quick thinking, and athleticism.
The other two teams that are above average in all Four Factors on defense:
Boston Celtics (.474 eFG%, 15.8% TO%, 73.3% DRB%, .211 FT/FGA)
Dallas Mavericks (.478 eFG%, 13.9% TO%, 74.0% DRB%, .198 FT/FGA)
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.