17 October, 2023
05 May, 2024
3 Melvin Ejim (UNI)
Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider
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Tactics Board: Defense wins championships

MIES (Switzerland) - They say defense wins championships and, on balance, they might be right.

Five out of the seven Basketball Champions League winners to date were teams with a top-five defensive rating; Telekom Baskets Bonn, Lenovo Tenerife (twice), Hereda San Pablo Burgos (the 2020-2021 iteration), and Virtus Bologna. 

As we speed down the slope of this season, let's have a look at which teams have a defense that might win them the title. 

If the pattern continues to evolve, the winner of BCL Season 8 should come from one of the teams listed in the chart above -  the top-five most efficient teams defensively.

Unsurprisingly, Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem are leading the way. They were the best defensive team in the league last season as well, and powered their way to the final on the back of that defense.

Also making the list are UCAM Murcia, the reigning champions Telekom Baskets Bonn, another hot favorite in Unicaja, and perhaps surprisingly, Promitheas Patras sneaking in under the radar.

What happens if we dive a little deeper into the data and have a look to see if there are any other defensive walls out there that could make a late run into the top five, and as a result title contention?

In the data story above is three tabs looking a little deeper at some defensive metrics: Opposition Shooting, Opposition Shot Quality, and Opposition Possession.

In the first tab we are looking at the field goal percentage (FG%)  and the effective field goal percentage (eFG%) opponents shoot against each team (eFG% accounts for the extra value of 3-point shooting). In this chart, we are looking for the teams in the bottom left of the chart, as they hold teams to the lowest shooting percentages.

In line with the defensive rating chart, we see Unicaja and Promitheas with the meanest shooting percentages allowed.

The Spaniards allow teams to shoot just 41.4 percent from the floor (an eFG% of 49.6), whilst Promitheas allow 41 percent (47.7 eFG%). We also see the other top five defensive teams in the bottom left of the chart but AEK BETSSON BC and Hapoel Holon also hold teams to low shooting percentages.

In the second tab, we are looking at Synergy's Shot Quality (SSQ) and Shot Making (SSM) metrics. SSQ measures expected value of the shots created, or in this case, shots allowed. SSM measures how many points above or below that value teams actually shoot.

In this chart we are again looking for teams in the bottom left corner and teams that allow an SSQ of one point per shot or below, and an SSM of zero or below.

As expected, the best defensive team in the BCL is also the best team for expected shots allowed. Jerusalem allow opponents to shoot with an SSQ of just 0.99 points per shot and hold them to -0.02 points per shot on those shots.

Essentially this means that Jerusalem have forced teams to take tough shots and also defended those shots well.

From outside the top-five defensive teams, Hapoel Holon have managed to show up well when it comes to shot defense. Whilst their SSM registers as neutral, they have held opponents to an expected shot value of 0.99 points per shot.

The final tab is opposition possession and what we are looking at here is  which teams force the most turnovers (opposition turnover percentage) and also complete their defensive possessions the best by collecting the rebound (opposition offensive rebound percentage).

Here we are looking for teams in the top right of the chart. We see three of the usual suspects in UCAM Murcia, Unicaja, and Jerusalem all forcing a high percentage of turnovers and limiting opponents to a low percentage of offensive rebounds.

The one outlier on the chart is perhaps JDA Bourgogne Dijon, who have allowed teams to crash the offensive glass against them but also stand out, way above the rest, when it comes to forcing turnovers. Dijon opponents turn the ball over on a staggering 21 percent of their possessions.

In conclusion, if past seasons are anything to go by and defense does win championships, then the data currently supports the idea of the 2024 champions coming from the cohort of Jerusalem, Unicaja, Murcia, Promitheas, or Bonn.

But also Dijon and Holon have shown signs of being able to break into the defense club, whilst even AEK might be encouraged that surprisingly it might be their defense, if anything, that could power them to do the impossible - come back from 0-3 to make the Quarter-Finals.

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon is a basketball coach and analyst living in Madrid. Constantly digging in the crates of box scores and clicking through hours of game footage. Diccon is on the hunt for the stories within the stories. If you like to get a closer look at what’s going in the Basketball Champions League, you have found it.