Larry Sanders is the best, according to science
The Sloan Sports Analytic conference starts at the end of this week, but the research papers the conference is centered around have already been released. The Dwight Effect: A New Ensemble of Interior Defense Analytics for the NBA, by Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss, examines interior defense and prominently features Larry Sanders.
The report analyzes two different ways interior big men can make an impact on the defensive end: lowering the shooting efficiency of opponents and lowering the shooting frequency of opponents close to the basket. The importance of reducing shooting percentages is obvious. Reducing shooting frequency close to the basket is important because that means teams are taking worse shots (mid-range jumpers and three-pointers).
In reducing shooting efficiency near the basket, Sanders is the second best defensive big man in the league just behind Roy Hibbert. NBA shooters make 49.7% of their shots when one of the big men in the study was five feet within the basket. When Sanders is five feet away from the basket, shooting percentages drop to 38.4%.
In terms of reducing frequency of shots near the basket, Sanders is among the worst in the study. Opponents take 61.9% of their shots near the basket when Sanders is five feet from the basket. This accounts for Sanders high number of blocks. He has more opportunities to block opponent’s shots than someone who discourages a lot of attempts near the basket like Dwight Howard. A lot of this measurement is based off of reputation: if Sanders can keep preventing points in the paint, less players will want to shoot near the basket when he’s in the game. But Sanders can still do a lot to prevent shots near the basket.
Sanders was the top performer in an advanced statistic created by the study: proximal FG%. Proximal FG% measures how well opponents shoot when a defender is within five feet of their shot. When Sanders is within five feet of someone’s shot, the opponent shoots 34.9%. The average proximal FG% is 45.6%
Drew Gooden and Ekpe Udoh were also part of the study. Udoh, like Sanders, performed well in reducing the field goal percentages of shooters near him, but a high amount of attempts are near the basket when he is around. Gooden is terrible at all things defense.
You can read the report in full detail here.
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