I Owe Brandon Rush an Apology


Written by Ian Levy

Earlier this year John Hollinger of ESPN made some unfavorable observations about the performance of Brandon Rush. Hollinger noted that at the point of the season, Rush was on pace to have the lowest PER of any player in the history of the NBA, to lead his team in minutes. Below is a summary quote from the Hollinger post:

"Brandon Rush has had a forgettable career thus far, but as we head into the home stretch he may be on his way to a milestone of sorts. Rush has a PER of just 9.96 in his second pro season, but somehow leads the Pacers in minutes played with 2,159 –157 more than the next closest player, Troy Murphy.If he manages to maintain his lead, he’ll claim the dubious distinction of being the worst player ever to lead his team in minutes. My search through the record books unearthed only two other players in the post-merger era to lead their team in minutes with a single-digit PER: Bruce Bowen with San Antonio in 2003-04, and Jason Collins with the Nets a season later."

Well, with the season over, 2,491 minutes played and a PER of 9.6 Brandon Rush appears to have just missed this dubious milestone. He led the team in minutes, but his season ending PER was higher than the Bruce Bowen and Jason Collins seasons referenced in the quote above. In my less than complimentary analysis, I looked at some numbers assessing Rush’s defensive production. The idea was that maybe his defensive production, which is not always captured accurately by PER, outweighed his sub-par production in other areas. In that initial analysis I looked at some numbers and found his defensive impact to be pretty minimal.

I signed up for a MySynergy sports account last week, and one of the first things I did was look at Rush’s defensive stats, with the idea of revisiting this issue. What I found was quite surprising. The first thing that popped out at me was that he held his counterpart to a FG% under 40.0% in all seven possession categories tracked by Synergy. Impressed by these numbers I looked for some other players for comparison.

What I put together below is a list of wing players with strong defensive reputations. I took the 4 wings from the NBA All-Defensive Teams and then added the next 6 top vote getters. For each player and each possession category (Isolation, Pick and Roll Ball Handler, Post-Up, Pick and Roll Man, Spot-Up, Off-Screen, Hand Off, and Overall) you can see the number of possessions they defended, the Points per Possession allowed, the FG% allowed, and the TO% they forced.

In this admittedly small sample size, Rush’s numbers compare quite favorably. His TO% is low in almost every category but his Points per Possession numbers and FG% allowed are quite impressive. In fact he was tied with Dwyane Wade for the second best overall Points Per Possession allowed. Another surprise was Ron Artest. For all the talk about him losing a step, it’s clear from these numbers that Ron Artest continues to be among the best, if not the best, perimeter defender in the game.

While these numbers don’t directly correlate to Rush’s effect on the team defense, they speak volumes about the type of potential he has at this end of the floor. There has been a lot of talk about his lack of confidence and aggressiveness effecting his offensive game, but I would argue that improvement in those two mental aspects could transform him into a legitimate defensive force. Either way, he appears to be a much better defensive player than I gave him credit for.

Brandon, I am sorry I doubted you. Keep up the terrific work at the defensive end!