Editor's Note: This is bwoodsxyz's latest. We had to delay it due to Arenas mania, and he had computer issues so he asked me to post it. -Mike
It has taken years, but Brendan Haywood has started getting more recognition for the good defense he plays on a bad defensive team. One thing that came out of last season's debacle was a broader understanding of the on-court defensive quarterbacking Haywood has provided to this team. Dwight Howard recently mentioned Haywood as someone he thinks should be an all-defense team candidate. Howard noted Haywood's blocks per game average, which, at 2.1, is the highest of Brendan's career and puts him currently at 6th in the league. He is also averaging career highs in defensive and total rebounds (and offensive rebounds) per game, with 10.6 per game total, good for 9th in the league.
But what can we learn about his defense this year, and for his career, from numbers other than his per games?
Haywood's headline stats this season should be put in the context of his minutes. He is averaging a career high in minutes per game, sitting currently at 33.7 per, almost 6 more minutes per game than he has ever before gotten. In that context, the blocks per game number that is getting him noticed is just to be expected. His blocks per minute this season is actually just about perfectly on target with his career average. For his career, Haywood is at 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. (How differently might he be viewed as a player if he had gotten more minutes more years, allowing him to boost his per games?)
What really is interesting about his blocks this year, however, is that he has maintained them at that level while dramatically cutting back on his fouls. He has rarely been in foul trouble this year, and is averaging one fewer foul per 36 minutes than over his career. That's an impressive development. The only other top-10 shot-blockers fouling at such a low rate are Tim Duncan and Marcus Camby. Not bad company.
Unlike Haywood's shot-blocking, his rebounding this season has not been a mere "per-minute" phenomenon. His rebounding rate, viewed either in per-minute terms or as a percentage of available rebounds, really has increased. He is at career highs in every rebounding category, no matter how you look at it.
While this didn't surprise me, a few instances this season of Haywood fighting teammates for a rebound stuck in my mind (Phil Chenier has mentioned it a time or two, even dropping the phrase "contract push" and chuckling), leading me to wonder whether Brendan was just ensuring that he got his hands on more to make sure this year that if he created the space for the Wizards to get the rebound, then he got the ball and the credit. This apparently has not been the case. Haywood is actually having a bigger impact on the team's rebounding than ever before.
The Wizards rebounding rate is more than 5% better (!) with Haywood on the floor than off. This is true both on the defensive boards and on the offensive boards. Looking at the other top-10 per-game rebounders, no one else even comes close to doing that. A couple of guys are showing a similar impact in one or the other, but no one comes at all close to doing it in both. The league leader last year was Kevin Love, at 4%. Haywood has throughout his career had a positive impact on team rebounding, including two seasons of 2.5%+, which is fairly impressive itself, but is still nothing like what he is doing now.
Considering the apparent magnitude of the impact Haywood is having and how weak the rebounding has been without him on the floor (the team has gotten only 45.8% of total rebounds without him), the figures may partly be due simply to a lack of other good rebounders on the team swallowing up boards. But still. That probably just knocks down Haywood rebounding stats from completely absurd, to merely extremely good.
So, in three individual categories tied to defense--blocks, rebounding, and fouling, Haywood having a remarkably good season. Of course, to get an all-defense nod on this disappointing team, with its below-average defense (no matter how you look at it, near the bottom of the league), would probably take much better headline stats than Haywood has, and probably a bigger league-wide reputation. But how much worse might the Wizards' defense might be without him?
At a glance, one could easily argue that the Wizards might have a league-worst, perhaps even historically bad defense without him. In his absence last season, the team finished next-to-last in the league in defensive efficiency. Along with Blatche's return, they essentially added three players not known as defenders (Foye and Miller) to two starters who were a year older (Blatche and Butler), and on top of it eventually went with a horribly weak backup PG (Boykins). So, leaving aside Haywood's return, there is every reason to think this year's defense could be worse than last year's. The numbers bear that out. The team's defensive efficiency when Haywood is off the floor is even worse than last year's team figure.
There is a difference of around 5 points per 100 possessions between when Haywood is on and off the floor. That puts him in the top 40 in the league at this point in the season. That type of plus/minus stat can be fluky and prone to anomalies and sample size problems. But, here, it is important that is fairly in line with the numbers he and the team have posted throughout his career. The lowest figure was 2.5 in 07-08, the biggest was 10 points in 04-05, and other seasons have been around 4 to 6 points. Such a consistent apparent contribution over such a long time is impressive.
(All that said, it is interesting that Andray Blatche has a set of numbers this year that are nearly as good, and that three of the team's four highest-rated defensive lineups with 25 minutes or more have included both players. But, Haywood has been part of more of the team's successful defensive lineups. On the other hand, Blatche has more frequently been stuck with Boykins, etc., so make of that what you will. Two players on the team have topped Haywood/Blatche's ratings this year--Oberto and Stevenson.)
So, Haywood is having another good defensive season, probably his best, on another bad defensive Wizards team. As the trade deadline draws near, it will be interesting to see whether the Wizards move him and his expiring contract, and even if not, what sort of trades he gets mentioned in. Butler gets brought up a lot, and Jamison-to-Cavs just won't die, but you would think some contender would want to go after Haywood, who has for a long time likely been undervalued and underappreciated by this franchise.
If they end up keeping him and he becomes a free agent, the decision that will need to be made after the season gets no easier.