Give And Go: Nitpicking the NBA’s All-Defensive Team selections
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Nitpicking the 2013 All-Defensive Teams, which are selected by a vote of the NBA’s coaches and which were announced on Monday.
The All-Defensive First Team: Chris Paul (Clippers), Tony Allen (Grizzlies), LeBron James (Heat), Serge Ibaka (Thunder ), Tyson Chandler (Knicks) and Joakim Noah (Bulls). Chandler and Noah finished in a tie.
The All-Defensive Second Team: Mike Conley (Grizzlies), Avery Bradley (Celtics), Paul George (Pacers), Tim Duncan (Spurs) and Marc Gasol (Grizzlies)
1. On a scale of 1-to-10, how well did the coaches do?
Ben Golliver: I’ll go with a 7. James, Paul, Allen, Ibaka, Noah, Gasol, George, Duncan all have to be there. You can argue about First or Second Team placement on a few of those but those eight guys are fully-deserving. There are a couple of obvious misses here: Chandler doesn’t belong at all, not when New York’s overall defensive efficiency was No. 16 in 2013, a big drop from No. 5 in 2012.
I’m fine with the Conley selection, but Bradley can’t be in this group, not when he only played 50 games. I love his tenacity as much as the next guy but that clearly should have been Andre Iguodala’s spot. Denver jumped from No. 19 in defensive efficiency in 2012 to No. 11 in 2013 and Iguodala possesses the total package — mind, hands, feet, strength, instincts — when it comes to perimeter defense.
Rob Mahoney: I’ll give them a slight bump and go with 7.5. As you noted, Ben, most of the inclusions are well worthy of selection, while all of the typical trap selections (Kobe Bryant chief among them) were dodged easily. We can dispute the order or a few of the specifics (I concur that including Avery Bradley over Iguodala is a mistake, though if Iguodala was tabulated as a forward I can understand the temptation to leave him off of the ballot in favor of LeBron James, Serge Ibaka, Tim Duncan, and Paul George), but the 11 players selected are all pretty strong defenders.
2. What’s the worst selection among this year’s group?
Mahoney: Chandler. On his better nights, Chandler is well-deserving of this kind of honor; he does a fine job of rotating into position and contesting shots around the rim, and extends vertically as effectively as any big man in the league. But if we look at the season on the whole, his performance has been far too sloppy and unreliable to justify a First Team selection. In fact: With such a deep pool of qualified defensive centers this season, I’m a bit surprised that any voter — much less nine of them — would choose Chandler for such a defensive honor.
Golliver: Chandler. That winds up feeling like a make-up vote from 2012, when there was a mini-hubbub because Chandler was Defensive Player of the Year but didn’t make All-Defensive First Team. Make-up votes just make a mess of this, especially in a year where Gasol, Noah and Pacers center Roy Hibbert all deserved some shine. Voting Chandler to the First Team is also annoying because he tied with Noah, making for six players on a five-man team. Shouldn’t we adopt some tiebreakers in the future? There’s also the obvious trickle-down effect. Chandler’s tally helped keep Defensive Player of the Year Gasol off the first team and dumped Hibbert way down into the “others receiving votes” category, which would have been ridiculous even before their head-to-head play during the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The precious few spots that are up in the air every year should go to the key players on elite defenses; it should take a truly monumental individual effort to place a player from a mediocre defense on this list. James, Ibaka, Noah, Allen, Paul, Duncan, George, Gasol, Bradley and Conley all played on top 10 defenses. Chandler is, by far, the most obvious man out.
3. Who was the biggest snub?
Golliver: Gasol or Hibbert. The backbones of the league’s two stingiest units deserved to be the First and Second Team centers this season. Noah had a very strong case, too, but he missed 16 games this year, more than three times as many as Gasol and Hibbert combined. I wouldn’t be that upset if Gasol was relegated to the Second Team behind Hibbert during the same season that he won the media-voted Defensive Player of the Year award, but to essentially finish third behind two lesser candidates is frustrating.
Mahoney: This depends on how you choose to define a snub. Chandler’s presence on the First Team creates all sorts of problems the rest of the way, and indeed sets up Gasol and Hibbert as two prime choices. In Gasol’s case, we have the Defensive Player of the Year, a player well-worthy of First Team consideration who only nabbed five (out of a possible 29) first-team votes. Chandler, by comparison, received nine first-team votes, while also tripling up Gasol in second-team nods (six to two). I’m not even sure how you would begin to build a case for selecting Chandler over Gasol this season.
Hibbert is also theoretically deserving of defensive accolades based on his stellar defensive season for the Pacers, but he’s a victim of the unfortunate dynamic of positional voting. Were I to cast a ballot by the current rules, I would select Gasol to the First Team and Noah to the Second Team, though the difference in defensive value between those two is unbelievably thin. That would leave Hibbert more or less where he is now — with the other honorable mentions — so long as we ignore the glaring Chandler inclusion in the middle of it all.
Still, I keep coming back to Iguodala, whom Ben mentioned off the top. He stands as the best defender to not be named to either team. Gasol was at least selected to one of the All-Defensive teams, and if Hibbert wouldn’t make my own squad I can’t rightly deem him a snub. But Iguodala had an underrated year as a defensive Swiss army knife in Denver, where he propped up a mediocre defensive team, transforming it into nearly a top-10 defense. That’s a profound impact from a wing player, and an achievement for which Iguodala doesn’t receive nearly enough credit.
Also worth noting: Kevin Garnett didn’t get a single vote?
4. If you had to select one player from the “others receiving votes” category to make the leap onto the First Team or Second Team for the first time next season, who would it be?
Mahoney: Guard is probably the safest way to go here, as Noah, Gasol and Hibbert aren’t likely to fall off the map (while Dwight Howard should be in better health), and the likes of James, Iguodala, George, Duncan and Ibaka are all sure to be in competition for the forward slots next year. But I’m banking on Larry Sanders to keep improving his defensive judgment and harness every bit of that boundless energy. He ranked first overall in block percentage, 11th in total rebounding percentage and keyed a Bucks defense that guarded at a top-three level when he was on the court. He’ll have to make an even bigger splash to outdo the other qualified bigs, but if any runner-up has that kind of transformational defensive potential, it’s Sanders.
Golliver: Many of the players who received votes — Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Metta World Peace, etc. — have been recognized before, making this a fairly shallow field. Two names jump out at me: Jrue Holiday and Iman Shumpert. Both played for mediocre defenses in 2012
The quick, smart, solid Holiday made the Sixers nearly four points per 100 possessions better when he took the court. Shumpert has the right mindset and physical tools to be a very good defender for a long time and it’s interesting to see him singled out considering that he missed the first few months of the season after rehabilitating from knee surgery.
5. At least 10 players received just one “tip of the hat” vote from a coach this year. Did you particularly like/dislike any of those?
Golliver: I thought it was cool to see Kevin Durant’s name on there. Durant’s definitely improved on the defensive end and the Thunder tied for third in defensive efficiency this year. Considering the minutes he plays and the heavy offensive workload he carries, players in his position usually check out for stretches on the other end. His focus and fundamentals have improved and I don’t think there’s any way to rank him over James, George, Duncan, Ibaka or Deng, but a vote of appreciation for his strides isn’t totally out of place and it’s a nice symbolic gesture.
Mahoney: I wouldn’t have voted for him, but I appreciated the doff in appreciation of Andrei Kirilenko. The “also receiving votes” ranks are typically filled with weird outliers, voting errors (hello, Mike James), and over-the-hill types, but Kirilenko is a wonderful team defender with the misfortune of being just slightly less exemplary than some others. I’m glad to see him rewarded for a strong — if trying — season, in which his hustle and defense helped provide the adhesive for a Wolves team that led the league in player games missed.