The defensive NBA hardware handed out at the end of each season always fascinates me, for one reason: The All-Defensive Teams are the only awards that are NOT voted by the media. The media votes for MVP, ROY, 6th Man, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved and the All-NBA Teams, but not the All-Defensive teams – these are instead decided by the coaches. As I’ve said several times before, I consider the opinions of NBA coaches far more meaningful and insightful than those from the all-too impressionable media. My gripe against the media’s role in NBA award voting has been well documented, so I won’t dwell on that here. But I do want to dwell on the Defensive awards, to recognize the worthy candidates who’ve played their butt off all season long at the less glamorous end of the floor.
“Offense wins games, defense wins championships” is the old saying. Yet strangely, for something holding such esteemed value, the concept of defense is seemingly lost on a lot of players, and just as importantly, a lot of fans. I’ve had several people tell me that Lebron should win DPOY along with the MVP this season. These are the same people that point to Lebron’s “chase down” YouTube videos as evidence of his defensive prowess. Let me say something to you people: the fact that the most physically gifted and freakishly athletic player in the league can run down a few players and swat away their shots does not for one second impress me. Defense is not just blocked shots, rebounds and steals. Chris Anderson gets lots of blocks – he will never make an All-Defensive team. Gerald Wallace in 2005-2006 averaged over 2 blocks and 2 steals per game (only Olajuwon and D-Rob have done that before) – he didn’t make the All-Defensive Team. Yet Bruce Bowen has been named to five-straight All-Defensive teams while barely averaging more than 1 steal and half a block.
Clearly, you don’t measure defensive ability solely with stats. More to the point, you won’t find any YouTube clips of Bruce Bowen’s defensive plays scattering the Internet. Yet he has one of the best defensive reputations in this league – I’d argue his rep is so strong that he was voted to last season’s All-Defensive First team based on reputation alone. How do you earn this rep? Through nothing else than relentless effort and consistency at the defensive end, play after play, game after game, year after year.
This is the hardest thing to do in basketball. Very few players in the league can say they’ve never been guilty of taking a defensive possession off, or relaxing for just a second while the opposition had the ball. But the players that don’t, they’re the ones you notice, they’re the ones that build that reputation. And when you have that defensive rep in the NBA, it’s very hard to lose (the only exception to this rule is Larry Hughes, who somehow managed to fluke playing good defense for an entire season back in 2005). But this is an interesting time in the NBA, as far as defensive reputations are concerned. Stalwarts such as Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell, Jason Kidd and Tayshaun Prince are all fading – none of those guys will be named to All-Defensive teams this season. We’re seeing a changing of the guard, with a new breed of young players rising through the ranks. Let me introduce some of them to you.
ALL-DEFENSIVE FIRST TEAM
Center and Defensive Player of the Year – Dwight Howard
I alluded to it last week, Dwight has improved his defense this season by playing smarter and working harder. He’s lead the league in blocks and rebounds before, that is nothing new. What is new, is the Orlando Magic’s rise to become one of the elite defensive teams in the league – third best in opponent FG%, third best in rebounds, and fourth best record in the league. Dwight’s presence in the paint is the reason behind those stats, and he’ll celebrate it by winning his first DPOY award (and probably not his last).
Forward – Tim Duncan. Yes he’s a step slower and the Spurs have lost their edge, but there is no smarter big-man defender in the league than Tim Duncan. One-on-one he rarely gets beaten, and until he does, he will always be in my All-Defensive First Team.
Forward - Andre Iguodala. I know this selection might shock a few people, but I’ve seen Iguodala shut down too many players this season to ignore (including Kobe). He reminds me of a more active, way more athletic version of Tayshaun Prince. If Philly were a more dominant team and Iggy had some better help defenders, I guarantee you he would get more defensive love than he currently does.
Guard – Rajon Rondo. Earlier in the season Rondo’s play earned him a lot of hype, especially leading up to the All-Star game when he was a legit East candidate. That hype has died off but his level of play hasn’t, especially at the defensive end. He’s a glove, and the fact the Celtics have been able to stay the league’s second best defensive team without KG has a lot to do with Rondo’s play.
Guard - Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s defense seems to be getting a little less attention this season, and I attribute part of that to Trevor Ariza’s role in being the primary Lakers stopper. But there’s no two ways about it: when he’s locked in, Kobe Bryant is the best perimeter defender in this league.
ALL-DEFENSIVE SECOND TEAM
Center – Marcus Camby. He’s essentially the same defensive player that was a First Teamer last season. It’s just that this season his team really sucks, and his defense rarely leads to wins.
Forward – Lebron James. I was uneasy putting Lebron here. He still has a lot to prove in my mind, but his size and athleticism give him somewhat of a defensive omnipresence that we haven’t seen before. He’s not a lock-down defender, but he’s so quick and strong he doesn’t really need to be.
Forward – Kevin Garnett. Can you make an All-Defensive Team only playing 57 games? I honestly don’t know. But with a full season KG would be a lock for the First Team, so I just can’t leave him out.
Guard – Chris Paul. This guy’s defensive awareness is through the roof. That is why he leads the league in steals, and that is why he creates so many fast break opportunities.
Guard – Dwyane Wade. The fact Wade is amongst the league’s top 20 shot blockers is almost reason enough to get him a mention here. The truth is, Wade started this season with a renewed committment to defense and never let up. Wade still gambles a little more than he needs to on the defensive end, but when you can get back in time to swat shots like he has been, who can blame him?
Honorable Mentions: Ron Artest and Shane Battier. Both are both excellent defenders, but I couldn’t slip them in amongst my forwards, and individually I don’t think they’ve been better defensively than in previous seasons. But again, reputation plays a big part in defensive recognition, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the coaches bump one or two of these players up at the expense of Iggy and/or KG (because of the missed games).
The one thing I will say about naming your All-Defensive teams, is that it’s extremely hard. Like I said above, you can’t judge defensive awards based on stats – at least not to the extent of the Most Improved award, 6th Man Award, or even MVP. You get a sense for it by watching these players throughout the course of the season, and while I’ve seen all of these guys play several times, I haven’t seen them play every time. That is why I like hearing what other people have to say. Who has caught your eye defensively? Who is in your All Defensive Teams? Interested to know.
Coming soon: The MVP and ROY.