Evaluating each KU player's defense in Big 12 play
If you haven't checked it out yet, David Hess is doing some great Kansas defensive analysis on his blog, Audacity of Hoops.
Hess has started a "Project Defensive Score Sheet" where he breaks down every defensive possession of KU games to give us a better understanding of the Jayhawks' individual defensive performances.
(More on "Project Defensive Score Sheet.") I have used his data to compile each Jayhawk's individual defensive stats during Big 12 play.
Below is every KU player's Big 12 defensive stats, followed by a short summary of what we can take from the numbers.
Before we get started, here's a look at the advanced statistics we will be looking at:
Defensive rating — A measure of how many points an individual defender allows per 100 possessions. The lower the number, the better the defender. Used in conjunction with defensive possession percentage.
Defensive possession percentage — This lets us know what percentage of a team's defensive possessions that are credited or blamed on a defender.
Stop percentage — In my Recap blog, I often talk about floor percentage — the percentage of an individual's ended possessions when the team scores at least one point. Stop percentage is the opposite of that: What percentage of a defender's individual possessions does the opponent score zero points?
Let's take a look at KU's numbers. For reference, KU's team average for stop percentage is 0.53. KU's team average for defensive rating is 101.7.
(Here are the game-by-game individual defensive numbers in an Excel file, for anyone who wants a more in-depth look. Please note that some of Hess' numbers will alter slightly from mine due to rounding differences.)
Reed's defensive numbers are almost exactly what you'd expect: Right about average. Reed's individual defensive rating (101.5) is barely better than the team average in Big 12 play (101.7). His stop percentage (0.53) is exactly on the team average.
The average defensive possession percentage for KU players is 17.2 percent (taking into account that on some plays, a player is unguarded, so no player is responsible for the possession), so Reed's 15.2 possession percentage indicates he isn't as involved in defensive possessions as some other Jayhawks.
Taylor's defensive numbers reflect KU coach Bill Self's comments from Thursday: That Taylor has been better offensively than defensively as of late.
The guard's defensive rating of 102.7 is a point above the team average. That isn't horrible, but it also isn't good enough for a guy considered the Jayhawks' best on-ball defender. It is important to note, though, that Taylor often gets KU's toughest defensive assignment, which will negatively impact his defensive rating.
Taylor's stop percentage of 0.50 also is below the team average and also fifth-worst on the team. There's definitely room for improvement from the junior.
These numbers seem to indicate one reason that Johnson's minutes have been limited lately.
Johnson is KU's worst defensive guard according to these stats, posting a defensive rating of 104 (well above the team average of 101.7). His defensive possession percentage is the highest of any guard as well (18.8 percent), meaning he's also affecting an above-average number of possessions, which isn't what you want from a player with a poor defensive rating.
It only makes sense that guards' stop percentages should be better than big men's stop percentages, as guards are oftentimes defending three-pointers — which are lower-percentage shots.
That fact hasn't helped Johnson much, as his stop percentage (0.47) still registers as third-worst on the team.
Morningstar's defensive numbers were the most fascinating to me.
As you can see, the senior's defensive rating isn't good. He's second-worst among all guards in defensive rating (102.9). His stop percentage also isn't good (0.48), as it's well below the team average (0.53).
But here's the interesting part: Morningstar's defensive possession percentage is extremely low at 12.7 percent. In fact, it's the lowest on the team by a wide margin.
So what does this tell us?
For me, the low defensive possession percentage indicates that Morningstar is doing a great job of denying his man shots. This makes sense, as Morningstar has proven to be excellent at chasing his man through a series of screens.
The problem is, when Morningstar's man is able to get a shot, that person has been scoring a high percentage of the time. The low stop percentage indicates Morningstar's man has been getting high-percentage shots as well, meaning the senior is probably getting beaten off the dribble.
In summary, these numbers show Morningstar to still be a great off-the-ball defender — probably KU's best. But they also indicate that Morningstar isn't playing to "defensive stopper" level, as he's struggled to keep his man from scoring during those possessions when he allows a shot.
If I asked you before this blog who KU's best perimeter defender was, I bet you wouldn't have answered Josh Selby.
Still, these numbers indicate — if nothing else — that we have been undervaluing Selby's defense during Big 12 play.
Selby has posted a defensive rating of 97.6, which is better than KU's team defensive rating of 98.8 during the six games he's played.
It's important to note, as with Taylor, that matchups can play a part in these numbers. Selby normally isn't getting the toughest defensive assignment, which will make his numbers look better.
Still, his 0.58 stop percentage ranks second on the team — an impressive number no matter who he's going up against defensively.
Can we all agree that Mario Little plays because of his reputation on offense?
If so, it makes his ugly defensive numbers a little easier to accept.
The 6-foot-6 Little — playing primarily an undersized four — is struggling to keep his man from scoring.
Little's defensive rating of 106.2 is worst on the team, rating 4.5 points above KU's average. His stop percentage of 43 percent also is tied for the team-worst — and 10 percent below KU's team mark.
KU hasn't been able to hide him, either. Opponents have been attacking Little, as he's been responsible for 21.9 percent of KU's defensive possessions while he's been in.
If Little isn't giving KU a boost offensively, it's unlikely that Self will leave him in too long, as the senior just hasn't been reliable enough defensively.
It's a limited sample size, but Releford has graded out relatively well despite not being 100 percent with an ankle injury. His defensive rating (103.2) is lower than the team rating in his three games played (104.4), and his stop percentage of 0.56 also is above what would be expected.
Releford's reputation as a good defender is most likely deserved. I'll be interested to see if his numbers continue to improve as he regains his explosiveness.
Like Tyrel Reed, Marcus falls almost exactly where I'd expect him to be with these numbers: as a good but not great defender.
Marcus' defensive rating of 100.8 is just better the team average, as is his stop percentage of 0.55. His defensive possession percentage also is exactly on the team average (17.2 percent).
Not much to see here. Marcus is an above-average defender, but obviously he doesn't bring nearly as much value defensively as he does offensively.
Though Robinson is fine defensively, these numbers don't show him to be the impact defender that many fans believe him to be.
Robinson's defensive rating (98.9) is slightly better than the team average in the games he's played (99.2), and his stop percentage is hovering right around the team average as well (0.54). He is involved in a lot of possessions (22.7 percent), which doesn't necessarily hurt or help the Jayhawks.
Much like Marcus, Robinson's numbers indicate he's a good — but not great — defender at this point in his career.
Look no further for KU's best defensive player. It's Markieff, and it's by a large margin.
Markieff's defensive rating is not only the second-lowest on the team (97.8), it's also nearly four points below the team average (101.7).
Not only that, he's kept his defensive rating low despite being involved in a large number of KU's possessions (22.4 percent).
Markieff's stop percentage also is tops on the team (61 percent), partly because he's a great defensive rebounder (which is factored into the percentage).
Like Selby, Markieff probably doesn't get nearly the defensive credit that he deserves.
Withey's numbers don't look good (105.7 defensive rating), but they're also skewed a bit by one horrible game.
Against Texas Tech, Withey's defensive rating was 135.4 during his five minutes. With only 22 total minutes in Big 12 play, an effort like that is going to have a huge impact.
Yes, his stop percentage is low (43 percent) and his possession percentage is high (26 percent), but 22 minutes in mostly garbage time isn't enough for me to make any sweeping judgments about the 7-footer.
Sometimes, no KU player is responsible for a defensive play. In those situations, defensive stats are kept for KU opponents when they are unguarded. David also uses this category for a few instances that he didn't think should be given to individual players, like technical foul free throws, unforced turnovers and the “we have to foul whoever has the ball” end-of-game free throws.
These numbers aren't what you'd expect. The Jayhawks' defensive rating (100.8) and stop percentage (0.56) in this category are better than the team averages.
I would take two things from this:
1. KU isn't giving up many uncontested shots close to the basket. Though a team never wants to give up wide-open shots, KU appears to be allowing mostly jumpshots away from the rim. If the Jayhawks had allowed more uncontested shots inside, we'd expect the stop percentage to be much lower than 56 percent.
2. KU's defense might be getting a bit lucky. I wouldn't expect the "unguarded opponent" defensive numbers to stay better than the team average for the entire season. Teams are simply missing open shots against KU, though perhaps a tiny bit of that can be attributed to the Jayhawks making opponents feel uncomfortable even when they are open.
In the last four games, no KU opponent has scored on more than 40 percent of its unguarded possessions.
In other words, KU's riding a lucky streak defensively — something that can't be relied upon in every Big 12 game.