NBA Metrics 101: The Worst 5 Defenders at Every Position

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2017

NBA Metrics 101: The Worst 5 Defenders at Every Position

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    NBA players are incredible at scoring the basketball. 

    That should go without saying, but it often gets brushed under the rug. Even the men who fill end-of-bench slots are among the best players in the world, capable of torching almost any matchup they're thrown out against.

    We viewers are exposed to LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas and other prolific point-producers, so it's easy to forget about everyone else. But all 475 players who have suited up in an NBA game this season would torch 99.99 percent of the world's population in a one-on-one contest. 

    Of course, some defenders make life for an offensive stud even easier. That's who we're focusing on here, highlighting the five least valuable defenders at each position who have played at least 15 minutes per game—a minimum that's necessary to avoid having those aforementioned end-of-bench contributors populate all the slots. 

    To do so, four different defensive categories come into play:

    1.'s defensive real plus/minus, presented such that a positive score is beneficial and a negative score indicates below-average play. 
    2. NBA Math's defensive points saved, which accounts for defensive volume and efficiency while also taking defensive rebounding into consideration.
    3. Field-goal percentage differential, such that a negative score indicates a player is holding his assignments below their typical shooting percentages.
    4. On/off differential, such that a negative score indicates a player's team has a lower defensive rating with him on the floor. 

    All 309 qualified players were ranked in each of the four categories, using stats accurate heading into games on March 12. Their defensive scores were determined by summing their ranks across the board: the lower, the better; the higher, the more porous. 

No. 5 Point Guard: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (1052 Defense Score)

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.92 (No. 274)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-111.92 (No. 306)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 1.4 percent (No. 204)

    On/Off Differential: 4.5 (No. 268)

    Though Damian Lillard can close out on shooters well enough to avoid total disasters, his positioning hasn't improved much since he left Weber State in 2012. The point guard is caught too far from his assignment on a regular basis, particularly when he's asked to run through multiple screens in pursuit of an off-ball mark. 

    Some players can fight through picks. Others are adept at ducking under them and quickly recovering to contest shots. Then there's a third category: those who run right into the opposition's screener and get stopped like they made contact with a brick wall. 

    Take a wild guess which grouping Lillard falls into. 

    Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post wrote this about the defensive deficiencies of Lillard and C.J. McCollum:

    It makes for a tricky situation moving forward for the Trail Blazers. Many teams would be happy to have a duo like Lillard and McCollum leading their team, a pair of dynamic scorers and fun personalities to which any fan base would gravitate. But whether that combination can be the foundation of a Western Conference contender remains very much up for debate.

    McCollum falls just shy of the honorable mentions at his position. The bulk of the blame—this season, at least—lies with the floor general.

    Honorable Mentions: Matthew Dellavedova, Kyrie Irving, Cory Joseph, Brandon Knight, Dennis Schroder

No. 4 Point Guard: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets (1100 Defense Score)

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.28 (No. 286)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-41.3 (No. 253)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 7.4 (No. 304)

    On/Off Differential: 4.0 (No. 257)

    When Emmanuel Mudiay is on the floor, the Denver Nuggets can't stop the opposition from killing them with dribble penetration. Their big men face way too much pressure around the hoop because the point guard can't keep himself between his man and the rim, thereby allowing easy paths into the restricted area.

    According to nbawowy, 31.8 percent of Denver's foes' field-goal attempts come from within three feet while Mudiay is playing, and its foes convert at a 66.9 percent clip. When he's off the floor, those numbers shift to 30.0 and 60.9, respectively—the Nuggets stop allowing so many shots around the hoop and defend them more effectively.

    That, in a nutshell, sums up the defensive woes when Mudiay is active.

    It's why he's started to fall out of the rotation, even though Jameer Nelson and Jamal Murray aren't too much better on the point-preventing end. Given the roster construction and lack of a dominant rim protector, the Denver defense simply can't survive his turnstile habits.

No. 3 Point Guard: D.J. Augustin, Orlando Magic (1104 Defense Score)

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    Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.79 (No. 296)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-91.19 (No. 295)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 4.1 (No. 281)

    On/Off Differential: 2.9 (No. 232)

    Plenty is concerning about D.J. Augustin's defense.

    Despite the extreme speed he flashes while dribbling in transition, he routinely finds himself out of plays and unable to recover. He allows far too much dribble penetration, especially when he gets caught by a screen—whether it's called out by a teammate or not. His help defense can often be nonexistent, and he doesn't work to end possessions with defensive rebounds.

    But most concerning is his inability to stop players from making shots when he's in their vicinity.

    The 6'0" point guard doesn't have much size at his disposal, and his penchant for remaining slightly out of position makes it virtually impossible for him to consistently contest attempts. That's why the men he guards, who typically make 47.7 percent of their two-pointers, drain 56.8 percent against him. He's fine against three-point attempts, but it's far too easy for an opponent to get Augustin on his back and then capitalize.

    Perhaps it would help if he didn't sell out to run players off the line since he can't recover in time to mitigate the damage he's causing.

No. 2 Point Guard: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics (1142 Defense Score)

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-4.42 (No. 309)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-149.6 (No. 309)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 1.8 (No. 217)

    On/Off Differential: 10.5 (No. 307)

    Blame Isaiah Thomas' diminutive 5'9" frame if you want. But he's been better defensively in previous seasons, staying as involved as possible by flitting around the court and impacting passing lanes. Especially during his time with the Phoenix Suns, he was adept enough away from the primary action to cancel out his on-ball weaknesses.

    That's the price the Boston Celtics are paying for his offensive responsibilities. Head coach Brad Stevens will certainly be fine with the trade-off, given the fact that Thomas' scoring acumen has propelled his squad nearly to the top of the Eastern Conference standings and put the former No. 60 pick on the outskirts of the MVP conversation.

    But it's a trade-off nonetheless.

    Thomas has been an absolute sieve, ranked dead last among players with 15 minutes per game in both's defensive real plus/minus (the separation between him and second-to-last Allen Crabbe is gigantic) and NBA Math's defensive points saved. Boston is also far better at preventing points when he's off the floor, even though he typically spends time next to the team's best defenders.

    His only saving grace is that his field-goal percentage differential isn't quite as poor as some of the NBA's other glaring negatives.

No. 1 Point Guard: Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (1160 Defense Score)

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.9 (No. 303)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-47.79 (No. 262)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 5.0 (No. 290)

    On/Off Differential: 8.5 (No. 305)

    There are no saving graces here.

    Reggie Jackson is the best example of how only what's happened in 2016-17 matters. The point guard has spent much of the season recovering from his offseason knee injury, frequently looking more than a step slow as he struggles to make use of the speed that served him well in previous campaigns. Just look at how different his numbers are from last year:

    SeasonDRPMDPSFG% DifferentialOn/Off Differential
    2015-16minus-1.82minus-76.853.6 worse1.7 worse
    2016-17minus-2.9minus-47.795.0 worse8.5 worse

    Jackson wasn't a good defender in 2015-16; he just wasn't grading out as literally the NBA's worst stopper at any position, as he is during his continual trial-by-fire rehabilitation process.

    Zach Lowe wrote this for prior to the All-Star break:

    [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope chases opposing point guards because Reggie Jackson, alleged franchise player at that spot, hasn't been able to since recovering from a knee injury. The Pistons usually hide Jackson on the least-threatening wing player, a reprieve that draws shade from teammates—including during an infamous players-only meeting in December, when a few guys hammered Jackson for his desultory play.

    His defensive woes have been one of the many factors that prevent Detroit from continuing to climb the Eastern Conference ladder. That they're also fostering internal discontent makes the situation worse.

No. 5 Shooting Guard: Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers (1106 Defense Score)

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-3.33 (No. 308)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-77.1 (No. 287)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.5 (No. 247)

    On/Off Differential: 4.3 (No. 264)

    Allen Crabbe can often look like a solid defender.

    He's a big shooting guard with long arms, which allows him to close out against opposing shooters even after helping one of his teammates. He flashes quick hands that help him poke the ball loose when a dribbler loses focus after entering his territory.

    But those moments don't make up for everything else. His propensity for getting bullied by bigger guards down low serves as only a singular example. More concerning are Crabbe's continual struggles getting around screens and his willingness to switch in disadvantageous situations.

    Far too frequently, the Blazers are put in a pickle because Crabbe tried to switch but then lost track of his intended assignment, leading to an easy and unnecessary bucket. Until that changes and his awareness in the half-court set improves, his physical abilities will continue to be rendered almost null and void.

    Honorable Mentions: Sean Kilpatrick, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, Marcus Thornton, Zach LaVine

No. 4 Shooting Guard: Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets (1108 Defense Score)

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.94 (No. 277)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-40.68 (No. 251)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 7.1 (No. 303)

    On/Off Differential: 4.9 (No. 277) 

    "It definitely helps because Gary [Harris] is probably the best perimeter defender that we have and a guy who really embraces the challenge to guard guys. So I think having Gary back in the lineup will help," Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said while Harris was returning from injury before a matchup against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this season.

    To some extent, it's true.

    Harris does take on tougher assignments, and he's often left covering for Emmanuel Mudiay and the team's other point guards. But he is not Denver's best perimeter defender, instead serving as yet another culprit in the overall inability to stop dribble penetration. No matter how often he locks up players in isolation, he's far more porous as soon as even the tiniest hint of a set play emerges.

    According to's SportVU data, Harris ranks in just the 22.6 percentile guarding pick-and-roll ball-handlers, allowing 0.95 points per possession. He's even worse against spot-up shooters, giving up an atrocious 1.23 points per possession that leaves him in the 8.4 percentile. There's no missing digit there; he really does rank in the bottom 10 percent of the league.

    Perhaps Denver is asking too much of him. Or maybe he just needs to gain discipline and awareness to go along with his tenacity and physical talent.

No. 3 Shooting Guard: Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers (1116 Defense Score)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.93 (No. 275)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-104.87 (No. 303)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 5.9 (No. 300)

    On/Off Differential: 3.2 (No. 238)

    "We keep calling him Bruce Bowen, the Glove [Gary Payton], Kawhi [Leonard] and all those guys," Larry Nance said in an video after a Los Angeles Lakers preseason practice, as transcribed by Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll.  "In the same breath you can say all those guys and Nick Young. It's kind of a team joke, but it's fun because he's been picking it up, he's really been getting after it and it's fun to see that."

    Then games started to count, and reality set in.

    Young was solid at the beginning of the season, to the point that head coach Luke Walton said the team would miss his defense in mid-December after the shooting guard suffered a calf strain, per Mark Medina of the Orange County Register.

    There's only one issue with that: Los Angeles has been far stingier with Young injured or on the bench. Despite his increased effort, he doesn't impact enough shots and can get lost watching the ball, which frees up his assignments for spot-up triples and backdoor cuts to the hoop.

    He may have improved certain aspects of his defensive profile, but Young's primary value still comes from his ability to put the "shooting" in "shooting guard."

No. 2 Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo, Sacramento Kings (1130 Defense Score)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.78 (No. 295)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-58.87 (No. 273)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 3.9 (No. 278)

    On/Off Differential: 5.5 (No. 284) 

    Remember when Arron Afflalo was a plus defender?

    He served as such during his first tenure with the Denver Nuggets, but that reputation started to fade when he moved to the Orlando Magic for 2012-13 and began assuming more offensive responsibilities. Since then, he's never been able to make a positive impact on the point-preventing end, continuously declining and bottoming out for the Sacramento Kings this season.

    The effort just isn't there.

    Afflalo can still use his physicality and veteran savvy to confuse players in the post, but he's prone to watching the ball and failing to rotate properly when asked to switch. His mental lapses—they may even be effort lapses—can often be so detrimental that the Kings are better when their other porous wings replace him in the lineup.

    It's concerning whenever a team's defensive rating improves by 5.5 points per 100 possessions without a player. But it's downright disconcerting when that differential exists even though Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and other non-notable defenders serve as the primary replacements throughout the campaign.

No. 1 Shooting Guard: Alex Abrines, Oklahoma City Thunder (1160 Defense Score)

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.61 (No. 293)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-47.17 (No. 261)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 8.2 percent (No. 307)

    On/Off Differential: 6.7 (No. 299)

    Note to anyone playing the Oklahoma City Thunder: Attack Alex Abrines with everything you've got.

    The rookie shooting guard has been a solid rotation piece for OKC because of his fearless shooting and slashing athleticism, but his defense has negated so much of what he does on the scoring end. He fares terribly in each of our four categories, though none are worse than his complete inability to hinder shots.

    Throughout the entire NBA, only two players who average at least 15 minutes per game—Abrines is right on the cutoff—have seen their assignments' shooting percentages rise by higher numbers while they're defending them. Except Quinn Cook and Jarrett Jack have played in five and two games, respectively, so it's safe to assume they're working with small-sample-size flukes.

    Abrines is not. Not after 55 games of porosity.

    On two-pointers, the 23-year-old Spaniard guards players who typically hit at a 49.3 percent clip and lets that number rise to 55.6. On triples, he allows the percentage to grow from 36.4 to 44.7.

    No matter where he is, he's easy to exploit.

No. 5 Small Forward: Bojan Bogdanovic, Washington Wizards (1011 Defense Score)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.87 (No. 302)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-105.4 (No. 304)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 0.6 (No. 164)

    On/Off Differential: 3.5 (No. 241)

    One of those numbers isn't like the others.

    Bojan Bogdanovic doesn't have too much trouble keeping his marks' shooting percentages to their typical figures. They're still slightly better against him but only by a negligible margin.

    It's not the number that's concerning so much as the why.

    The high-scoring wing has no trouble creating separation on offense thanks to his craftiness and quick release. But his lack of lateral quickness and overall foot speed hamper him on the less glamorous end, leaving him unable to do anything but stick to his assignment and forgo helping out his teammates.

    Bogdanovic isn't able to insert himself into many plays, which is part of the reason he averages only 0.4 steals and 0.1 blocks despite standing at 6'8" and spending 26.6 minutes per game on the floor. He rarely impacts passing lanes and struggles to make up for his lack of movement by crashing the defensive boards and ending possessions—4.7 rebounds per 36 minutes is less than ideal for an oversized 3, especially when that represents a career high.

    Honorable Mentions: Wilson Chandler, Kelly Oubre, Jabari Parker, Terrence Ross, T.J. Warren

No. 4 Small Forward: Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers (1014 Defense Score)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.84 (No. 299)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-30.55 (No. 237)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.4 (No. 241)

    On/Off Differential: 3.2 (No. 237)

    To his credit, Brandon Ingram has steadily improved during his rookie season. Over the last few weeks, he's been more of an average defender than a glaring liability, though that's not enough for him to overcome the putrid start to his professional career.

    Context also helps his case. What did we expect from a player who entered the NBA as an 18-year-old only one year removed from taking the SAT?

    The spindly small forward was immediately thrown into the fire and asked to fill a major role for the Los Angeles Lakers, guarding a set of wings that have become more versatile than ever in the modern Association. He didn't possess the physicality to handle many assignments, much less to do so while adjusting to the professional game.

    Ingram will be a good defender one day, so long as he bulks up and proves he can hold his own in the weight room. So take this ranking with a major grain of salt, because the numbers—while accurate—aren't reflective of his career trajectory, especially while he adapts to the learning curve and simultaneously suits up next to other sieves.

No. 3 Small Forward: Doug McDermott, Oklahoma City Thunder (1037 Defense Score)

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.86 (No. 301)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-59.04 (No. 274)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.6 (No. 250)

    On/Off Differential: 2.0 (No. 212) 

    Defense has always been Doug McDermott's biggest problem. Even at Creighton, he struggled to slow his opponents, though his offensive game was so good that it often didn't matter.

    Here's Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress wrote in his predraft scouting report back in 2014:

    Is he quick enough to guard small forwards? Or big and strong enough to handle power forwards? That's the question every team picking in the mid to late lottery will be asking. He posted a career total of 34 steals and 15 blocks in 4636 minutes of action at Creighton, a historically poor rate, and also isn't a great rebounder. He is a very aware and competitive defender in space, but he could very well end up being a target of opposing coaching staffs in isolation situations if he proves to be unable to stay in front of his matchup on the perimeter.

    His concerns proved valid.

    Teams do attack McDermott whenever he's on the floor. Though he's held his own in isolation, the same can't be said about his off-ball work and ability to corral cutters and players coming off screens. It's operating within a scheme that has proved most problematic since the former Bluejay doesn't have the athleticism necessary to fly around the open court and avoid becoming a liability.

No. 2 Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks (1041 Defense Score)

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.93 (No. 275)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-101.95 (No. 299)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 0.6 (No. 164)

    On/Off Differential: 8.2 (No. 303) 

    Last season, Carmelo Anthony tried on defense.

    This year? Not so much:

    SeasonDRPMDPSFG% DifferentialOn/Off Differential
    2015-16minus-0.73minus-9.852.9 better 2.8 worse
    2016-17minus-1.93minus-101.950.6 worse8.2 worse

    Maybe it's mental after his public spat with team president Phil Jackson. Perhaps he's just tired of losing and is ready to play for a different organization. There's a chance the makeup of the New York Knicks has changed so drastically that he no longer feels compelled to expend as much energy on defense.

    But the effort is gone.

    Every once in a while, Anthony reminds fans that he can lock down opponents. However, those moments are few and far between these days, usually bookended by lengthy stretches of ineffective play that put his ball-watching habits on full display.

No. 1 Small Forward: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (1117 Defense Score)

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-2.4 (No. 290)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-109.35 (No. 305)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.2 (No. 234)

    On/Off Differential: 5.7 (No. 288)

    Why, in spite of his impressive scoring figures, has Andrew Wiggins' young career been so disappointing? Most advanced metrics point to him as a below-average contributor—some more harshly than others—even if that analysis flies in the face of the eye test.

    You could point to his inability to create shots for teammates, and you'd be correct. But the importance of that facet still pales in comparison to his defense.

    If an opponent attacks Wiggins in a one-on-one setting, he can hold his own. That's what makes his woeful defensive numbers so confusing, even if they're easy to explain: The young wing is often entirely inactive on the preventing side, content to watch the action unfold without inserting himself into the possessions.

    Zach Harper explained for FanRag Sports:

    Wiggins' biggest problem is he's a reactor as opposed to someone who is consistently in the position he needs to be in. That's the next challenge for [Tom] Thibodeauget Wiggins to do the work early. While he's good at defending the roller on a PnR, he's bad defending the initiator. Usually, that involves fighting through a screen and he's struggled to consistently get through that pick. He's also bad at defending spot-up shooters. Get him one-on-one, and he'll challenge well, but not on a rotation.

    In terms of raw ability, Wiggins isn't one of the worst defenders at his position. But because offenses have such an easy time exploiting his glaring weaknesses, he has provided more negative value than any other small forward.

No. 5 Power Forward: Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets (859 Defense Score)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-0.34 (No. 172)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-92.81 (No. 297)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.3 (No. 235)

    On/Off Differential: minus-0.1 (No. 155)

    Surprise, surprise.

    Ryan Anderson is widely regarded as one of the league's worst defensive bigs. He's functioned as such for years, making up for his complete lack of stopping ability and lackluster production on the defensive glass by drilling perimeter jumpers and helping space the court for his teammates. It was true during his time with the New Orleans Pelicans, and it's remained true for the Houston Rockets.

    However, his score isn't as bad as it could have been.

    Anderson has the luxury of spending massive minutes next to Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela and Patrick Beverley, which helps mitigate his negative impact. Houston allows fewer points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, though it's by no means because of his presence.

    In a normal situation, his on/off differential would force him to rank much lower. Subjectively bumping him down to No. 200 in that category would drop him below each of the next three power forwards in this countdown.

    Honorable Mentions: Michael Beasley, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Dario Saric, Zach Randolph

No. 4 Power Forward: Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (864 Defense Score)

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.05 (No. 230)

    Defensive Points Saved: 0.0 (No. 142)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 3.7 (No. 273)

    On/Off Differential: 2.3 (No. 219)

    Kenneth Faried's energy has made him an improved defender for the Denver Nuggets, and his rebounding prowess helps him fare nicely in NBA Math's defensive points saved, which does take work on the boards into account.

    But he still has plenty of warts.

    The Morehead State product is in trouble whenever he's forced to switch onto a minuscule ball-handler. Though he has the requisite lateral quickness to hold his own, he gets too aggressive and can be easily tricked into pursuing the wrong angle of attack, thereby creating an easy opportunity for his smaller assignment.

    He's even worse against stretch bigs since he likes to spend so much time around the basket, waiting to contest shots and feast on boards—the Nuggets' willingness to let him push the ball in transition after corralling a rebound hasn't helped with this. Far too frequently, Faried finds himself in the paint while his man is launching up mid-range jumpers and uncontested triples.

    Until that changes, and until head coach Mike Malone doesn't need to avoid deployment against certain assignments, he'll continue to boast limited two-way value.

No. 3 Power Forward: Derrick Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers (899 Defense Score)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-0.44 (No. 181)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-19.93 (No. 214)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.6 (No. 250)

    On/Off Differential: 3.9 (No. 254)

    It's hard to spend much time talking about Derrick Williams' defense when it often doesn't exist. On the flip side, his desire to prove himself to the Cleveland Cavaliers has produced sporadic situations in which he plays his heart out and makes a positive impact.

    Though Williams' poor score is in part due to his off-ball woes and lack of positional knowledge, he's also a victim of circumstance.

    Both with the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers, he's been tasked with working for units that don't feature the team's key stoppers. He didn't get to share the court with James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside frequently in South Beach, and he's typically worked without LeBron James in his current home. In fact, fewer than 50 percent of his minutes have come alongside the four-time MVP, per nbawowy.

    That said, other players have overcome such situations. Not every contributor tasked with serving as a backup to a defensive stud is a glaring negative, and that's a testament to how limited Williams' activity levels can be at certain times.

No. 2 Power Forward: Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns (901 Defense Score)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-0.49 (No. 183)

    Defensive Points Saved: 0.0 (No. 142)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 5.3 (No. 295)

    On/Off Differential: 5.4 (No. 281)

    As Marquese Chriss gains more experience, he should become one of the league's better defenders at power forward (or center). With spring-loaded legs, great anticipation and a motor that allows him to make multiple jumps in quick succession, he has all the tools you want in a rim-protecting 4.

    However, Chriss is a rookie. And it shows.

    According to's SportVU data, the former Washington Huskies standout is contesting 2.2 shots per game at the hoop and allowing opponents to shoot 56.3 percent. That's the fourth-worst mark on the Phoenix Suns roster, better than only John Jenkins (100 percent on 0.3 attempts per game over the course of four games), Brandon Knight (67.8 percent on 1.1 attempts per game) and T.J. Warren (57.4 percent on 2.2 attempts per game).

    Perhaps even more concerning is Chriss' willingness to allow open jumpers. He's been right around average by allowing 0.99 points per spot-up possession, but opponents have been able to lure him away from the hoop and take advantage of his weakside tendencies in many different situations.

    With time, Chriss will learn. But the learning curve for raw NBA defenders is rough, as he now knows from firsthand experience.

No. 1 Power Forward: Anthony Tolliver, Sacramento Kings (957 Defense Score)

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-0.19 (No. 218)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-19.61 (No. 213)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 4.4 (No. 285)

    On/Off Differential: 3.5 (No. 241)

    "[Anthony] Tolliver has a hard time hanging against opposing starters on defense, but he's fine in a backup role,"'s Zach Lowe wrote about the Sacramento Kings big man, picking him as one of his Luke Walton All-Stars.

    If the Kings were more competitive, Tolliver wouldn't come anywhere near this spot in the rankings. Head coach Dave Joerger would be able to deploy him situationally, where he could use his excessive energy reserves to wreak havoc in a free-flowing system.

    But that's not the case in 2016-17.

    Even before DeMarcus Cousins' departure left a glaring void in the frontcourt, Tolliver was relied upon too frequently. He was often asked to match up against starting power forwards who could take him to task while serving as an offensive focal point. When leading the second unit, there wasn't enough talent around for him to spend his energy in the most advantageous fashion.

    As a result, Tolliver, who doesn't grade out as the worst individual defender at his position, has terrible team-oriented scores. In this competition, that's enough for him to earn the ignominious honor of a No. 1 finish.

No. 5 Center: Marreese Speights, Los Angeles Clippers (758 Defense Score)

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: 0.46 (No. 114)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-25.42 (No. 222)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 0.9 (No. 181)

    On/Off Differential: 3.5 (No. 241)

    It's a bit unfair to ask Marreese Speights to pick up the slack when DeAndre Jordan leaves the court. But that's often the situation he's thrown into for the Los Angeles Clippers, and he's been unable to do so, anchoring a unit that allows an additional 3.5 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.

    Speights has never been a defensive stalwart, and he's particularly exposed in this role.

    Not only does he have trouble guarding mobile bigs who draw him out to the perimeter, but he's a matador around the rim. Without the size or athletic ability to deter players from finishing at the hoop, he helps them shoot 62.7 percent from within six feet. Contrast that against Jordan's 55.2 percent, and it looks even worse.

    Of course, this was expected, and an exchange during a preseason conversation between Clips Nation's Lucas Hann and Golden State of Mind's Bram Kincheloe now looks awfully predictive.

    "The biggest concern for the Clippers has to be Speights' defense. He plays mostly center, but his calling card is his offensive shooting. How much will the Clippers have to cover for him on defense, especially in the pick-and-roll?" Hann asked.

    In response, Kincheloe wrote: "Speights will never be a defensive superstar. All you can ideally hope for is that his offensive prowess negates his defensive shortcomings."

    It often has, but that doesn't change the fact the big man is a glaring defensive minus.

    Honorable Mentions: Andre Drummond, Frank Kaminsky, Meyers Leonard, Mike Muscala, Jonas Valanciunas

No. 4 Center: Spencer Hawes, Milwaukee Bucks (807 Defense Score)

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    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-0.38 (No. 178)

    Defensive Points Saved: 18.71 (No. 98)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 3.2 (No. 260)

    On/Off Differential: 4.7 (No. 271)

    When 7-footers can shoot jumpers and prefer to work outside the paint, they often get hit with the dreaded "soft" label. It's happened countless times, especially in a modern NBA that asks bigs to play a more versatile game on the offensive end.

    Spencer Hawes is no exception. He may even be one of the primary examples.

    Never much of a rebounding threat or a strong interior defender, Hawes lends most of his value as a floor-spacing shooter. Teams are forced to live with his point-preventing inabilities, making them hesitant to leave him alone as the last line of defense.

    This season, that's been true for the 28-year-old center during his tenure with the Charlotte Hornets and, following a midseason trade, his time with the Milwaukee Bucks. In fact, his playing style is so antithetical to head coach Jason Kidd's preferences that Hawes has been rendered almost unplayable, receiving just 41 minutes of run over the course of six games.

    Considering he's allowing 49 percent shooting at the rim with minimal involvement (just 7.7 contested shots per 36 minutes), it's not hard to understand why.

No. 3 Center: Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (819 Defense Score)

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    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-0.7 (No. 207)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-37.17 (No. 247)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: minus-0.8 (No. 108)

    On/Off Differential: 4.0 (No. 257)

    Reputations usually exist for a reason.

    Enes Kanter is a solid defender when his lack of mobility isn't exposed. He has the size and length to contest shots in his immediate vicinity—a poor man's version of what Brook Lopez does for the Brooklyn Nets, for example. But while opponents may shoot worse against him than they typically do, that's partially because he's often uninvolved in the proceedings and can't rotate quickly enough to help his teammates.

    Marina Mangiaracina wrote this for Welcome to Loud City in early January:

    Basically, Kanter has chosen to stand and block his defender instead of going for the rebound every time. But this is not "improvement." It's simply a change in how he plays the game. Kanter's knowledge of where to be on defense is terrible. Kanter's judgement of pick and rolls is terrible. Worst of all? The increased blocks mean increased fouls, and trips to the line for opponents. For every block, Kanter also gives the other team a free trip to the line.

    The individual field-goal percentages and extra rejections may give the impression that Kanter is (finally) improving on defense. But they mask the truth, which is that he's just as porous as ever and finding new ways to give his foes easy points.

No. 2 Center: Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers (856 Defense Score)

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    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.54 (No. 254)

    Defensive Points Saved: 0.0 (No. 142)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 0.7 (No. 171)

    On/Off Differential: 5.8 (No. 289)

    By now, you've probably seen the video where Jahlil Okafor forgets to play defense against the Miami Heat. He sags off a driving Goran Dragic, keeps his arms by his sides instead of contesting the shot and then forgoes any attempt at a defensive rebound so he can avoid interrupting what must be a daydream.

    If you aren't privy to the play in question, take 12 seconds to catch up. It's worth it.

    That play is an exaggeration of Okafor's typical defensive attitude, but it's not too far off. The former Duke center often exerts minimal energy on the non-scoring side, choosing to rest in place before setting up for the next offensive possession. He can't handle almost any type of NBA action, routinely looking vastly overmatched from an athletic standpoint.

    His defense is the reason the Philadelphia 76ers couldn't find a new home for him while shopping him before this season's trade deadline. Even though he's fewer than two seasons removed from becoming a top-three pick in the NBA draft, it's already abundantly clear he doesn't play enough defense to provide much value in the modern Association.

    There's a chance that effort could come in a new location, especially given the way he was handled prior to the deadline—blatantly shopped, sent home and then asked to rejoin the team. But he has a long way to go before even becoming adequate.

No. 1 Center: Channing Frye, Cleveland Cavaliers (1006 Defense Score)

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    Defensive Real Plus/Minus: minus-1.26 (No. 241)

    Defensive Points Saved: minus-34.58 (No. 241)

    Field-Goal Percentage Differential: 2.3 (No. 235)

    On/Off Differential: 5.8 (No. 289)

    It takes a lot of work to be a worse defensive center than Jahlil Okafor in today's NBA, but Channing Frye has succeeded while coming off the Cleveland Cavaliers bench. His sharpshooting abilities and leadership have still made him a playable presence, but he's needed to provide points in bunches to make up for the runs he allows from the other team.

    Frye's work on the interior isn't atrocious. He allows opponents to shoot 50.2 percent at the rim, which is better than quite a few men who line up at the 4 or 5. But as we move further from the basket, his profile starts to worsen.

    Even though Frye spends most of his time at center, opponents know to pull him out of the paint. That's why 15.2 percent of his defensive possessions come against spot-up shooters. On those plays, he's allowing a hideous 1.24 points per possession, which leaves him in the 7.4 percentile.

    This is bad anywhere, but it's awful in a Cleveland scheme designed to deter players from finding spot-up success. Kyrie Irving (14.3 percentile), Jordan McRae (15.7), DeAndre Liggins (38.6) and Iman Shumpert (64.1) are the only other players outside the NBA's top quarter who have spent their entire 2016-17 campaigns in Northeast Ohio.

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, or NBA Math and accurate heading into games Monday, March 13.


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