Derek J. Hernandez

The #1 Stat In Determining the 2012-13 NBA Champion

During last year’s playoffs I took a statistical look at Charles Barkley’s and most experts’ accusations that the Oklahoma City Thunder only shot “90-foot jumpers”. I also dived into OKC’s chances at winning the title. Let’s just say Sir Charles did a little exaggerating.

In short, what my research showed was that the old adage “Defense wins championships” holds true. Take a look at all the NBA champions since 2003.

Opponent Points Per Game for NBA Champions since 2003


Team (Rank)

Miami – 4

Dallas – 10

LA – 10

LA – 13

Boston – 2

San Antonio – 1

Miami – 11

San Antonio – 2

Detroit – 1

It may have not been pretty, but the Larry Brown-led Piston’s suffocating defense led them to a title in 2003.

As you can see, you’ve got to have a top-10 defense or at least something close to it to have a shot at hoisting the trophy. Let’s take a look at the top 13* defenses at the end of the last regular season. I also added my thoughts on each team’s chance of actually being as stingy this upcoming season as well as their realistic chances of being a legit contender for the title.

*I chose 13 since the lowest ranked defensive team to win the title since 2003 was the 2009 Lakers who ranked 13th in opponent’s points per game.

Opponent Points Per Game for 2011-2012 Season: 


  1. Chicago – The Bulls lose defensive linchpin Omer Asik and D. Rose will be out most if not all of the season.
  2. Philadelphia – There were a ton of changes on this team but the Sixers are hoping what they gain from Bynum on the interior will off-set the loss of Iggy’s ferocious D on the perimeter. I’d say they have a shot of being as stingy on defense this season but I don’t think they have the talent to knock off the top teams in the East.
  3. Boston – As with Philly, there were a ton of changes for this team but they’ve got the talent and experience to spring an upset on Miami. Plus, Boston always plays great D right?
  4. Miami – THE prohibitive favorite to win it all and a lot of that is because of their defense. I do worry they overdid the whole “small-ball” thing though and could get exposed down low. But to who?
  5. Atlanta – No more Joe Johnson and Kirk Hinrich but I think the D could still be stingy. Out of the first/second round though? Not so much.
  6. Memphis – This could be the last stand for this Grizzlies squad as contract decisions loom. As long as they stay together through the season it’s a safe bet they’ll be just as good defensively this year. Sleeper pick for the title anyone?
  7. New Orleans – I was shocked as you are in seeing this team ranked this high. They’ll be fun to watch this year but I don’t expect them to be ranked this high again. Especially if Austin Rivers plays a ton.
  8. Orlando – HA. Team was blown up this off-season. I think the only number 8 they’ll see this year is in the win column.
  9. Indiana – I can see this team being ranked in the top 5 at year’s end. Probably the 3rd best team in the East.
  10. Toronto – Landry Fields was this team’s big pick-up. Landry. Fields. They may play some D under defensive wiz Dwayne Casey but they aren’t anywhere near an NBA title.
  11. New York – Tyson Chandler and rookie sensation Iman Shumert made a big difference last season for the Knickerbockers on the defensive end and surprisingly this will be the first 82-game slate for Carmelo as a Knick. It’s a long shot but they’ve got one.
  12. LA Clippers – Flop City, I mean Lob City was more than just flair last season. This team is like 18-deep this year and Coach Chris Paul should have this team improved and ready for a run in the playoffs. That whole Vinny Del Negro thing though…
  13. Dallas – My how this team has changed in two years. Too many changes for this patchwork squad to be a real contender this year.

Manu can’t believe he was left off my initial list of teams that have a shot of winning the NBA title this season. (photo via Getty Images)

Based on everything above I’d say only 6 of top 13 defensive teams from last season (highlighted in green) have a shot at winning the title.  Are these the only contenders? Definitely not. The Spurs, Lakers and Thunder are glaringly missing from this list of contenders and the Nuggets have the depth and talent to make a run.  However, if these omitted teams don’t crack the top 13 defensively do they really have a shot? Recent history says no.

I’ll keep track of this team statistic throughout the season and update my list of real contenders. I’ll also look to see if there were other common statistics the champions of the last decade had and analyze those stats as well.

What are your thoughts about this data? Do you have any other metrics you think I should consider? Let me know in the comments section.





  1. Alyssa Michele

    October 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Good insight! Hopefully my Thunder’s defense steps it up a notch this season so we can take home the trophy!

    • Derek Hernandez

      October 31, 2012 at 4:15 pm

      I think they’ll be improved. KD and Russ picked up some valuable experience not only in the Finals last year but playing team D in the Olympics as well. The team as a whole will be more athletic compared to last year’s squad and that should help matching up with all the small-ball teams out there.

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