The Post’s Fred Kerber yesterday wrote a quick article Wednesday about how Stephen Graham relishes being the team’s “defensive stopper,” and it got me thinking. Yes, there are players throughout NBA history who have deservedly developed a reputation for being all defense and no offense (Bruce Bowen comes to mind), but oftentimes, at least as it pertains to Nets history (ahem, Trenton Hassell), when someone is labeled a “stopper” it has more to do with the coach’s perception rather than actual reality. Considering the most memorable defensive play Graham has made this season involved fouling the Thunder’s Jeff Green on a three-point attempt at the end of a double overtime in early December, allowing OKC to tie and eventually win the game in triple OT, I wanted to look at some statistical indicators to see if I can debunk Avery’s logic.
What the numbers show is a mixed bag, some good things some bad, though I’m ultimately leaning towards saying that Graham, at least statistically, is not that asset on the defensive end he is perceived to be. First the good. According to 82games.com’s opponent counterpart numbers, when Graham is on the court, opposing SGs are averaging 20.9 points per 48 minutes, on a .407 effective field goal percentage and a Player Efficiency Rating of 10.6. That’s really solid.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For the season, when Graham is on the court, Nets opponents score 111.9 points per 100 possessions and when he’s off the court, the team allows 108.1 points per 100 possessions. Considering that until recently, the bulk of Graham’s playing time has come with the second stringers, that’s not a promising indicator. Meanwhile, when Graham is playing with the starters (Devin Harris, Travis Outlaw, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez), the team is allowing opponents to score 111 points per 100 possessions. For a sense of context, that would be the worst defensive efficiency rating in the NBA if that Nets maintained that rate for an entire game.
Meanwhile, Graham continues to be a deterrent offensively. He’s averaging 8.8 points per 40 minutes on 36 percent shooting, good for a PER of 5.58. I know with Anthony Morrow injured, the Nets are very thin at SG, but if Graham is not going to make that much of an impact defensively when he plays, the team would be better off grabbing a D-Leaguer for the bench and starting Sasha Vujacic at the two. Johnson’s insistence to keep rolling with Graham despite what the numbers say is reminiscent of the Lawrence Frank era when it seemed like players were rewarded with playing time for having good practices, rather than good performances in games. I guess that builds player morale, but it’s no way to win games.