Do You Have a System For Evaluating Your Players on Defense?

Earlier this summer in our article on Player Efficiency Rating (PER), we mentioned that it was pretty much accepted that arriving at an accurate defensive PER was problematic because of the nature of Blocks. Then, in our article on Empty Stats, we discussed another stat of dubious nature- the Steal. Basically, we just noted that the consequences of failed blocks and steals (fouls, 5 on 4 opportunities for the offense and open weakside rebounders) aren’t computed in conventional PER systems. So, successful blocks and steals stand alone and look like positive stats-even when they might not be because of a low rate of success.

But PER uses raw stats and that’s the rub. Raw stats are just that, raw. They are blind to motive, sound decision making and work ethic. However, coaches have the use of post game video to devise their rating systems for their players that account for system assignments and the negative consequences of missed assignments. This can be very time consuming, but when players are evaluated in a numerical way for everything that they do at the defensive end, it is rewarding for coach and player alike. Perhaps, a trusted assistant can be in charge of the breakdown of the last game and the head coach or another assistant can be in charge of the next game preparation- or vice versa. Division of labor can conquer many workloads. If you’re a one-man band, these suggestions might seem too demanding. But, once players understand how they’re being graded and see that there is consistency, the buy-in level will be very high. Players like clarity, consistency and reward. There are many coaches who have engineered numerical grading systems for their defense but for those who haven’t, let’s examine two possible methods for analysis.

Grade For Every Possession: If players see that they are systematically graded for the entirety of every possession and they can see the rationale of the grades in film sessions, it will add credence to your system and their belief in it. This can be exhaustive but it’s the most accurate way of grading your players defensively. For the game they might receive a “grade point average”. Just like the classroom, an “A” gets four honor points and so on. For instance, in a game having 70 possessions, one of your starters played 60 possessions and averaged 3.1. On the other hand, a sub who only played 25 possessions but averaged 3.2 gets the recognition he deserves but in a tangible, numerical way. This method includes possessions where you played great defense and got scored upon and possessions where you were terrible and got lucky. In HS ball, you’re obviously going to have some long possessions and a lot of things can happen in one possession. But if a head coach or an assistant has the time, this is by far the more comprehensive system of the two.

Points Scored Against Accountability: This method of evaluating a defense is measured only by points allowed. So, if you gave up 65 points, you only look at the possessions on which you were scored upon and decide which players broke down and how. For most possessions, there are usually two defenders who share the blame for a score. For example, if a defender gets beat on a drive and gets into the lane and the first help side defender fails to step in and stop the ball, you might assign a -1 to both players. Or, if you thought two players should have been there to help, you might assign a -1 to the man on the ball and two .5’s to the helpside players. It’s your system and you can assign culpability as you see fit. The only real mandate is consistency. If your players see that from one play to the next, the same standards are upheld, they’ll buy in. The problems with this system are it’s founded on a negative and you’re not evaluating the possessions you weren’t scored upon. The positives are it’s less time consuming and you’re reinforcing the same principles of your defense than the “every possession” grade method-just less often. In this system, you still need to “equalize” it for the number of minutes played just like the “grade system”. A simple way to account for playing time is to divide the number of “points allowed” by the number of minutes played. For example, if player A gave up 12 points in 26 minutes, his defensive score for that game would be .462. If player B gave up 8 points in 23 minutes his defensive score would be .348 and player C giving up 6 points in 6 minutes would have a score of 1.00. Obviously, lower is better.

One reminder to coaches who use any numerical defensive evaluating system is to always account for fouls that lead to bonus free throws. These fouls “get lost” and shouldn’t. For example, if player A commits 2 fouls in the first half and the opponent gets into the bonus on the 7th foul, player A is, in theory, responsible for 28% (2-7) of all the bonus FT’s the opponent makes in that half. Let’s say 10 FT’s were made in bonus time. Player A’s share of the 10 points scored is 2.8 points. This is a teaching point that gets lost in the shuffle. Players need to know that early fouls do have consequences and this type of illustration and follow up with a grading system can help to reinforce this important principle.

For coaches not already in the analytics game, individual responsibility within a team defense structure is one area where you can jump in and immediately have meaningful results.


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Northwestern Double Screen & Pop Diagram
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Variation of a man set Northwestern ran against Michigan St.  The play has a double ball screen, double down screen...

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