Just by watching your typical NBA game, one thing that immediately stands out is how some players simply try harder than others – be it by running faster, putting their bodies on the line for loose balls or anything else that requires high effort – on the less glamorous end of the floor.
And thanks to the advanced level of statistics that the NBA is gracious enough to share with fans and media on the league website, we can actually try and decipher which players are running harder on defense and which reserve their top-end speed for offensive purposes, which could have a lot to do with the roles given to them by their specific teams.
For clarity, this includes speed in half-court sets and in transition opportunities.
Checking out the rankings based on our research, the Top 20 players who run the fastest on defense in relation to their average speed on offense – we’re calling it the defense-versus-offense effort ratio – is filled with guys who are known for being high-energy point-stoppers, including the likes of OG Anunoby, Matisse Thybullle, Avery Bradley, Jevon Carter and the No. 1 finisher on the list, Oklahoma City guard Luguentz Dort, who has made waves defensively in his first year with the club:
There are a few surprises on the list, namely Enes Kanter, Hassan Whiteside and Kevin Porter Jr. who aren’t known for going all out on defense, but overall, this defensive effort ratio we created gives a pretty good indication of which guys may simply be trying harder on the point-preventing end of the floor than they are on offense.
Dort finishing No. 1 comes as no surprise to anyone who has closely watched the Thunder this campaign, as Oklahoma City veterans and coaches have raved about the rookie’s defensive effort. Steven Adams had this to say about Dort in early August after a game where the first-year guard made life difficult for LeBron James:
“‘He’s an animal. It’s all the small stuff. Making them start their offense at a later clock, which rushes them more. It’s all that small stuff that is so good. It will help out tremendously in the playoffs.'”
In Game 2 of the matchup between Oklahoma City and the Houston Rockets, we saw the level of impact Dort has on defense for the Thunder, as the Arizona State product pestered and hounded former league MVP James Harden all game long:
Lu Dort’s defense on James Harden is some of the best defense I have ever seen on James Harden.
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) August 20, 2020
Harden finished the evening with a mere (by his standards) 21 points on 5-of-16 shooting, though with Dort guarding him, per NBA.com, he had just nine points, converting only one of his seven field-goal attempts in those possessions.
Teammates took notice of Dort’s impact on the defensive end for that contest:
Darius Bazley on Lu Dort: “Lu brought it. He made it extremely difficult for Harden to get into a rhythm.”
The Thunder lost, but their undrafted rookie playing better defense on the league’s leading scorer than anyone has all year was a big win.
— Brandon Rahbar (@BrandonRahbar) August 21, 2020
Dort’s defensive chops already as a rookie give him huge upside on that end of the floor, and as long as he continues to play as hard on the point-stopping side of things as our defensive-effort ratio indicates, he’ll continue to see even more minutes for Oklahoma City.