What Is Defensive Efficiency in Basketball?

Jalen Rose

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Defensive Efficiency in Basketball

Defense is a critical aspect of basketball, and understanding defensive efficiency is essential for assessing a team’s ability to prevent their opponents from scoring. 

Defensive efficiency measures a team’s effectiveness in limiting their opponents’ scoring opportunities and points. 

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of defensive efficiency in basketball, including its components, calculation methods, and notable examples from the NBA. So, stay with us here till the end of this article.  

What Is Defensive Efficiency in Basketball?

Defensive efficiency in basketball refers to a team’s ability to effectively prevent their opponents from scoring. 

It is measured by analyzing various factors such as defensive rating, efficiency at preventing points, scoring percentage against, and field goal percentage against. Real data is used to assess a team’s defensive performance and compare it to other teams. 

For example, the top-ranked teams in defensive efficiency during the 2020-2021 NBA season were the Los Angeles Lakers (106.8 defensive rating), Utah Jazz (107.2), Philadelphia 76ers (107.6), New York Knicks (108.2), and Milwaukee Bucks (108.9). 

These figures highlight their ability to limit opponents’ scoring opportunities and showcase their defensive prowess on the basketball court.

Explanation of Defensive Efficiency

Defensive Efficiency in Basketball

Defensive efficiency is a multifaceted concept that encompasses several key factors, all of which contribute to a team’s ability to prevent their opponents from scoring. 

By analyzing these factors, we can gain a deeper understanding of how effective a team is on the defensive end of the basketball court.

Defensive Rating

One of the primary metrics used to gauge defensive efficiency is the defensive rating. This metric quantifies a team’s defensive performance by measuring the number of points they allow per 100 possessions. 

By considering both the number of points allowed and the pace of the game, the defensive rating provides a standardized measure for comparing teams’ defensive abilities. 

A lower defensive rating indicates a more effective defense, as it signifies that the team is successfully limiting their opponents’ scoring opportunities.

Efficiency at Preventing Points

Efficiency at preventing points refers to a team’s effectiveness in limiting their opponents’ scoring opportunities. 

This aspect of defensive efficiency involves employing various techniques such as contesting shots, applying defensive pressure, and forcing turnovers. 

By disrupting the opposing team’s offensive flow, a team can decrease their opponents’ scoring efficiency and ultimately prevent them from accumulating high point totals.

Scoring Percentage Against

Scoring percentage against is another crucial component in assessing defensive efficiency. This metric calculates the percentage of opponent field goals made against their attempts. 

A lower scoring percentage indicates a more efficient defense, as it implies that the team is effectively contesting shots and forcing their opponents to take difficult shots, resulting in a lower conversion rate.

Field Goal Percentage Against

Field goal percentage against is a specific focus within defensive efficiency. It measures the percentage of opponent field goals made compared to their total attempts. 

This metric provides valuable insights into a team’s ability to contest shots and force misses. 

A lower field goal percentage indicates a more formidable defense, as it demonstrates the team’s success in disrupting their opponents’ shooting accuracy and reducing their overall scoring efficiency.

By considering these various factors and metrics, we can paint a comprehensive picture of a team’s defensive efficiency.

How To Calculate Defensive Efficiency?

How To Calculate Defensive Efficiency?

Calculating defensive efficiency involves a simple formula that provides insight into a team’s defensive performance. Here are the steps to calculate defensive efficiency:

Step 1: Determine the number of points allowed

Start by finding the total number of points the team has allowed in a game or over a season. This includes all points conceded by the team’s opponents. This information can be obtained from game or season statistics.

Step 2: Find the number of possessions

Next, calculate the number of possessions the opponents had during the same time frame. 

Possessions can be estimated by adding the total field goal attempts, free throw attempts, and turnovers of the opposing team. This data is typically available in-game or season statistics as well.

Step 3: Divide points allowed by possessions

Divide the total points allowed by the number of possessions. This yields the team’s defensive points per possession. The formula is as follows:

Defensive Points Per Possession = Total Points Allowed / Number of Possessions

Step 4: Multiply by 100

To express defensive efficiency in a more manageable metric, multiply the defensive points per possession by 100. This gives the defensive rating, which represents the number of points allowed per 100 possessions. 

The formula is as follows:

Defensive Rating = Defensive Points Per Possession * 100

Just by following these steps, teams and analysts can calculate the defensive efficiency of a basketball team, allowing them to evaluate and compare defensive performances accurately.

What is the Good Defensive Efficiency Rating?

Good Defensive Efficiency Rating

Determining what constitutes a good defensive efficiency rating is influenced by several factors, including the league, level of competition, and playing style. 

However, a commonly accepted benchmark for a good defensive efficiency rating is a value below 100.

League and Level of Competition

Defensive efficiency ratings can vary across different leagues and levels of competition. For example, professional leagues like the NBA may have higher overall offensive output, making it more challenging to achieve a lower defensive efficiency rating. 

On the other hand, lower-level leagues or college basketball may have lower offensive proficiency, resulting in generally lower defensive efficiency ratings.

Playing Style

Playing style can also impact what is considered a good defensive efficiency rating. Some teams prioritize a slower pace of play, employing a more deliberate defensive approach. These teams may aim for a lower defensive efficiency rating. 

Conversely, teams that adopt a more up-tempo, high-scoring style of play may have slightly higher defensive efficiency ratings due to the increased number of possessions and scoring opportunities.

It’s important to note that defensive efficiency ratings should be considered in conjunction with other defensive metrics and contextual factors. 

While a rating below 100 is generally considered excellent, it’s essential to evaluate defensive performance holistically, considering factors such as opponent quality, defensive strategies, and overall team dynamics.

The Best Defensive Efficiency in the NBA

Here is a table showcasing some of the NBA’s best defensive efficiency ratings based on the years 2010 to 2022:

TeamDefensive Efficiency Rating
Boston Celtics98.2
San Antonio Spurs99.6
Miami Heat101.9
Golden State Warriors102.8
Toronto Raptors103.8

Please note that these ratings are subject to change each season and are based on the specific years mentioned.


Are there any other advanced defensive metrics used in basketball?

Yes, there are several advanced defensive metrics such as defensive win shares, defensive box plus/minus, and steal and block percentages that provide additional insights into a player’s defensive contributions.

Can defensive efficiency vary across different game situations?

Yes, defensive efficiency can vary depending on factors like game pace, opponent strength, and specific game situations. 

Teams may employ different defensive strategies based on their opponents’ strengths and adjust their efficiency accordingly.

Which teams have consistently shown high defensive efficiency over the years?

Some teams known for their strong defensive efficiency throughout the years include the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, and Toronto Raptors. 

These teams have consistently prioritized defense and implemented effective defensive systems.

Does defensive efficiency correlate with winning championships?

While defensive efficiency is a crucial factor in a team’s success, winning championships requires a combination of offensive and defensive prowess. 

However, teams with strong defensive efficiency often have an advantage in playoff matchups, as defense becomes even more critical in high-stakes games.

Can defensive efficiency be improved through coaching and strategy?

Absolutely. Coaching and strategy play a significant role in improving defensive efficiency. Coaches develop game plans, defensive schemes, and strategies to exploit opponents’ weaknesses and maximize defensive effectiveness. 

Proper coaching, player development, and teamwork can significantly enhance a team’s defensive efficiency.


Defensive efficiency is a vital aspect of basketball, measuring a team’s ability to prevent opponents from scoring.

Factors such as defensive rating, efficiency at preventing points, scoring percentage against, and field goal percentage against are key indicators of defensive prowess. 

Consistently high defensive efficiency is often a hallmark of successful teams, and coaching and strategy play a significant role in improving defensive performance. 

By focusing on defensive fundamentals, implementing effective strategies, and prioritizing teamwork, teams can elevate their defensive efficiency and gain a competitive edge on the basketball court. Thank you. 

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Jalen Rose

I am a sports analyst in USA and I have been writing about sports for more than a decade. My career started with writing about the NBA for my school newspaper. After that, I became the Sports Editor of my college paper, then the managing editor of my university’s official website. After graduating from college, I started working as an Assistant Sports Editor at the local newspaper in Atlanta. per. I've been there ever since and have had many opportunities to write about different aspects of sports journalism and interact with other writers and editors from all over the world. LinkedIn

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