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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Interesting Contrasts Between All-Defensive Team Voting and Defensive Player of the Year Voting

Media members vote for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Award, while the league's head coaches select the All-Defensive First and Second Teams (coaches are not permitted to choose players from their own squads). There were some interesting differences in the specific choices made by the media and coaches this season.

Tyson Chandler narrowly defeated Serge Ibaka to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award, 311-294; players receive five points for a first place vote, three points for a second place vote and one point for a third place vote. Chandler's name appeared on 81 out of 121 ballots while Ibaka's name appeared on 82 ballots but the difference was that Chandler received 45 first place votes while Ibaka received 41. Dwight Howard, who won the award the previous three seasons, finished a distant third, followed by Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, Shawn Marion, Luol Deng and Josh Smith; except for Smith, each of those players received at least one first place vote.

Media members can be easily swayed by compelling narratives (hopefully they are not influenced by who speaks with them on a given day or who gives them the best quotes) and the two narratives that apparently influenced the Defensive Player of the Year voting are (1) Tyson Chandler "changed the culture for the New York Knicks" (even though the Knicks were not any better this season than they were last season) and (2) Dwight Howard is annoyingly wishy washy and did not always play hard (even though he ranked third in the league in bpg, led the league in defensive rebounds for the fifth year in a row, tried to play with a ruptured disk in his back that ultimately required surgery and was the defensive linchpin for an Orlando team that does not have any other above average individual defensive players). In my 2012 NBA Awards article I explained why Howard should win the award, with James finishing second and Ibaka placing third.

The All-Defensive Teams are selected by position, so the raw voting totals cannot be directly compared with the Defensive Player of the Year voting totals, but the coaches did not value Chandler quite as highly as the media members did. Dwight Howard earned the First Team nod at center with 16 First Team votes and nine Second Team votes, while Chandler received Second Team honors. LeBron James received the most overall votes and was the only player chosen by every coach (24 First Team votes, five Second Team votes). Ibaka received the second most votes overall and joined James as a First Team forward. Chris Paul and Tony Allen are this year's First Team guards.

Kobe Bryant's streak of six straight All-Defensive First Team selections was snapped but he made the Second Team along with Rajon Rondo, Chandler and forwards Kevin Garnett and Luol Deng. Andre Iguodala actually outpointed Bryant 19-17 (First Team votes are worth two points, while Second Team votes are worth one point) but Iguodala presumably did not make the squad due to positional designation (Iguodala is a forward and he received one fewer point than Deng).

For the fourth time in the past five seasons, the coaches selected eight of the 10 players who I selected for the All-Defensive First and Second Teams (last season the coaches and I agreed on six of the 10 choices). The only difference between my First Team this season and the coaches' First Team is that I chose Grant Hill (who received one First Team vote from the coaches but did not get enough overall points to make the squad) while the coaches picked Chris Paul, who I put on my Second Team. The coaches and I both "demoted" Bryant to the Second Team but I chose Iguodala as a Second Team forward and I did not pick Rondo at all. My reasoning for leaving out Garnett is that he did not excel early in the season at forward and that even though he played very well for the rest of the season as a center he did not have more defensive impact at that position than Howard and Chandler did. While Garnett did perform at an All-Defensive Team level, he did not do so at forward and in this instance the lack of adherence to positional designations cost Iguodala. Hill is nominally a small forward but I put him at guard because he often defended point guards so that Steve Nash could "guard" the weakest perimeter scoring threat on the opposing team.

The "stat gurus" only know what their spreadsheets tell them--and their spreadsheets can only reflect back the biases that went into creating those spreadsheets--so each year around this time there is a torrent of articles declaring that NBA coaches do not have a clue about defense, which is a funny assertion considering that the coaches have to game plan for each team in the league and thus have at least some notion about which defenders cause problems for their teams.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:05 PM



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