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Don’t try to test Danilo Gallinari on an iso, and other defensive fun facts

Enjoy a little statistical dive into some of the Clippers’ more noteworthy defensive attributes.

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NBA: New York Knicks at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After going through some offensive statistical nuggets about the Clippers last week, here’s a look at some of the team’s interesting defensive numbers.

Danilo Gallinari has to defend in isolation on 19.5 percent of his defensive possessions.

Perhaps because of some long-standing biases about European players, there is a perception that Gallinari isn’t a great defensive player. That might be why he’s attacked in isolation more frequently than any other Clipper, for nearly a fifth of the time he’s on defense. Doc Rivers has admitted that his teams used to try to go after Gallinari often before he was his head coach. But Gallinari is a stout individual defender, and he only concedes 0.80 points per possession on isos, which puts him in the 67th percentile of defenders. That means the offensive efficiency of the players going at Gallinari is equivalent to that of Reggie Jackson or Russell Westbrook, making the forward LA’s best isolation defender.

Ivica Zubac has been stifling roll men at the rim.

Jovan Buha at The Athletic went deep on Zubac’s rim protection today (it’s behind a paywall). One of the most impressive features of Zubac’s defense is that he’s been able to hold his own against bigs, especially considering one of the knocks against him earlier in his career was his slight frame. However, Zubac concedes 0.77 points per possession when defending the roll man on a pick-and-roll, good for 85th percentile in the league. Consider that both Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic were below average in this particular aspect of defense, and it’s easy to see why the Clippers’ defense has taken such a huge leap forward in the last month.

Since he came over in the trade, Zubac has been the best player in the league at defending the big in pick-and-rolls, among those who have defended at least one such action per game. Zubac is obviously aided by the strong perimeter defense from Patrick Beverley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the ball handler, but the new center’s ability to protect the paint is still noteworthy. Unfortunately, it has come at the cost of covering spot-up shooters. When Zubac’s man has a spot-up opportunity, he converts 50 percent of those shots to the tune of 1.31 points per possession; a diet of those shots would be the best offense in the league by a wide margin. If the Clippers match up against a big who can stretch the floor, that could provide a significant test for Zubac’s defensive chops.

The Clippers struggle defending post-ups.

It’s a good thing post-ups have gone out of style in the modern NBA, because LA has an awful hard time defending them. Zubac (1.06 points per possession), Gallinari (1.04 PPP), and Montrezl Harrell (1.00 PPP) are among the worst bigs in defending post-ups, and they all concede more points on those plays than an average half-court possession. Among all Clippers, only Beverley and Lou Williams are better than average at defending post-ups, but they rarely find themselves in those situations.

The LA guards do a good job of fighting through screens.

Landry Shamet, Tyrone Wallace, Beverley, and Williams each encounter a screen on about 10 percent of their defensive plays, but they’ve all been very good at getting through the screens and providing defensive pressure on the other side. Wallace only allows his opponents to shoot 23.1 percent coming off of screens, but fouls a little too often to be an elite defender in these types of plays. Shamet, who has mostly gotten plaudits for his offense since arriving Los Angeles, allows the fewest points per possession (0.75 PPP) of any Clipper. He may have defensive difficulties in other situations, but Shamet at least has shown an ability to stay home on shooters through screens.