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THE CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
LUKE WINN (with additional research by David Hess)
November 14, 2011
For a sport awash in stats, accurate measurements of defensive prowess are hard to come by. So SI did its own possession-by-possession study of five title contenders, graded every player and every play—and came to some surprising conclusions
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November 14, 2011

The Case For The Defense

For a sport awash in stats, accurate measurements of defensive prowess are hard to come by. So SI did its own possession-by-possession study of five title contenders, graded every player and every play—and came to some surprising conclusions

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It's fitting that Stopper was born at a football school. Says associate head coach Stan Jones, who's worked with Hamilton for 14 seasons, "People will watch a 7--3 football game and talk about the great defense, but why won't they do the same for a 55--52 basketball game? [Hamilton] wanted to put a brand on the success we've been having." The Florida State philosophy is based largely on extending ball pressure beyond the perimeter, aggressive post-fronting and trying to shrink the gaps as much as possible when in help position. Players are given guidelines on how to respond to every situation, and in SI's film study there was no team more disciplined in its rotations, or more committed to preventing post entries. Says the Seminoles' 26-year-old senior center, Bernard James, "I think you could take a bunch of D-II players, teach them our principles, and have them lead the nation in defense."

The team's effectiveness is enhanced when someone like James—who is 6'10", 240 pounds, with a 7'3" wingspan and a 40-inch vertical leap—is manning the middle. While forward Chris Singleton, who was drafted 18th by the Wizards in June, was hyped as one of the country's top defenders, SI gave James Florida State's best DRating (83.1).

The Seminoles held opponents to a nation-best 40.0% shooting inside the arc last season. But on shots James defended, opponents made just 27.3%, the lowest such figure in the study. He had an uncanny ability to appear out of an opponent's blind spot to get a block, and had the team's lowest free-throw rate (24.8). Hamilton says James was "the lead junkyard dog at protecting the yard," and it takes discipline to do that without fouling.

James practices how he plays. "Some guys will make their lives easier [in practice] by hand-checking or going over the back, just because there's no one to blow a whistle," he says. "I make it a habit to pretend refs are around all the time." And he knows discipline: Before arriving at Tallahassee Community College in 2008, he did three tours of duty with the Air Force in the Middle East. The last one was at Camp Bucca in Iraq, guarding thousands of suspected terrorists. The assignment didn't cause James too much stress, he says, "because I had a lot of other guards that I could rely on."

The same applies at Florida State. Shooting guard Deividas Dulkys is considered by the coaches to be the team's best positional defender, and he also had the highest opponent turnover percentage (23.3). Dulkys had the third highest defensive rating among the team's starters (85.0), behind James and Singleton, and was tops among the guards. Junior Michael Snaer is the Seminoles' best ball-pressure guard, and 6'8" sophomore Okaro White is a bouncy shot-challenger. As the team's wise elder, James prides himself on reading opponents' body language to anticipate moves, and on reading Hamilton's cues to understand what matters to the coach. That includes taking Stopper seriously. "The [logo] is a little bit cheesy," James says, "but that's coach Ham's baby. When he unveiled it, he had a proud look on his face. It was almost like one of his children was being shown to the world for the first time."

FLORIDA STATE

ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE RATING: 87.1

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

*Departed player

Minimum: 10 minutes per game

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