Basketball fans tend to think of hustle as trying really hard on defense and diving on the floor whenever possible – and certainly that is hustle in its purest, simplest form. But what if someone told you there was a way to quantify hustle, to use data and put a number on effort?
Well, there is.
The NBA tracked every deflection, contest, charge, loose ball, and screen assist in the NBA this year, and the results were telling: The Golden State Warriors – who won an NBA championship one year and won 73 games the next – are really good at hustle. In fact, they’re better than anyone else.
“Way better,” Sports Illustrated senior NBA writer Lee Jenkins said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You. “They rank top two in four of the five major categories. They’re dominant when it comes to this. That surprised me a little bit. You knew (Draymond) Green individually would rank well. He’s the No. 1 forward. Steph Curry, though, is the No. 2 guard, and that kind of surprised me. Usually the guys who are good at this are also good defenders. Curry’s not necessarily a bad defender, but I don’t think of him being one of those top-tier (defenders). You think Tony Allen. You think (Patrick) Beverley. But for Curry to be second, that was a little bit surprising. I think a lot of it just shows their instincts and knowledge of the game.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers, not surprisingly, did not rank well in the hustle department. Will that matter in the NBA Finals, assuming we get Cavs/Warriors Part III?
Maybe, maybe not.
“It hasn’t mattered so far,” Jenkins said. “And this gets into kind of the rest issue and how much they coasted. Listen, they rank near the bottom, not surprisingly, in these categories, just like they did on defense. But does the fact that they rank near the bottom mean that they’re not a good defensive team? Or does it mean that they just didn’t choose to play their hardest? When you look at these (stats), the numbers spike in the playoffs as opposed to the regular season. It’s basically telling you that there teams across the board play harder in the playoffs. That’s clearly not a surprise. With the Cavs, it seems that disparity is even wider.”
Of course, no one would fault LeBron James for coasting during the regular season. After all, the 32-year-old is vying for his seventh consecutive NBA Finals.
“He obviously knows what it takes to win in the playoffs,” Jenkins continued. “Will some of those habits come back to bite them against a team like the Warriors that is so good where you have to be so sharp and you’re going to face adversity? Maybe. Maybe it will. But maybe they would have lost that series anyway. The disparity with the talent between the Warriors and everybody – even the Cavs – is still significant.”