During the 2014 Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs’ perimeter defense was dealt the task of having to defend arguably one of the best 1-2 punches currently in the NBA – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. During the six-game series between the Spurs and the Thunder, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was able to utilize two of his best perimeter defenders in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, to switch between guarding Westbrook and Durant for multiple possessions.
Though it took an entire team effort for the Spurs to eliminate the Thunder in six games, a key part to the success was the defensive versatility of Green and Leonard, since they can both guard anywhere from the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward, on any number of possessions in a game together. With the NBA offseason in full swing, I pondered the question, what might be the best Shooting Guard-Small Forward duo in the NBA going into next season? If a team played the Thunder in a series, which team could throw a shooting guard/small forward combo at Westbrook and Durant, or even next season, at LeBron James and Kyrie Irving with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
In order to take a shot at trying to answer the question, I used two different statistical databases from NBA.com/stats and SynegySports.com. Using the NBA.com/stats database, I pulled up 2-man lineups from this past seasons playoff teams focusing in on just the SG/SF positions. I focused in on eight teams, the Spurs for Green (SG) and Leonard (SF), the Charlotte Hornets for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SG) and Gerald Henderson (SF), the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler (SG) and Mike Dunleavy (SF), the Golden State Warriors for Klay Thompson (SG) and Andre Iguodala (SF), the Memphis Grizzlies for Tony Allen (SG) and Courtney Lee (SG/SF), the Portland Trail Blazers for Wesley Matthews (SG) and Nicolas Batum (SF), the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan (SG) and Terrence Ross (SF), and the Los Angeles Clippers for Jamal Crawford (SG) and Matt Barnes (SF).
In the chart below, I’ve gathered each duo’s regular season and Playoff Defensive Ratings, then I added the two numbers together and divided by 2 to get the Combined Average Defensive Rating. A Defensive Rating is how much an opposing team scored against a team or player per 100 possessions. Other playoff teams from last season like the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks were omitted because in the offseason, those teams have either seen some of their shooting guards and small forwards leave elsewhere, or they’ve added new players at those positions.
|SG/SF Duo||Regular Season Defensive Rating||Playoff Defensive Rating||Combined Average Defensive Rating|
If you focus in on the Combined Average Defensive Rating, you’ll see that this is how I listed the teams in the chart, from the lowest (96.15 – the Spurs) to the highest (111.1 – Clippers).
The next chart below shows each duos Combined Overall Defense on a Points Per Possession (PPP) metric from the Synergy Sports database. I took each player’s individual overall defense and added that number to their teammates overall individual defense. For example, Leonard had an overall defensive measurement of 0.80 PPP. Green’s overall defensive measurement was 0.81 PPP. When I added the two numbers together I came out with a combined score of 1.61 PPP between the two.
Now that we’ve included the Synergy data, you can see that three of the Top-4 teams from the previous chart in Combined Defensive Rating area are still amongst the leaders even in combined overall defense – the Spurs, Bulls, and Warriors. However, the Hornets sky rocketed to a poor Overall Defense rating by Synergy’s measurements, while the Clippers moved down to the Top-4. So in order to visually see the correlation between the two sets of data and make your own opinion, I’ve listed where each duo ranked from 1-8 in each of the two charts from above.
|Team Duos||Combined Average Defensive Rating Ranking||Combined Overall Defense (PPP) Ranking|
The rankings reveal the Spurs, Bulls, and Warriors are all within the Top-4 of both sets of data, while the Grizzlies, Blazers, and Raptors hover in the 5-8 ranking range of both sets of data. The two wild cards where the data didn’t necessarily matchup was with the Hornets and Clippers. So, based on the data above, if a team was looking for a duo to try to limit Westbrook and Durant in a playoff series, by a quantitative perspective, one would still likely choose Green and Leonard from the Spurs.
With a new NBA season set to kickoff in October, it’ll be interesting to see how these and the new shooting guard/small forward defensive lineups shake out across the NBA. While the Spurs will return with Leonard and Green, teams like the Hornets will add Lance Stephenson, the Heat will add Luol Deng, the Wizards will add Paul Piece, the Rockets will add Trevor Ariza, and the Dallas Mavericks will add Chandler Parsons. By the time game 82 concludes next April, we should have an idea of who some of the stand out SG/SF lineups are heading into the 2015 playoffs.