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LeBron James vs. Luc Mbah a Moute, A Defensive Impact Study

LeBron James. Luc Mbah a Moute. NBA superstar. NBA superstar (perimeter) defender. Two men enter. Only one man will survive the battle. Okay, both men will survive the battle. In fact, 10 men will enter and all of them will survive the battle, but that gets back some of my frustrations in evaluating perimeter defense from the introductory piece.

What are you doing?

I've combined three seasons worth of stats for each player in a select group of top-end perimeter scorers (LeBron James in this edition), and compared production levels to when Luc Mbah a Moute is on the court with that player. The assumption is that LRMAM is often matched up against that player, or that he makes a direct impact on that player's production. If we can't assume that much, what's an ace perimeter defender good for anyways?

What does it mean?

The sample size for each on-court "matchup" is too small to be predictive of future performance -- LRMAM and LeBron have shared the court for 249 minutes (more than five full games) over the last three years -- so the findings are merely descriptive. In other words, this is a strict evaluation of what has already happened, not any grand pronouncement that future matchups will proceed along the exact same lines. The data here is fit to answer the question: how has LRMAM impacted LeBron James' performance when they have shared the court over the last three seasons.

What did you find?

In addition to crunching the numbers, I watched a lot of video clips of LeBron vs. LRMAM as well. Two things stuck out to me while watching those plays:

  1. LRMAM has the length to bother LeBron on jumpshots, but also brings the quickness to cut off premium angles on drives. He typically crowds James on the perimeter to force him into difficult situations once the ball is put on the floor.
  2. In iso plays, the most common successful defensive outcomes I witnessed were: (a) LRAMAM cut off the driving angle and forced LeBron into a tough pull-up from mid-range, (b) LRMAM forced LeBron to give up the ball before he wanted to by cutting off his driving angle, or (c) LeBron fought hard to get the edge on a drive, but to get around LRMAM he had to accelerate going either slightly away from the rim or directly into shot-blocker extraordinaire Andrew Bogut. Last season LRMAM felt Bogut's absence, and LBJ's conversion rate at the rim spiked, but perhaps Samuel Dalembert can fill that role.

Here are the actual numbers, presented in infographic form to spice things up (click to enlarge):


Finally, I've included a clip that I think represents LRMAM's approach on LeBron: