Muggsy Bogues was a pest on defense despite being too short to be a real defensive stopper. While he could not block shots or rebound much vs NBA competition, he played hard on defense and piled up steals. Ultimately, Bogues was an average defender with some glaring weaknesses but also some major strengths.
Muggsy Bogues on Defense: Stats
It is particularly important to look to career statistics with a player like Muggsy Bogues. He was unlike any other player in NBA history and everyone remembers a different version of his story.
One thing we can be sure of: Muggsy Bogues was a unique and special player to be drafted 12th overall and then to play for 14 years in the NBA at 5’3”. The second shortest player I’ve written about was John Stockton.
Stockton, listed at 6’1”, was MUCH closer to Michael Jordan’s height than he was to Muggsy Bogues’. Stockton was nearly a foot taller than him!
A player as unique as Muggsy is going to lead to a lot of memories. And memories can be flawed and quite biased. A look at his career stats will give a much better picture of how much Muggsy Bogues was able to contribute on defense than most of the stories will.
Basketball Reference lists five defensive statistics in its advanced statistics section. They also list defensive rating in their per 100 stats, which attempts to measure a player’s defensive effectiveness per 100 possessions.
When we look at these statistics for Muggsy Bogues, we see some clear limits and weaknesses but one outlier strength as well.
Individual Skill Defensive StatisticsEmbed from Getty Images
If you think Muggsy Bogues was too short to get many rebounds or block many shots in the NBA, you are correct.
Bogues career defensive rebounding percentage was not god awful: 7.9%. It is actually higher than Stockton, who, again, was a giant compared to Muggsy.
Muggsy’s block percentage was as low as you’d expect: .1%. The man could not block shots in the NBA and it’d be unfair if you expected him to.
This is where Muggsy’s stats take a pretty big turn. If you have watched any video of him, you know that Muggsy was a constant threat to steal the ball. At his size, he’d have to be to have any shot at an NBA career.
Bogues’ 1369 career steals put him 62nd on the all-time NBA steals list.
Steal percentage is the advanced stat in this category and Muggsy had a great one. He finished his career 40th all time in steal percentage at 2.7%.
Overall Advanced Defensive Statistics
Defensive rating essentially measures how many baskets a player gives up per 100 possessions. Muggsy does not have a great one at 109.
When I compare that to many of the all-time greats I write about, it looks really bad. But most of those players have at least good size for the league as well as great, if not all-time, athleticism to go with it.
I looked up some other guards I perceive to be either short or not so great on defense to add some perspective. Steve Nash, was widely considered a defensive liability and his career rating was 110.5.
Steve Kerr played in the same era as Bogues. At 6’3” he was considered a shorter player but was still a foot taller than Muggsy. He finished at 107. So Muggsy’s defensive rating says he was a weaker defender overall but probably not the worst of all time either.
Defensive box plus/minus is an estimate of how many points a player gave up per possession when compared to a league average player & team.
Muggsy looks a lot better here: he finished at .4. Here are some players Muggsy beat out: Ray Allen -.7, Kobe Bryant -.1, and Vince Carter 0.0.
Having written about all three of those players’ defense, one thing they have in common is that they were perceived to rest on defense a decent bit. While he may have been hunted sometimes, no one has ever claimed Muggsy rested on the defensive end and this stat backs that up.
Defensive wins shares is a complicated stat that attempts to measure how much a player contributes to his team while on the floor. Muggsy finished his career with 19.3.
Defensive win shares can be a messy stat in that the career top twenty would be recognized by almost everyone as great defenders but as you go down the list of career leaders you run into some players who were not great defenders but piled up win shares with long careers.
Muggsy Bogues had a decently long career at 14 years but he was unable to pile up too many defensive win shares finishing outside of the top 250 all time in the NBA.
As a whole, advanced stats are somewhat conflicted for Muggsy Bogues. He certainly couldn’t rebound much nor block shots in the NBA and he didn’t.
He could steal the ball like crazy and he did.
How did that all add up? The defensive win shares and ratings say he was a liability but his defensive box plus/minus says he was able to mostly hold his own.
Let’s look at what those who watched him play said.
Did people think Muggsy Bogues was a good defender while he was playing?Embed from Getty Images
Muggsy Boggues was considered the ultimate pest on defense. His real name was Tyrone, but he picked up the nickname Muggsy as a kid. The neighborhood kids said he was so tough on D, he was constantly mugging them.
Bogues was at his best defending guys in the open court. He was almost always the quickest guy on the court and used that quickness to bother ball handlers all over the court.
If his opponent was at all loose with the dribble, Muggsy would swipe it. Vince Carter, who played with Bogues at the tail end of the little man’s career in Toronto, described his team’s Muggys Bogues practice rule that summed this up perfectly.
Vinsanity claimed that players on those Raptors teams would look for Muggsy and if they did not see him on the court, they’d immediately pull up their dribble because if you could not see him it meant he was behind you and about to steal the ball. This was in Muggys’ last two years!
Obviously, the open court was where Muggys cooked. But what about half court?
Opinions of Muggsy’s half court defense were mixed. Obviously, he got hunted some there where guys could shoot over him and post him up.
Now if they were loose with the dribble backing him down he’d get it. But in the NBA, a lot of the guys are pretty good with the rock.
Muggys was known for having incredibly strong legs and fighting guys trying to post him up. The video below of Michael Jordan failing to score on him speaks volumes to his efforts in the half court.
It also did not hurt Mugsy that in his prime Charlotte years he had a great shot blocker in Alonzo Mourning behind him.
Ultimately, to play at all in the NBA, nevermind to play for 14 years, you have some outlier characteristics and qualities. Muggsy had them for sure.
He was competitive as heck and very strong for his size. He battled guys trying to back him down. He stole any ball that was not carefully guarded. And he played pretty good defense.
But at 5’3”, NBA shooters could shoot right over him and they did. While he was a pest in scrambles and the open court, he could be targeted in the half court and he was.
Did Muggsy Bogues ever block a shot in the NBA?
He sure did! Muggsy’s block rate was as low as you’d expect at .1% but that is not zero! Bogues finished his career with 39 blocks including a career high of 7 in his second season.
You can watch Muggsy block 7 footer Patrick Ewing in the video below.
Muggsy Bogues’ career defensive statistics line up nicely with his reputation. He was known for getting steals and being a pest. Ultimately, his size left him vulnerable to players shooting over him and posting him up. He did his best to counteract these weaknesses with high effort and steals. In the end, Bogues’ obvious weaknesses were mostly offset by some of his outlier strengths.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.