FanPost

Why is good NBA defense so rare?

Lots of BEdgers have been complaining lately about the poor defense that the Blazers play. They aren't the only ones. Read blogs for other NBA teams and you see that stout defense is as rare a commodity in the league as it is desired.

The question is why, if fans, the media, GMs, coaches, and players all pay homage to the importance of individual and team defense, it is so rare.

Possible answers:

*  Basketball is the only major team sport that is heavily lopsided toward offense and scoring. A typical NBA game, with a final score of, say, 100-98, means that the total score increased anywhere from 90 to 140 times during the game, depending on how many points were scored via three-pointers, two-pointers, and free-throws. Scoring is comparatively rare and far more difficult in football, hockey, baseball, and soccer, where a strong defensive team can hold opponents to an average of fewer than three scores per game. Basketball players work hardest on offense because that's what the game is all about.

*  Most players enjoy scoring more than any other facet of the game. To use a war analogy, running an offense is launching an attack and hitting a shot means you win the battle. There's always a payoff: two or three points are scored, the battle ends, and a new battle begins. Other facets of the game are seldom so clearly rewarding. A steal, rebound or blocked shot can lead to a score but often does not. An assist is like handing your dad a hammer so he can drive a nail. You play a role, but your dad gets to bang away and build cool stuff.

*  Team offense, where each player is like a character in a play, performing a role that can be rehearsed to perfection, is easier to master than team defense, which requires you and your teammates to react in harmony to what the players on the other team are doing in real-time. That requires all of you to understand quickly what the other players are executing, and quickly make correct decisions about when and where to rotate and switch, whether to go for a steal or stay in front of your man, go over or under on a pick, and so on. All it takes is for one of you to make a wrong decision to allow an open shot or layup. If a play breaks down on offense, you can almost always still get a shot off.

*  Individual offense is fun. You're shaking and baking, hustling and faking, ball-in-the-hole making. Individual defense is hard work. You must react to what your man does, which always puts you a few tenths of a second behind him. You can't run and jump when and how you like; instead, you have to maintain your defensive stance, shuffle your feet, keep your tired arms up, and know where your man and the ball are at all times. When your man scores, you look bad. You feel like you let down your teammates. You wonder if the coach will replace you if your man gets hot. You worry about getting traded to the Clippers or Grizzlies.

* The surest player path to NBA fame, riches, and respect is to score efficiently and often. You can even reach the Hall of Fame without being a good defender, can't you, Magic, 'Nique, Chuck, etc.? Good luck with getting into the Hall as a defensive specialist. Here's a list of the players who won the last 25 NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards:

Sidney Moncrief (2x)
Mark Eaton (2x)
Alvin Robertson
Michael Cooper
Michael Jordan
Dennis Rodman (2x)
David Robinson
Hakeem Olajuwon (2x)
Dikembe Mutombo (4x)
Gary Payton
Alonzo Mourning (2x)
Ben Wallace (4x)
Ron Artest
Marcus Camby
Kevin Garnett

Lots of future Hall of Famers there, right? Notice that most of them were scorers, too? Offensively challenged defenders like Eaton and Rodman, who won twice, and Mutombo and Wallace, who won four times, are never likely to see the inside of the Hall unless they are visiting. Being a defensive specialist in the NBA is like being the best man at a friend's wedding. It's a dirty job, someone has to do it, folks applaud when you do it well, but your friend is the one who goes home with the girl.

The core of the problem is that the league, owners, players, and fans simply don't appreciate good defense as much as good offense, and the modern game encourages offense over defense. I don't see an improvement in overall NBA defense until those factors change.

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