In 2012-13, San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan led the NBA in Defensive Rating (an estimate of how many points an individual defender allows per 100 possessions spent guarding someone). His Defensive Win Shares shot way up to their highest mark in years, and he was the guiding on-court force behind a Spurs team that jumped from 10th in defensive efficiency last year to third this season. As the San Antonio Express News’ Mike Monroe pointed out, Duncan’s blocks per minute were the highest in his career by a wide margin … and the guy just turned 37 on Thursday.
Amazing. So why did NBA voters essentially rank Duncan as the league’s sixth-best defender on Wednesday? Because of a voting system that both Duncan teammate Manu Ginobili and Duncan appreciator Kelly Dwyer see as flawed. From Monroe’s report at Spurs Nation:
“It is the toughest award they give away because players don’t vote,” Ginobili said. “It’s the player that [goes] against other players who know. Sometimes the best rebounder is not the best defender; or the best in steals is not a great defender. He just gambles a lot.
“It could be [an award for players to choose], but it’s been going on for so many years. It’s not that I’m complaining, but probably we do know better than the media.”
About your own team, sure, you do know better than the media. Even more than the great Mike Monroe, charged with covering this Spurs team for years. This is why Manu would place a vote for Duncan because, in his eyes, who has been better than Duncan this season?
It’s just that there’s the complication of an 82-game season, with few nights off (between travel days) spent at home for NBA players. Nights at home that most assuredly are not often being spent rewinding through NBA League Pass and scoping out the 29 other teams obsessively. This isn’t to say that most NBA award voters do as much, but some try on most nights, and their influence trickles down to either beat writers or TV guys who aren’t afforded the chance to keep tabs on every team.
Most importantly, Defensive Player of the Year Award-winner Marc Gasol just made Manu’s point.
Sometimes the best rebounder, or shot-blocker, is not the best defender. Same with the best ball-swiping artist. This is why the last two Defensive Players of the Year (Gasol and the New York Knicks' Tyson Chandler) were recognized for their overall ability to change a play in their team’s favor without receiving a single digit in the box score for that particular stretch of work. If the voters had decided to hand the award to, say, Chris Paul (the league leader in steals) or, to a lesser extent, Larry Sanders or Serge Ibaka for their shot-blocking work, Ginobili would have a legitimate gripe on his hands.
The NBA has gone with no-stats All-Stars over the last two years, though. Voters clearly aren’t swayed by the typical box score numbers anymore.
The league still may want to look into changing its approach for this award. After all, defense is half the game, so why are Defensive Player of the Year voters only allowed to vote for three players at a time?
There were several significant DPoY candidates this year, but because voters could only pick three at a time, you saw a disparate batch of votes sent out and a list of vote totals that didn’t accurately reflect a list of the league’s top defenders. Roy Hibbert may have played the second-most consistent and dominant defense in the league this season, and yet he had to settle for 10th place on Wednesday. Dwight Howard disappointed in his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but his 14th ranking was laughable to him and to us.
This isn’t exactly the fault of the voters, which is why the NBA should allow for five slots on the ballot in order to eliminate this noise.
The answer isn’t a player’s vote, though. It’s true that players will play more regular season NBA games by Nov. 1 than 99.9 percent of North America will play in a lifetime, but media and voters watch far more NBA games than these players do. And that’s taking into consideration the film sessions, locker room watches and airplane viewings these men put in.
It’s their job to prepare for those opponents, while sitting in front of a flickering tube. It’s our job to report on the other 29 teams by the same process, without having to waste hours doing silly things like playing actual NBA games.