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More to The Slow Start Than Meets The Eye

Guest writer Alex Quante chips in with a statistical analysis of this year's defense.

Early on, it has appeared that the Sonics defense has improved. When watching the games, it seems that the Sonics are getting more deflections and turnovers on defense. Looking at a few key stats, we can see the differences in the defensive results thus far. The small sample size caveat applies when attempting to draw conclusions, of course:

Points Allowed per Game (2005) - 105.6
Points Allowed per Game (after 6 games in 2006) - 98.7

This is a pretty amazing turnaround thus far. The Sonics have gone from a historically horrendous defense in 2005 to a capable defense in 2006 (the Point Allowed per Game ranks 10th in the Western Conference).

With this in mind, what has been the key to the overall success in allowing fewer points per game? We can first look at the FG % Allowed to see where things stand:

FG % Allowed (2005) - 48.55%
FG % Allowed (after 6 games in 2006) - 48.36%

While there is a marginal improvement in the FG % defense, this would not appear to fully explain how they've shaved nearly 7 points per night off of their points allowed. Looking at the FG attempts allowed per game helps to paint a clearer picture:

FG Attempts Allowed (2005) - 80.4 allowed (the Sonics had 81.8)
FG Attempts Allowed (after 6 games in 2006) - 71.3 (Sonics have had 81.7 attempts)

This stat stands out as a key to their defensive improvement. They've essentially shot the ball on offense as many times per game in 2006 as they had in 2005. But, they've allowed about 9 less shots per game on defense. If the FG % allowed is about the same, how have they been able to do this? Let's look at the team rebounding:

Sonics rebounds/Oppoents Rebounds

2005 - 39.6/40.5
2006 - 38.2/39.2

The rebounding stats have been effectively a wash so far. The Sonics are still getting outrebounding by about 1 full rebound per night, just like in 2005.

The key stats that have led to the early season improvement of the Sonics defense are directly related to turnovers and steals. See below:

Steals per game (Sonics/Opponents)

2005 - 7.59/7.29
2006 - 10.5/7.5

Instead of being effective dead even with their opponents on steals (as they were in 2005),the Sonics are now getting 3 more steals than their opponents. This would (theoretically) led to 3 more possesions per game than their opponents and 3 less FG attempts for their opponents as well.

The team turnovers per game also tell a similar story:

Turnovers per game (Sonics/Opponents)

2005 - 14.0/13.8
2006 - 16.2/18.8

This stats a net swing of 2.8 turnovers in favor of the Sonics versus last year. The steals garnered and the overall turnovers forced by the Sonics have been a big part of why theyare better defensively thus far this season.

This improvement is even more impressive when you consider that they are playing with the same core group of players (Allen, Ridnour, Lewis, Collison, Petro, Wilkins, etc) that they finished 2005 with. While Watson and Wilcox did not join this core until the final 26 games or so of last year, they did little in the latter part of 2005 to help improve the atrocious defensive numbers.

The question is: To who or what do we attribute this early season improvement?

My thought is that we can attribute about 25% of the improvement to the fact that they're playing underBob Hill and have more continuity in the coaching message than they did in the earlier parts of last year. I would attribute another 50% of the credit to Gordon Chisea, who was addedto the staff this year. His schemes on defense appear to be well thought out and appear toemphasize team defense rather than schemes that play to the strengths or weaknesses of individual players. The other 25% of the credit for this early improvement would have togo to the players themselves. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how sophisticated or efficient the defensive schemes are if the players don't buy into the system.

What remains to be seen is whether or not these improvements can be sustained and perhaps built upon. The gains shown early on lead me to be optimistic about their prospects, however.