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Stats Don’t Lie: In Thirdy’s defense, we trust

While everyone is rightfully excited and looking forward to seeing how Thirdy Ravena will fare in Japan, let’s take a look at his most recent games playing on the international stage. But instead of looking at his offensive exploits, let’s focus on the one aspect of his game that really stands out: his defense.

Before I start, I wanna point out that I got to see Thirdy work up close with Mighty Sports in Dubai earlier this year. So while I do think there are things he needs to work on still, I was fairly impressed with his defense and that’s why I wanted this post to be about that side of the game.

Even early on in his collegiate career, I felt he had much more upside on the defensive end than on offense. I’m glad he’s proved me wrong and showed that he can be a complete two-way player.

Playing alongside former NBA players and other imports, Thirdy wasn’t relied upon to score in the Dubai tournament. So how would he make his mark? Locking up opposing perimeter threats.

Let’s look at some clips of Thirdy locking up Aubrey Coleman.

For what it’s worth, Coleman was the leading scorer in the NCAA back in 2010. It’s his job to get buckets. Coach Charles Tiu challenged Thirdy to make life difficult for Coleman and for a good stretch in the first half, Thirdy got the job done.

In the clip above, Thirdy stays in front of Coleman, hits the floor to retrieve the loose ball, and gets rewarded with a bucket on the other end.

In this next clip, notice how Thirdy works to deny Coleman from getting the ball.

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Thirdy gets beat on the crossover (which is bound to happen when you are defending great offensive players) and receives help from Balkman. Thirdy instinctively rotates to Balkman’s man and gets a block.

It’s great that Thirdy got recorded defensive stats for the clips above, but what about other stops where he didn’t?

The hard thing about defense – and probably the reason why it doesn’t get as much love as offense – is that there aren’t many stats that highlight defense. For the longest time, the only defensive stats that were recorded steals and blocks, and obviously they represent just a small portion of what constitutes good defense.

One of Thirdy’s advantages is that he’s got good defensive balance and long arms, allowing him to stay in front and put up a solid contest. In the next few clips, Thirdy stays in front of his man (Coleman, Mike Efevberha, and Geron Johnson) eventually forces him into taking what the defense wants – a contested pullup.

In these clips, Thirdy does his role in getting a stop but in a traditional box score, he wouldn’t be credited for any of them.

The good news is that leagues are starting to track things like contest rates and one-on-one defensive field goal percentage. Moreover, teams are also tracking their own stats, things like for pressing or even tracking mistakes, like blowbys or missed rotations.

Speaking of defensive mistakes, Thirdy isn’t without his areas of improvement either. He has a tendency to foul after getting beat although this is more from a result of effort and over aggressiveness front rather than laziness and reaching in.

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It’s this aggressiveness though that makes Thirdy an excellent defender. He doesn’t whiff on screens and puts in that extra effort to get back in the play.

Here are some clips of some “solid” screens that knock Thirdy off balance but he’s able to recover.

In this clip, Thirdy fights through three screens and does a pretty good job of staying in front of Mike Efevberha before he gives up the ball. Notice how he spins off the second ball screen to stay in front – I’ve always found this technique quite curious.

In this second clip, Thirdy gets trucked by back-to-back screens but still gets a decent contest on Efevberha’s jumper.

Aside from his on-ball defense, I do think Thirdy also has the qualities to be a solid off-ball defender. He’s learned a lot in Ateneo’s system the last few years but I’m sure one of the most important skills he picked up is that of communicating with teammates, especially on the defensive end.

In this Diamond set, Jamie Malonzo and Thirdy call out a switch off the screening action, which results in Thirdy denying Efevberha.

This Al Riyadi set is actually called to get a shot for Efevberha, but because they were able to bust the play and eliminate the number one option on the play, point guard Arajki has no choice but to just call for a ball screen.

Communication is going to be key going forward for Thirdy, especially since he’ll be playing in a foreign country.

Good fit with San-en NeoPhoenix?

First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way – the NeoPhoenix were terrible last season. In fact, they’re probably glad that their season was cut short, as the team was limping to the finish line with a 5-37 record.

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The team ranked second to last in both offense and defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and had a net rating of minus-17.8. That last figure means that over 100 possessions, NeoPhoenix was 17.8 points worse than their opponents.

The good news is that this should provide Thirdy with a great opportunity to play and grow. He could give them a shot in the arm on both ends of the floor. With a new coach and possibly new, healthier imports, perhaps the NeoPhoenix will be able to finish in the middle of the table next season.

Count me in as one of the ones who are optimistic about the next step in Thirdy’s journey. If there’s one thing that I know about him it’s that he’s extremely hard working. More than once, I’ve walked into a random gym before a practice or game and I’d see Thirdy working on his game with a trainer or PBA players.

In Dubai, we landed at around 10PM and the first thing our organizers had to do was find a gym for him to shoot and get some shots up. He did this every day of the tournament, even on our off days.

That’s why it’s no surprise to me that he has this opportunity in front of him. He’s worked for it. How can you not root for a guy like that?

This feature first appeared on in a story titled Dissecting Thirdy’s Defense

Written By

Professional and collegiate basketball coach with a background in scouting and analytics. Lifelong learner.

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