During the CBS Sports Basketball Podcast with Bullets Forever's very own Mike Prada and The Washington Post’s Michael Lee, CBS’s Matt Moore mentioned his affinity for Chris Singleton’s defense. He noted that although Singleton got lit up sometimes, he was in a tough situation as a rookie guarding some of the best offensive players in the NBA. But how much of Singleton’s rough season was a result of guarding the league's best offensive players? With the help of MySynergy Sports, let’s take a look at Singleton’s defensive "strength of schedule" and how well he defended the good and bad of the NBA.
As an isolation defender, Singleton was below average overall, allowing 0.87 points per possession. But as Matt Moore noted, Singleton was a rookie out there against league’s elite players. Unfortunately, Singleton’s mediocre defensive numbers weren’t simply due to the strength of his opponents.
A little over half of his isolation possessions were against an above average isolation player. That includes some All-Star-level players like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Carmelo Anthony. With this group of above average isolation players you could expect them to score 0.83 points per possession, on average. Singleton gave up 0.85 points per possession, which is pretty close to the average. To his credit, he had some of his strongest efforts against Carmelo Anthony. Not that he will be shutting down Melo all the time, but Singleton matches up well size- and speed-wise with Anthony.
Singleton’s problems came when he was guarding below average isolation players like Alonzo Gee, Donald Sloan, Andre Iguodala, and others. This group of poor-performing isolation players could expect to put up 0.72 points per isolation against an average defender, but against Singleton, they scored 0.9 points per possession. Singleton’s major problem was that he fouled way too much. The video below shows a few of Singleton’s bailout fouls against some poor isolation players.
After a year of experience, Singleton should realize that he would be much better served by simply playing positional defense and forcing these lesser talented players to make contested shots. Even when he gets beaten initially, he is big enough to provide a strong contest on the shot without fouling.
Looking at this optimistically, Singleton was good enough (especially for a rookie) against the good players, but had some foolish fouls against the bad players. In terms of his future development, one would expect him to cut down on the mental mistakes and become a better overall isolation defender.
Off-Ball Screen Defense
On the whole, Singleton was an average off-ball screen defender, ranking 73rd in the league in points allowed per screening possession (0.86 PPP). However, unlike defending isolation plays, Singleton had problems guarding the league’s better players coming off screens. Singleton seemed lost, sometimes getting caught completely off guard, and other times trying to take shortcuts around screens. Either way, he got stuck on screens too often, and the better players in the NBA will punish him for it. The video below shows some of the open looks against Singleton.
Singleton had some of the same issues against below average players, but they are less likely to hit their shots. Below are clips of Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Thornton getting open shots. Fortunately for Singleton, neither of these two are particularly good on their screening possessions, and they missed their attempts.
Regardless of the quality of his opponent, Singleton needs to do a better job in not absorbing the full brunt of the screen and getting hung up for so long.
As a post defender, Singleton was a little below average, giving up 0.86 points per post possession. However, the nature of his opponents probably played a part in his performance. Singleton was a bit outclassed when guarding big men in the post, but if we only look at his post possessions against wing players, it paints a brighter picture.
Singleton went up against some very good post-up wing players, including Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul Pierce, and he held his own. Of all of the wing players that posted up Singleton, the above average players could expect to score 0.94 points per possession over the course of the season. But when Singleton was guarding them, he held that group to 0.77 points per possession. The video below shows a few examples of how Singleton played physical, kept his man in front of him, and forced them to make a play over him.
Overall, Chris Singleton did not appear to face an exceedingly difficult set of matchups during the 2011-12 season. A little more than half of his isolation, screening, and post-up defensive possessions were against players who were above average at their particular possession type. I don’t have information for the entire league, but this seems like a reasonable workload for the designated perimeter defender. With his size, he showed the ability to take away the post-up game of power wing players like Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. He still has improvements to make in moving his feet and maneuvering around screens, but, as a second year player, those improvements seem likely.