Much like the MVP award, the chase for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year can also be looked at as a two-man race. What should go down to the wire between the big men of Chicago and Indiana has turned into an exhibition of each player’s defensive skill-sets. Whether they may be gifted enough to use their large frame to jump straight up in the air, or if they’re incredibly rangy, active and intense, these two have set themselves far apart from anybody else on that end of the floor.
It’s always refreshing to see players that take a lot of pride in their defense. It’s almost become a lost art with players wanting to pack their stat lines and directing their attention to the growing fascination of spacing the floor with shooters, no matter the position of the shooter.
Players, especially that one from Chicago, who put a great deal of pride into their defensive effort are an asset for any team. Any team in the NBA would give up a chunk of their roster for either of the five players on this list, even if the top two have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
It’s much more difficult to find the right defender than the right shooter. Any roster can be filled with shooters to propel an offense, but it takes the right eye to find a player that’s equally gifted and ready to expel their energy on that end of the floor for the better of their team.
For teams like Chicago, Indiana and Miami, they’ve found their defensive anchors, one of the most difficult players to uncover when forming a championship-contending roster.
We take a look at the top defenders on the previously mentioned Eastern Conference playoff teams, as well as two others in the west, to round out the top five players contending for the Defensive Player of the Year award for the 2013-14 season.
5. Anthony Davis
You’re almost conflicted to rank Anthony Davis as one of the league’s top five candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.
But despite being a part of the league’s No. 26 ranked defense, in terms of points per possession, Davis is still one of the toughest players to score against.
He’s holding opposing power forwards to a PER of 16, per 82games.com, and is leading the league in blocks per game, sending back nearly three a night. He’s averaging a full block per game more than he did last year during his rookie campaign.
It’s easy to forget that Davis is only in his second year in the league. He plays with veteran expertise, draining mid-range jumpers and keeping blocks inbounds. Although it doesn’t have to do with his Defensive Player of the Year considerations, it’s still worth noting that he’s dropping 21.1 points and 10.2 boards to go with those nearly three blocks a night.
His PER of 26.98 is fourth in the league, trailing only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love. Something’s telling me that this Pelicans team isn’t too far off from making a significant playoff run in the future behind their MVP candidate power forward.
His block percentage, or the amount of opponent’s shots that were blocked while that player is on the floor, is the best in the league at 6.7 percent. His wingspan has allowed him to block more jump shots than any player in recent memory.
What’s left to do when the opposition’s shot-blocker and main post deterrent is capable of igniting fast breaks after blocking a shot at the perimeter? Nothing, besides hoping he doesn’t get any help on that end of the floor.
4. LeBron James
Defensively, this year was not LeBron James’s greatest season. His defensive rating of 104 (points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor) is the worst of his career, and the Miami Heat have actually been better when he’s off the floor, at least from a statistical standpoint.
Individually, however, LeBron is still arguably the toughest perimeter defender to score on. He’s holding opposing small forwards to a PER of 10.3, a differential of 22.3, and is holding opponents to 38 percent shooting overall and 33 percent from beyond the arc.
Per Synergy, LeBron is ranked No. 8 at defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, in terms of points per possession. He’s within the top 100 best defenders in guarding post-ups, spot-ups, and off screens. He’s limiting pick-and-roll ball-handlers to just 11 percent shooting on three-pointers.
He’s also grabbing his usual 1.6 steals per game. He had a steep decline in his blocks averages, though, sending back only 0.3 shots per game, by far a career low.
It’s been a down season on the defensive end for LeBron, and for the Heat in general. The effort hasn’t always been there, as you can see by his block numbers, and the Heat â€” a team that has ranked within the top seven in defensive efficiency over the past three years â€” has fluctuated within 10-15 in overall points allowed per possession.
But he’s still as intimidating and quick on his feet as ever. He can still defend four positions well, and center if the situation is right, and he’s still allowing power forwards a PER of 17.7. That’s not great, but it’s solid for a 6-8 power forward that’s garnering a 29.6 PER on offense when playing the four.
Perhaps it won’t be until the postseason when we see LeBron and the Heat firing on all cylinders, but he has been far more deserving of the award in previous seasons. He fell short by a wide margin this year, mainly because of the team’s overall approach on the defensive side of the ball.
3. Tim Duncan
I don’t think the Tim Duncan retirement circuit is ever going to start. I hope it never does.
Because what would the NBA be without Tim Duncan, the perennial winner who has more 50-win seasons in his 17-year career than more than half of the league’s teams. Although gifted with an excellent coach in Gregg Popovich, and having been surrounded by the likes of David Robinson, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Duncan has always been the leader of the San Antonio Spurs.
Even today, nearing 38 years old, Duncan remains a pillar of basketball acumen on both ends of the floor. Averaging 15.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists, the latter of which is the most he’s averaged since 2010. Duncan, along with a fool-proof offensive system, has led the Spurs to the fourth-best offensive efficiency this season.
On the other end of the floor, Duncan has helped lead the Spurs to a top-3 defense. The Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers are the only teams allowing less than 100 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. The differential between San Antonio’s offensive and defensive efficiency is tops in the league.
Would it surprise anyone if the Spurs made another title run and came out on top this time? It seems like the only thing preventing them from making that sort of run is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have won 10 of their past 12 against the Spurs, including the playoffs and a 4-and-0 mark agains them this season.
For now, though, we’ll take a look at Duncan’s defense, which is deserving of some attention for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Per 82games.com, opposing power forwards are being held to a PER of 11.4, and he ranks among the league’s best defenders on pick-and-rolls and post-ups. He’s holding pick-and-roll men to 35 percent shooting, and 42 percent shooting on post-ups.
Although he’s allowing 48 percent shooting at the rim, he’s also sending back 1.9 shots per game in less than 30 minutes worth of action a night Per 36 minutes, he’s sending back 2.3 shots.
His defensive rating of 97 marks the third consecutive season the Spurs are giving up less than 100 points per 100 possessions when he’s manning the middle on the floor.
Athleticism and speed can wear off, but fundamentals never do. Duncan is an incredibly skilled player at just about every fact of the game during his Hall-of-Fame career, and it continues to pay off as he nears his 40’s.
The only thing preventing Duncan from playing well into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar territory is an injury. Otherwise, he’s putting up numbers that most power forwards and centers in the league could only dream of. Even on the defensive end, it almost seems as if Duncan has yet to regress, despite the natural wear and tear of nearly 20 years of professional basketball.
2. Joakim Noah
In the absence of a true superstar for a third consecutive season, Joakim Noah has emerged as the player that everyone expected out of Derrick Rose: a leader.
At 43-32, and possibly earning a three seed in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls have overachieved beyond our wildest expectations. Although we didn’t expect them to simply quit, not with Tom Thibodeau at the helm, knowing Rose was going out to be for another season and then watching Luol Deng get traded could have disheartened anybody.
Noah, however, could not allow his injury-riddled, depth-stricken team to give up. Not with the Eastern Conference as diluted of talent as its been this season. A playoff seed was well within grasp, and, as you could see by the Bulls getting home-court advantage, it wouldn’t be that difficult to obtain in the east.
Joakim is the anchor for the league’s second most efficient defense, giving up 97.8 points per 100 possessions. On offense, the Bulls are scoring 101.3 points per 100 possessions when Noah’s on the floor, as opposed to just 94.5 points per 100 possessions when he’s off.
His offensive impact, specifically his passing ability while becoming the team’s primary facilitator, has led to an influx of MVP consideration.
On defense, the impact isn’t as easy to judge by the numbers. Noah’s presence on the court shows the Bulls allowing just 97.6 points per 100 possessions, while they give up 98.1 points per 100 possessions when he’s off.
His defensive rating this year is the lowest of his career. Opponents shoot 45 percent at the rim when he’s manning the middle. Only Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bogut and Robin Lopez allow a lesser percentage, among players who average at least 25 minutes per game.
Per 82games.com, he’s allowing opposing centers to garner a 16.3 PER. Overall, he’s holding opponents to 39 percent shooting, and is the 13th best pick-and-roll defender in points per possession, via Synergy.
No player in today’s game leaves it all on the floor like Noah, and there are only a limited few who impact every aspect of the game like Joakim does. He’s extremely active, rangy, and intense, and can race back to his man after blocking the ball-handler on the pick-and-roll like few other big men in this league.
There’s only one player in the game averaging at least 12 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, and that’s the Bulls’ All-Star center.
He’s also averaging a steal per, in case you wanted to know if Joakim had the credentials.
1. Roy Hibbert
Giving any sort of award to the Indiana Pacers seems like an idea that should be immediately tossed.
But, for a time, Roy Hibbert was nearly impossible to score on. In fact, that hasn’t changed, at least not until the leniency of verticality is tested. It’ll be interesting to see how Hibbert’s defense is officiated once the playoffs begin.
Because Roy’s mastered the art of jumping straight up and down, or at least by the standards of the current officials, he has anchored the league’s most efficient defense. The 41 percent shooting he’s allowing at the rim is the lowest among post players that average at least 25 minutes per game.
Bismack Biyombo is allowing only 39 percent shooting, but is facing five fewer shots per game and averaging only 14 minutes worth of playing time per night.
Hibbert’s ability to manipulate verticality in his favor has allowed him to turn into a wall. At 7-2, Hibbert is tough enough to score on because of his length. When he’s able to jump straight up, he’s putting another few inches on that height and making it even more difficult for the opposition.
The 2.3 blocks per game he’s averaging is fourth in the league. Only four players in the NBA are averaging at least two blocks per game this season. Per 82games.com, he’s allowing opposing centers a PER of 12.7, and is holding opponents to 37 percent shooting overall.
Per Synergy, in terms of points per possession, Hibbert ranks 12th in the league defending post-ups, allowing 0.63 PPP while limiting opponents to paltry 30 percent shooting on 149 attempts. He also ranks 29th in PPP defending the roll man.
Even with the poor play of the Pacers of late, Hibbert has been incredibly tough to shoot against. It should come as no surprise that Indiana leads the league in points in the paint allowed per game, where only the league’s top defenses, anchored by the league’s top post defenders, are present at the top.
Indiana has a lot to work on with its offense and overall chemistry issues, but their defense remains the strongest in the league. If only they could outscore the opponents they hold to a league-low 91.8 points per game.
Who’s second? Why, Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls allowing 91.9 points per game of course.
What do you think?
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