Sunday, April 5, 2015

NBA Defensive Player of the Year

Draymond will check a point guard.
Your eyes can fool you when it comes to defense. A steal or a blocked shot catch the eye, and are among the traditional statistics tracked and published. In most cases, a steal or a blocked shot is a good thing. However, if a player gambles for a steal, and misses, (as many of the steals leaders do), the TEAM defense is now playing four against five. Likewise, a shot may be attempted to be blocked, which leads to an opening for the opponent on the offensive glass. 

Taking a charge is STILL not a statistic that shows up in the NBA box-score. (You can find charges taken total at 

So, what IS the best way to measure defense? That is a tough question, not easily answered. The "Defensive Rating" stat is our preferred method these days. Defensive Rating measures the number of points scored by the opponent per 100 possessions when any given player is on the floor. 

Recently, I heard someone in the NBA, whom I respect, say that LeBron James was the best defender out of the group of MVP candidates (Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook). That declaration struck me. While LeBron is a freak, and I would have no issue riding with him for a single defensive possession, there are now measurables that go deeper than just a single possession, that suggest there are better choices than LeBron. 

Modern statistical advances now allow us to tabulate how many points the opponent scores on EVERY possession that LeBron, or ANY OTHER player is on the floor. In any one game a single NBA team will average roughly 98 possessions. The Defensive Rating makes it impossible for a player to "take a play off" without it being tracked. Other subtleties that used to go unnoticed include a player who draws technical fouls and gives free points to the opponent in the form of technical free throws. The Defensive Rating tracks all these nuances.  

No ole'.  Defensive Rating catches you.
The issue with using Defensive Rating as the "be all, end all" is that all individual Defensive Ratings are subject to who your four other teammates are. Backline defenders who play with slower, poor, defensive guards, will allow more points per 100 possessions than backline defenders who play, with say, a ball-pressure hawk like Patrick Beverley. Guards who play with great rim protectors (like Rudy Gobert) will see their Defensive Ratings improve. If a guard plays with an undersized center, the guard's defensive rating can suffer. 

The way around some of this confusion is to look at the team's defensive rating and see what players individually are above or below their own team average. 

All of the above prefacing is simply to help non hardcore basketball fans understand how difficult it can be to measure defense, which is rarely highlighted but remains HALF of the game. 

To decide on the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, we looked at four key defensive statistics, and ranked 20 potential candidates. The 20 players comprised any who ranked in the top five in one of the four categories plus others known as great defenders (Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, LeBron, Nerlens Noel, Russell Westbrook).  We assigned points in each category (Defensive Rating 50%, Charges Taken 20%, Steals 15%, Blocked Shots 15%).  

Our method crowned Draymond Green the 2014-15 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The versatile forward checks perimeter players or BIGs. He has anchored the Warriors defense all season. When Green is on the floor the Warriors give up just 97 points per 100 possessions. The team as a whole has a Defensive Rating of 100.7 which is the best of the 30 teams in the NBA. 

Our top five NBA defenders of 2014-15? Green, followed Bogut, Noel, Leonard, and Gobert. As for LeBron... In our study, he ranked only ahead of Westbrook when it comes to the five players most mentioned in the MVP race. (If you are curious, in our defensive study, Curry edged Davis, followed by Harden, then LeBron, then Westbrook.)

(You can see how each of the 20 D.P.o.Y. candidates ranked  in each category below.)

Blocked shots (total) (15% weight)

Anthony Davis 183
Rudy Gobert 174
DeAndre Jordan 171
Serge Ibaka 155
Nerlens Noel 140
Tim Duncan 137
Marc Gasol 125
DeMarcus Cousins 103
Andrew Bogut 100
Draymond Green 94
James Harden 56
Kawhi Leonard 46
LeBron James 46
Marreese Speights 34
Tony Allen 30
Monta Ellis 24
Stephen Curry 16
Russell Westbrook 14
Chris Paul 13
Kyle Lowry 12

Charges Taken (20% weight)

DeMarcus Cousins 34
Monta Ellis 28
Marreese Speights 28
Kyle Lowry 25
Steph Curry 12
Draymond Green 11
Marc Gasol 8
Russell Westbrook 6
LeBron James 4
Andrew Bogut 3
James Harden 3
Nerlens Noel 3
Chris Paul 2
Anthony Davis 1
Rudy Gobert 1
Tim Duncan 0
Kawhi Leonard 0
Serge Ibaka 0
DeAndre Jordan 0
Tony Allen 0

Defensive Rating (50% weight)

Andrew Bogut 96
Draymond Green 96.5
Kawhi Leonard 96.6
Tim Duncan 97.2
Rudy Gobert 98
Tony Allen 98.4
Nerlens Noel 98.5
DeAndre Jordan 99
Marc Gasol 99.7
Anthony Davis 100.2
DeMarcus Cousins 100.8
Stephen Curry 101
James Harden 102
Marreese Speights 102
Serge Ibaka 103
LeBron James 105
Chris Paul 105
Monta Ellis 107
Russell Westbrook 107
Kyle Lowry 108

Steals (total) (15%)

Stephen Curry 151 
Chris Paul 147
Monta Ellis 145
James Harden 144 
Nerlens Noel 131
Tony Allen 129
Kawhi Leonard 129
Russell Westbrook 129
Draymond Green 117
LeBron James 102
Kyle Lowry 102
Anthony Davis 90
DeMarcus Cousins 89
DeAndre Jordan 73
Marc Gasol 67
Rudy Gobert 58
Tim Duncan 56
Andrew Bogut 38
Serge Ibaka 30
Marreese Speights 16

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