There are some really good tandems out there in the NBA right now. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, Tony Parker and Emanuel Ginobili along with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen obviously comprise championship caliber backcourts. Mike Bibby paired up with Joe Johnson causes all kinds of trouble for defenders – similarly Steve Nash and Jason Richardson can flat out make defenders look silly. Even hypothetically amazing backcourts will assemble this season, like in Portland with Andre Miller and Brandon Roy, and down in Orlando with Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter. These are all great backcourts in paper, but just where does Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer rank among them? Justin DeFeo, of Sir Charles in Charge, states that the Jazz tandem is clearly a Top 10 backcourt in the league – 6th specifically – and one where both players “compliment each other well,” (DeFeo, 2009, ¶13). He continues to say that:
Deron dominates the ball on offense. Some teams have some sort of ball-sharing provision between the PG and the SG (like how Brandon Roy basically had to do everything himself in Portland). This has never been the case in Utah, not in Stockton’s time, and not now. Deron has a very solid handle on the ball and is able to maneuver himself into the lane with or without help from screens. Williams does this not with simple blinding speed, or a series of picks from teammates, he uses power and finesse to go from point A to point B, going over any and all terrain in the process. He has all the moves, and can get into the lane whenever he wants. (Essentially, he’s a swashbuckler with a basketball in his hands) He’s not just a PG who will bring the ball up the floor, hang out at the three point line, and pass the ball to someone to start a play. Deron’s penetration allows for defenders to shift their attention from the man they are guarding to Deron Williams (who is a scoring threat in the lane). This shifted attention allows for guys who move well without the ball to find open spots (often in their defender’s blindspots) and be in scoring position. If Deron Williams is daring swashbuckler who can move with a quickness and body control that belie his physique then Ronnie Brewer is the stealthy assassin who moves in the shadows, unaccounted for, with muscles tensed up for a finishing strike. It happens again, and again and again. Ideally, a drive and dish PG would be paired with a guy who had a reliable outside shot – but at best, a three pointer is a 40% success rate, while dunks are, generally speaking, much, much more effective.
Deron is a capable three point shooter – though his percentage has been a roller coaster his entire NBA career (42%, then 32%, then 40%, then 31%), and if he’s the only one of the two with an outside shot you can clearly see a deficiency in that department for this backcourt tandem. (By comparison, LA, Orlando, Atlanta and a few other teams on DeFeo’s list are replete with guys who can absolutely bomb from outside)
This group is just as adept in halfcourt sets as they are on the break. Utah produces a lot of deflections and Brewer starts as many breaks (with his natural quickness and 6’11 wingspan) as he is capable of finishing (with his 42” vertical). Deron hardly ever makes the wrong decision on who to pass to, and the two (naturally) hook up for Alley-Oops more frequently than any Utah tandem since Mark Jackson played here. Offensively, the two are nearly a match made in heaven.
If Deron is the leader on Offense, Ronnie is the leader on Defense. Brewer starts the game off checking the other teams’ best scoring wing – regardless if he is a shooter or slasher or whatever. Ronnie gets the call until AK gets off the bench. If the last few playoffs are an indication – few players play better man defense (without fouling) on Kobe Bryant than Brewer does. In no way am I suggesting that Brewer shuts Kobe down, I’m just saying that he plays good man defense. Many times I’ve seen Kobe take shots that absolutely could not have been defended better without the aid of being allowed to do Bruce Bowen style fouling, and still make them over Ronnie. Kobe just makes amazing shots – and he’s had quite a few against Brewer. Brewer is more than just a speed bump on defense. His long arms, quickness and penchant for playing the passing lanes made him one of the league leaders in steals last season. He’s long enough, with good enough hops that I would expect him to get more ‘from behind’ LeBron style blocks this season though. While Brewer is a physical freak, his defensive instincts lead the way – and that’s usually towards pressuring the other team into making a mistake.
Deron does not get all the flashy steals that Brewer does, but he is quick enough on defense to stay with faster ball handlers, and just big and physical enough to discourage them from driving too much. (Just look at how the, honestly, best PG in the NBA, Chris Paul, is so taken out of his game whenever he plays Deron. CP3 owns everyone, and he is rightfully the best PG in the league right now. Deron is just the perfect storm on defense to give him trouble, and good enough on offense to tire him out there) If the first foundation for team defense is to slow down the other team’s ball handler / forward progression, then it’s obvious that Deron Williams is a very solid defender.
Together they comprise a physical, long defensive backcourt. Brewer is 6’7 with the previously mentioned 6’11 wingspan and the quickness of a man much smaller than he. Deron is a 6’3 point guard who was a wrestler in high school and deceptively quick. (check out his draft combine scores, you’ll be surprised) If anything, I think that they are better on defense than they are on offense!
What do the Stats Say:
I’m a stats junkie. So this is important to me. Also, I guess I’m debuting my new stats format. If you want to know about what some of these things are, you can always read my treatise on my own created stats. If you don’t want to, just wait for the analysis that will appear below.
First of all, for those of you following along at home, I have changed the GO Rating, and expect a new post about the New formula shortly. What you need to know about it is what these scores mean. The GO Rating incorporates all possible statistically tracked outcomes on offense, hence the full name of “Gestalt Offense”. The GO Rating is in light blue, all the things in the light blue cell background are my own invented stats. I think they better round out what you see. Anyway . . . what is a good GO Rating? I depends on what you are looking for. If you are a point guard it’s hard to be upset if you get a rating in the 130’s. Magic Johnson’s regular season career totals calculate to a GO Rating of 138.784. Allen Iverson’s GO Rating for the same category (career regular season stats) is 134.883. Deron gets 135.701 for his work last season – though shortened by injury, arguably his best season ever. As a further point of reference, Gary Payton’s career GO Rating is 88.882, that’s almost 50 points lower than Deron. Brewer’s rating is much lower, but that’s due to a few major factors. Firstly, wing players who do not take many shots (see shooting frequency, the higher the number the more time it takes to get a shot off) hardly ever do well. Scottie Pippen’s GO Rating for his career regular season stats stands at only 71.431. As solid as Pip was offensively, Brewer is nearly there in his 3rd season in the NBA. That’s not too shabby.
Again, the stats don’t lie when they show how poorly they are as a team when it comes to three point shooting. They make up for it with stellar eField Goal percentages (which I think are more important than just FG% and 3PT%). They both shoot better than average, when it comes to their shooting worth (average being 1.2). Offensively they are very competent getting to the line a combined 10 times a game and averaging over 30 points between the two, while dishing the ball with a good Assists to Turn over ratio. Offensively they put up quite solid stats, and I feel like they are even better defensively. Of course, defensive stats are pretty much useless, so take these with a grain of salt. (if you want more on that rant, read my treatise, linked above)
These guys don’t usually get called for fouls, so that’s pretty good. What is even better is that both of them come out on the positive side of their defensive gambling – Brewer especially makes very smart gambles on defense: effectively getting 2 steals for each fouls he commits. If he was to gamble defensively at that rate he would foul out with nearly 8 steals a game. (For those watching him closely know that he got 6 steals in a recent USA Select team scrimmage) Deron still manages over a steal per game as well, and his primary duty is to man up on his guy, and not actually go for steals. Neither of them block worth a damn – though Brewer should get more in my opinion. Both of their pure hustle ratings clearly fall below that of the Dream Team members, but exist within an acceptable range for starters in today’s NBA. These defensive statistics are not overwhelming – but I don’t put much stock in defensive stats at all. The best defense causes no effect on an individual’s boxscore; if you defend a guy so well that he takes shot he can’t make then you get nothing, except the satisfaction of playing good defense. These two guys are good defensive players – but Brewer gambles more and gets more steals – and it shows.
Some statistics are worth more than others, and I’d put my money on the offensive ones actually relating to actually being good at playing. That said, Deron and Ronnie are a better defensive tandem than offensively, where their weaknesses are more exposed. (Weaknesses being that neither of them shot over 35% from three last year; as a unit they do not produce much from deep per game; they both do not jack up shots frequently (jacking up shots gives you a better Shooting Frequency and GO Rating for some reason); and so forth) Other guard tandems will score more points per game, and probably get to the free throw line more times per game. There will always be a better offensive tandem around. Collectively Ronnie and Deron make up a better defensive force, and have the talent and ability to get better (they are both closer to 20 than 30 – guys like Kobe, Fish, Vince, Nash, J-Kidd and others are getting up there and aren’t going to be as good in the next few seasons). They can be a Top 5 starting backcourt in the NBA, but they just aren’t quite there yet. I agree with DeFeo’s rankings and thank him for posting this in the first place!
P.S. Thanks to J.E.Skeets for the Ball Don’t Lie link directing me to DeFeo’s post!