Jeremy Lin’s Defense Far Better than Reported

(Photo: REUTERS/Bill Waugh)

If you read most accounts of Jeremy Lin’s game from those that cover basketball, most of the praise, if not all, will be emphasized on the offensive side of the ball, such as his propensity and great ability to drive to the rim, good passing skills, high basketball IQ, great touch around the basket and above average outside shooting. When discussing Lin’s defense those same accounts would usually rate his defensive ability as below average. Most will not go as far to say he is horrible, although some do, but they will note that definitely lacking the lateral foot speed and overall quickness to defend his position well. 

This idea of Lin being a below average defender was reinforced last season with the Houston Rockets when he lost his starting position to Patrick Beverley, some of the reasons were because he was a better fit with the starting unit and there was redundancy in skill set with Harden and Lin. The main reason however, was defense, not necessarily because Lin was sub par, but because Beverley was an elite defender; of course that  was not how many assessed the situation and many did feel that Lin’s defense was in fact, sub par and what led to him losing his starting spot. In a Sheridan Hoops article from April of this year it stressed the point of Lin’s lackluster defense, following an injury to Beverley that would keep him out weeks, the headline read “Jeremy Lin won’t cut it for Rockets with Patrick Beverley out.” The article closed with the following line: 

“Strong perimeter defense is going to be vital no matter what in the first round of the playoffs, but the Houston Rockets having Jeremy Lin in there defending the elite guards in the West just isn’t going to cut it.”

 

Lin not cutting it on defense was by and large, the consensus opinion, but when we look at many of the defensive statistics that most reference from last year’s Houston Rocket team it would seem that the difference in the Rockets defensive ability with Jeremy Lin on the court versus when having Beverly on the court was nominal.

Lin Beverly Main Def Stats

 

*stats source: Basketball-Reference.com

While the defensive numbers from last season do reflect a defensive improvement with Beverley on the court, it is slight and nowhere near the picture of huge disparity that many have painted.

What might influence people’s judgement regarding the impact of Beverley’s defensive versus that of Lin’s is the good old eyeball test. The energy and intensity with which Beverley exerts on defense is starkly different to that of Lin as you can see from the following video:

Active hands, active feet, picking up the ball handler full court, staying in defensive position, constantly staying involved even when his defender doesn’t have the ball and tremendous energy is what you see from Beverly on a nightly basis and is why it is understandable that he receives such high praise around the league for his defense; it is also why by comparison Lin appears sub par. To be fair, most guards in the NBA would look sub par if we compare game film side by side with Beverly, but setting the bar at his level does a disservice to Lin’s defensive ability which is actually very good. Here is a 9 minute video but I focus on just the first 3 minutes:

What you notice within the first two plays of the video is that Lin does not move well laterally which allows Tony Parker to get a step on him but because Lin does not give up on the play, chasing Parker, he is able to recover and Parker has to give up the ball.

In the 3rd play, you see Lin chase his man who is playing off the ball, fighting through screens and catching up to meet his man when he receives the ball.

At the 1:20 mark in the video you see how Lin drops to the level of the ball when it goes below the free throw line and then when the ball goes back out to the perimeter he darts back to guard his man, Kendall Marshall, in time to meet him when he receives the ball and defends him all the way to the basket, ultimately causing the turnover.

The following play, you see Lin, who is 6’3 and 200 lbs, guard the 6’8 forward, Trevor Ariza, and stands his ground in the post, inducing a charging foul.

The constant theme of the 9 minute video, and any other bit of game film you’ll review, is Lin consistently working hard on defense and making plays. That is Lin on the defensive end, a tireless worker who makes up what he lacks in quickness and lateral movement with effort, size and smarts. No, he doesn’t move with the fleetness and tenacity of Beverly, but not many do and should not be considered a knock on Lin.

Going back to the numbers

 

While our eyes tell us that Beverley is the superior defender, as with the numbers we looked at earlier, the statistics don’t reflect the disparity that we see in the visual evidence.

Lin Synergy Stats

Beverly Synergy Stats

 

 *Stats source: Synergy Sports

Beverley possessing the greater defensive physical tools to Lin, we see how that translates to performing better defensively when placed in isolation. Beverly ranked 18th in the entire NBA in opponents points per possession when defending in isolation sets, compared to Lin who ranked 109th. What should be noted is that defending isolation plays account for less than 12 percent in either Lin or Beverly’s case; therefore, Beverley’s advantage in this area does not have a big impact overall.

By far the type of play that both Lin and Beverley are involved in most frequently is defending the ball handler in the pick and roll. In the case with Beverley, he spent 51.7 percent of time defending the ball handler in pick and roll sets and his man shot 40.4 percent and scored 0.82 points per possession. Lin defending the same type of play 42.3 percent of the time, did better by limiting his defender to shooting 38.8 percent from the field and scoring 0.80 points per possession.

In the 2nd most frequent play that both Lin and Beverley defended last year was the spot up shot and again, Lin fared better, in this case, far better. In a little more than a quarter of the overall plays defended, Lin allowed his opponent to shoot 33.2 percent from the field and score at a clip of 0.87 points per possession. Beverley’s intensity wasn’t much help in defending the perimeter as his man shot 44.6 percent in spot up situations and gave up 1.13 points per possession which ranked 270th in the NBA. Shooters were especially efficient when shooting behind the 3 point line against Beverley, shooting a robust 45.1 percent.

Per Synergy Sports, Lin was actually the more effective defender with a total opponent points per possession of 0.86 and opponents shooting of 36.8 percent versus Beverley’s 0.88 points per possession and 40.7 opponent field goal percentage.

The difficulty with trying to make sense of individual defensive stats is that there are so many variables involved that skew the results, such as the offensive strength of the opponent and the other 4 players that help defend. While the presented statistics seem to say that Lin and Beverly have about equal impact defensively, I want to try to eliminate as many variables as possible and attempt to compare apples to apples. I take a look at the defensive rating of Lin and Beverley when lined up with the same four Rocket players. Luckily for this comparison, the two most frequently used line ups for the Rockets last season were the same four Rockets (Howard, Parsons, Harden and Terrence Jones), the only difference being Lin and Beverley as the point guard.

Lin Beverly with four

*Stat source: nba.com/stats

**The sample size for the Rockets four with Lin is 327 minutes and 620 minutes with Beverley. 

When we we isolate Lin and Beverley with the same surrounding cast we see a little bit more separation in the defensive numbers, but still nothing that points to there being a huge disparity with the two players. While we see that the Rockets gave up 2.5 points less per 100 possessions with Beverley at the point there was only a net difference in +/- of 0.6 which is inconsequential.

Whether it is Lin’s physical appearance, demeanor or his style of play on defense in contrast to that of Beverley, something causes his defensive effectiveness and ability to be undervalued and underrated by the masses. Case in point, just posted in an article 5 days ago, NBA.com columnist, John Schuhmann,  had thoughts about Lin’s defense which are inline with popular belief to this point.

 “But the personnel won’t be any better this season. They’ve added noted defensive liabilities Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer to their rotation along with rookie Julius Randle and 36-year-old Kobe Bryant, who is coming off of two leg injuries and who played some pretty terrible weak-side defense the last time he was healthy. Bad defensive personnel and a coach with a bad defensive history. For the second straight season, opposing offenses are going to love facing the Lakers.”

As both the video and the actual results of Lin’s effectiveness on defense from last season will show, Lin is actually a very good NBA defender for his position and not a defensive liability as John Schuhmann will lead you to believe.

If the bar for elite defense at the point guard position is Patrick Beverley, a member of the 2014 All-Defensive 2nd team, Lin was comparable in many areas and the difference in the overall results were negligible. In fact, Lin was actually more effective on defense last season in the 2 type of plays that consisted of the mass majority of sets each player defended (Ball handler pick and roll, spot up shot.)

The conclusion based on the actual facts is that while it might not appear to our eyes at first glance, Lin is not only a very good, smart and hard working NBA defender at his position, he actually held his own against one of the best in the league in terms of actual results on the court. I too was guilty of making the same assessment as most having not sat down and studied the data and actually watched more than just an occasional game throughout the season, but when I did it was apparent. Even Lin’s new coach, Byron Scott, whose job as coach is to study and know about every player’s ability in the league was surprised at Lin’s defensive ability.

“Defensively, the thing that I thought was going to be his biggest downfall, was something that I thought that he really competed at, in the times I coached against him. I am a Jeremy Lin fan.” Scott stated in an interview with the Lakers network, Time Warner Cable Sportsnet.

Lin finally seems to have the perfect situation to dispel his reputation as a below average defender. He’ll have massive amount of exposure by way of playing for the most popular team in the NBA that gets the most national coverage of any team. More so than the national coverage, the local media in Los Angeles is expansive and meticulous, so Lin’s game will be comprehensively picked apart all season long by an every growing list of beat writers, analyst and bloggers. He will be led by a coach that preaches defense first which has escaped Lin in his career. As of right now it seems that he’ll have a starting position for the Lakers. The stage is set for Lin to turnaround the masses and the misconception of his defensive ability, like it was with Byron Scott and myself. you just need to pay close attention and him now being a Laker, he’ll definitely get that.

– Fern Rea

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Writer & NBA fan who’s been hooked since the days of Magic v Bird. Love basketball debates without it ending in a knife fight. My BBall nickname: “Todo El Dia” (All Day.) Hit me up on Twitter @fullcourtfern or Instagram: @raining3sdotcom
  • doogame

    Great – Objective vs the usual subjective sports writing seen in Houston and propagated around the league.

  • Tarvaris Hixon

    Well that was shocking. Didnt know Lin played D like that. Boy hustles.

  • 888sneakerstreet.com

    Great article! The videos do show that Lin is very involved in defense, but he tends to lose his assignment. He allows his man to make the first move and then he reacts to it. Very different from Beverly who has a more traditional style of trying to stop his man from doing what he wants to do and beat his man to the spot he is trying to get to which disrupts the offense from getting started. Lin may look comparable on paper and stats, but Beverly keeps his assignment on defense longer than Lin and does not require chasing of adjustments as much as Lin does. Lin’s defense may be ok on paper/stats, but the impact on the floor is not dependable. By the way, I am a big JLin fan and Laker fan, but I have my concerns like everyone else.

    • wu kong

      impact on the floor? uh that stats clearly show impact on the floor. what are you talking about dependable? please re-read the article.

      Pbev hustles and looks energetic but the goal of defense is to reduce the opposition points. JLin has a slight edge on Pbev in the highest % used category pick and roll handler defense…

      • 888sneakerstreet.com

        “impact on the floor? uh the stats clearly show impact on the floor. what are you talking about dependable? please re-read the article.”

        It is clear that you’ve never played organized ball in your life. Since when do overall season team stats “clearly show” anything about an individual player? Maybe scouts shouldn’t even watch players play and just stare at stats! LOL It is entirely possible that stats at the team level can be impacted by other players on the floor also because basketball has FIVE players on the floor from each team…yes, FIVE!

        Sorry, Kong. I can’t even acknowledge this argument as valid. Now, go back to class and pay attention.

        • KMC

          Offense is about scoring more points than your opponent, defense is about limiting your opponent’s scoring so they score less points than you do. Why is it so hard for some people to grasp??!!

        • and1

          You just need to watch the recent Rockets – Blazers series. Beverley was constantly lit up by Lillard, whereas Lin was able to hold Lillard in check. In fact, in game 6, Lin held Lillard to zero point in the entire 4th quarter, & McFail replaced Lin with Beverley with less than 1 sec left on the shot clock with the Rockets leading by 2. What happened next was history. All you need to do is just watch the whole series and apply your usual eye-ball test then tell me who was more effective in containing Lillard.

          The problem with Beverley’s way of defending is he is very foul-prone. It’s pretty obvious that he fouled Curry a few times in the above short video alone. Besides, he usually lost his man at the 3pt line. He also has problem accelerating i.e. keeping pace with his man when changing direction. You just need to watch the first Rockets Lakers game last season to see how old man Nash was able to exploit his shortcoming with a simple screen and was able to slowly dribble past him easily on multiple occasions, lol. Last but not least, Beverley’s full court pressure defense almost always caused him to expend too much energy that he had little left towards the end of the game when it matters most, and that’s when guys like Curry or Lillard ate him for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

          • p452833

            Right on bro, Beverley is a hustler not a good defender at all, you can find plenty hustlers in girl’s junior high bball games, not in NBA, and if you ask any players who has been guarded by Beverley, they will tell you how they feel about Beverley’s defense – Beverley who?

  • Noah Miller

    I am not going to say that I dont believe the stats, but I find it hard to believe. I see with my eyes that Lin is nowhere near the defender of Beverley, but apparently it doesnt show in the stats, at least for last season. At the very least I come away thinking Lin is better at defense than I thought, but I still think he isnt that good.

    • Chipdip

      That is called bias. We all have bias somewhat. Lets wait for the new season to see how good or bad his defense is.

    • p452833

      That’s probably you don’t know the difference between an rookie amateur player’s hustling and a sophisticated pro player’s defense.

  • wu kong

    The problem with the eye test on defense is explained very well in this article: more at link

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/813678-nba-power-rankings-defensively-ranking-every-starting-point-guard-in-the-nba/page/6

    “So the question becomes, what makes a good defender? Let’s return to the notion that the purpose of defense is to prevent the opponent from scoring. I point this out because 90 percent of good defense will never be on a highlight reel. Good defense is boring.

    Defense that makes highlight reels is usually a player getting up in another player’s grill and keeping him from being able to dribble. Or else it’s a player shooting for the steal and starting a fast break. I’m not saying that’s not good defense, I’m saying that’s the 10 percent you see, but it misses the other 90 percent of defense.

    A player can have that 10 percent but be missing out on the other 90 percent while another player may be proficient at the other 90 percent and not the 10 percent on highlight reels Therefore basing concepts of what “good defense” is on what you saw on Sportscenter is insufficient.

    For the most part, 70 percent of scoring by point guards is from outside the paint. Most of what you see on the highlights is defense which prevent penetration. Stopping penetration only accounts for 30 percent of all defensive plays.

    This is really important because based on highlights we are programmed to think of good defense as stopping the dribble, but that ignores the bulk of defensive plays. Good defense is stopping the dribble on the one hand, but also stopping the jump shot the other 70 percent of the time.

    Players can cheat to stop the dribble playing too far off the ball. They create the illusion of being good defensive players by doing so, but that allows for the ball handler to step back and take wide open jump shots. Seeing how that accounts for the other 70 percent of defense cheating away from the ball is bad defense.

    Players can also err the other way. They can get too far up into a players grill. They shoot the gap and go for steals. Sometimes that has a positive effect. Other times though, and more frequently, they end up gambling too much and getting beat.

    They end up behind the ball carrier which is a bad place to be, and for every steal there is there is two times the ball carrier scores.You won’t see those plays on SportsCenter though.

    A good defender plays the right distance from the ball handler. Far enough away to keep in front of him, but close enough that he can get a hand in the opponent’s face and challenge jump shots. The best defenders will have both a low points per play against on isoloation plays and a low opponent’s field goal percentage.”

  • pwizo

    damn thats a great article. haters gonna hate. Lins D has always been good.

  • Hans

    Great article! Indeed Jeremy is such a unique player that the traditional “eyeball test” isn’t held accountable. I’ve always, always thought that Jeremy has played a huge role in directing the opposing PG to where the defensive scheme is setup to be. Jeremy also has that knack for taking charges, especially during crunch time. Love that.

    BTW, the only PG that have consistently outplayed Jeremy I’ve seen since his rise is Chris Paul. Lilliard is also very good in that regard, but I thought Jeremy did a tremendous job limiting him as well (not shutting it down, but limiting to its most effective way). For the rest of the PGs, they could get a head start in the first step but Jeremy could recover most of the time with his effort and length, just as described in this article.

    • p452833

      I totally agree with you, but Cp3 plays dirty and always get superstar calls from refs.

  • Stacy Kielman

    Very enlightening. I think what this article does is help casual fans understand a little more about what makes a good defensive player. We obviously get fooled by the way a player looks and his demeanor, and then prejudge their defensive ability, as in this Lin and Beverley comparison.

    Lin, asian, not that athletic by NBA standards, so he cant defend. Beverly, athletic, quick, relentless, so he’s a good defender. Then we see highlights of a guy like Beverley hound a guy on defense, the announcers rave about it and we now are convinced of our initial thoughts. But in reality, defense is more than hounding a guy with the ball and stopping dribble penetration because as we see by the stats, teams really arnt attacking that way for most of the game.

    A good defender, like Lin, will make certain he’ll guard the shooter on the perimeter and fight through screens to guard the ball handler in the pick and roll, but those plays we dont see on highlights because they arent spectacular.

    Great piece and eyeopening.

  • Fern Rea

    Thanks for reading.

    This piece was not to determine who is the better defender between Lin and Beverley. It was to bring to light Lin’s effectiveness on defense and I used Patrick Beverley for comparison
    because he is considered by most reputable basketball people to be a great defender at his position, as his 2nd time all-defensive team recognition will back that point. Therefore, if in the comparison Lin fares well (which he certainly did) to a known great defender the conclusion would be that Lin too is on or near the same level as a defender. Whether you feel Lin is as good or better or nearly as good as a 2nd team all NBA defender really isn’t
    the point of this comparison, its that Lin is far from a poor, below average or defensive liability which unfortunately, is his reputation. I hope that is what you take away from this piece.

    • p452833

      There is no doubt that Lin is 100 times better defender than Beverley, the misconception of the reverse is most likely because McHale and Morey wants to prove that they let go of Lin on Dec. 2011 was the right move, but they can’t say Lin’s offense is not good, and may be Haren (no “d” Harden) doesn’t like Lin took the glamour away from him, so they used every thing to remove Lin from startup.

  • Jetty

    Great article!
    Jeremy Lin’s defense is above average. He is not a “pest” on defense or annoys the heck out of the opponents like how P.Bev. does but he is just as good in other areas of defense. And it’s only going to get better with each passing seasons as with his other skills – ball handling, left-hand attacks, post-up moves, etc. He is learning. He is improving. We have seen it… because we, the Lin-fans, have followed him very closely. Lin is on every team’s scouting report, unlike P.Bev. When you annoy your opponents on defense then what goes around, comes around. Like all challenging sports, basketball in not only very physical but also mental. This coming season, Lin will be in a better state of mind playing for the Lakers.

  • Todd DelGiudice

    Even the defensive rating needs to be taken with a grain of salt as the lineup with Lin is playing at a higher pace than with Bev – hence the higher rating.

    • Noah Miller

      Not really. Defensive Rating already accounts for that by measuring on a per 100 possessions basis so pace is not really a factor.

  • gefforycook

    Fern, you are a true NBA fan backup your statement with solid data!

  • s003hxy

    Great Article, and this really tell me that we should not believe all that what we read, but to dig in and research for the truth behind.

    • kiki

      the truth behind? i don’t think you dig in and research actually

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  • Ray B

    Wow. Statistically, Lin is a slightly better defender then bev.