How Bad Luck is a Factor in the LA Clippers’ Defense

LA Clippers Marcus Morris Reggie Jackson Michael Porter Jr. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
LA Clippers Marcus Morris Reggie Jackson Michael Porter Jr. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Stop me if you’ve heard one of these before when talking about the LA Clippers: “It feels like every game there’s that guy who can’t miss from three.” How about, “Nothing you can do when the other team is hitting threes like that.

I know I’ve heard (and said) both of those sentences. It’s been infuriating to watch the LA Clippers play quality defense for 22 seconds, and then a prayer of a shot finds the bottom of the net. As it turns out, the statistics back it up.

The LA Clippers have been fairly unlucky on the defensive side of the court.

The NBA statistics department categorizes shots in four different “bands” of defense: very tightly covered (nearest defender is within 2 feet), tightly covered (nearest defender is 2-4 feet away), open (nearest defender is 4-6 feet away) and wide open (nearest defender is more than 6 feet away).

Obviously, you want your opponent to take more of those very tightly covered shots, and fewer of the wide open shots. Simple defense, right? And if you do that, you’ll be rewarded, right? Right?!? Check out how the LA Clippers rank league-wide in terms of field goal attempts allowed and effective field goal percentage allowed in each of those two most extreme bands:

  • Very Tightly Covered: Third most attempts allowed in the league
  • Wide Open: Fewest attempts allowed in the league
  • Very Tightly Covered: Third highest eFG% allowed in the league
  • Wide Open: 11th highest eFG% allowed in the league

As a reminder, eFG% takes into account that threes are worth more than twos, so it adds extra weight to three pointers. It’s defined as:

eFG% = [(2 pointers made) + (1.5 X 3 pointers made)] / (field goals attempted)

The LA Clippers are doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re limiting wide open shot attempts more than any other team in the NBA, and they’re one of the best in the league at very tightly contesting shots.

And they’re not particularly lucky or unlucky when it comes to the wide open shots; they’re pretty in the middle as far as how efficiently opponents score off of wide open shots. And, in case you’re wondering, their lucky is similarly “decent but not great” in the other two defensive bands. On open shots, the LA Clippers allow the 11th lowest eFG%, and on tightly covered shots they allow the 7th lowest. Pretty good, but nothing special.

But on those shots where a defender is within 2 feet of the shooter, opponents score more efficiently against the LA Clippers than they do against all but 2 of the teams in the league. That’s a numerical backing to our feelings of “it just feels like the other team shoots extra well against us.”

So what does this mean? Am I just making excuses? Not quite. It’s just heartening to know that the LA Clippers are, in general, doing the right things on defense. I’ll happily take a defense that allows the fewest wide open shots and very tightly contests the third most shots. As always, the biggest concerns aren’t so much the system as the availability and fatigue levels of the players.

Next. DeMarcus Cousins adds the one thing the LA Clippers need. dark

If the LA Clippers keep doing what they’re doing, you have to hope those numbers normalize a little bit and make a defense that’s already statistically very good into one that is great.