Indiana provided coach Tom Crean with a lot of statistical ammunition to praise his team’s defense on Sunday night. The Hoosiers forced a Butler team that typically takes outstanding care of the basketball into 21 turnovers. They held the Bulldogs to 38.2 percent shooting and 27.8 percent shooting from beyond the 3-point arc, and adjusted well enough on explosive Butler guard Chrishawn Hopkins to hold him to just one field goal in the second half.
But the first statistic that Crean mentioned when he entered the Assembly Hall press room Sunday night were his team’s deflections, which are his measure of defensive activity. He said the Hoosiers had 74, which he said were the most any team he’s even been a part of — as a head coach or an assistant — had recorded.
But there’s no way to check that, of course, because deflections aren’t a standardized statistic and don’t appear in a box score. Crean has often used the term to discuss his team’s defensive activity, but was finally asked to define it last night.
“It’s not a rebound,” Crean said. “For us, it’s a charge. A shot-clock violation. It’s a tip. I tip it, you grab it, deflection for me, deflection for you. If it’s a blocked shot, if it’s a steal, if it’s a loose ball, but if it’s just not a rebound. If the ball’s loose off the board — now if it bounces off to midcourt, that’s another story — but if it’s loose off the board, that’s just a loose ball rebound, that’s a 50-50 ball.”
Crean did not go on to explain his entire definition to the point where one might be able to accurately chart deflections by watching game tape, but it does allow for certain deductions.
The deflection statistic is used by many coaches, not just Crean and not just those that are part of the coaching trees he belongs to. (Dustin’s note: Both coaches I covered at James Madison used them as well). Because the statistic is not standardized — no one charts who leads the Big Ten or Division I in the category — deflections are whatever a coach wants them to be, and obviously by Crean’s explanation, players are not required to literally deflect the ball to be credited with a deflection, though literal deflections certainly count.
In some cases, deflections are handed out with the same sort of logic as some football coaches give out helmet stickers. Just as everyone might get a helmet sticker for a win, some coaches give out deflections to all five defenders on the floor in case of a 35-second violation.
The point of the deflection statistic is not for a coach to measure his team against others, but more so to measure it against itself, and also as a metric for defensive activity, which helps coaches determine who should be on the floor and when. Because the definition somewhat fluid and malleable for coaching purposes, that also allows coaches to construct it so it fits their personal preferences for what they want on defense.
UPDATE, 7:53 p.m.: Crean was asked about deflections by a fan on his radio show on Monday night. Crean said that if a player gets even a finger tip on the basketball on defense, that’s a deflection. It doesn’t matter if the offense keeps the ball or not. Even if a pass is tipped and ends up in the opponent’s hands, it’s still a deflection. It’s also a deflection, of course, if the ball is knocked out of bounds and stays with the opponent.