INSIDER – Question 15 of 20 Questions to Jazz Camp – Is Gordon Hayward as poor a defender as Synergy says?

Today is question 15 of 20 questions to Jazz camp. If you have a question please submit it to me at dlocke@utahjazz.com or via twitter @lockedonsports or facebook Locked on Sports

QUESTION 15 – Is Synergy Sports correct that Gordon Hayward is a poor defensive player?

According to Synergy Sports, Gordon Hayward ranks as one of the least good defensive players in the NBA. In this sense, John Hollinger relayed accurate information.

Even, John said he was a little doubtful to this data. Synergy Sports is a wonderful tool, but has some serious liabilities. The essence of Synergy is to assign each play to an offensive and defensive player. However, this leaves about 30% of the plays unaccounted for.

In addition, if a player is the ball handler on the pick and roll comes off the pick into the lane and makes a gorgeous pass to a teammate for a bucket. The play is assigned to the player that scored and likely the defender guarding that player. The point guard and his defender are not mentioned in this play.

For example, if Andre Iguodala has the ball and is trying to beat Gordon Hayward one on one and Hayward stymies him forcing Iguodala to pass out to his teammate who then takes the shot, Gordon is not credited with any defensive presence on the play according to synergy. Gordon is only in the play when the player he is guarding shots.

Understanding this aspect of synergy you can have a better understanding of these numbers. The four most common plays Gordon has been involved in where he is assigned to be the defender are spot up shots, pick and roll guarding the ball, isolation and guarding someone off a screen. Delving into these specifics might explain Gordon’s defensive ranking.

On Spot up shots Gordon has really poor measurable numbers. His man shot 44% on three’s last season (48 of 109). The Jazz defensive philosophy has always been to get the ball out of the lane and Gordon seems to have been victimized on these plays. Spot ups that are not three point shots opponents only shot 15 of 51 (29%). These make me believe it has to do with the defensive systems as much as Gordon. When he leaves his man to help and has to get back to his man behind the three point line the Jazz are getting beat, but when he is guarding someone who takes a mid range spot up he is on him and he misses.

In the Spurs series, Gordon is guarding Stephen Jackson, Josh Howard leaves Tony Parker wide open so Gordon goes to Parker and Parker pass to Jackson, Gordon can’t back in time, Jackson hits a three and it goes as a three against Gordon. Frankly, this is how numbers are stupid. Another play, Parker blows by Harris in transition, Hayward steps off Danny Green to cut off the penetration and Parker hits Green for a three, it is on Hayward. I would take these numbers with a grain of salt. I can give you another 10 examples but why bore you.

On pick and roll with the ball handler Gordon ranks in the middle of the NBA pack. Players shot 49.5% and committed turnovers on 15% of the plays. I watched the synergy film on some of these plays (the best part of Synergy). In the playoffs, Tim Duncan set picks on Gordon he was unable to get free off and his player got very good looks. If Gordon has a weakness on pick and roll is that he is big and gets stuck on the pick and then has a hard time recovering. The smaller quicker ball handler causes him more difficulty. He also gets very little help from the bigs. When the player turns the corner the Jazz bigs showed very little resistance to the ball handler. An opponent ran a pick and roll to the baseline. Gordon got caught up on the pick and Jefferson now had to be the wall on the baseline, but the ball handler back pedaled him to the basket for an easy two.

On the isolation plays again Gordon doesn’t rank very well. Opponents scored on 49% of the plays and shot 49% on the shots. This is not what I remember from last season. So I went to Synergy to see where this ranking comes from. For the most part, I saw a very good defender. He rarely fouls he stays in front of the ball handler almost all of the time. He struggled miserably against a red hot Eric Gordon in New Orleans, but Kevin Durant missed 4 straight shots against him in isolation sets and Kobe was just 1 for 3. Overall, I thought he was very good, only against Eric Gordon and Dwyane Wade did I feel he was overmatched. The numbers in this case are hard to dispute.

Off the screen defensively Gordon is very good. He ranks 23rd best defender in the NBA when his player comes off a screen. This is his athleticism and his length. Opponents hit just 36% of those shots and in contrast to spot up three’s they were just 6 of 22. This is interesting because these plays Gordon has to hold to his man and is not playing team concepts as he would in pick and roll or spot ups and he holds his ground very well.

Watching synergy, Gordon is able to stay tethered to his man very well. He gets through traffic and is still able to affect a shot. Again, so much of this is based on help defense. Manu set up Gordon perfectly and beat him on a tight curl, but Millsap met him in the middle and altered his shot and he missed, Gordon gets credit for the miss.

He is also very good defending in the post and on hand offs.

After watching a few hours of film I have three takeaways to Gordon Hayward’s defense. First and most importantly, he battles on every play, I didn’t see a single play where I thought he didn’t give all the effort needed on that possession. Second, he is a good defender who at times is a very good defender. Lastly, his only deficiency that was really noticeable is on the pick and roll against a smaller player he has a hard time getting off the pick and getting back to the quicker guard. If I had 5 players on the floor who defended like Gordon I would have a top 10 defensive team in the NBA.

The most important take-away I have from this article is Synergy Sports is a horrendous way to evaluate an individual defender’s overall performance. Defense is a team concept and this by definition isolates everything to a single individual and that is a fool hearty attempt. Synergy has great value and is a wonderful tool, however this is not where its value lies.