The NEC Defensive Player of the Year race is probably the most hotly contested this season. Even though the two-time defending winner Kenneth Ortiz is still in the league – and still playing great defense – there are anywhere from five to 10 players that could legitimately challenge him for the award.
By digging into the effects of each player when they’re on and off the court we can better understand their impact. That can help separate the best defenders from the ones that might benefit from the scheme or players around them. This method certainly isn’t a replacement for the “eye test.” In fact, this list was culled from those players we thought were the best after watching almost all of the 80 NEC games played this season. Though what the numbers reveal is eye-opening.
Four players really stand out when you do the analysis of how their teams perform when they’re on and off the court. They are:
- Naofall Folahan, Wagner: 15.5 points per 100 possessions better
- Rashad Whack, Mount St. Mary’s: 12.9 points per 100 possessions better
- Amdy Fall, St. Francis Brooklyn: 11.1 points per 100 possessions better
- Lucky Jones, Robert Morris: 10.6 points per 100 possessions better
We also considered players such as Mario Moody, Julian Norfleet, Kenneth Ortiz and Stephan Hawkins, but these four stood head and shoulders above everyone else statistically. How do each of them change the game? Let’s take a look.
The theory I have is that it’s Folahan’s ability to protect the rim that really allows the Wagner defense to thrive. Opponents scored just 435 points during the 512 possessions he was on the court during NEC play. That’s absolutely insane. The Wagner defense was still quite good with him off the court, but Folahan helped bring it to another level. How? By protecting the rim like few other players in the NEC. When Folahan was on the court opponents shot 38% on twos. They also got to the free throw line at a much slower rate (free throw rate of 31 when on vs. 43 when off). Sometimes it really helps to be 6’11”. Folahan had the nation’s fifth best block rate this season at 14.2%.
What’s most interesting about Whack’s impact is how the team rebounded better with the 6’3″ guard on the court. There’s nothing to suggest that Whack is a particularly good rebounder, but he’s certainly better than Julian Norfleet, Byron Ashe or even Will Miller. Teams also shot worse from the three-point line when Whack was on the court (29% vs. 35%). Both of those qualities helped the Mount allow just 103 points per 100 possessions when he as in and an atrocious 116 points per 100 possessions when he was off the court. Those handy eyes also say that Whack is a tenacious on-ball defender that has worked hard to fit right into Jamion Christian’s Mayhem scheme. We noticed.
A newcomer to the NEC this season Fall doesn’t get a lot of hype as one of the best defenders in the league. It’s probably because he comes off the bench for the Terriers and doesn’t do much besides block shots. At 6’6″ Fall also doesn’t have the intimidating height of a Folahan. It doesn’t matter. Instead the sophomore forward has excellent timing and leaping ability and is one of the best shot-blockers in the NEC (and the nation). His block rate of 10.3% ranked 31st nationally. Not surprisingly teams shoot way worse when Fall is on the court (41% on twos and 31% from three vs. 47% and 39% respectively). Everything else though stays relatively stable. All of a sudden teams just hit way fewer shots. It can be frustrating for an opposing team.
The Robert Morris forward is an interesting one. He’s the only player here that’s playing in a primarily zone defense. Jones though is the anchor of RMU’s 2-3, which I wrote about earlier this season. When he’s on the court the defense is much more effective, especially in the paint. Opponents shoot 49% on twos against the zone when he’s in and 60% on twos when he’s out. That’s a humongous difference and it’s all because of Jones’ ability to use his athleticism to challenge offensive players around the rim and how hard he works to make sure players don’t get position down low on him in the first place. Jones also makes an impact on the defensive boards. But there’s one drawback. Opponents shoot many more free throws when he’s on the court (27% free throw rate on vs. 20% off). Jones has been called for 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes this season, which actually isn’t bad. So it’s a little confusing how he directly impacts that statistic.
All four players are able to impact the game in a big way on the defensive end. Folahan and Fall have played fewer possessions, but have the ability to turn a game due to their elite shot-blocking skills. Whack and Jones are more traditional defenders who have played tons of possessions. It’s truly a toss up. Personally, I feel that Folahan, the anchor of the best defense in the NEC deserves the award. But if you feel that Jones, the captain of RMU’s dramatic defensive turnaround, deserves the nod it’d be hard to argue.
For Big Apple Buckets’ NEC all-conference teams and awards for the 2013-14 season, go here.