Saturday, April 14, 2007

NBA Awards: Defensive Player of the Year

Defensive player of the year is a tough one, because it requires both nuanced observation as well as big-picture thinking. To say that most media hacks lack one or both of these skills would be an understatement. Some, like Charles Barkley, get it. He named Tim Duncan as his DPOY the other night, and that is a choice I can get behind. Duncan is a fundamentally sound defender that handles his man while also playing great team defense (as his 2.4 blocks can attest). He also gets away with a lot of fouls, which helps. Most importantly, those individual and team defensive skills are in aid of a terrific Spurs defense. You have to factor in the impact an individual's play has on the group. You just have to. That is why Josh Smith (weakside shot-blocker extraordinaire), Marcus Camby, and Ron Artest are out of the question. I mean, have you seen those teams play defense? For me, the choice comes down to the five best "scoring differential" teams in the NBA: the Mavs, Suns, Spurs, Rockets, and Bulls. Of those five teams, I then looked at field goal percentage defense and not surprisingly, found that the Rockets, Spurs, and Bulls were the top three in the league in that category. So that takes Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, and Devin Harris (tremendously underrated defender) out of the equation and leaves - in my mind - Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, Ben Wallace, and Shane Battier.

Of those four players, I am ruling out Bowen first, because he not only seems a step slow this year, but most reasonable minds can agree that Duncan was the anchor of that defense. Next I am pulling Wallace, because the Bulls seemed to be just as effective on D when Big Ben was out of the lineup. And let's be honest, he didn't have a great year. Hinrich or Deng may well have been the DPOY on that team. So that leaves Duncan and Battier. You can make a great case for either guy. The case for Duncan is outlined above, but as for Battier, he is one of the most versatile guys in the league. He guards Dirk Nowitzki, then he guards Kobe Bryant. He can play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward because he is able to stretch defenses on offense, yes, but mainly because he is strong enough, smart enough, and quick enough to handle virtually any style of opponent. Battier also was able to anchor a Rockets defense through the losses of both T-Mac and Yao, who only played together 40 times this year.

Battier meets both of my criteria listed above. He does all "the little things" that people don't notice, and he does it for the team with the best field goal percentage defense in the league. For that, he's my defensive player of the year in an extremely close call.


Anonymous said...

Battier is an interesting choice - one that I haven't seen much by other experts. John Hollinger named him to his first team in a great column over at ESPN. You should check it out.

Adam Hoff said...

That Hollinger column was fantastic and I agree with pretty much all of it. I'll stick with Battier as my DPOY, but my first team would read the same as his:

PG - Harris
SG - Bowen
SF - Battier
PF - Duncan
C - O'Neal

I probably would have had Ben Wallace over O'Neal before reading the column, but certainly not after. The other four picks would have been that way whether I read Hollinger's column or not.