Defensive stats and the Zavier Simpson/Cassius Winston debate

There has been a lot of discussion in other threads about Simpson (is he a “lock down defender” or a guy who plays passing lanes well) and Winston (his offensive efficiency numbers and how to assess them, and how he is as a defender), and their relative merits. Part of the problem is that defensive stats are more difficult to measure than are offensive stats. It’s difficult to analyze the impact of team defense, switches, closeouts, etc. vis-a-vis individual defense when looking at an opponent’s stats. In addition, an opponent’s efficiency is impacted by play occurring when he is on the floor and the defender in question is sitting on the bench.

Nonetheless, if you look at efficiency numbers for a player’s primary guard over a significant number of games against quality opponents, and compare them with how the same primary guard does against other opponents, it seems like you can get a good idea–not perfect, but better than simply the “eye test”–of a player’s defensive prowess, especially if you’re comparing teams of comparable defensive levels, so that you don’t have one guy benefitting from an elite team defense while the other suffers from a bad one. Last year, in Bart Torvik’s stats, this was the case for Michigan and MSU (Michigan was the 3rd rayed defense nationally, and MSU was 9th).

Simpson regained his starting spot at the beginning of January and thereafter, played 26 games against Big Ten or NCAA Tournament opponents. The quality of competition he played was excellent–the NPOY (Brunson), 2 conference POYs (Gray and Custer), an NBA draftee (Carr), and no less than other 11 games against guys who made the UMHoops/Inside the Glass top 25 for this coming year (3 games against Edwards, 3 against Bohannon, 2 against Winston, 2 against Cowan and 1 against Frazier). The year-long average efficiency rating for the guys playing against Simpson was 111.0 (100 is average). Taken only for games against top 50 opponents, the average for the guys playing against Simpson was 102.0. Against Simpson, the number was 95.7 (i.e., his numbers were considerably better than average overall, and noticeably better even those of defenders on elite teams).

Ironically, Simpson’s offensive efficiency numbers were better against top 50 opponents than they were against overall competition. For the year, he was 104.6 against all opponents, and 105.5 against top 50 teams. These numbers pretty much mirror his post-December numbers.

Winston’s numbers show some opposite trends. He played 20 games starting in January against either Big Ten or NCAA Tournament teams. On defense, the average overall efficiency of his primary guard was 107.1. The average efficiency against top 50 opponents of those players was 101.9. Against Winston, the number was 105.5 (i.e., his numbers were slightly better than average overall, but below defenders on elite teams). Offensively, his year-long efficiency numbers overall were, as Dylan put it, ridiculous (129.2), but against top 50 teams, those numbers dropped off a cliff to 105.2 (lower than Simpson’s against top 50 opponents).

This is not meant to form definitive conclusions as to the relative worth of Winston and Simpson–as noted, the stats are not perfect by any means, and even the offensive stats need context in terms of who else surrounded the players. It is, however, designed to provide some thoughts as to why those of us who are Simpson fans are not simply wearing maize and blue goggles.

Have at me.


I could take Simpson and 4 guys from Lima Ohio and beat the top 5 players on Dylan’s list

Dialing my inner Moses Malone

‘Malone stuck to the line even after Boston beat Houston for the NBA title and insisted he could beat the Celtics with a pickup team from his hometown of Petersburg, Va.’

I hope those Lima guys can shoot better than their esteemed leader can.


Regarding eyeball test: I was questioning if I was being too hard on Winston’ s defense, so I rewatched the 11 minute "every field goal video recap " of UM versus MSU–and I realized Winston is worse than I remembered. He was an absolutely horrible defender in that game.

Thanks for taking the time to provide stats!

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His D really is strikingly bad. Like Kelly Tripucka checking Dominique Wilkins bad. Last regular season game of the year Bohannon went for about 30 against MSU, the Iowa pg did similar things against MSU.

In the Big Ten Tourney against both Wisconsin and M, Izzo had Langford check the PG for a spell because Winston couldn’t.

I truly hope for his sake, Winston figured it out a bit this year. Seems like a great kid, but like Spike, there are some noticeable limitations

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As far as defense MSU’s backcourt is in trouble with a big T.

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Winston wasn’t recruited because of his D. Simpson wasn’t recruited because of his three.

Their limitations were well known before entering college.

They both now play pivotal roles on good college teams. Next.


Should the conversation have ended right after you said you don’t understand the “Simpson fanaticism”? Or should we have waited to end the conversation until right after you claimed the people who are critical of Winston’s shortcomings would be “ecstatic” if Winston was at Michigan?

So all of you guys in the Zavier Simpson is drastically underrated in the UM Hoops/ITH Top 25… why don’t you think he’s getting that sort of recognition from anyone else either, especially relative to Winston. Posting this because I have a roundup of all the different preseason mags tomorrow that I don’t think you guys are going to like :slight_smile:

There’s no debate that Simpson beat up on Winston last year head-to-head and that Michigan was a perfect matchup for MSU, but that doesn’t discount everything else about Winston does it?


I am in the Simpson is rated fine but Winston is overrated camp but I will answer your question: Defense is under-appreciated and under-scrutinized because it is hard to quantify when it is good and bad.

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I agree that it is hard to quantify and that is a big part, but it is also a lot easier for an individual to make an individual impact on a game offensively than defensively. Good defensive teams are just that, not always a collection of good defensive players.

Take Duncan Robinson for example, he wasn’t a great defender, but he fit into a great team defense.

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Unless we’re talking about an intimidating center, when hasn’t most of the recognition gone to offensive stars at every level? Scorers in particular. Most all-star teams look nearly identical to how they would if defense wasn’t considered at all. Maybe offense is more important in basketball. It’s certainly what most media coverage is about and what fans care the most about.

Winston was HORRIBLE at defense last year HORRIBLE. There in lies the issue, added to that and in conjunction with that he a below par athlete for a PG. These things are self evident if you’ve ever seen him play. On top of that his effort on D left a lot to be desired.
There is a reason why, despite his phenomenal offensive stats, he didn’t draw interest from NBA teams and never seriously considered leaving MSU, he couldn’t survive athletically. I don’t think he’s much better than Spike Albrecht

No one is denying that he is a poor defender. Not really a secret.

Michigan State was able to mask his deficiencies (top 10 defense) better than Michigan was able to mask Simpson’s (#35 defense) which I think speaks to the point that defense is more about team than individual.

Would have loved to see where you guys weighed in on Nik Stauskas B10 POTY discussions :slight_smile:

In terms of Winston getting All-American type mention, I think that is taking it a bit too far. I’m still cautious about how much he can do as an alpha dog in that offense. Is he a guy who you run everything through? We’ll probably find out.

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Duncan is also under appreciated as an individual defender if you watch the summer league.


Cassius Winston not being much better than Spike Albrecht is such a ridiculous take. Dude was 8th in the country in assists last year and 2nd in the country in three point percentage on a lot of attempts…he was the catalyst of a dominant regular season team. Yes MSU is our hated rival and yes we beat them twice and yes they lost to Syracuse (LOL IZZO BEN CARTER) but come on…that is the type of hot take I would expect to see on all the other Michigan fan blogs that have nowhere near the level of quality conversations that take place on this site.

Say he’s not an all-American or say he’s not a top 5 player in the big ten and I’ll listen to your argument. But throw out “he’s not much better than Spike Albrecht” and you lose me. That’s like saying “Nik Stauskas wasn’t much better than Matt McQuaid”


Agree to disagree
Its not a hot take. Its true

Never thought Nik Stauskas was the best player on Michigan, Caris was always the superior talent, but I understand why Stauskas was POTY, just as well as I understand but disagree with many of your top 25 ratings, Winston being the most egregious. That said I wouldn’t want to do a top 25; very difficult undertaking. Major props to you

Winston is getting major props across the board because his overall offensive numbers are crazy good. He shot almost 50% from 3, and about 90% from the line. His overall offensive efficiency rating is an unbelievable 129.2. Winston is a very, very good offensive player. When you compare that against Simpson’s 30% from 3 and 51% from the line, and overall offensive efficiency rating of 104.6, you see a huge offensive difference.

There are, however, two ends of the court, and Simpson is dramatically better on the defensive end. Because it’s harder to quantify defense, the rankings (top 3 in the BT vs. not top 25; 9th in the country in Lindy’s vs. not top 150) skew heavily to Winston, just as Stauskas won BT POY and was an AA despite a complete allergy to defense. I get that. The thing Winston has to overcome in my mind, though, is that he has to step up big against elite teams. His offensive efficiency rating against top 50 opponents was 105.6, or worse than Simpson’s efficiency number against such teams. He had some good games against those teams and some bad ones, but it’s worth noting that his four best games against top 50 teams came against teams which didn’t make the tournament–Notre Dame, Nebraska, Maryland and Penn State. These were his numbers against top 50 teams which made the field–79.5 vs. Duke, 88.5 vs. UNC, 122.4 vs. OSU, 90.0 and 101.5 against Michigan, 96.4 against Purdue, and 122.9 vs. Syracuse. That averages to 100.2 (average is 100). By contrast, Stauskas was 120.8 against top 50 teams in 2013-14, with the following numbers against top 50 teams which made the tournament–120.2, 69.9, 113.6, 120.2, 112.9, 144.0, 158.6, 105.2, 126.9, 82.4, 78.1, 141.9, 99.3, 151.6, 111.4, 125.4, which averages to 116.4. If/when Winston gets to that level of offensive performance against top teams, I’ll disregard any defensive flaws he has. Until then, I think he is, while very good, overrated.


totally agree! Winston usually disappears in big games, and Simpson, more often than not, shows up with some magics on the offensive end. That could change for Winston this coming season, but I have to see it to believe it.