You know Shelden Williams’ reputation. He’s the best interior defender in the country. He is Duke’s all-time blocked shots leader. He was the national Defensive Player of the Year last season. He is The Landlord.
It’s just a fact – the man is a great defensive player.
Or is it a fact? It’s been said so many times by so many different people, that everyone just accepts it now. The problem is, I’ve had a nagging feeling since last year that it just isn’t true. Sure, he blocks a lot of shots and he grabs a lot of rebounds. He certainly is a good defensive player, but why is it that so many players seem to have good games against him?
I started wondering this last year late in the season when there was a debate about who was the best big man in the ACC. At the time, Shelden was the general choice, but by the end of the season the argument swung unequivocally to Sean May. All season though, one argument against Shelden was that both May and Eric Williams had had big games against the Landlord.
Then this season, a few more big guys had monster efforts against Duke. First, Marco Killingsworth made a national name for himself after abusing Duke for 34 and 10 in the ACC – Big Ten Challenge. Later, it was NC State’s Cedric Simmons having his breakout game in Cameron – 28 points, nine rebounds, seven blocked shots and three steals.
How is it that these guys all went off against the best defensive player in the country? Some folks say it’s because of Duke’s defensive philosophy. The idea is that because Williams is so strong underneath, they don’t double-team the post and leave him by himself. This way, they can cut down on threes. That’s fine, but if he were really the best defensive player in the country, shouldn’t he be able to guard guys by himself? It sure seems like guys are having big games against him.
To test my theory that he’s overrated, I looked back at the past two seasons. I found all games where Duke played against a top-notch big man. I checked that guy’s point and rebound totals and compared them to his season averages (this is where Ken Pomeroy points out that to be really fair, I should account for tempo. Well, I’m not quite the stats God that he is, so I’m sticking with game totals.). I found that so far this year, Shelden has played six games against five different top-flight big men. Of those six games, three times the opponent exceeded his season average in rebounds. He was held below his average only once. In four of those games, he exceeded his average points. Again, only one time in six tries did Shelden hold his man below his scoring average.
The table below shows the matchups from this season. I bolded the above-average productions and colored the below-average productions red.
From the 2005-06 season:
|Coleman Collins||Virginia Tech||8||7.6||25||16.8|
|Eric Williams||Wake Forest||8||8.8||17||16.2|
|Cedric Simmons||NC State||9||6.9||28||12.8|
|Coleman Collins||Virginia Tech||10||7.6||13||16.8|
Looking back at last year, when he won Defensive Player of the Year honors, Shelden did even worse. Six times in eight games, his opponent exceeded his season average in rebounds. Not once did Williams hold his man below his rebound average.
Seven times in eight tries, his man exceeded his season average in points. Only one time all year did Shelden keep a man below his season scoring average.
And of course, there were a few monster efforts in there that should be noted. Sean May posted 23 and 18 in his first game against Shelden and then his historic 26 and 24(!!) in their second meeting. In Duke’s loss to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen, Paul Davis put up 20 and 12 against the Landlord.
Here are the full numbers from the 2004-05 season:
|Paul Davis||Michigan State||10||8.0||17||12.3|
|Eric Williams||Wake Forest||13||7.7||19||16.1|
|Sean May||North Carolina||18||10.7||23||17.5|
|Eric Williams||Wake Forest||8||7.7||10||16.1|
|Sean May||North Carolina||24||10.7||26||17.5|
|Paul Davis||Michigan State||12||8.0||20||12.3|
So, what does this all mean?
To me, it says that while Shelden Williams is a terrific defender most of the time, he has a hard time matching up against guys of similar size, strength and skill. He dominates the lesser players, but can’t pick on guys his own size, to use the old cliche. That’s probably not a good sign for his NBA aspirations.
Keep this in mind the next time you hear Billy Packer or Dick Vitale going on and on about the Landlord and when you read later this year about how he won his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award (because he will).