Lebron James’ Non-DPoY Defense

Is Lebron James’ defense starting to become overrated?

He’s receiving Defensive Player of the Year votes. Chris Palmer from ESPN, among others, recently wrote a piece suggesting that Lebron be awarded DPoY. In the past couple of years, Bron has been consistently mentioned amongst the top players of the league on defense – and deservedly so – but he’s now shooting up to top five, top three, and sometimes number one in that regard.

It’s too much.

Lebron James on defense is spectacular with his lateral movement, his athleticism, and in his ability to rotate with great quickness. Lebron James is great at ball denial and occupying the passing lanes, and at guarding players in the post (at least versus players that are within his size range).

Lebron James is a great help defender with a high defensive IQ, and while he may not read the offense like a Scottie Pippen can, he’s very good in that regard; many of his coaches and teammates have spoken about this trait of his.

Lebron James is decent at getting through screens, and is decent at guarding isolations.

Lebron’s energy output on defense is decent overall.

And, Lebron James is below average at guarding spot-up shots and contesting when players hoist up jumpers.[60]

All of these things constitute who Lebron James is as a defensive player. He’s a very good one, and the best player in the league by a mile, but we need not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s review some statistics:

In his article, Chris Palmer often pointed to Lebron’s stats on Synergy Sports and how they stood out. I think he might be surprised to learn that an uncelebrated defender in Dwyane Wade – playing within the exact same defensive system, starting lineup, and everything – is posting significantly better numbers in major categories. On isolations, Lebron allows 0.81 points per possession (PPP), Wade 0.78. When guarding the ball handler, Lebron allows 0.72 PPP while Wade allows only 0.56. During spot-ups, Lebron allows 1.00 PPP and Wade gives up a mere 0.88. Off screens, Lebron 0.97 PPP, and Wade with 0.76. You get the idea.

And there’s also the defensive part of Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus. This year, on defense alone, Lebron made him team better by an approximated 1.8 points per 100 possessions. Is this really comparable to the league’s defensive stoppers? Big men like Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan doubled his score; others like Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard were far ahead. Perimeters players like Paul George (3.5), Tony Allen (3.8), Thabo Sefolosha (2.9), Andre Iguodala (2.7), and Gerald Wallace (3.0) posted far better defensive ratings.

We can also look to 82games.com’s Counterpart Opponent 48-Minute Production. Lebron holds opposing small forwards to a nice rating of 12.6 PER, and power forwards to 17.6 PER. But how does this compare to Tony Allen, who holds shooting guards to 12.6 PER and small forwards to 15.6 PER? How about to George, who holds SGs to 12.9 and SFs to 10.9? How about to Sefolosha who holds SGs to 13.1 PER, and SFs to 12.1 PER? How about Garnett who holds PFs to 15.4, and centers to 15.8 PER?

There are some specific examples to consider. The 2010-11 playoffs showcased Lebron’s abilities to really hone in and shut down a smaller, quicker guard in Derrick Rose. But in the postseason, we’ve also seen him struggle to defend the long-range shooting of players like Jason Terry (’11) and a longer Durant (’12).

Make no mistake: Lebron James is the best player in the league by a long shot, and one of the best players to ever pick up a basketball. He’s also one of the most versatile defenders in the league. But let’s relax on the defensive player of the year comments. While he’s a great on that end, James has a ways to go before he can contend with the defensive abilities of high-IQ hyperactive ball-hawks like Allen, Sefolosha, Garnett, Duncan, and other great defenders.

Footnotes    (Back returns to text)
  1. If we ignore his unimpressive Points Per Possession Allowed on spot-ups, we still can see that he has posted worse than average in terms of blocks per minute amongst small forwards in the league.Back

About Keeper Of The Court

KOTC is from the team-less city of Seattle, Washington. He is currently exploring the East Asian side of the world while living in Japan, but basketball never fails to occupy his mind. ESPN TrueHoop's Truth About It, Hickory-High, HOOP Magazine (JP), and @KeeperOTCourt (Twitter) are other places to find his thoughts on the NBA.
This entry was posted in NBA and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Lebron James’ Non-DPoY Defense

  1. Don says:

    You forget that LeBron routinely guards the best player on the court. Of course his numbers in comparison to Wade (guarding 2nd or 3rd best player) will be slightly worse.

    • Graham says:

      Not necessarily true: in the regular season he essentially matches up with whoever is the opposing SF or maybe PF. They don’t ask him to be a defensive stalwart night in and night out during the regular season. Only during the playoffs will he guard players like Rose, Rondo or bigger players like David West

  2. Dave says:

    Well, I think the depth in the SG position is shallower than the SF or PF positions, hence the slightly better numbers. If Wade was a better defender, why tire Lebron out by putting him on small opposing point guards during the playoffs, and especially during crunch time? I do agree that he’s horrible on defending spot ups, and that his reaction time/anticipation is not good enough to contest jumpers effectively. However, I can’t agree that he’s a below average shot blocker. In fact I think he’s one of the very best, since you must take into account his low foul numbers (which means he only goes for block/steals that he can absolutely get).

  3. Pingback: All-Time NBA Draft » Hamsterdam HeraldHamsterdam Herald

  4. Pingback: Looking Back with a Head-to-Head Draft | Keeper Of The Court

  5. Anthony says:

    LeBron James’ synergy numbers show that he is an elite defender on all fronts. In ’13 he was top 3 in pick and roll defense, top 7 in post-up defense, and allowed 37% shooting on isolation of course one of the best figures in the league. He guarded more defensive sets than DPoY Marc Gasol.

    Miami was 3.5 points with him off the floor defensively. He anchors Miami’s D which is predicated on switching due to his strong help defense, he’s a great transition defender, and a pseudo post presence. This article doesn’t even take into consideration that James guards better players than Wade and that defenses like George’s Indiana, Allen’s Memphis, Sefolosha’s Thunder are all better defensive teams with actual anchors to cover up mistakes.

    In ’14 James has slipped a bit he’s older now at near 30, but still allowing 38% shooting overall on all fronts, post up defense, pick and roll, isolation, etc. His defensive peak was ’12 and ’09 without a doubt in those years he was a tier one defensive wing All-Time.

    • Hi. To be honest, I’m not sure where you’re getting your numbers. They don’t match up with those on Synergy. As we can see from the data above, he is clearly outshone by the likes of Dwyane Wade, who isn’t even the league’s most elite by Synergy standards.

      This article is old, and things have changed a bit, but even at the time I didn’t find LeBron’s typical defensive assignments especially noteworthy. He spent just as much time guarding hiders on defense as he did guarding the league’s elite (e.g. Indiana’s Sam Young).

      This is of course much due to his great ability to rotate and play help defense, but in regards your point, Miami’s defense is not predicated on switching “due to Lebron” individually. The team, as a whole, excels at this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current month ye@r day *