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