No Shock: KG Is A Difference-Maker On D


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.

Teams win games by outscoring their opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If a player isn’t scoring, he can help his teammates score and also prevent the opponent from doing so.

But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?

Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.

At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Thursday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season.

On Wednesday, we looked at the players with the biggest on-off court differential in regard to their team’s offensive efficiency. Today, we look at the defensive end of the floor.

Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as a pair at the bottom of the list.

For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s defensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.

1. Kevin Garnett, Celtics

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 905 96.3
Off floor 613 110.7
Diff. -14.4

Because the Celtics use a unique substitution pattern with KG, you can get a pretty clear idea of the impact he makes. No other Celtics regular has played more 63 percent of his minutes with Garnett.

You probably figured Garnett would be at or near the top of this list, but 14.4 points per 100 possessions? That’s an amazing number, and it’s an indictment on Brandon Bass (382 minutes with Garnett off the floor), Jared Sullinger (331) and Chris Wilcox (297) … and Paul Pierce (391) and Rajon Rondo (432).

It’s also an endorsement of both former Celtics center Greg Stiemsma and guard Avery Bradley, because the Celtics’ defense only fell off 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Garnett stepped off the floor last season.

Bradley’s return (he made his 2012-13 debut on Wednesday) offers some hope, but interior defense will continue to be an issue whenever Garnett rests.

2. Lamar Odom, Clippers

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 602 90.7
Off floor 987 102.3
Diff. -11.5

Odom has been working himself back into shape over the first two months of the season and has looked very rusty offensively. But he’s part of a Clippers’ bench that has been more effective than their starters.

The L.A. starting lineup (with Willie Green at shooting guard) has been better offensively, but has outscored its opponents by just 4.4 points per 100 possessions in 429 minutes. The second unit (Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Odom and Ronny Turiaf) has outscored its opponents by an amazing 15.6 points per 100 possessions in 230 minutes, playing far better defense.

This is a stark contrast from last season, when Blake Griffin had the highest overall on-off court differential in the league (and Chris Paul had the fifth-highest). The Clips were outscored by 11.6 points when Griffin was off the floor last year, but they’re a +10.6 this season.

Odom had a pretty good impact on the Lakers’ defensive numbers before his career went off track in Dallas. Over his last three seasons in L.A., the Lakers allowed just 99.8 points per 100 possessions with Odom on the floor and 104.2 with him on the bench.

3. Jared Dudley, Suns

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 992 101.4
Off floor 607 112.9
Diff. -11.5

Dudley’s on-off court differential has a lot to do with the Suns’ deadly (in a bad way) defensive trio of Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris. Phoenix has allowed an absolutely atrocious 126 points per 100 possessions in 223 minutes with those three guys on the floor together, and Dudley has been on the bench for all 223 of those minutes.

Alvin Gentry wisely stopped using that trio for almost a month, but then went back to it on Wednesday against the Sixers. The Suns were outscored 17-6 in less than seven minutes with them on the floor.

Dudley himself is a solid defender, and he has played most of his minutes with other solid defenders like Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Dudley and P.J. Tucker have made a pretty good defensive wing combo, too.

4. Kemba Walker, Bobcats

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 1,112 105.0
Off floor 396 116.1
Diff. -11.2

Let’s get this straight: 105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions is bad defense, and 116.1 points allowed per 100 possessions is phenomenally bad defense.

Still, Walker is a decent defender — much better than Ben Gordon, at least. And it has helped that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brendan Haywood and Jeff Taylor — three good defenders — have all played at least 73 percent of their minutes with Walker. The Bobcats have allowed just 90.2 points per 100 possessions in 198 minutes with those four all on the floor together.

But they rank dead last in the league in defensive efficiency (108.0) because they’ve played 1,306 minutes with other combinations.

5. Larry Sanders, Bucks

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 715 94.5
Off floor 735 105.5
Diff. -11.0

Sanders is a defensive force and when he’s teamed with Luc Mbah a Moute or Ekpe Udoh, the Bucks shine defensively. But offense is another story. And Sanders is at the complete opposite end of the list when it comes to offensive on-off court differential. The Bucks score 10.3 points per 100 possessions more when Sanders sits on the bench than when he plays.

220. Carlos Boozer, Bulls

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 900 102.0
Off floor 545 92.3
Diff. +9.7

The Bulls aren’t a bad defensive team with Boozer on the floor. They still allow less than the league average points per 100 possessions (102.3). But they’re just much, much better defensively with Taj Gibson at power forward … as long as Boozer isn’t the center. Chicago has allowed 114 points per 100 possessions with Gibson and Boozer on the floor together.

223. Al Jefferson, Jazz

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 1,046 108.1
Off floor 553 97.6
Diff. +10.5

If there’s a high-scoring big man who’s worse defensively than Boozer, it’s Al Jefferson. And if the Jazz want to be a good defensive team going forward, Jefferson is the impending free agent that they trade or let walk this summer.

The problem is that the Jazz have been pretty bad offensively, scoring less than a point per possession, with young bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the floor together.



  2. Patrickmarc says:

    KG is good, but he can’t be all star, there are many very good players now..
    Behavior, comportment ? very bad sometimes..except when the has a bigger player who yell on him.

  3. W/E says:


  4. Kamote says:

    Maybe they could trade Green, Fab Melo and Lee for Varejao + 1 player :).

  5. fat h says:

    simply amazing scal

  6. Also it’s just not KG doing it byhimself, his being a floor General is reminding the other 4 teamates where to be on DEFENSE!!! He’s Phenomenal in the likeliness of Bill Russel!!! KG can change the complexion of any teams defense!!! His presence alone is an offensive stopper!!!

  7. E-SY says:

    Nice part about the Clips too… but those stats are also there because their second unit is better than at least half of the starting lineups of other teams!

  8. @ gary-R U KIDDING ME!!! Ur just a KG hater!!! KG is still the best big man defender in the league period. It takes a lot more than blocked shots & hard fouls to be considered an elite big man defender. KG is the most intelligent big man in the nba today (nba hasn’t had that for a long time). KG also does all the little things that there aren’t stats for & if ther were stats for, he would lead in all those little things catagories. KG is basically a floor coach-a General on the floor. Man KG is “THE HOLY TRINITY OF DEFENSE” as Scali quoted on the “08 Celts Champ dvd i have 🙂 !!! Look man even most of all those opposing team young players don’t want to come KG’s way w/ the ball & yes all the other all stars like kobe, wade, lbj, melo, bosh, cp3, d12 big & smaller players, how many times do u see them come KG’s way-they all stay away from him!!!Seriously!!!

  9. Gary says:

    Is Garnett the best defender in Boston? Maybe, but Celtic’s defense is below average.

    He is good player but DOESN’T DESERVE to be named ALL STAR

    He doesn’t deserve to be named on the top in any category except bad personality.

  10. bu says:

    For those that criticize KG’s rank here, just watch the games with a close eye on KG with & without the ball. If you’re a ball player, you’ll recognize his value.

    if u watch some of the games u see late rotations & little on-ball pressure, esp when Garnett is out of the line up. It’s a mindset & commitment from the other guys. Can’t blame Sullinger as he’s a rookie, & he already improved the Celts on rounding.

    I’d hold Barbosa, Terry, Green, Lee accountable for defense & efforts. They hv to step up & link with the defensive system. Doc clearly is experimenting the line-ups but now comes the halfway mark soon & they hv to decide. Green should go into starting lineup & be fully accountable for both Off & Def. He should play 36 mins a game to get going & see if he’s really worth what he earns.

  11. Gary says:

    You said the truth at the beginning:
    Who is a guy playing his minutes with?
    Who is he not playing his minutes with?

    Compare player’s defense with these stats is completely meaningless.
    Watch games for a change.
    Garnett is still a good defender, but not top 20 anymore.

    Selecting him as All Star starter is a shame. He just doesn’t deserve to be there.
    He is not top 20 forward/center either.
    Less than 15 points, 7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks don’t impress.

    He is very good only for his age.

  12. David says:

    It would be interesting if the Celtics would trade for Millsap and team him with Garnett.

    Scalabrine gives great insight into Boston’s philosophy, Bradley and Garnett, but it’s also true they need to rebound better and decide to being a defensive mastodon, as they have been.

  13. KG21 says:

    simply the best in defense

  14. David says:

    KG is the man. Going by age you would expect the Celtics place in the standings would be due to the older players, but here you can see that it’s the younger guys aren’t stepping up. People should place more value on how to be a good defensive player and a good team defensive player. KG might not block shots like he did when he was 23 or so, but he plays defense smarter now buy closing all gaps, knocking balls away, etc – all things that aren’t directly accounted for by individual stats.

  15. gramofon says:

    Anyway – Brian is looking nice in this studio, propably knows more than i thought about the Game 🙂

  16. LS says:

    Just think, he’s that valuable and the most we ever hear about him on a regular basis is that “he’s old”!


  17. CHUCK NORRIS says:

    KG MVP!

  18. Lola says:

    Glad to read that the intangibles can translate to stats. I am a KG fan to the core and it gladdens my heart to see KG so appreciated.

  19. sebastian says:

    KG numbers are amazing just look at the numbers he puts up in around 30 mins a game. He scores about 15 points a game and doesn’t take many shots. 7 boards a game. Come playoff time he will dominate like last year.

    • Jon says:

      I agree, KG averages 29 minutes and 15 pts and 7 rebs. If he were at 35 minutes or so he’d be right around that 20 & 10 range. That’s not too bad for someone who is supposedly over the hill. The Celtics have no quality bigs as backups so they struggle. Losing Stiesma and even O’Neal (when he was healthy) was a big blow. They have to address that in some way. Sullinger and Wilcox won’t get it done even in this small ball state of the league.

    • james says:

      15 pts a game and 7 boards per game are AMAZING numbers??? wow there is something wrong with you

  20. Andro says:

    KG is still better PF than young guns.
    If it’s a play-off series, i’d still take him over Griffin and Love.
    And everyone wonders why Celts are better in the postseason, it’s because KG averages more minutes.
    Plain and simple.
    Celtic for life!

  21. rondo says:

    Even though he is averaging less than 10 boards and less than 1 block it seems ridiculous that kg is the biggest difference maker

    • Joe says:

      he contests shots better than anyone and gets his hands on a lot of balls. he seems to always be in the right place

    • TEE says:

      Screens and defensive coordination. Stats do not completely dictate greatness.