April 17, 2009
For years, some NBA fans have been asking for some sort of "shots altered" stat, which would allow defenders some sort of credit when their hawking defense forces a shooter to change the way he tosses the ball up to the goal. It's a great idea, in theory, but I'm not sure what sort of impact it would have on how we chart and identify good defenders.
Essentially, it would still be just another version of the "block" statistic, without any actual shots being blocked, though the same ideals apply. And the same shot-blockers would lead the league in the stat, with perhaps one or two non-blockers joining the fray (Tayshaun Prince comes to mind). That said, it still wouldn't really help much. Because, whether you block or alter a shot, it still doesn't mean you're a great or even good defender.
You can hurt your team, even while blocking shots. Leaving your man, overplaying, lunging at the wrong time; these aren't things to celebrate. Players like Sam Dalembert and (to a lesser extent, and only recently) Marcus Camby have actually hurt their teams defensively with that "block everything!" mindset, and a "shots altered" stat would still reflect that.
And for every Scoop Jackson-type that hypes Dwyane Wade as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate mainly because he racks up defensive stats, I challenge them to watch a little more than SportsCenter, and note the sheer amount of times the Heat are put behind the eight ball because D-Wade is leaving his man, trying to shoot the gap, or watching the baseline instead of his own guy who is about to line up for the corner three. Do all those steals and blocks help? You bet. But mixed in with the bigger picture, and all the plays that mitigate, it leaves Dwyane as merely an above-average defender.
The biggest kicker, to me, is where we would draw the line on which shots were altered. Does there have to be a double-pump? To me, that seems awfully subjective, far worse than what we see with assists these days. And when you have a great defender in the middle, just about every shot is altered. Not because players are challenging him and having to hang in the air for a thrice-changed attempt. But because they aren't going in the lane to begin with.
Three-pointer attempts add up. Pick and rolls turn into pick and pops. The landscape changes. Just about every one of the shots attempted, really, is altered.
And this is where Dwight Howard comes in. Because even if he didn't average half of the 2.9 blocks per game that he came through with in 2008-09, he would still be my Defensive Player of the Year. It's because he alters so, so much, even if he's 20 feet away from the shot attempt.
But guess what? Dwight Howard doesn't average half of 2.9 blocks per game. He averages 2.9 blocks per game. And a steal. And 13.8 rebounds. And his Magic team, featuring a starting lineup that includes two slight small forwards, a rookie shooting guard, and either Jameer Nelson or Rafer Alston at the point, finished first in defensive efficiency this year.
Really, Dwight is the no-stats All-Star, but with stats.
And he's 23. Yikes.