The defensive statistical differences between Ty Lawson and Rajon Rondo

In less than a month, NBA players will report to training camp. Some teams have expectations of winning a championship and other teams just want to stay above water for an entire season.

For the Sacramento Kings, the loss of Rajon Rondo brings a sense of skepticism amongst fans, but perhaps additions such as Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson will ease their minds.

Earlier this week, the offensive skills of both Rondo and Lawson were mentioned. My article talked about what they brought to the table when they were at their best playing under George Karl. For Lawson, his best year came in the 2011-12 season and Rondo shined under Karl last season (2015-16).

This story, however, will take into account their defensive skills. It will also take into account the 2014-15 season because it was the last year Ty Lawson had success in the NBA.

Even though the offensive side of the ball matters, if all you’re doing is being a human turnstile on defense, it doesn’t matter how strong your offense is. We saw Rondo’s defensive mind on full display last year when he directed traffic at the end of the game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Defense matters, but what makes a good defender? Well, for this list, a few things were taken into account.

The first statistic used was the amount of steals per game a player had. The reason for choosing this was because it’s perhaps the most basic way to see what a player was doing to try and help out the team.

The second stat was something called defensive rating. The reason for defensive rating was because it is one of the best ways to break down a little more about how well a player defends.

The way defensive rating works is it gives the number of points a player allows, divides that by the number of possessions he plays and then multiplies it by 100.

Confused? If you are, just remember that last year (2015-16 season) only 14 players had defensive ratings below 100 and the 50th best player had a rating of 103.9. If you’re somewhere around 100-104 you’re doing a good job as a defender.

The third was to look at the points allowed on the team he was playing for. The reason why the team stats matter is because it helps explain why a player may have had a good or bad year. It gives it context.

For instance, Lawson was on the Houston Rockets last year. As a team, the Rockets gave up 106.4 points a game (25th in the NBA). The team also had a coach fired midway though the season. Yes, Lawson struggled last year, but there may have been other factors that led to his demise.

With that said, let’s circle back and take a look at steals per game.

Steals Per Game

So, let’s take a look at Lawson’s and Rondo’s steals per game when shown side by side in the 2011-12 season, the 2014-15 season and the 2015-16 season.

In the 2011-12 season, Rondo had 1.79 steals per game. (T-6th in NBA) (53 games, not enough games to qualify)

In the 2011-12 season, Lawson had 1.34 steals per game. (21st in NBA)

In the 2014-15 season, Rondo had 1.34 steals per game. (T-34th in NBA)

In the 2014-15 season, Lawson had 1.23 steals per game. (T-41st in NBA)

In the 2015-16 season, Rondo had 1.96 steals per game. (7th in NBA)

In the 2015-16 season, Lawson had 0.80 steals per game. (113th in NBA)

It looks like Rondo wins in a landslide.

Defensive Rating

Moving on to defensive rating, here’s a look at how Lawson stacks up to Rondo in the three years mentioned.

In the 2011-12 season, Rondo’s defensive rating was 98.9 (18th overall)

In the 2011-12 season, Lawson’s defensive rating was 108.4 (141st overall)

In the 2014-15 season, Rondo’s defensive rating was 104.4 (74th overall)

In the 2014-15 season, Lawson’s defensive rating was 110.9 (191st overall)

In the 2015-16 season, Rondo’s defensive rating was 107.1 (111th overall)

In the 2015-16 season, Lawson’s defensive rating was 111.3 (180th overall)

Again, the winner, by a lot, seems to be Rondo.

Finally, we go to team stats for Rondo and Lawson.

Opponent Points Per Game

So, it seems like Rondo is a much better defender, especially in 2012. Well, one of the reasons this could be the case is because Rondo’s 2012 team (Boston Celtics) came in second in the NBA in points allowed with 89.3.

Then, in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 season, both the Mavericks and the Kings ranked 25th and 30th in points allowed and Rondo’s defensive rating got worse.

However, in Lawson’s case, none of the teams he played for (Denver Nuggets, and Houston Rockets) did anything in the form of defense.

In 2011-12 the Nuggets ranked 29th in points allowed

In 2014-15 the Nuggets ranked 27th in points allowed

In 2015-16 the Rockets ranked 25th in points allowed.

Lawson has never been in a defensive minded system.

When Rondo was in Doc Rivers’ system in Boston with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, he was able to shine defensively. However, on a more offensive minded team, his defense struggles.

Yes, Rondo tore his ACL in 2013, but generally a player can moderately return to form three years after an injury like that.

Another reason for mentioning team stats is because the new coach of the Kings,

Dave Joerger, comes from a system that loves defense. When Joerger was the coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, they allowed the second, third and 11th least points per game.

A solid argument could be made that the only reason the Grizzlies were 11th last year was because Marc Gasol broke his foot and Mike Conley tore his Achilles. Perhaps Joerger can help Lawson’s defense, even if only a little.

From the looks of it, Lawson isn’t a top-notch defender but with the help of a defensive minded coach, he may become a better defender than he’s been in the past.


Anthony Bertacchi on Twitter
Anthony Bertacchi
Special Contributor to Cowbell Kingdom and a proud Sacramento State Alum.

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