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Can Nick Young Fix the Clippers’ Defense?

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Jordan Kahn breaks down the latest NBA trends in video form. You can find more of his work at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.

Since Chauncey Billups’ season-ending injury, the Clippers’ level of performance has dropped, due in large part to a decline at defensive end. One of their most frequently used lineups (Chris Paul, Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan) is also one of the worst defensive lineups in the league. In fact, among the 36 lineups in the NBA with over 150 minutes played, this unit is the worst defensively, by far. The Clippers traded for Nick Young at the trade deadline to fill a void at the starting shooting guard position. Young has a reputation as an offense-only, gunner-without-a-conscience, but he might be able to help fix their defensive problems as well.

The chart below shows how Young’s defense stacks up to the current Los Angeles perimeter mainstays.  All data is from mySynergySports. The data shows that Young allows the fewest points per possession in most situations.

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One area where that horrible defensive lineup for the Clippers has struggled is on pick and rolls. On the season, the Clippers are giving up 0.76 points per possession to the pick-and-roll ball handler, which is good for ninth in the league.  When the aformentioned lineup is in and Mo Williams is the defending the ball handler, that number goes up to 0.92 points per possession, which would be the worst mark in the league. There are many moving parts when defending the pick-and-roll, but Williams does not look good in these situations. As the video below shows, he tends absorb too much contact when fighting through screens, leaving him to trail the play.

Because of his inability to get over screens, he has tried to go under screens, which leaves the ball handler wide open for jump shots.

Nick Young has been a solid pick and roll defender with the Wizards. He makes his share of mistakes, but works hard to get around screens and his length lets him recover on shooters more effectively than Williams can. Watch how Young works over the top of the screen and does his best to avoid most of the contact.


Another problem with the Paul-Williams-Butler-Griffin-Jordan lineup is in isolation. Mo Williams is a poor isolation defender, and is often forced to defend good perimeter players in this lineup. His problems in isolation stem from the fact that he is just too small to consistently guard NBA shooting guards. This obviously hurts him in the post (Williams is a bad post defender, also), but his size leaves him unable to contest shots even when he is in good position. Opponents are shooting 40% on isolation jump shots versus Williams, compared with just 26% versus Young. The video below shows Williams’ struggles in contesting jumpers.

Unlike Williams (and Randy Foye and Caron Butler) Nick Young has been an excellent isolation defender this year. He ranks 15th in the NBA in opponents points per isolation possession and is allowing only 28% shooting in these situations.  Along with Young’s superior ability to contest jump shots, he has also allowed fewer layups than Mo Williams in isolation. Opponents have shot layups on 9% of isolation possessions versus Young, compared with a 14% clip versus Williams.

Young’s ability and size gives the Clippers much better options on defense. Young can guard the opponents’ most dangerous wing player and leave Williams, Foye, or Butler to guard the weaker wing player, who is likely just spotting up at the three point line. The video below shows some of Young’s finer moments in isolation defense.

Young only played two minutes in a lineup with Paul, Butler, Griffin, and Jordan in his Clipper debut on Sunday night. However, in addition to his offensive skills, Young’s defensive potential makes it likely that he’ll eventually take over that starting role.

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