The All-Defense Voter Conundrum


Voting for NBA award recipients has always been more of an art than a science. What makes a player the Most Valuable? What separates one high scoring 6th man from the next? Should a full-time center like Marc Gasol get the All-NBA center nod over a more productive center-forward like LaMarcus Aldridge?

Nobody knows. Or rather everyone knows, but nobody agrees.

After watching the Grizz grind out a win over the Thunder last night, I think All-Defense might be the most difficult award for voters to get “right.” Tony Allen is, in my opinion, the best defensive guard in the league. But can he be on the All-D first team? Can he beat out far more visible players with big reputations as defenders like Kobe (absurd this season) and Wade (better but still no Tony).

I can’t blame voters for this disparity between star and non-star recognition. A writer covering a single team sees each opponent only infrequently live and then watches the same national broadcasts the fans do. Like everyone else the voter gets to see the Heat, Lakers, and Thunder a great deal more often than other teams.

Further complicating matters is the lack of reliable defensive statistical measures. Shot-blocks are generally a good indicator of a big man defending the paint, but sometimes a more disciplined floor defender like Tyson is more valuable the a swat-machine like DeAndre. Steals are a valuable commodity but can come as the result of a player abandoning team defensive responsibilities. Defensive rebounds are essential but is the man pulling down boards doing so because someone else on his team contests shots and causes opponents to miss?

Even more advanced metrics such as defensive plus/minus and defensive win shares are of limited value. Playing for a great defensive coach like Scott Skiles is going to give players a strong defensive plus/minus regardless of individual contributions (See Gordon, Ben). Playing next to a great defensive player like Bill Russell can skew defensive win share for a player as well.

So the voters have a limited opportunity to study all the best defenders in the league by watching games, and, as with anyone else, they have a tendency to see star players on popular teams more often than others. And voters have few reliable stats to use to get a feel for players they haven’t seen. What are the voters to do?

Here’s my take: find big minute players on good defensive teams, watch some film, check the stats, and then examine the players’ history. If the numbers aren’t bad, and he didn’t suddenly become a defensive savant when He teamed up with Tim Duncan, then he’s for real.

With that ambiguous criteria in place, my All D team so far this season would be:

G – Tony Allen
G – Andre Igudala
F – Luol Deng
F – Kevin Garnett
C – Dwight Howard

G – Rajon Rondo
G – Iman Shumpert
F – LeBron James
F – Shawn Marion
C – Joachim Noah


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7 Responses to “The All-Defense Voter Conundrum”

  1. boyer Says:

    You’re right about steals/blocks, which aren’t necessarily great indicators of how good a player is defensively.

    The all-nba defensive teams are voted on by the coaches, not the media, so the coaches more or less see each team the same amount of times/year, so seeing certain teams on TV more than others is basically moot.

    You’re wrong about Kobe, though. He’s still a great defensive player. People just like to hate on him and remember every little mistake he makes. You first have to understand the lakers’ defensive scheme, which is to use Kobe mainly as the primary help defender, which he is great at, possibly best all time. He rarely is called upon to be the primary stopper this year, but he has been, he’s still at least one of the best lockdown defenders in the league, and JVG still says he’d take Kobe over anyone for one possession, which a lot of games come down to. And just rewatch game 2 of the hornets/lakers series last year. Kobe, basically only on one ankle, completely frustrated Paul, and the hornets offense sucked that game. And Kobe is the defensive captain of the lakers, something extremely rare for a non center to be, especially since the lakers have a decent defensive center in bynum as well.

    Interesting that you choose high minutes as a parameter for you all-nba teams, because Allen is only #32 in minutes for SG and #65 overall for all guards. He is very good in one-on-one situations, but that’s about it. If he played more minutes, then yea, he should get higher consideration, but he has no business being on the first team, maybe on 2nd team. And Iggy is a SF. He can’t be included as a G on the all-nba teams.

    One good stat to look at is defensive rebounding. Kobe is #3 in DRPG behind George and Turner, who are really SF, so he is basically #1 amongst all guards.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Kobe certainly is one of the best defensive guards out there when he really digs in, but he’s just got too much responsibility on offense to really sell out on defense as much as he did when he was younger and legitimately an All-D first reamer every year. In the first dynasty with Shaq, Kobe Bean was a defensive monster all over the court at all three perimeter positions. That’s just my opinion though.

      And I’m definitely not a Bryant-hater. If you look around our site, I’m pretty much universally complimentary of him (though I’m a Celtics fan so I don’t root for the Lakers).

  2. boyer Says:

    I understand. I wasn’t trying to call you a hater. But, it’s become very cliche to bash Kobe, especially regarding his defense in recent years. What I see from Allen this year and last is similar to what I saw from circa 2000 Kobe, and Kobe wasn’t 1st team all-defense then. Kobe was young and super athletic, but yet his best defensive years would come several years later. And Kobe played a lot more minutes than Allen is doing now. I find it absurd that many were claiming for Allen to be 1st team last year, even though he averaged only 20mpg in 72 games, while mostly coming off the bench, playing against mostly other bench players. This year, he’s finally starting mostly, but still isn’t playing that high of minutes, only #65 amongst guards. He’s nearly 800 MP behind Kobe, that’s huge.

    You’re right about Kobe’s other responsibilities. And most lakers fans agree with you about Kobe making the all-defensive teams as well.

    However, Kobe leads all guards in def. rebounding, playing alongside 2 other great rebounders most of the time, and at least 1 of them at all times. Very few people fully understand Kobe’s responsibilities on the defensive end. It’s true he’s not the consistent lockdown defender that he once was, but for certain situations, he’s still the best in this regards. He’s at least still lne of the top help defenders and is the lakers defensive captain. He’s older and smarter now, and is actually still very elite defender.

    I think a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves regarding Allen. He may very well make the 1st team, we’ll see. But, it’s not a given by any means.

    I hope you realize that the all-defensive teams are voted on by the coaches. The DPOY award is by the media.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      Your points are well-taken. Tony Allen definitely did not deserve it last year. He is averaging 27 minutes per game this year, which is still on the low side. I favor him largely for his impact against wing scorers, the grittiness he imbues in his teammates, and his constant intensity on that side of the ball.

      I do think Kobe’s total minutes and leadership responsibilities on defense should go in his favor. I’m not as big a proponent of rewarding defensive rebounding for guards only because some of that is system. Teams that operate in transition require their wings to leak out, so hanging back to shore up the boards would be disruptive to the game plan.

      You make a great case though!

      And thanks for setting me straight on the voting!

      • boyer Says:

        I can understand if someone doesn’t think Kobe doesn’t deserve all-defensive honors, though he at least deserves to be borderline 2nd team at worst this season. However, when you said absurd, that is an out-in-leftfield comment. We often see Kobe sagging off a bad shooter or helping other defenders, so his man is often open, so it seems he is playing bad defense often, which isn’t true usually. When they mic up Kobe and allow the TV audience to hear him on the defensive, he is constantly talking to his team, often the only one. The lakers’ opps did the same thing against fisher/MWP. Both of them are awful offensive players and an awful shooters, so the defense would gladly let them shoot every time. It’s similar to Kobe guarding someone like allen or rondo.

        Kobe gets his most of def. rebounds in the halfcourt. I’m not sure how this ambiguous. He’s always been a great rebounder for his position. The fact that he still is great in this regard playing alongside 2 other great rebounders should stand out. The only times that fastbreak teams(still a small part of the game even for teams that fastbreak a lot) have their wings not in good position to get def. rebounds is if they don’t score on their fastbreaks and if their opps fastbreak right back on them.

        I also think Wade is a great defender as well. You make good pts. about what you should do when voting for the awards, primarily for the media, which I don’t generally trust. The coaches, however, are experts of the game, and while they may be wrong sometimes, I trust them a lot more than the media and they generally do a good job. Their AS selection reserves are usually very good, which is always up for debate, someone is going to be upset regardless of who they pick, and their all-defensive teams are good, too. It’s funny how pretty much everyone who reports on the all-defensive teams is in agreement with the selections except Kobe, in recent years.

  3. jpalumbo Says:

    It is odd how Kobe gets singled out, isn’t it? I don’t understand why voters don’t take more backlash on Chris Paul. He’s a great communicator, and he attacks the ball well, but he is so exploitable and rations his energy so consistently that I don’t think he belongs on either team no matter how many steals he averages, yet he’s made a few All D teams, and I’d guess that’s mostly because of the steals.

    Good point re: Kobe’s defense on Rondo, which is the best I’ve seen. He plays him in smart position to jam up the lane and help on the Boston bigs while still being able to use his length to obscure passing angles. That’s just intelligent defense.

    I think maybe some of Kobe’s issue is that he set the bar SO high. When you remember a guy giving more effort in the past it is more glaring when he doesn’t do those things now, even if it’s part of the game plan to save his letgs some.

    It’s Kobe’s drop off when defending cutters off the ball that is more noticible, and it’s all about effort. He just doesn’t chase as hard as he used to, and lord knows he shouldn’t. He’s got a bad knee, plays a ton of minutes, and has to shoot a lot for his team to win. We just can’t expect him to expend defensive energy the way a young, lower-minute, defensive specialist can.

    • boyer Says:

      You’re right. I think it’s primarily Kobe backlash. But also secondarily, it’s that Kobe was better in the past, and he obviously isn’t as good as he was 4-5 years ago, but I still think he’s an elite defender, making up for decreasing quickness/speed and some lack of effort in other areas of defense. But, what he did to Paul in game 2 of their playoff series on a gimpy ankle that obviously slowed him down during the playoffs should show that he still can get it done.

      This season is wacko. But, a 16-year vet was leading the league in MP until he finally was shelved for the last 2 games(3 including tonight). That is very impressive. If he played 12mpg less and 800 MP less than Allen, just imagine how much fresher he would be? This is substantially a lot less MP that Allen has played than Kobe. It’s closer this year between the 2, but last year Kobe played nearly twice as many minutes as Allen, and Allen came off the bench most of the time, and a lot of people were still up in arms about Kobe over Allen.

      I don’t know about Paul that much defensively. He is very small, though. Right now, I would take Rondo as top defenisve PG. Really, almost nobody can guard the elite PGs like Rose and Westbrook. On offense, they’re too quick and good for everyone. Paul is probably a good defensive PG, but he’s probably overrated a bit. But, he still has yet to capitatlize on his glory years: 08 and 09. Just too small and injury prone. Let’s see how he holds up in the next few years.

      Amazingly, Kobe probably saves energy guarding Rondo than Allen or Pierce, but since Kobe is so smart, putting him on Rondo is the perfect scheme on defense. Rondo is very good, but his limited shooting hurts him. Opps would gladly give him a rather uncontested 17 ft. jumper every time.

      You’re right about defensive specialists, which Allen is. Kobe is a much more versatile defender. But, if someone like Allen would average 34mpg+ for an entire season, then yea, he probably would deserve to have more consideration for first team all-defense. But, very few defensive specialists play this many minutes, which is why they don’t deserve to make the all-defensive teams. I think Allen is close this year, however his recent freak injury is probably going to cost him a spot. I remember what Lin said after 6-7 games about how much respect he has for these guys playing heavy minutes every game. It’s a lot easier to come off the bench and play 15-20 minutes. You’re playing lower minutes, so you can go full out, and you’re going up against other bench players(worse players) more than the starters are. Someone like Bradley seems to be a defensive pest lately, but he’s played low minutes overall. Can he do it playing 15mpg+ next season? Will he even get the chance to play that much more? We’ll see.

      Bowen played more minutes when he made his def. teams, and he was much better than Allen. He played from 29-33 mpg for his 3 2nd teams, and 30-34mpg for his 5 1st teams. Allen will have to approach these #’s or should have to get serious consideration. I have a feeling he’ll make one of the teams this year, though.

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