However, are they still the league's most dominant?
The old mantra is that defense wins championships. Over the course of the past few decades, this has certainly been the case.
Teams like the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have dominated the league since the dawn of the modern NBA. And while each was capable of some fantastic offense in their own right, they all shared the common thread:they were each dominant defensive teams.
In the last decade, the league has shifted greatly towards an offensive-centered style. Teams are pushing the ball more and changes in league rules such as the elimination of the hand-check on defense have forced scoring up across the NBA.
That being said, the last decade has still produced champions that were capable of fantastic defense. For all of the attention placed on the great offense of the Dallas Mavericks or Miami Heat, they were not able to become champions until they learned how to play defense.
Over the last three seasons, no team has been as consistently excellent on defense as the Chicago Bulls.
They finished either first or second in each of the past two years in points allowed and this year they are primed to be in the top three again.
In the past two seasons, the Boston Celtics were largely considered the only other team that could be viewed as the top defensive squad.
Obviously a team's defensive proficiency can't be measured in simple terms with just one statistic. Sure, the Grizzlies, Pacers and Bulls are the teams that give up the fewest points per night, but what exactly does that mean overall?
Sure, the name of the game is to score more points than the opponent and if you can limit the amount of points they score then you are half way to a win.
But points alone can not measure a team's defensive impact.
One of the best statistical indicators of how effective a team's defense has been is their opponent's field goal percentage. If you can alter how effective a team shoots the ball, then you have a defense that is dictating the tone of the game.
The Bulls are certainly good with an opponent's field goal percentage of .441. But that is number eighth in the league, well behind Indiana's .417 and the Oklahoma City Thunder's .425.
Another statistic that is telling in how effective a team's defense has been performing is opponent's three-point percentage.
The league is a guard-dominated one, which means that a lot of the ways that a team scores today come from the perimeter. If a defense can shut down a team's perimeter scoring, then they have a great shot at limiting an opponent's chances of winning the game.
The Bulls rank seventh in this category with a .344 rating. Again, this ranks well behind the Pacers and their .322 rating.
So it would seem that statistically speaking, the Bulls are no longer the league's top team, but rather are a step below the Pacers.
But divorcing ourselves from the statistics, it's important to tangibly measure what these teams actually do against the top competition. It is against them, after all, that the true effectiveness of a team's defense is actually measured.
The Bulls have won two of three games against the Miami Heat this year, only allowing the defending champs over 90 points once.
They also have won all three contests against the New York Knicks.
Against the Western Conference's elite, however, their numbers slide greatly. They have been beaten up by the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Nuggets, losing all six games.
Indiana also has had a lot of success against the Eastern Conference elite, taking two of three from both the Knicks and Heat.
Yet they too have seen their defensive prowess dispelled by the west, getting beaten by each of the top three teams.
This begs the question of whether or not any team can be considered dominant defensively this year. If the top two defensive units get beat up by the top three teams out west, how good can they really be?
Overall, it appears that the Bulls continue to be one of the league's top defensive units, but they have been, at least statistically, eclipsed by the Pacers.
Obviously once the playoffs begin we will know for sure which team is the better defensive unit. But at least from a statistical standpoint, it appears that the Pacers are more likely to advance based on their defense.
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