DISCLAIMER: Since this is my first article, I feel the need to inform everyone that I’m a giant advocate for the use of statistics to help shape an argument. While statistics NEVER tell the whole tale, they are the best barometer (In my humble opinion) to capture the influence that a player or team has on the outcome of a game. This same process can be applied to all major team sports (Even in hockey, although I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about that). If you don’t like my use of objective evidence to shape my conclusions, well then here’s a link to Ric Bucher’s blog. (NOTE: If you click that link, you are banned for life.)
I have the distinct feeling that this year will be an interesting one when it comes to the end-of-year awards in the NBA. The two most interesting races will be for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Now, I say this fully knowing that according to John Hollinger’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating), LeBron James is having the best statistical season since the Association began tracking turnovers in the 1977-78 season. I’ll spare you the dramatics (and a possible MVP post), LeBron James at this point in the season IS the MVP, and it would take something drastic in the last third of the season to change that. The only (realistic) thing that could keep LeBron from winning the MVP is LeBron’s image (See: Derrick Rose’s MVP). That being said, I think there’s a much better debate about who should be the DPOY and that’s what we’ll focus on.
The knee-jerk frontrunner is obviously Dwight Howard, as he has won the DPOY every year since the 2008-09 season. Despite the constant trade rumors all season, Dwight Howard has been the same suffocating low post presence that he’s always been, making slashers think twice about going to strong to the basket. LeBron James must also be thrown into consideration as he is the one player who is capable of guarding any position on the court at an elite level (See: Lockdown of Derrick Rose in the ECF; Getting under Pau Gasol’s skin with his stellar post-defense in their recent road loss at the Lakers). Andre Iguodala’s candidacy is a no-brainer, being the go-to perimeter stopper on a 76ers team that currently leads the in NBA in defensive efficiency, and Serge Ibaka’s 14-15-11 triple double with points-rebounds-blocks warrants he be entered into the discussion (along with his league-leading 3.3 BPG). Tony Allen is widely regarded as one of, if not the best, perimeter defenders in the league and Kevin Garnett’s reputation speaks for itself and despite his age is still one of the best rim-protectors in the league.
Now that we’ve introduced some of the favorites, let’s jump into the stats. (Note: The table below has a qualifier of having played AT LEAST 1,080 minutes – which is equivalent to playing at least 24 minutes through 45 games, the average number of games played by each team thus far this season. This ensures that players listed play starters minutes and have a large influence on each game.)
Above we have the top-20 players in the NBA, according to Defensive Rating (DRtg), which is defined as teams points allowed per 100 possessions while the player is on the court. Not surprisingly, Howard leads the NBA in DRtg as the Magic allow 93 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the court. This is astounding given the Magic’s aging roster and lack of solid perimeter defenders. The rest of the top 20 come with few surprises, but none bigger than Carlos Boozer at #5.
Boozer has always been a very good offensive player and rebounder, but was always seen as more of a turnstile defensively. This is an instance where the stats are being deceiving. While Boozer has no doubt improved his defensive game under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau, I attribute the Bulls defensive success while he’s on the court to players like Joakim Noah, Omer Asik, and Luol Deng, who are all elite defenders at their respective positions. Their presence allows Boozer to guard the frontcourt player that is the most limited offensively (Ex: Boozer OFTEN is tasked with guarding Joel Anthony; case and point), thus skewing these stats in his favor.
Here we have the top-20 players in Defensive PER (DPER), a metric at 82games.com which calculates the PER of the player’s counterpart on the other team while he is on the court. This statistic isn’t perfect in the sense that it does not account for the fact that many teams switch on defense. This can cause instances where Iguodala may cover the SF instead of the SG or LeBron might cover the PF instead of the SF on the court. Despite that, this metric is still a great tool for showing how a player affects the effectiveness of his counterpart. The accuracy of this DPER is shown in the top-4, as Iguodala, Shane Battier, James, and Deng are among the elite perimeter defenders in the league. Iguodala being almost 2 full points ahead of the next closest player, Battier, shows the profound effect that Andre has on the Philadelphia defense.
Running through the data and throwing in a splash of personal bias, I narrowed it down to the three men who should be at the head of the discussion on who wins the DPOY.
Defensive Player Of The Year Rankings:
- Dwight Howard (21.1 Pts, 14.8 Reb, 1.9 Ast, 1.5 Stl, 2.2 Blk)
Look we all know what Dwight is capable of defensively. There’s no question he’s the most dominating interior presence in basketball, however if Bynum can stay healthy I think he can give Howard a run for that honor next year. Honestly though, I placed Dwight third because of the storyline, just like Rose’s MVP last year (Derrick nods.)
He could not have handled his situation in Orlando any worse, and the best part, just when you thought it was finally over, he decides he wants to stay and opted-in to the last year on his contract. Which means what? We’re going to have to suffer through Dwight Howard like we had to suffer through Brett Favre. Thusly… NO AWARD FOR YOU! (Even though you probably earned it.)
- LeBron James (27.2 Pts, 8.5 Reb, 6.6 Ast, 1.9 Stl, 0.9 Blk)
What more is there to be said about the self-proclaimed “Chosen One”. He can cover anyone on the court at any time, has the physical strength and endurance to either bang down low or take off in transition, and he’s also got a remarkably high basketball IQ. However, that same IQ is what gets him into trouble.
James has a tendency to “roam” on defense in an attempt to read where the offense is going and intercept a pass for a steal (It does work… he’s 4th in the league in steals). Unfortunately, there are many times when James’ risky moves have left his man unaccounted for , or his defensive breakdown lead to pass or two that leads to an open man after his teammates scramble to fix his mistakes.
For example, Synergy Sports ranks LeBron as the 8th best defender in isolation at 0.51 points per possession. However, LeBron ranks 272nd as a spot-up defender at 1.07 points per possession. This is often because LeBron gambles on defense and his man is left open for a spot-up jumper. I believe LeBron will keep improving defensively, and if he can minimize the blown coverages his roaming creates, there’s no doubt he will eventually win his own DPOY.
- Andre Iguodala (12.2 Pts, 6.4 Reb, 5.6 Ast, 1.8 Stl, 0.4 Blk)
Ultimately, Any of these three men could be named DPOY and I would completely understand the decision. However, in many ways, Iggy is having a breakout season. He’s breaking out defensively as his DPER has dropped from 9.8 last season to a suffocating 6.9 against opposing SG’s, best in the NBA for the second consecutive year.
His team is breaking out, as the Sixers are once again relevant and are hopeful of making a deep postseason run. Iguodala has been an elite defender and solid playmaker for years and is just now getting recognized… he just went to his FIRST all-star game. The captain of the best defense in the NBA should also win his first Defensive Player of the Year award.