Ball-hawk is typically a term reserved for cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL. The mark of a good defensive back is someone who can capitalize on the quarterbacks errant throws. A great defensive back is when they can “bait” a quarterback into a bad throw and then take advantage of it.
Of all the defensive backs in recent memory no player better exemplified this than Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed. Reed was notorious for his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and make a play on the pass for an interception. There is perhaps no better example of his ball-hawking than this story from Bill Belicheck on a interception made by Reed against Peyton Manning of the Colts.
Now in terms of the NBA there are all kinds of great defenders. There’s defenders that are great at locking down a player 1-on-1. Defenders that excel in help defense. Defenders that blocking shots at the rim and so on. But the best in the league at baiting players into making poor passing decisions is Jimmy Butler. Overall he’s an elite defender — despite the All-Defense snub this year. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s been at 2.2% or above at steal percentage — percentage of steals per plays the other team ran — every year since the 2016-2017 season. He can guard the best wing on the other team 1-on-1. He has great hands as a help defender. But by far what he’s best at is being in passing lanes, getting deflections, and getting an easy layup out of it.
Kawhi Leonard is still the best wing defender — when he wants to be — but Butler is the best in the league at getting “pick sixes” by baiting the offensive player into thinking a pass is safe. It’s why he is the Ed Reed of the NBA. As the matchup between the Heat and the Celtics approaches, he will have to be at the top of his “Ed Reed” game for the Heat to come out of the series victorious.
by Frank Greco (@fgreco12)