Kris Humphries: Defensive Wizard?

Kris Humphries: Defensive Wizard?

We’ve seen it all and more from Kris Humphries at this point. Big slam dunks. Huge chasedown blocks. The hustle that Humphries brings to this team is underappreciated nightly by most folks who doesn’t respect that New Jersey uniform. When asked about him, the most common response is “oh, he’s that guy that dates Kim, right?”

He is. But he’s been so much more. After last Friday night’s career game – 19 points, no missed shots, and a career-high 20 rebounds – it marked the second time that the Hump had outplayed his Clippers counterpart, superstar and known car-jumper Blake Griffin. Back in November, the Hump held Griffin to just 11 points and just and three rebounds (none on the defensive end) in 30 foul-plagued minutes. It was, according to Basketball-Reference, Blake’s lowest “game score” of the season.

Until that Clippers game, my general view of Humphries was that he wasn’t a particularly good defender – he doesn’t rotate well and isn’t quick enough to defend most power forwards. However, after seeing him play yet another great game against a guy that most players seem to be deathly afraid of, I decided to look a little deeper into the numbers, because, after all, I’m an idiot.

Sure enough, I found that the Hump is actually a much better defender than I’d expected.

Other than just the wildly powerful blocks – and there have been dozens of those, with victims ranging from LaMarcus Aldridge to Eric Maynor to Lou Amundson to Robin Lopez – I wanted to know how he actually performed against other power forwards. Sure enough, a look at bore out the idea that Humphries is actually a very solid defender. Hump’s PER at the power forward position is a very good 18.6, averaging 16.7 points and 17.7 rebounds per 48 minutes on 52% shooting. Opponents at the 4 average more points per 48 (19.1), but on worse shooting (48.2%) and don’t rebound the ball nearly as much (10.7). This adds up to a player efficiency rating of a below average 14.6 for his opponents. That’s a four-point PER advantage for Humphries.

The other metrics seem to bear this out. Humphries has seen the majority of his defense in the post, and while he’s not a top-tier defender, he’s certainly been impressive. According to Synergy Sports Technology, in 113 post defense possessions Humphries has allowed just 0.81 points per possession, holding opponents to just 42% shooting and forcing 11 turnovers. Over the course of the season, Humphries has shown that he’s capable of using his wide upper body to defend backdowns, as well as his surprisingly agile feet to cut off quick moves. He’s not great by any measure, but he’s pretty good – definitely better than I’d expected.

But the numbers that really surprised me were the ones in isolation.

Humphries has utterly shut down opponents in isolation sets this season. He’s shut down players in isolation at every position – literally, he’s been switched onto little guys like Steve Nash & Jose Calderon, to wings like Carmelo Anthony and Tayshaun Prince, to bigs like Carlos Boozer, Dirk Nowitzki, & David West, and he’s stopped all of them.

(Yes, Blake Griffin too.)

Perhaps opponents think they can score on him in isolation, but he’s got quicker hands and feet than nearly everyone expects, and most guys just end up throwing up bad shots when they’re unable to create good looks.

The numbers don’t lie: in iso, Humphries is allowing just 19-71 shooting (26.8%) and has forced eight turnovers. That adds up to just 0.6 points per possession. That’s, obviously, one of the best marks in the NBA.

It’s certainly strange that a guy who’s so well known for dating a superstar outside of basketball can play like the polar opposite – the dude just busts his butt constantly on both sides of the floor. While that adds up to an efficient – albeit low-usage – player on the offensive side, it’s weirdly the defense that he’s shown that he can stick with some of the best players in the NBA. I still have questions about his rotations – the Nets aren’t a great defensive team, and he’s got a lion’s share of that responsibility – but there’s no question that the guy has ramped it up on the defensive side of the floor.