Does having a top 5 NBA defensive ranking win teams championships? Yes, of course, more than any single factor to the game. NBA defense in the playoffs is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.
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Defense wins championships is not just a saying
Every single championship team has been good in NBA defensive rankings. If you aren’t good defensively in the playoffs, you will lose, this is how I knew the Brooklyn Nets as currently constructed weren’t getting out of the Eastern Conference.
The NBA playoffs are about stopping your opponent from scoring. Scoring the ball is important, but not that important. NBA defense and then protecting the ball, not turning it over, are the two most important factors to championship success.
If you can’t stop your opponent, you’ve lost before the series even begins. Your opponent will get stops and when you can’t, well, you get it.
The importance of these rankings are accurate and verifiable every single season that NBA basketball has been played.
Bucks vs Suns
As the Bucks and Suns prepare for the 2021 NBA Finals, lets delve into the basics. I have had people say things like “in the NBA, defense winning championships is nonsense”.
I can’t believe that their are fans out there that spend a good portion of their days talking about basketball and they don’t know it doesn’t matter how good your offense is if you’re not good defensively in the playoffs. This is what is nonsense.
It’s unbelievable, just shocking. This is basketball fundamentals people, NBA 101. How does this happen? It’s impossible to have this opinion and still have a valid take on the NBA. I find this nonsense embarrassing and I almost feel sorry for these fans but that disappears when I attempt to breakdown NBA defensive rankings to these people and they act like I’m the one with misguided facts.
Every single season can’t be wrong
I tell them that every single season the NBA champions have been at least very good with the eye test and in the defensive rankings, especially playoff stats.
2021 is another season that backs every other season ever. The Milwaukee Bucks (109.6) have the 10th best offense in the playoffs (109.6) and the Phoenix Suns have the 11th best offense (109.4) this postseason.
The Suns and Bucks are 1st and 2nd in NBA defensive rankings in the 2021 playoffs though.
NBA defensive rating
When I refer to NBA defensive rankings for the playoffs, I’m not looking at NBA DEFENSIVE RATINGS. This is not because the numbers don’t remain true to my argument. It’s because defensive ratings can be deceiving in many occasions.
The team ratings aren’t as bad as the rating for individual players, but because the individual ratings can be so misleading, I shy away from NBA defensive ratings altogether to remain balanced and true.
Player defensive ratings
A player like Ben Simmons, who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA and guards elite players at four different positions, could have a worse NBA defensive rating than a much lesser defender. A player who isn’t even a good defender at all in some cases.
Sometimes Simmons guards multiple elite defenders without help. An example of this is a game from January against the Los Angeles Lakers when he was guarding LeBron James for most of the game but during key possessions would be guarding Anthony Davis too.
A player who isn’t a good defender could have a better rating than Simmons because he is purposely either hidden on the defensive end like Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics or Allen Iverson.
Sometimes a player isn’t hidden within the defense but they will be placed much of the time on an offensive player who can’t really break a defender down or doesn’t have much of an offensive game.
When this happens, it makes it appear that the player who’s team and coaching staff are desperately trying to cover up his defensive flaws is as good or better than a great and versatile defender like Ben Simmons.
I’ve seen this in many individual player NBA defensive ratings, it’s why they can’t be depended on. The NBA isn’t MLB baseball, where almost all of the analytics reign true to fact and stats.
When it says in baseball that a player is good or bad at this or that, it isn’t deceiving you in anyway. It is flawed and inaccurate however, when it comes to the NBA’s defense.
NBA defensive rankings
The NBA defensive rankings that truly matter are opponent’s points-per-game and opponent field goal percentage. These stats don’t lie.
After that rebounding and how many times you make the opponent turn the ball over come next in judging a teams championship chances. Much more important than forcing turnovers is protecting the ball and not turning it over yourself. Point dufferential is also a vital tool in ascertaining a teams championship chances.
It’s the opponents points-per-game and field goal percentage that really take precedence though. The eye test is also important and knowing who the personal on the court is. How good of defenders are they.
Someone else said to me recently “did I think that think 2020 Lakers were champions because of their defense“.
Yes of course I did. He wasn’t actually inquiring on my opinion, but the 2020 Lakers had Dwight Howard, LeBron james, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, and KCP. These are all defensive basketball players. Some of them truly great at playing NBA defense.
The 2001 Lakers were defending NBA champions and had an NBA defensive rating that was ranked 21st in the league. Someone felt compelled to let me know this thinking of a team having to be in the top 5 in NBA defensive rankings was false and they were setting me straight. Too bad they weren’t equipped with the knowledge to set me straight.
Some advice on 2001 Lakers
I don’t like team ratings, but for arguments sake, the 2000 Lakers had the best NBA defensive rating in the league. The 2001 team was even better because they had Rick Fox at small forward who is a top-notch defender.
He was part of the 2000 championship team too, but Glen Rice started on that team and he wasn’t known as a defender. The western conference in 2001 was one of the most talented conferences over the last 25 years.
Seven teams in the west won 50 games or more. This gets lost somewhat today by the way the Lakers dominated the western conference playoffs. They went undefeated with a 12-0 record.
Their players were defensive players. Shaq, Kobe, Fox, Fisher, Horace Grant, Ron Harper and Robert Horry. In the 2001 postseason the Los Angeles Lakers were fresh because they were talented enough to not play hard defense in the regular season and still have the 2nd best record in the west.
When a team wins a championship like the Lakers did the previous season, they know what it takes to win. So they didn’t kill themselves in the regular season. In the 2001 playoffs, the Lakers had the best NBA team rating and there wasn’t a close second. Their rating was 97.9, it doesn’t get much better than that.