Defensive Player Of The Year: The Finalists

Every year the NBA all defensive team is littered with all stars that happen to be good defenders, rather than the best defenders in the league (for example Kobe Bryant two years ago). When the voters aren’t overrating defenders based on their offensive prowess, they often elect players who gamble to create turnovers rather than making the good defensive play that consistently help their team (i.e. Rajon Rondo). No matter what your bias of choice, it is easy to be swayed towards overrating a players defense based on reasons that do not help his team’s defense. Luckily, for us, the viewing public, advanced statistics have provided us with an unbiased (althoug sometimes flawed) way of evaluating defense. Taking these biases into account, combining advanced statistics and my amateur scouting skills I will attempt to clear the murky waters that is NBA defense, and predict the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year.

Larry Sanders
Important Stats:
3.0 Blocks Per Game (leads league), 98 defensive rating (Fourth in NBA min. 1500 minutes), 8.2 block percentage (leads league min 1500 minutes), .57 Points Per Possession allowed against Isolations (11th in NBA)

Larry Sanders is the the gold standard for the development of project big men. After looking more or less completely lost in his first two years, he has been able to harness his athleticism to game changing levels.

His defense is the best example of the flaw in my favorite statistic, defensive rating. Defensive Rating or points allowed per 100 possessions is flawed because it is heavily dependent on teammates, allowing some average defenders to be the statistical beneficiary of good teammates. Although, Sander does play with some solid front court defenders, his back court teammates either can’t or won’t stop anyone, there-by hurting his defensive rating.

Not only do Monta Ellis (106 Defensive Rating) and Brandon Jennings (108 defensive rating) play matador defense, but their constant barrage of long two’s clanking off the back iron, lead to an increase in run out opportunities for opponents.  When the Black Hole brothers bother to engage defensively they often go for steals, essentially removing themselves from their rotations. In other words his guard teammates make life much harder on Sanders. Larry Sanders’ shot blocking prowess is routinely the only thing deterring opposing guards from a dribble drive parade to the rim, and the Bucks would be lost without him.

Sanders’ probably won’t win the defensive player of the year since it routinely goes to players on the top defensive teams. Despite this he will be in the conversation for years to come with his never ending motor and can do attitude.

Joakim Noah
Important Stats:
98 defensive rating (tied with Sanders),  4 shots have been attempted against him closing out on a pick and roll (0 baskets made), 2.2 Blocks Per Game (6th in NBA), 11.4 Rebounds Per Game (7th in NBA), 4.7 Win Shares (2nd in NBA)

The most important statistic for Joakim Noah (besides hair length) is not an individual one. The Chicago Bulls are third in the league at .85 points per possession allowed make no mistake, Noah is the driving force behind that number. What Noah has done leading a team comprised of many veteran castoffs to the third best defense, is truly remarkable.

What’s more impressive is the minutes per game he produces this stellar defensive for. While Noah is tied with Larry Sanders as far as defensive rating, he does so playing 37.7 minutes per game to Sander’s 27.

Although Noah is no slouch at 2.2 Blocks per game his contributions are more prevalent in preventing shots from even being attempted. His defensive rotations especially on the pick and roll are among the best in the games history. This is difficult to measure statistically since this is obvious to opposing teams, who simply avoid running the pick and roll against him.

Every basketball player knows that no defensive possession is complete without securing a defensive rebound (unless you force a turnover). Noah’s ability to recover to the paint after pressuring the ball handler in the pick and roll, shows agility uncommon among men his size. After recovering ,his proficiency in ending defensive positions by securing the ball should also be considered when discussing defensive MVP.

Like Sanders, Noahs love for the defensive end of the court is infectious, often leading to bouts of awkward dancing/celebrations.

Avery Bradley
Important Stats:
.69 Points Per Possession (12th in NBA), only 23 attempts by opponents guarded while coming off screens, Celtics defense is 1.6 Point Per Possession better with him on the court, 102.1 D rating with Bradley injured 98.1 after he returned.

Maybe Bradley’s inclusion on this list has to do with a bias of mine, (I did write a post on him being my favorite Celtic, after all). However, the reason he is my favorite player does coincide with why he is a defensive player of the year candidate, he gives 100% effort all the time, especially on defense.

If a statistic was kept on times a defender guarded his man full court, I suspect Bradley would lead it by a wide margin. With the talent level in the NBA, picking up a ball handler for the entire length of the court is usually a recipe for disaster. In Bradley’s case his quickness strength and effort make it a disaster for opposing offenses. His ball pressure forces opponents to start their offense with half the shot clock already gone, making it exceedingly more easy for his teammates to get stops.

His elite defense is not solely a function of his on ball pressure, Bradley is as complete a wing defender as there is in the NBA. If you watch closely, you will realize that his ability to navagate opposing screens  is actually more impressive than his full court pressure. His skill at following his man through reminds one of a running back, in that he turns his shoulders to get through the smallest of spaces to prevent his charge from seperating.

A lot of Boston fans came to the conclusion that Rajon Rondo was the problem when the team went on a winning streak after his injury. Another explanation for their strong play during this stretch was that Avery Bradley was finally healthy, allowing the Celtics to return to the defense that made them elite. After returning Bradley has increased Boston’s defense by 4 points per 100 possessions. This happened despite the loss of Rondo, who was an all NBA defensive first teamer the year previous.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find a humorous gif to pair with Bradley. Amusing on court antics just aren’t his thing. Avery is a quiet unassuming guy, who turns on opponents with the tenacity of a pit bull, which happens to be the moniker Bradley and Courtney Lee took to when they became Celtics starters. Nope, no amusing dances here, just mean, nasty, tough defense.

Paul George
Important Stats:
5.9 Defensive Win Shares (1st in NBA), 96 Defensive Rating (3rd in NBA min 1500 minutes), 3 points per 100 possessions less are allowed when he is on the court

Usually when a player makes the leap offensively after being considered a very good defender early in his career, everyone assumes his defense makes the leap as well. Whether or not this is true, depends on the case, but regardless scoring more points usually will help a player’s defensive reputation by causing more media attention to be brought his way. In this case, George might not be one of the best defensive players, but being the best player on the best defensive team will certainly garner him votes.

That is not to say George’s numbers indicate that he is every bit the defender as any names on this list. His number one ranking in defensive win shares, indicates that his defense has created more wins for his team than any others. Although this isn’t the greatest metric, being ranked first in any advanced defensive statistic is a feat.

Defensively he is behind only Tim Duncan in rating. However, Tim Duncan being in the twilight of his career (i.e. playing less games and minutes) will preclude him from getting many all defensive votes. Roy Hibbert has the same defensive rating as George, but rarely are two players from the same team finalists for DPoY. All things being equal, the voters will go with the better offensive players, in this case the edge goes to George.

Paul George is a freak of nature. WIth the length of a power forward but the quickness of a shooting guard, he is able to guard multiple positions, often taking the other team’s best player and making life difficult for him. His defensive instincts aren’t elite but most of the time it doesn’t matter due to his unique athletic gifts. The Scary part is, George has only scratched the surface of what he will be as a defender in the NBA. With better positioning on defensive rotations in the future, I’m sure I’ll be able to find a better gif than him blocking a helpless, ground bound (i.e. white) JJ Redick.

Chris Paul
Important stats:
2.4 Steals per game (1st in NBA), Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan‘s defensive rating:101

Fans love steals, pretty much every single year the finalist for the defensive player of the year is tops in the league in steals. Chris Paul leads the league in steals, especially those of the spectacular variety. He makes the type of defensive plays that stand out in the minds of anyone to watch the game, this alone will get him votes.

Besides being probably the best in the game at pilfering the rock. Paul has lead the transition to the Clippers being an excellent defensive team. Without his instruction Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, would probably still be running around on defense like chickens with their heads cut off. Instead, both have taken a leap forward defensively, posting career bests in defensive ratings. Griffin’s rise has been all the more impressive when you consider he lacks elite length or width to alter shots and occupy a wide area in the paint.

Despite Cp3’s defensive rating numbers being far from elite, he is an elite defender. In his case Lob City’s constant track meet pace makes it more difficult to produce elite defensive numbers. Don’t make the mistake of looking at his 102 rating and believing him to be a slightly above average defender, he is the engine that makes this team go both on defense and the offense their defense creates. Realize that almost every  run out seen on sports center was created by the strong team defense that Paul has instituted in LA.

Although Paul, is one of the best in the game at picking pockets, and has orchestrated the defensive improvements in a number of young players, he is not perfect. Occasionally he is guilty of a flop, apparently overacting in the Hollywood area is contagious.

Just missing the cut: Lebron James, Tyson Chandler. Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol. All of these players fall into one of the following categories that excluded them from the finalist list: being too old/injured, not bringing enough to the table offensively to get noticed making the spectacular play at the expense of sound defensive rotations or having an offense so potent that consistent defensive effort isn’t needed.


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