This article will explore how important match ups are in fantasy basketball. We all know fantasy football is game that is very dependent on defensive match ups so we wanted to see if defensive match ups were also a factor in fantasy basketball. In particular we wanted to focus our analysis on the impact of superior interior defense on the low post offense. To do this we examined average post player performance versus the leagues premier interior defenses.
A quick survey of the league indicates that only Boston, LA, Denver and San Antonio have the type of interior defense that one might want to shy away from. Boston has the combination of Garnett, Sheed, and Kendrick Perkins which is probably the best the league has to offer. All three are just about 7 feet tall and Garnett is former defensive player of the year. The Lakers are also a team of above average size. Between Gasol, Byum, Odem and Artest the Lakers have one of the best interior defenses in the Western Conference.
Denver is the one Western Conference team that could challenge for that title with Nene, Birdman and Kenyon Martin combining like Megatron to have the Nuggets blocking shots into the upper decks. Finally, any discussion around interior defense cannot neglect the San Antionio Spurs who always bring it defensively. Duncan and McDysess are two old school defensive OGs who along with the excellent help-side defense of their teammates can really shut down the oppositions post game.
Lets dig right into some numbers. Table 1 shows the average point and rebound differential for NBA teams post players going against the four superior defensive teams used in our data set. In aggregate, post players can expect a dip in scoring (-3.07ppg) and rebounding (-0.71rpg) when going against the leagues top defenses. While these results are not large deviations from a given post players season average, the take away message is that you should not expect the monster game that will increase your season average when going against an elite defense.
A few more interesting things come out of this analysis. First, the impact of a superior post defense has a more profound effect on scoring than rebounding. Furthermore, the analysis indicates that while we have qualitatively identified 4 superior defensive teams it appears that Boston and Denver seem to be a tier above the San Antonio and LA defenses. In fact, if you remove SA and LA then the avg point and rebound differentials become -6 ppg and close to -1 rpg.
So the question remains, should you bench players based on defensive math ups. We will stick to the same recommendation that we made for football. Never bench your star players, but use defensive match ups as go/no-go decision metric for playing mid-tier players or inconsistent players.
So there you have it, defensive match ups do play a role in fantasy basketball, at least from the post players perspective. While the differentials are not drastic, they do support the fact your mid-tier players less likely to over perform against a superior defense. Luckily for you the NBA has largely become a guards game and there only a handful of defenses with sufficient personnel to create match up problems is the low post.