Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly feature here at IndyCornrows, Stat of the Week. This feature, posted each Monday, focuses in on one statistic or number to recap and tell the story of the Pacers' performance for the previous week.
Despite allowing the Oklahoma City Thunder to come back and steal a win at home Friday night this was a terrific week for the Pacers', featuring a drubbing of Cleveland and road wins against Miami and the Lakers. This pushed the Pacers to a 8-7 record and has generated some buzz about the team as a legitimate force to be reckoned with. The Pacers are currently in possession of the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference and John Hollinger's Playoff Odds give them a 94.8% chance of making the playoffs.
As Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer point out this morning, the Pacers have been winning games first and foremost at the defensive end of the floor. This week we are going to take another look at The Four Factors. In his book, Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver identified four factors which were common to historically great offensive and defensive teams. The focus today will be on The Four Factors (eFG%, FTR, TOR, DRR) as they pertain to the defensive side and how the Pacers' are doing so far this season.
Before we discuss the Pacers' performance let's review The Four Factors:
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%): Effective Field Goal Percentage is an adjustment to traditional Field Goal Percentage that gives credit for the extra point a player receives for making a three pointer. Effective Field Goal Percentage is a statistic which shows the value of each made basket more accurately than traditional Field Goal Percentage. Strictly speaking, a made 3 pointer is worth more than a made layup. In this case we are looking at the Effective Field Goal Percentage the Pacers allow their opponents to shoot.
Free Throw Rate (FTR): Free Throw Rate is the ratio of Free Throw Attempts to Field Goal Attempts (FTA/FGA). By comparing Free Throw Attempts to Field Goal Attempts you account for the pace a team plays at and get a better idea of a team's efficiency at drawing fouls than just looking at per game totals. From the defensive perspective we are looking at the team's ability to defend without fouling.
Turnover Rate (TOR): Turnover Rate is a measure of the percentage of a team's possessions that result in a turnover. By looking at turnovers as a percentage of total possessions you account for the pace a team plays at and get a better idea of the team's efficiency in taking care of the ball. In this case we are looking at the percentage of an opponent's possessions on which the Pacers force a turnover.
Defensive Rebound Rate (DRR): Defensive Rebound Rate is the percentage of available rebounds grabbed by a team at the defensive end. A simple way to calculate Defensive Rebound Rate is to divide a team's defensive rebounds by the sum of their opponent's offensive rebounds and their defensive rebounds. By looking at a team's defensive rebounds as a percentage of their opportunities as opposed to just a per game total you get a better idea of a team's efficiency in this area.
The table below shows the Pacers' numbers for each of The Four Factors on defense and their league rank in each category:
eFG% - Forcing opponents into poor shooting nights is the bedrock of the Pacers' defense this season. The 46.3% eFG% they have held opponents to this season is a huge improvement over the 49.0% they allowed last season. The team is blocking a shot on 7.1% of their opponent's possessions, good for 3rd best in the league. Four different players, Granger, Foster, Rush and Hibbert, are averaging at least a block per game. Consequently, the Pacers are holding opponents to a league best 58.5% shooting at the rim. The shots they don't block are being aggressively challenged by players at every position.
FTR - The aggressive challenges are part of the reason their FTR is so poor from a defensive standpoint, but it isn't hurting their overall defense. Despite sending their opponents to the line so many times, the Pacers are still alllowing only 101.7 points per 100 possessions, the 4th best mark in the league. In the grand scheme of things it appears the team has made a choice to clog the lane, fouling if necessary in order to discourage opponents from working for those easy shots at the rim. The Pacers' opponents are averaging 22.1 shots per game from the 16-23ft. range, 7th most in the league. Their foul rate is certainly giving opponents free points but it also appears to be encouraging them to stay away from the basket and attempt shots from inefficient areas of the floor.
TOR - The Pacers' Turnover Rate is below average and roughly the same as the number they posted last year. In my opinion being a slightly better defensive team but playing at a slower pace has kept this number roughly the same. It would be nice to see it increase somewhat but a defense based around forcing bad shots can be just as effective as a defensive based on forcing turnovers.
DRR - The Pacers' performance on the defensive glass has been one of the most inspiring things about this season. Several analysts, including myself, identified the defensive glass as an obvious achilles heel for the team before the season started. John Hollinger even mentioned the possibility of the Pacers becoming a historically bad rebounding team this season. What appeared to be a huge weakness has actually become a huge strength. For all the difficult shots they are forcing opponents to take, they have been one of the best in the league at finishing the defensive possession and securing the rebound. Roy Hibbert's DRR has gone from 15.5 last season to 22.7 this season. Every player who was a Pacer last year, besides Brandon Rush and A.J. Price, has increased their DRR . This team's rebounding growth has truly been a group effort.
The Pacers have three games this week, finishing a four game Western road trip. With games against Sacramento, Phoenix and Utah the team has to feel optimistic about their chances in each contest. A sweep would be great, two wins would be nice, but even just a single win would keep the Pacers at .500 for the road trip and the season. Sacramento is one of the worst offensive teams in the league and should give allow the Pacers' to build a little more confidence in their defensive identity before games against Phoenix and Utah, two of the top ten offenses this season. The key moving forward is for the Pacers to maintain the effort and focus which has brought them success at the defensive end.
Rebound Percentage Update:
In the first installment of Stat of the Week we discussed Rebound Percentage and identified it as a season long focus, and bellwether statistic for the team. The team's percentages 15 games into the season look like this:
Offensive Rebound Percentage: 24.3% (24th in the NBA)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: 76.6% (5th in the NBA)