Defense wins championships. The best offense is a good defense. Every basketball player and fan has heard those words at one point or another. Those phrases have stood the test of time because they remain true. No matter how talented or prolific an offense can be, if there is no effort to play defense, a team’s chances of success at the highest level will ultimately plummet.
There are individual players who display better defensive skills and abilities than others and have a deep impact to their team because of their defensive prowess, some just more than others. So who are the top 10 candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year award so far in the 2013-14 season? Let’s take a look.
*** *** ***
10. MILES PLUMLEE
The Phoenix Suns are arguably the biggest surprise this season so far. Additionally, Miles Plumlee is also the biggest surprise to appear on this list. However, his defensive stats speak for themselves. According to Synergy Sports, Plumlee’s defense only gives up .81 ppp (points per possession) and allows just 39 percent of opponent’s shots to score.
Plumlee is an excellent pick-and-roll, spot-up, and isolation defender and is a solid rim defender, allowing just 47.6 percent of opponent’s shots to score at the rim. The NBA sophomore is averaging two blocks per game and 8.6 boards per game in 28.4 minutes. Finally, Plumlee has a 103 defensive efficiency rating and a 0.9 defensive win shares rating.
9. SERGE IBAKA
With the decreased defense in the low post from Kendrick Perkins this season, Serge Ibaka has picked up the slack quite well. Ibaka has made improvements to his offensive game recently, but defense remains his calling card. Ibaka grabs 9.2 boards per game out of 15.4 rebounding chances and is an effect rim defender, allowing 53.9 percent of opponent’s attempts to score at the rim.
Meanwhile, Ibaka remains one of the best shotblockers in the league, posting 2.9 BPG in 25 games. Air Congo has a defensive efficiency rating of 99 and a defensive win shares rating of 1.4. He excels in defending the pick-and-roll and spot-up plays and gives up .88 points per possession in his overall defensive game, according to Synergy Sports.
8. DeANDRE JORDAN
When Doc Rivers came to Los Angeles in the offseason, the emphasis on defense immediately rose. Doc has publically stated that he aims to develop DeAndre Jordan into the Clippers’ defensive anchor. While the team’s overall defense has not been pretty at times, Jordan has quickly strengthened his game under the influence of his new coach.
Jordan is a solid pick-and-roll and spot-up defender, while his overall defense gives up .85 points per possession. DJ has a defensive efficiency rating of 97 (best in his career) and a defensive win shares rating of 1.9. He averages 2.2 blocks, 1.0 steals and 13.0 rebounds per game out of 18.1 chances. Additionally, Jordan gives up buckets on 54.4 percent of opponent’s attempts at the rim. It will be intriguing to watch to what extent Doc Rivers’ influence will have on Jordan’s defense by the end of the season.
7. ANDREW BOGUT
Golden State’s exceptional offensive makes them arguably the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA today. The Warriors’ unique ability to go on runs prevent them from ever being out of the game no matter how big their deficit is. However, it will be their defense that will determine how far they can go this season. That is why the Warriors need Andrew Bogut and his inside defense to remain healthy throughout the season.
Bogut defends the rim very well, allowing just 44.7 percent of opponent’s shots to score at the rim. He is a solid rim protector as well, grabbing 10.2 boards out of 15.0 rebounding opportunities per game. The 29-year-old Aussie has a defensive efficiency rating of 97 and a defensive win shares rating of 1.5. According to Synergy Sports, Bogut’s defense only gives up .75 ppp (points per possession) overall, and he excels at defending post-up sets, which accounts for nearly half of his defensive plays.
6. PAUL GEORGE
Paul George has quickly emerged as the league’s new superstar over the last two years. George is already among the top candidates for the 2014 MVP award and is one of the NBA’s best wing defenders. It shouldn’t be overlooked how much of George’s defensive skills contribute to the best overall defensive team in the league.
George is a solid rebounder for a wing player, grabbing 5.8 boards on 9.8 rebounding chances per game. PG has a defensive efficiency rating of 96 and leads the league in defensive win shares with a 2.0 rating. According to Synergy Sports, he gives up .78 points per possession (ppp), specifically excelling in defending the pick-and-roll (.67 ppp), isolation plays (.65 ppp), and off screen sets (.68 ppp). Per 82games.com, PG has a defensive on/off net of minus-9.6. Paul George is an all-around star.
5. LeBRON JAMES
It is no secret that few in the NBA have as much impact on both ends of the court as LeBron James. While James is again in early contention for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, he remains an effective all-around defender as well. While LeBron and the Heat started the season off slow in the defensive department, the defense has kicked into gear for both as of late. It is easy for focus to shift to ‘Bron’s offensive skills, but his defensive abilities should not be overlooked.
This season, LBJ is posting a defensive efficiency rating of 102 (per 100 possessions) and has a defensive win shares rating of 1.3. James pulls down an average of 6.8 boards out of 9.4 rebounding opportunities per game. He is a terrific overall defender, allowing just 31.8 percent of opponent’s shot attempts to score, per Synergy Sports. In particular, LBJ excels in defending the pick-and-roll and post-up sets, allowing opponents to score less than 30 percent of the time in those plays. LeBron has phenomenal strength and body size for his position. When you add his footwork and his speed to the mix, it is no wonder why the four-time MVP is such a solid defender.
4. DWIGHT HOWARD
Dwight Howard is no stranger to being named Defensive Player of the Year, as he received the award three separate times in his career. With a new team, a new focus and renewed health, Howard is expected to be the defensive anchor for Houston, especially since the Rockets drastically struggled in the defensive department last season. Howard may not post the offensive numbers he did during his tenure in Orlando, but that is to be expected, as Dwight is not the team’s first option on offense. That won’t change as long as James Harden is on the Rockets’ roster.
However, he’s still a beast defensively. Howard has blocked a total of 47 shots in 26 games, which is good for a 1.8 BPG average. He is a very solid defender at the rim, as he allows 46.5 percent of opponent’s attempts to score. He remains an excellent rim protector, averaging 13.0 boards per game and successfully grabbing the rebound nearly 70 percent of the time. Howard has a defensive rating of 99 (per 100 possessions) and has a defensive win shares rating of 1.5. According to Synergy Sports, Howard gives up just .58 ppp (points per possession) in post-up plays, .71 ppp in isolation plays, and .57 ppp in pick-and-roll sets. Howard began a new chapter in his career in Houston, and he is trying to get back to what he does best in the game of basketball: defense.
3. ANDRE DRUMMOND
The Detroit Pistons are in a great position as far as building a forceful frontcourt that is young, effective, and has incredible potential in the near future. Andre Drummond is at the forefront of that group, putting up mind-boggling numbers in his sophomore season. Along with Anthony Davis, Drummond is proving to be one of the most talented young big men in the league.
Drummond’s defense in the post is excellent to say the least. In guarding post-up plays, Drummond gives up just .67 ppp (points per possession) and is the fourth best defender in the NBA in pick-and-roll sets (roll man), giving up only .69 ppp, according to Synergy Sports. Overall, Drummond’s defense only allows .79 ppp to opponents. Drummond is a superb rim protector, grabbing 12.7 rebounds per game out of 17.9 rebounding chances. The 20-year-old out of UConn additionally excels at defending the rim, only giving up buckets on 46.9 percent of opponent’s attempts at the rim. So far this season, Drummond has a defensive efficiency rating of 101 and a 1.4 defensive win shares rating. The ceiling on defense for the youthful Drummond is exponential.
2. ANTHONY DAVIS
Anthony Davis is arguably the most improved player so far this season despite it still be relatively early in the season and despite missing considerable time due to a fractured hand. In the first month of the season, Davis proved why he was the first pick of the 2012 Draft, as he has had a huge impact on the new-look Pelicans, specifically on the defensive end.
The 20-year-old Olympic gold medalist is averaging 19.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 3.4 BPG with a 28.31 PER in 17 games played this season. Davis averages 1.7 steals per game and has a total of 58 blocks in those 17 games. Davis is an excellent defender at the rim, allowing only 40 percent of opponent’s attempts to score at the rim. Davis has a defensive efficiency rating of 100 and a defensive win shares rating of 0.9. He leads the NBA in block percentage (8.5), which is the percentage of opponent’s 2-point attempts that resulted in a block while Davis was on the floor. It sure will be interesting to see if Davis can continue his impressive defensive performance now that he is back on the floor for New Orleans.
1. ROY HIBBERT
Hibbert is clearly the top candidate for the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year. Not only are the Indiana Pacers the best team in the East, but they are the most efficient and effective defensive team in the NBA as well, with a defensive efficiency rating of 94.0. Their balanced offense, led by MVP candidate Paul George, and their dominant defense, led by their anchor Roy Hibbert, makes them legitimate and serious contenders for a title this season.
The 7-2 Queens native has the highest defensive impact in the league. Hibbert’s advantage of size and strength produces 2.9 blocks per game (72 total), allows him to grab 8.6 boards on 15.3 rebounding chances per game, and makes him a phenomenal rim defender by giving up scores on just 42.2 percent of opponent’s attempts at the rim. Additionally, Hibbert has the league’s best defensive efficiency rating of 95 (per 100 possessions) and a defensive win shares rating of 1.8. The 27-year-old is an excellent post-up defender (third best in the NBA), allowing just 25.8 percent of shots to score, and is the third best pick-and-roll defender of the roll man in the NBA, according to Synergy Sports. Lastly, Hibbert has a minus-9.6 on/off court net rating for defense for the Pacers, according to 82games.com. Hibbert has already stated that he is on a campaign to win the DPOY award in 2014 and thus far, he is living up to his word.
*All stats provided by NBA.com or Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Who is the NBA’s most underrated defender?
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @gobibs.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.