Derrick Rose's Dismal Defense: Dismissing Disparaging Drivel

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2011

One of the easiest things to attack in basketball is defense. There's not much in the way of conventional statistics that measure defense and what there are in terms of advanced statistics are too easily dismissed or misapplied, depending on what your objective is.

As a result it's made it easy for those who are apoplectic over Derrick Rose being the MVP discussion to disparage his defense with either little or misleading information, if they offer any at all other than a flat, but probably wrong opinion.

The fact is that what statistical evidence there is suggests that Derrick's defense is as good as any point guard in the NBA. If the advanced stats crowd wants to use stats to select their MVP, they shouldn't cherry pick them. 

Cherry picking is what they do though, particularly when they are using the on/off stats to discredit Rose's defense.

They point to the fact that the Bulls give up 102.0 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court but they only surrender 93.9 points per 100 possessions when he's off the court.

Therefore they deduce, Rose's defense is worse because they're a better defensive team when he's off the court. 

The problem with that logic is that units tend to be together, starters play many more minutes against other starters, and who you play with can also greatly affect what your defense looks like.

For instance, let's look what happens when Rose plays with Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas and Joakim Noah, the three players who rotate at center.

CenterMinutesPossessionsPoints AgainstDefensive Rating
Kurt Thomas103119352105101.60
Joakim Noah127724192675104.29
Omer Asik42382090793.54
Rose Off8781638153893.9


Looking at these numbers it's apparent that there is a strong correlation between Rose's off-court numbers and when he's on the court with Asik. Asik has played 972 total minutes, and his overall defensive rating is 92.30; again, right in the neighborhood of Rose's off-court number. 

It's easy to see from looking at this how misleading the on/off stats can be if not thoroughly studied. Even then small sample sizes can lead to wrong conclusions.

However, based on the same sample sizes the detractors would use it as evident that Rose's off-court stats have more to do with who he's playing with than how he's playing, i.e. when he's playing with the team's best defender, they are just as good defensively as when he's not. 

There's also the fact that there are other numbers that can be used to evaluate the caliber of defense a player plays.

Among starting point guards in the NBA, only Rajon Rondo has a lower defensive rating and only Chris Paul is tied. Judging by what he does while he's on the court, he's in the conversation for best defensive point guard in the league. 

The problem that comes up though, is whether his defensive rating is because of the help defense provided for by his teammates or because he's actually making defensive plays (questions which should come up with Paul and Rondo, by the way, but aren't). 

Fortunately there's another metric provided by mysynergysports which answers that question. They watch every play of every game and categorize the plays including who has the defensive assignments for every play. They track the initial defender on every play and then credit or fault him if the player he is defending scores or does not.

It is the the unique tool for measuring a player's individual defense. In the table below, Rose is compared to those normally considered as the elite defensive point guards in the NBA: Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, and Chris Paul. For Williams, I used his Utah stats as they are superior.

PlayerOverallIsolationP&R Ball HandlerSpot Up
Derrick Rose0.770.670.730.92
Deron Williams0.910.870.891.13
Rajon Rondo0.800.680.81 0.86
Chris Paul0.880.760.770.98
Jason Kidd0.850.760.780.96


While they do have other plays listed, these three play types account for 85-90 percent of the plays run against them, depending on the player in question.

Overall, and in two of the three individual categories, Rose gives up the fewest points per play. In the only area where he is not the best defender, the spot up, he's second best behind only Rondo. 

In the areas where he's the most criticized, defending in isolation (where he's accused of getting lost and not being able to stay in front of his defenders) and the pick and roll (where he's accused of not fighting through picks) he's the best. And not only is he the best among those listed, he's the best of any starting point guard in the NBA. 

Just in case that's not enough, I wanted to check and see how many 20 point games had come against each of the five point guards this season. 

Derrick Rose110
Deron Williams152
Rajon Rondo153
Jason Kidd153
Chris Paul160


In terms of surrendering big games to other point guards, Rose has given up the fewest 20 point games of any of the five, and he and Paul are the only ones to not have 30 points scored on them all season. 

If someone wants to make a statistical case for MVP, they shouldn't cherry pick their statistics. There's only one stat to support the notion that Rose defense is sub-par is the misapplied use of on/off stats. For the record, the only Bull with a better points per play against is Ronnie Brewer with .76. 

There are some who want to criticize him for having "too low" of a steals total, but high steals and good defense aren't synonymous and often high steal totals can lead to bad defense.

Shooting passing lanes may generate extra steals, but it can also mean blown defenses and extra points.

The Golden State Warriors are second in steals in the NBA as a team, but they are 27th in points given up per 100 possessions. High steal rates can be as indicative of bad defense as it can be of good defense.

On the other hand, Rose stands to be only the second point guard in NBA history to record a 500 assist, 50 block season, Alvin Robertson being the other. In the year Robertson achieved it he was named to the NBA's All-Defense second team.  

If the argument is that the team is succeeding because of defense, then Rose is a part of the reason for the defensive success. Dwight Howard gets credit for being a defensive player who improved on offense. Derrick Rose is a player who improved on defense.

Did the defense improve because of Tom Thibodeau's coaching? Yes, but it also happened because of Derrick Rose being coached.  It also happened because along with his three point shooting and getting bashed around by a black pad so he could learn to draw fouls, he learned to play defense this summer.

In fact he learned it so well he was given the starting role on the US National Team over Rajon Rondo by Mike Kryzewski. What does Coach K know about basketball though, right? 

The Bulls aren't an elite defense in spite of Derrick Rose, they're an elite defense with Derrick Rose. He's slightly superior to Russell Westbrook offensively, (26.34 APER to 26.00) and he's a slightly better defensive player than Rajon Rondo.

If objectivity is the goal, and the means of reaching that goal is through objective data, all of it should be considered, not cherry picked, and not misapplied. Number should't be used to prove a position, but to obtain one. A complete look at the data available reveals Derrick Rose as an MVP candidate whose case is supported by his play on both sides of the ball.  


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