May 7, 2010
The NBA All-Defensive teams were announced on Wednesday; as expected, we saw some big names on the First Team who have no business being named at all, and there was the annual exclusion of some obvious selections any half-knowledgeable fan would make.
The First Team was comprised of Dwight Howard, Gerald Wallace, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Rajon Rondo. The Second Team was made up of Tim Duncan, Anderson Varejao, Josh Smith, Thabo Sefolosha, and Dwyane Wade. The coaches, who vote for the All-Defensive Teams, never disappoint when it comes to picking stars who they’re supposed to pick, basically big-name players who get grandfathered in just like MLB’s Gold Glove winners.
There is a reason that a) NBA coaches are constantly fired and usually have very little influence over a team’s success in hindsight, and b) the Cavaliers and Lakers signed defensive specialists on the wing to start next to James and Bryant. Kobe and LeBron have no place on these teams, and plenty of less well-known defenders (i.e. guys who don’t compile lots of blocks and steals, ESPN’s idea of the end-all-be-all for measuring the defensive worth of a player) never seem to get their due.
Issues With The First Team
Just so no one gets the wrong idea, I do not think Bryant and James are bad defenders. In fact, both have shown the tenacity to lock down their man in one-on-one situations when they absolutely have to. The problem is, they’re seldom in these situations. Both of their clubs hire defensive artists to do the tough work for 90% of the games that matter.
Ron Artest is the leauge’s premier wing defender, displaying the size, strength, belligerent attitude, and determination to wreck any opposing player’s night. During the six games in the First Round, Kevin Durant was tested by Artest and pestered into shooting an abysmal 35% from the field and only 29% from three. His shooting percentage topped 46%, the league average, for only one game during the series, and that was a 6-for-12 performance that yielded only 22 points. There’s a reason Artest is asked to make life hard for the NBA’s top scorer and Kobe guarded Thabo Sefolosha for four games and Russell Westrook, who has no outside shot and can be backed off of (why 3 of Westbrook’s 5 trifectas came with the Mamba on him), for two contests.
Not only is Bryant clearly not the best wing defender on LA, Lamar Odom is second to Artest in terms of defensive versatility and competence on the Lakers. He gets a lot of tough assignments down the stretch of games because he’s able to handle just about any player in any spot on the floor. Consequently, some of the more advanced defensive numbers rank Odom very highly. His Defensive Rating was fourth in the league (100.4) and his Defensive Win Shares were sixth (4.9), both well ahead of Kobe, who ranked fourth and third on the team in these categories.
In LeBron’s case, he leans on Anthony Parker to do most of the heavy defensive lifting on perimeter scorers for the majority of the game. There’s a reason Cleveland picked up the 6-6 shooting guard to displace Delonte West, a much better offensive option, from the starting lineup. Between Parker taking the tough assignments and the presence of veteran 7-footers and the splendid Anderson Varejao in the paint, James regularly gets lost in the mix, sagging off some harmless opponent, waiting to poach poor passes that his teammates’ pressure created.
As with Bryant, it’s hard to argue that James ranks higher than third on his own team in terms of defensive impact. Parker was hired to do the work so James doesn’t have to, and Varejao brings the grit and Red Bull energy to his multi-faceted post defense, doing such a good job that he was named to the Second-Team and finished in the top-10 of Defensive Player of the Year voting while coming off the bench.
Mr. Blott picks his NBA All-Defensive team, after the jump …
My NBA All-Defensive Team
OK, OK, enough complaining and pointing out who doesn’t deserve to honored. Here are my selections for the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams. For the record, the five most disruptive defensive forces in most seasons are usually centers who can stop their own man and clean up everyone else’s mess, but I’m going to try to stick to quintets that resemble real lineups.
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
He’s the best defensive player in the league by just about any measure or eye test (yes, he lead the league by a mile in Defensive Rating and Defensive Win Shares). There’s no need to expand on such an obvious selection.
Gerald Wallace, F, Charlotte Bobcats
Another fairly obvious choice. With his length, athleticism, and dedication to the defensive end, Wallace guards damn near anyone except uber-speedy point guards or oversized centers. He’s all over the place stopping all types of players in all sorts of ways (10 boards, 1.1 blocks, and 1.5 steals per). Working with Larry Brown, the top defensive coach in the NBA, has pushed Wallace’s long under-appreciated defense to the next level.
Luc Mbah a Moute, F, Milwaukee Bucks
He has the size (6-8, 230), length, and quickness to guard four different positions well, something he put on display in the first round of the playoffs against Atlanta, checking All-Star SG Joe Johnson (shot 42% overall and 21% from deep for the series) and All-Star C Al Horford. Kevin Durant called him one of the two toughest defenders he’s faced this year.
Ron Artest, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
He’s large (6-6, 250) and crazy enough to bully and intimidate anyone he guards. Weaker players find out his torso doubles as a brick wall, and larger players realize he has the foot speed and intensity to be in their hip pocket the whole game. He’s the last player an elite scorer wants to see lining up next to him at the jump ball.
Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat
Wade is an electric athlete, has great size and strength to guard 1′s and 2′s (6-4, 220), and he puts everything into it. He has an absurdly high combination of steals and blocks for someone his size (1.8 and 1.1).
Marcus Camby, C, Portland Trail Blazers/Los Angeles Clippers
This was a tough pick over Andrew Bogut, but Camby’s a better defensive rebounder and he’s more active before the shot ever goes up (1.3 steals per). Also, he was the lone great defender on both of his squads this year, so he had to coach teammates on the fly and clean up a lot of messes, which the veteran did beautifully (yet again).
Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs
He’s always in the proper position, always making the smart play, always confronting whoever drives into the lane, and he directs the Spurs’ team defense (which has been good forever) like a chess master.
Thabo Sefolosha, SF/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Sefolosha guards small forwards on down, utilizing hustle, natural quickness, tremendous wingspan, and intuition to accrue steals and create problems for opposing scorers (held Kobe to 41% shooting in the first round).
Shane Battier, SF/SG, Houston Rockets
Battier is the SF/SG version of Duncan. His stats don’t reflect his contribution, which lies in his maximum efficiency of movements which distract, cut off, and confound opposing players on offense.
Rajon Rando, PG, Boston Celtics
He’s blazing fast and an egotistical asshole who takes everything personally – both are decent qualities to have when creating a great defender who can wreck a backcourt’s offensive plans.
Andrew Bogut, C, Milwaukee Bucks
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Lamar Odom, F, Los Angeles Lakers
Josh Smith, F, Atlanta Hawks
Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver Nuggets
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Ron Artest photos courtesy of Icon SMI