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Peja Stojakovic has long been called a weak defender. That's a knee-jerk assessment people have of a lot of European players, whether it's true or not. It's doubly true of those who aren't super quick laterally, and don't like hard, physical play.
But if you notice, more and more he has been assigned to stop top scorers, and he has been doing a nice job of it too.
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 examines the Hornets' defense, as part of a post calling for Byron Scott to win Coach of the Year. This Stojakovic passage was some fine analysis:
Peja is good at two types of defense, perimeter and help, and weak at two others, post and fast break. Far from being a weak link, Peja's skills on the perimeter have him frequently covering the top perimeter threats.(McGrady, LeBron, Bryant) As a perimeter defender, he is a bit unorthodox. Elite defenders usually guard their man by bumping and muscling them(Bowen, Battier), or using incredible speed to stay in front of the guy(Paul, Baron). Peja does neither of these things. When he takes a man, he knows his weaknesses and instead compensates by using his two best defensive assets - anticipation and height. His height allows him to lay off his man just another half step, allowing him to close and still contest the shot, or ancticipate and cut off a player trying to get past him by stepping in front of him as he begins his move. Once he closes, Peja's tall enough to contest almost any shot.
If a player is a determined driver, Peja is also always aware of where his help defense and is good at funneling the player into trouble, or, if they do manage to get past him towards where there is no help, he judiciously fouls them on the perimeter before they take a shot. Usually, these are always good fouls.
An example of his defense comes from that very game against LeBron where he was called a traffic cone. All game long, Peja had been checking LeBron.(6-14 for 21 points) When he caught the ball, Peja would get right in front of him, and not bite on his jab steps and headfakes. After about five seconds of precious time, a double would arrive, and LeBron would have to give the ball up or jack up a shot. At the end of the game, LeBron blew by Peja for only the second time all game. All game. LeBron also made his move so early in the clock(leaving us enough time to win) because he knew the double was coming and he had to go as soon as he caught it. It was an unexpected move, and I don't blame Peja for being caught by it, you can't stop everyone all the time, but he is very solid on the perimeter.
His weakness revolve around one thing: Contact. On fast breaks, you will never see Peja give a hard foul to break up a layup. Ever. Instead he'll try to stay close to the guy and bother him a little in the hope of making him miss a layup, or at most, he'll swipe at the ball, sometimes earning lame fouls. He's just not good at defending the break. In the post, he is clearly uncomfortable at handling determined players trying to post him up. He still anticipates well, keeping between the player and the basket, but he's not good at muscling players away from their perferred spots, so he still gives up good shots in the post.
And here is where my original intent for this post diverged. Peja's weakness in the post is pretty obvious. Why isn't he always put into that situation? The answer: against good teams, he is.
The Hornets are one of the best teams in the league, but one of the least televised and written about. Heading into the playoffs, we're lucky to have Hornets247 telling how the Hornets work. There's lots more to this post about the Hornets' defense. Well worth a read.